Wednesday, April 24, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Louis Wain's Cat Comic Strip (1st Series)


Starting his artistic career in the 1880s, Louis Wain quickly became a popular and incredibly prolific artist in British publications, where he specialized in humorous cartoons of cats. By his constant appearances in publications like the Illustrated London News, which enjoyed worldwide circulation, his fame spread to the U.S., where William Randolph Hearst saw his material as being a good fit for the New York Journal's new colour comic section.

Wain's densely populated cat cartoon panels, which had no regular recurring title, debuted in the New York Journal on October 17 1897 and ran there for a little over half a year, apparently disappearing after the installment of June 5 1898*. These dates are based on the documentation of the SFACA collection at Ohio State University. However, Dave Strickler's indexing of the early Journal claims an end date of December 11 1898. Perhaps both are right and the Wain cartoons in the latter half of 1898 appeared outside the comics section. Not having seen late examples myself, I cannot say who is right.

Wondering if the Journal cartoons were original material or just reruns from the British press, I tried searching for a few of the individual titles, like Tabby Social Club, on the web. I found no other references to them other than in the Journal, so I assume that these cartoons were original material created for the paper, not reprints. 

Wain's initial series of cat cartoons didn't seem to set New York on fire, and his work was not seen in newspapers here for the next decade. However, on a trip to New York in 1907 Wain succeeded in selling his wares to the Hearst organization once again, eventually leading to a number of series spanning the next decade.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for supplying the scans of this series.


Hello Allan-
Nice to see my brother is still contributing, posthumously.
I don't think these are reprints from some British source, It would seem that Wain, who was a rather prolific penman, submitted material for Hearst over in America because it would be a paying venue, and so he put in several months' worth of his peculiar specialty. I think by the time of the later Wain series, like Toby Maltese, etc., Hearst materials were printed in British publications as well.
Though Wain was a very popular cartoonist, especially famous across the pond, he is more famous today for his ever more deranged artwork, still often feline-centric, done while he slowly lost his mind while in a mental hospital for his last twenty-five or so years of his life. His story is literally textbook stuff in psychological studies. Sad but true.

Not many early strippers have a bio-pic dedicated to them!

The Electrical Life of Louis Wain

1h 51m
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