Saturday, December 02, 2023
One-Shot Wonders: Things You Would Never Dream by Art Young, 1897
I'll be the first to admit that this isn't a particularly important work by Art Young, but in my humble opinion EVERYTHING Art Young does, even his tea stains on a placemat, are worthy of our attention. Here he is in an early colour comic section of the New York Journal, this the issue of January 17 1897. While the gags, all three of 'em, are nothing to write home about, check out the stylized action in the second panels of each two-panel series. There is a master class in these simple panels on how to depict restfulness and contrast it with activity.
Labels: One-Shot Wonders
Friday, December 01, 2023
Obscurity of the Day: Weekly Rib
Even Western Newspaper Union, probably the most prosperous of the syndicates that catered to weekly papers, started hitting hard times after World War II. Their comic offerings started bouncing around erratically, as opposed to before the war when they had maintained a mostly consistent and professional stable of features.
Weekly Rib was one of their many experiments from this era. A panel cartoon with no consistent characters or setting, it was drawn by Roy Mathison, a decent enough cartoonist of whom I know nothing. The feature ran for just one year -- in other words, just 52 panels -- from April 15 1948* to April 7 1949**, and not many WNU clients used it.
Given my bad track record on genealogical digging lately, I darent make any proclamations, but maybe this is our guy?
* Source: Pomeroy Herald
** Source: Graettinger Times
Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Toppers: Wiggle Line Movie
When E.C. Segar was battling leukemia and only sporadically able to work on Thimble Theatre the show had to go on, and other hands kept the franchise running. In much of 1938 someone other than Segar handled the Sunday much of the time, but Segar rallied and penned (or at least signed) the Sunday strip from July 17 to October 2. During this short period he came up with his last new contribution to the Sunday toppers, the Wiggle Line Movie.
Unlike earlier activity panels like Funny Films that theoretically gave kids a moving picture but didn't really succeed, the Wiggle Line Movie actually offered a successful but extremely limited animation. In each installment you got a funny face and a wiggly line; put the two together in the prescribed method and you get a wacky face with moving eyes. Worth the effort? I dunno, but the feature didn't last long so maybe the syndicate wasn't too impressed.
Wiggle Line Movie ran with the Sundays of September 11 through November 13 1938, during which time (on October 13), Segar died. After October 2, Segar's last signed Sunday, the art and writing may have been in the hands of King bullpenner Doc Winner, which seems to be the consensus opinion. But I wonder, given that the art and writing is a cut above what I would expect of Winner, if perhaps Bud Sagendorf or others were involved. In Sagendorf's book Popeye - The First 50 Years he says that he started working on the activity panels "after 1938," but maybe he jumped in a little earlier than he could recall many years later. Any Thimble Theatre scholars out there who can shed some light?
Labels: Topper Features
Monday, November 27, 2023
Restoring Arnold by Charles Brubaker
The following post was originally written for the Cartoonist Cooperative newsletter, but I am allowing Allan to run it here as I am in need of help for the Arnold complete collection I am publishing. I have every daily published for the comic, and I have most of the Sundays, enough to cover the first two volumes of a 3-volume series, but I am having a hard time finding the Sundays that ran from June 1987 to April 1988 (when the strip ended). Most of the copies I have for those dates came from microfilm, but I would vastly prefer using newspaper clippings if possible.
If you have any leads on finding clippings of “Arnold” Sundays from those dates, I would love if you would get in touch. Alternatively, if there are leads on finding bound, printed copies of newspapers that ran the strip, that would be great as well. “Arnold” ran in vanishingly few papers towards the end, but among the papers that ran it to the very end are Detroit Free-Press, the Baltimore Sun, and (I presume) Chicago Sun-Times.
I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Restoring Arnold by Charles Brubaker
I never expected to become a publisher. Oh, I’ve self-published my own comics many times through my Smallbug Press label (a name I registered because a printing company I used back in 2017 required I have one). But there’s a difference between self-publishing, where you print your own work, and publishing another creator’s work. That happened to me this past August, when I released Arnold: The Complete Collection Volume 1.
Arnold was a comic strip by Kevin McCormick that ran in a small number of newspapers from 1982 to 1988. The strip featured the bizarre antics of a middle-school boy and his friend, two weird characters in a world that's just as weird to match. Very few characters appeared on-panel. In addition to the titular Arnold and his friend Tommy, the only other character to appear prominently was Mr. Lester, their teacher. There were technically other characters, as well, like Heather (who disappeared like Lyman in Garfield), but they mostly just yelled from off-screen, never appearing on-camera.
|Trade advertisement for Arnold comic strip
I didn’t grow up on the strip, having been born over a year after the comic ended its run, but I was (and still am) obsessed with newspaper strips. In addition to reading the ones in my local newspaper growing up, I also sought out any comics I could find online. I eventually found an old message board dedicated to comic strips (remember message boards?). One strip was mentioned by several members: Arnold.
The more I read about the strip, the more intrigued I became. Finding samples proved to be hard as the strip ended before the internet became commonplace, but I managed to contact someone who xeroxed newspaper clippings and mailed them to me. I was hooked by the bizarre strip that seems to defy common decency. Arnold frequently wrote letters to Miss Manners, asking questions such as whether it was rude to do an impression of an anteater during dinner (which involved inhaling meatloaf with his nose), resulting in him getting a response asking if he was ever dragged through a cactus. Arnold's antagonism towards the cafeteria ladies (who frequently refer to him as "Ratso") got to the point that the ladies grabbed Arnold and force-fed him mayonnaise, which he refers to as the "White Death".
That this was serialized in the 1980s also made it more hilarious to me. The strip came out when Berkeley Breathed’s Bloom County and Gary Larson’s The Far Side were taking off in the mainstream, so there was clearly a market for strips that pushed the envelope. Perhaps Arnold went too far for the editors as it never made a huge splash in the world of newspapers.
|Proof sheet for a week of Arnold dailies
Not that readers didn’t notice. The newspaper strip gained a cult following among college students. It was especially popular in Detroit, where it ran in the Free Press until the bitter end, when a giant bird grabbed Arnold and flew off, never to be seen again. Kevin McCormick even acknowledged his Detroit audience by creating a special drawing for the paper and running a short letter thanking his readers.
Over the years I managed to track down more and more strips, through microfilms, newspaper clippings, and scans, but to my disappointment the strip never received a proper book collection. I contacted a few acquaintances with experience in reprinting complete runs of newspaper comics, but they all told me Arnold was such a niche title they didn’t feel it would be worth the investment. Well, as the saying goes, “if no one will do it, do it yourself.”
I had contacted Kevin McCormick before for an interview that ran on my blog, but getting his blessing for a book reprint took some repeated inquiries. I eventually got his attention on the matter after his daughter expressed support for the project. After consulting Nat Gertler, who specializes in reprinting obscure comic materials (including those by Charles M. Schulz), I put a contract together and we signed an agreement.
As it turned out, that was the EASIEST part of the project. The actual hard part was finding the comics. I was able to acquire scans of the proof sheets (a set of sheets containing a week’s worth of strips for newspapers to cut and paste into their page layouts) from King Features Syndicate for most of Arnold, but not for every single strip from the original run. They had most of the dailies, but half of the Sundays were missing, and some of the dailies had missing weeks as well. I also got lucky and managed to find original art for three of the strips from different collectors on eBay. With each original costing $100, it wasn’t the cheapest of investments, but collecting comic strip original art is already a worthwhile pursuit of mine. Those three strips (dated 1/6/1983, 2/16/1983. and 6/21/1983) have the sharpest reproduction among the weekday strips.
Finding the missing dailies was considerably easier, thanks to microfilm I was able to scan and sufficiently clean, using Photoshop to remove any dust and artifacts along the way. In extreme cases I had to Frankenstein a single strip together by stitching parts together from different sources.
The Sundays proved to be the hardest to track down. I found old newspaper clippings of the Sundays on eBay over a better part of the decade, and Kevin McCormick sent me camera captures of Sundays from his original pieces, but he didn’t have everything. He had given some originals away over the years, and others had been damaged by squirrels that had snuck into his attic.
|Typical Arnold Sunday tearsheet sample with awful print quality and color
Luckily I was able to get in touch with comic strip historian Allan Holtz, who possessed many of the early Sundays in his own collection. But even that proved to be a challenge because, as Allan explained, “the printing of the Sundays was truly awful. The word balloon text always seemed to be washed out and full of printing losses, and the coloring was a sickening miasma.” I knew that very well, from my own experience dealing with newspaper clippings, and applied many of my own. Photoshop techniques, including redrawing missing lineart and manually erasing artifacts. There was one strip that I spent an entire week cleaning up. Thankfully later strips didn’t suffer from nearly as many printing issues and I was able to get them presentable relatively quickly.
The first of three volumes came out in the last week of August 2023, after five years of attempts,, marking my official debut as a “publisher.” The reactions have been favorable, with many writing they’d been waiting over 30 years for this book to happen. This production was very much a labor of love. As I noted earlier, I had always wanted to have an Arnold book collection and ensure that this strip was preserved, so I took the initiative to make it happen. There are a number of other forgotten comic strips I’d like to see reprinted, and I wonder if I have the drive to do this further while keeping my own comics going. Time will tell, but first I need to get the other two volumes out.
You can get the book on Amazon here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CGSPS2LL. Here's the cover of book two, not yet published:
Sunday, November 26, 2023
Wish You Were Here, from Little Nemo
Here's another card in the Raphael Tuck series of Little Nemo Valentines Day postcards. Can you find the original McCay panel on which this image is based?
Labels: Wish You Were Here