Friday, November 25, 2022


Obscurity of the Day: Character Sketches


The great W.E. Hill Sunday page, Among Us Mortals, debuted in 1916 to immediate success. The page offered a group of beautifully drawn cartoon vignettes all about one common subject which changed weekly. While that doesn't sound like an earth-shattering new idea, Hill's page was also a little different in that it was offered for use primarily outside of the Sunday comics section, the impressive drawings looking especially handsome when run in the rotogravure section. Newspaper cartoonists who fancied themselves to be somewhat more artistically advanced than their brethren saw that this could be a showcase to show off their chops. Imitations of Among Us Mortals began to pop up all over the place.

One of those me-too features was Character Sketches, by A. Russell (I've not been able to discover what the A stands for). This feature ran only in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat and started there on January 21 1917, just eight months after Among Us Mortals debuted in the New York Tribune. While I would give Mr. Hill the nod for a greater achievement in art, Russell's version was quite impressively drawn, too. Character Sketches did not get prime placement in the rotogravure section; instead he was afforded a color page in the magazine section. Russell wanted people to focus on his linework, so though the page was run through a 4-colour press, he used it sparingly for spot colour.

As best I can tell Character Sketches was not offered in syndication, so it was enjoyed only by readers of the G-D. They got to enjoy it for a long time, too. The feature ran for just short of a full decade, ending on April 18 1926. On April 6 Russell suffered a stroke, from which the paper said he was expected to recover, but evidence seems to indicate the contrary. 

[EDIT: EOCostello has lifted the veil on A. Russell, see comments below.]


For what it's worth, the January 28, 1922 edition of the Globe-Democrat has a brief article/advertisement, showing a picture of the gentleman, who appears middle-aged.
Gould's 1921 Red Book city directory lists an "Alf Russell," married to an Emma, at 3002 Geyer Avenue, the address listed for Russell in that April 6, 1926 G-D article about his stroke. Further developments as they become apparent.
Got him. His name is Alfred Russell. In the 1920 census, he was living at 3002 Geyer Avenue (14th Ward), the address in the stroke article. As of 1920, he was 57. Occupation listed as a newspaper artist. Born in Baden, Germany. The April 29, 1957 edition of the Globe-Democrat has an article (page 6A) positively identifying Alfred Russell as "A. Russell," and notes he was the art editor of the paper in the early 1900s, with his working appearing on the cover of the paper's Sunday magazine for more than a quarter-century. The July 15, 1952 G-D noted that he had died on that date in 1927. The obit for his wife was in the April 14, 1952 edition. The July 24, 1927 edition notes he came to St. Louis from Germany at the age of 12, and has other interesting bio data. The July 16, 1927 G-D has an editorial on him. And yes, the July 15, 1927 G-D has his obit on page 21.
Nice sleuthing, EOCostello!!
Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]