Saturday, January 22, 2022


Herriman Saturday: March 12 1910


March 12 1910 -- I know what you've been thinking. Sure, it's all well and good for Herriman to be doing all these sports cartoons, but when will he get around to an editorial cartoon about prunes? 

Well, my friends, that long-awaited day has finally come. It seems that food prices have been going through the roof, led by meat, dairy and grains. Luckily for Californians the state is practically awash in dried fruits, including that king of dessicated fruit, the prune. Herriman extolls their virtues for replacing all that other expensive stuff in the Angeleno diet.


One of the issues in those days, before wide-spread home refrigeration and industrial food freezing, was that certain foods, especially fruits and vegetables, would become scarce until the new crops came in. I recall a Ding Darling editorial cartoon on the subject, showing people adrift on a raft, relying on their home-canned vegetables from the previous summer. Dried fruit, like these prunes, would have been shelf-stable and relatively cheap.
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Friday, January 21, 2022


Obscurity of the Day: Billy the Bell Boy


I'm always delighted to feature our favorite completely bonkers cartoonist, Eddie Eksergian, on the blog. Today we cover one of his highest profile series, Billy the Bell Boy. This strip generally ran on the front page of the St. Louis Star's comic section during its run. 

The strip's unvarying plot involves the dream fantasies of a sleeping bellboy. The kid imagines himself being cuddled, coddled and generally treated like royalty, only to be rudely awakened by the desk manager, who flings a city directory (the precursor of the phone book) at him. 

The art is as wild as anything in the Eks pantheon, but I get the feeling that Eddie was holding his bizarre imagination in check on this feature. Billy's fantasies are pretty firmly grounded in the comic strip version of  reality, not the Bizarro world we often visit in an Eddie Eks production. Maybe with Billy the Bell Boy occupying a marquee position on the comics section covers he wanted to offer a more reader-accessible version of his esteemed brand of dementia. 

Billy the Bell Boy ran from February 8 1903 to June 19 1904. While I think of this (and all Star material) as having been distributed by World Color Printing, it was not the version that was contracted through the New York Daily News, but rather the homegrown material that ran in the Star and a few syndicate client papers. For the extended discussion on this whole Star-WCP brouhaha, check out this post

Thanks to Cole Johnson for supplying the samples.


Hello Allan-
Finally got to Billy! For some oreason, I thought that Billy was Eksergian's most important character, yet when you think of it, none of his creations meant anything the day after they stopped being printed.
Notice the October 1903 page above guest starred heavyweight boxing great James Jeffries. there was another episode that featured master detective William J. Burns, the head of the Bureau of Investigation, precursor to the FBI.
I guess you, Cole and I have thrashed out the enigma of Star/WCP so many times and for so long I'm having umbrella handle-themed nightmares, but I have, yes, another theory. Like to hear it? well here 'tis, anyway;
Maybe The St. Louis Star did have their own syndicate. (Notice Billy works at the "Star Hotel") And in 1904 they decided for some reason, to throw in the towel and just take the comic section offered by the new WCP company that happened to be produced across town.
It would seem to be a cheaper option, considering they (The Star) offered only two pages of material, sometimes one, and though it might have been prestigeous to run, in 1903-4, the Hearst material in the Star's own Sunday comic section was probably expensive for them.

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Wednesday, January 19, 2022


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Wood Cowan

Woodson Messick Cowan was born on November 1, 1886, in Algona, Iowa, according to his birth certificate, at, and Who’s Who in American Art, 1976. His parents were James and Rachel Cowan. Cowan was also known as Wood and Woody. 

In the 1888 Iowa state census, Cowan was a year old and the youngest of four siblings. The family of six lived in Algona. 

The 1900 U.S. Federal Census recorded Cowan, his parents and two older siblings in Algona. His father was a brick layer. The 1905 Iowa state census said the Cowan family were still Algona residents. 

Cowan described his early life and career in the Arizona Republican (Phoenix, Arizona), April 10, 1920. 
One day a rash reporter asked Woodie Cowan, the cartoonist and sports writer, to tell him the, story of his life. No more was necessary.

“I’m glad you asked me, old thing,” said the obliging Woodie. “I’ll start at the very beginning and spare neither time nor imagination to make it interesting. To begin with I, was born on Friday at 3:17 a. m. My full name is Woodson Messick Cowan, which you will admit is so full that it staggers. I was a howling, success for six months and then became a democrat. As late as two years I objected to kissing, but I soon learned better. At three, having attained self-consciousness, I turned republican. I showed a fondness for bread and jam in 1896, was dumb at school, but struggled hard and became a bricklayer at 15.

“Work was not in my line, however, so I entered the Chicago Art institute in 1908, where I learned to exist on $2.50 a week. I turned waiter and later sang in cabarets and movies. Then I became proficient in art, and 30 cents sufficed me for a week.

“I first did cartoons for the Chicago Inter-Ocean which is now no more.The rumor that my art was responsible for its demise is false, however. Then I went to the New Orleans Item where I did a humorous column, a court sketch, and a cartoon every day, and slept the other hour. The war found me with the Washington Times. At the opening of the 1916 shearing season, I plunged into Wall street, and am still trying to get even. I am now doing cartoons, comic strips, and articles on sport subjects with a New York syndicate. …
The 1911 Chicago, Illinois city directory listed Cowan at 3021 Vernon Avenue. 

When Cowan was in New Orleans, Variety, December 12, 1913, noted his stage debut. 
New Orleans, Dec. 10. 
Wood Cowan, cartoonist of the New Orleans Item, makes his stage debut next week at the local Orpheum.
Variety’s review of Cowan’s act appeared the following week. 
Local Drawer Debuts.
New Orleans, Dec. 17. 
Wood Cowan, local cartoonist, made his stage debut at the Orpheum Monday. He sings while sketching conventional characters in the conventional way. His act lacks coherency evidencing hasty production. It is hardly pretentious enough for the better grade of vaudeville. Cowan is of the staff of the New Orleans Item.
The 1914 New Orleans, Louisiana city directory listed Cowan at 3712 Pitt Street. 

Cowan was counted in the New York state 1915 census. He was a roomer in New York City at 107 West 47th Street. 

Cowan contributed to Judge including the May 26, 1917, cover

The Scoop, April 3, 1915, said 
Wood Cowan, reporter and cartoonist, who broke into the game on the Journal and afterwards served on the Inter-Ocean and joined Jim Crown’s stellar aggregation down in New Orleans, is doing the heavy cartoon work for the New York Tribune. The Chicago Tribune reproduced one of his cartoons on its editorial page the other day.
Cowan and Charlotte M. Gerbaulet obtained a Manhattan marriage license on March 31, 1916. 

The 1917 New York, New York city directory said Cowan’s address was 615 West 162nd Street. 

The Wheeling Intelligencer (West Virginia), published Cowan’s sports cartoons from 1920 to 1922. 

Editor & Publisher, April 24, 1926, published a photograph of Cowan and C. V. McAdam, vice-president of McNaught Syndicate, at a golf course. 

Cowan made two trips to Europe. He returned to New York on June 22, 1923 from a departure at Cherbourg, France. The passenger list said his address was 48 Charles Street, New York. In 1927 Cowan arrived in New York on April 19 from Cherbourg. His address was 51 West 12th Street, New York.

Cowan and his 26-year-old second wife, Frances Dains Metcalf, visited Havana, Cuba. They arrived in New York on February 11, 1930. Seven weeks later, the 1930 census recorded Cowan and his wife on Newton Turnpike in Weston, Connecticut. Cowan’s house was valued at $15,000. 

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Cowan continued Loren Taylor’s Mom ’n’ Pop from March 9, 1928 to February 8, 1936. The NEA series was retitled The Newfangles on June 6, 1932. The Waterbury Democrat, June 15, 1934, printed an advertisement for The Newfangles
“Newfangles” Artist Is a Genuine Ruralist
Wood Cowan, who draws “The Newfangles”
Truly rural ... but with a New York accent ...  is Wood Cowan, who draws “The Newfangles.” He lives at the end of the end of the trail ... somewhere in Connecticut ... in an old farmhouse, with oak beams and a flagstone walk. In cold weather, though he becomes a city feller, and moves to a studio apartment in New York. Cowan has a reputation for being one of the finest tellers of tall yarns on the Eastern seaboard ... strong men weep when they hear his imitations of nutmeg Yankees. At 15 he had learned the rudiments of bricklaying ... and three years later entered the Chicago Art Institute. Been a cartoonist ever since. He’s happily married ... has one youngster ... is proud of his home-made wines ... and disapproves of spats ... but wears them.

In 1929, there was a contest to name Mom ’n’ Pop’s cat. A photograph of the winner appeared in the Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota), April 30, 1929. 

The Waterbury Democrat, August 23, 1933, published the syndicated column “In New York” which included the following anecdote. 

O. I. See
One fine old name not in the directory any longer is that of Orbal I. See. Mr. See, who is really Wood Cowan, the comic artist who draws “The Newfangles,” has moved to Connecticut. Some years ago, though, he went into the phone company’s office to apply for service in his town apartment.

“What is your name?” asked a clerk.

“What did you say?” asked the artist.

“I said I must have your name,” replied the clerk, a little impatiently. 

“Oh, I see,” drawled Cowan. 

“And your first name Mr. See?” Inquired the clerk, busily scribbling on a card.

This so amused the applicant that he invented as name on the spot. “Orbal,” he said. And Orbal I. See it was, through four issues of the directory. His friends had heard the story, so they had no difficulty remembering his nom de telephone. 
Cowan’s work appeared in comics books from the late 1930s to mid-1940s. 

According to the 1940 census, Cowan, his wife and two sons were Weston, Connecticut residents. His house was valued at $50,000 and he earned $5,000 in 1939.

On April 27, 1942, Cowan signed his World War II draft card. He lived in Weston–Westport, Connecticut. His employer was the Press Alliance in New York City. His description was five feet nine inches, 180 pounds, with brown hair and eyes. 

Cowan was involved with over a dozen comic series including In Our Office, Sissy, and American Heroes, here and here

Cowan was mentioned in Life magazine, August 8, 1949. 
... The Westport Artists Club, which was formed only four years ago, already has 148 members. The club’s president: Wood Cowan, who once drew the newspaper cartoon Our Boarding House (Major Hoople) and is now semi-retired.
Who’s Who said Cowan was the editorial cartoonist on the Bridgeport Evening Post, from 1949 to 1959; and editorial cartoonist on the New Haven Evening Register, from 1960 to 1969. He wrote and/or illustrated Them Were the Days, (1926); Teen Topics (1948); Popularity Plus (1950); Flying Andy (1955); Famous Figures of the Old West (1962); and Iowa Cracker Barrel (1972). He was a watercolor painter. 

Cowan passed away on June 10, 1977, in Norwalk, Connecticut. His obituary appeared in the Bridgeport Post, June 12, 1977. 
Wood Cowan, 90, Dies; Cartoonist, Ex-Official
Weston—Woodson Cowan, 90, of Godfrey road, a former First Selectman here and a nationally recognized professional cartoonist best known for “Major Hoople,” died Friday in Norwalk hospital.

Mr. Cowan drew “Major Hoople” from 1931 until his retirement in 1956. He also drew political cartoons for the Bridgeport Post-Telegram and the New Haven Register, as well as newspapers in New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia.

He was co-author and illustrator of “Famous Figures of the West,” and the author of “Iowa Cracker Barrel.”

Mr. Cowan was born in Algona, Iowa, the son of a pioneer homesteader in that state, where he lived in a sod hut on the Iowa prairie during his first two years. He came to Weston in 1927 and resided here the rest of his life.

He was the town’s First Selectman foam 1955 to 1957 when a dispute with the Republican town committee led to his retirement from politics. Previously, he had also been elected to three terms in the State House of Representatives on the Republican ticket.

During his tenure as First Selectman, Weston obtained its first post office, its first state trooper and the first town fire department, accomplishments Mr. Cowan pointed to with special pride at an Historical society meeting in October 1974.

But the cartoonist’s chief claim to fame was his “Major Hoople,” the fat major who is the chief character in “Our Boarding House,” which still appears in Bridgeport Telegram and Sunday Post.

“When I drew him,” Mr. Cowan said in a 1974 Bridgeport Sunday Post interview, “Major Hoople would do the most outrageous things, but always with a reason. Like crossing a lightning bug with a bed bug so he could read in bed at night.”

Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Frances Cowan; two sons, Thaddeus Cowan [1934–2012] of Manhattan, Kan., and Conrad Cowan [1931– ] of Santa Monica, Calif.; and five grandchildren.

Memorial services will take place Tuesday at 3 p.m. in the Norfield Congregational church, with the Rev. Evelyn Towle officiating. Burial will be private.

The Lewis funeral home, 210 Post road east, Westport, is in charge of arrangements.

Further Reading and Viewing
Syracuse Library
Heritage Auctions, Corporal Fooie and Mom ’n’ Pop original art


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Monday, January 17, 2022


Selling It: American Heroes


The US Treasury Department, tasked with the relatively easy job of selling War Bonds during World War II, nevertheless wasn't above the hard sell to squeeze the last few dollars they could out of the wallets of those not in uniform. 

The panel cartoon series American Heroes offered tales of heroism from the warfronts, always with a stinger about the need to buy War Bonds. The panels were presumably sent out in batches, and newspapers were free to use them as they wished, whether on a regular basis or to fill holes whenever needed. 

The first batch went out in February 1943, and were bylined "by Leff." In my book I mistakenly assigned these to Mo Leff, but later I looked at the microscopic signatures that were inscribed on a few panels (most were unsigned) and see that it actually says "M & S LEFF", indicating that the brothers Mo and Sam both worked on the series, presumably with Mo pencilling and Sam inking. 

The Leffs were responsible for most of the series, but with the batch that went out in November 1944, the new artist was Julian Ollendorff, who offered up the most hell-raising illustrations for the series (see above), showing that at 60-some years old he still had some lively ink left in his pen.

He didn't last long though, as the batch sent out in April 1945 switched to veteran cartoonist Wood (or Woody) Cowan. The batch by Cowan was the last batch sent out, as the war was soon over, though War Bonds did continue to be sold for awhile after the end of the conflict. Although newspapers continued running the panels well into 1946, I'm pretty confident that Cowan only produced a single lot of them. 

I presume the series was weekly, but I confess I haven't beaten the bushes to figure out exactly how many panels were actually produced. There may not have been enough offered for that frequency. If someone wants to put in the work to figure that out, you'll find plenty of papers running them in online archives. 

On a side note, I was able to verify the stories of the men cited in all the panels above except that of Henry G. Bohlen. No one by that name seems to have won a Silver Star, and I find no trace of the name in wartime newspaper accounts. Did Ollendorff make up a hero from whole cloth?


I've got a decided oddity for you. There *wass* a Henry G. Bohlen, he *was* from Kansas, and he *was* a decorated soldier...but not in the Pacific! shows that he was indeed a Technical Sergeant from Osborne Co., Kansas with the 90th Infantry Division, 357th Infantry Regiment, and he won a *Bronze Star* (not Silver Star), and he was killed in action on July 6, 1944. He's buried in the cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer, in France.

I have no explanation for this. It could have been something badly garbled, or it could be, shameful to say, an outright lie.
A statement in the Bohlen item was eyebrow-raising: he and his buddies killed or wounded 45 Japanese, and got 145 to surrender? That doesn't sound right.
It only sounds wrong because you don't know the name he went by in the service -- Sgt. Fury. And if anyone could have engaged the Japanese in Europe, it would be him.

Now that I read Wilbur's comment, I readily see his point; very few IJA soldiers surrendered in combat, and 145 surrendering in one battle would have been an extraordinary number, indeed, and likely trumpeted loudly. So, yes, I agree with Wilbur, that should be a red flag.
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Sunday, January 16, 2022


Wish You Were Here, from Rudolph Dirks


Here's another of those postcards distributed with Hearst Sunday papers in 1906, the ones they might have called the "Little Arsonist" line of juvenile amusements. 

I wonder if a single person was surprised to see Der Captain magically appear once the heat was applied? You'd think the cartoonists would think just a little about the point of these cards when creating these designs and come up with something ... anything ... a little unexpected.


Hello Allan-
Your point is well taken; I have yet to see any of these "arson" cards that even remotely had a surprise in them. The possibilities could be vast if that would have been their aim, but they seemed to aim for the exact opposite idea...if we have a card where Si is kicked through the air, there's no suspense in who the hidden kicker is going to be. If Hans and Fritz are lighting a stick of TNT under a chair, there's one guess as to who'll be lounging in it.
Think I've said it before, I've never seen one of these cards that had not been "revealed." So, devoid of any mystery or not, recipients were anxious to see the image anyway. People were hungry for thrills in 1906.
Who is Si?
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