Saturday, January 20, 2024

 

One-Shot Wonders: A Pair by Barnes, 1913

 


Here's a good example of why I feel one-shots are important to the study of newspaper comics history. A fellow named Barnes (I. Barnes? T. Barnes?) produced a boatload of these little weekday strips, all one-shots, for NEA in 1912-13. He's not represented in my book because he never settled down to producing a consistent series. He wasn't a tremendous gag-writer, but he had a nice clean style and a good sense of staging.

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I admit I was baffled by the first strip because I was trying to read it as a continuity. When I re-read the title I realized it was actually three individual examples of that old early-20th century theme, "Men will be emasculated if women get the vote."

Didn't help that the balloons are reversed in all the panels.
 
I was going to suggest that Barnes should have submitted his cartoons for translation in Yiddish-language newspapers where people read right to left (or another language like that, such as Hebrew or Arabic).

But in the third panel of the first strip ("Aw move on! Your blockin' the sidewalk!"), he also managed to put the answer above the question.
 
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Friday, January 19, 2024

 

Obscurity of the Day: Mr. Meanto

 


 

It never bodes well when a cartoonist can't even come up with a decent title for their strip. Here we have a series penned by Roy W. Taylor for the New York World called Mr. Meanto. Now maybe I'm an outlier or my brain is wired wrong, but when I see that title I'm expecting a strip about a character who is nasty to people. Only once you read one of these strips do you realize that Mr. Meanto is forgetful -- he means to do things, then forgets to do them. 

Whether the strip is about a nasty guy or a forgetful guy, the concept had been done before plenty of times. Taylor evidently realized he was treading a well-worn path and so eventually added a co-star, Memory Bill. Bill is just as forgetful as Mr. Meanto, but he has the slight leg up that he can recall things if he gets some sort of nudging reminder. His addition led to the strip taking a slightly different course than others of its type, but it was no less repetitive. 

Mr. Meanto ran as a half-pager in the New York World's Sunday comic section from March 13 1910 until January 29 1911*. Befitting the quality of the strip, I know of only a single installment that made it onto a 4-colour page of the section in that time.


* Source: Ken Barker's New York World index in StripScene #20.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2024

 

Firsts and Lasts: Gordo Says Adios

 


Gus Arriola wanted Americans to learn about and appreciate Mexican culture, and as we know, comic strips that seek to educate have a very steep hill to climb. By the time newspaper readers get to the funnies page they want to be entertained, not preached at. So Arriola had to become that most rare and precious of jewels, the cartoonist who is so good that readers want to enjoy their work even if it is *gasp* educational. Arriola's art is utterly divine, highly stylized and decorative while retaining the unpretentious touch of bigfoot cartooning. The writing is similarly balanced, successfully navigating that high-wire between education and entertainment. Arriola was an entertainer first and foremost, but once he had you hooked he offered you a comfortable and fun learning experience about Mexican history, the Spanish language and Latino culture. 

With the strip about to be retired in 1985 after a 40+ year run, Arriola decided to give readers closure on confirmed bachelor Gordo's love life. After toying with an involved idea in which Gordo is cloned (!), Arriola decided on a simpler continuity. Gordo was trapped into an imminent forced marriage with the Widow Gonzalez and he takes the one escape route he could by proposing to his beloved Tehuana Mama. Faced with getting her wish after all these years, she decides to overlook the circumstance that is forcing Gordo's hand and accepts. The whole Gordo family rides off into the sunset. 

In the final strip Arriola offers a generally warm goodbye message to his readers, but betrays just a hint of anger at either the end of Gordo, or at Mexican-US relations. I'm really not sure which. 

Thanks to Mark Johnson, who supplied the syndicate proofs for Gordo's final week.

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Hello Allan-

Gordo's biggest drawback was, perhaps because of the "educational" component, was the tendency to be very talky, and though in these examples, he obviously had a hard deadline for an "¬°Adios!" strip, and had to explain a lot of story fast, through the years he did a lot of very text-heavy, action-light entries.

Nevertheless, Arriola is somewhat overlooked. He was capable of truly dazzling compositions that should have put him into the class of greatest penmen of the form. But I remember few papers that carried it, as if it were just beyond the number of UFS strips a client paper would take.
Might be that it would've been more popular in the Southwest, but I did my growing up in the Northeast.
 
"Rising tides" might also be taken literally. There's an environmentalist spin on this last story; the Widow Gonzalez is colonizing a new planet because this one is increasingly polluted and tapped out.

It's a shame we don't have more reprint collections. "Accidental Ambassador Gordo" is a combination of highlights and personal memoir; it includes some story arcs and leaves you wanting more. There was also "Gordo's Critters", a collection of late-period Sunday pages.
 
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Monday, January 15, 2024

 

Obscurity of the Day: Brooks Looks

 






Unheralded gems can be found in some of the darnedest places. Brooks Looks, a weekly panel cartoon that ran only in The Cape Codder, poked fun at life on the Cape, with special emphasis on the particularities of both Islanders and the tourists they put up with. If you have ever lived in a tourist area you'll find many a grin in Brooks Looks, even if you're not a chowder head. The bemusement at tourist behaviour translates to just about anywhere, from Cape Cod to Orlando to Acapulco to Rome. 

Gordon Brooks penned the weekly cartoons, probably for little pay, despite having a lot else going on in his life. He wasn't some oddball hermit type who penned cartoons because he had nothing better to do with himself. He was also a very fine cartoonist, not a hometown hack. For biographical details check out this obituary and this appreciation

The panel debuted without a title on March 28 1957, and gained the title Brooks Looks a few weeks later. In 1962, The Cape Codder showed its appreciation for Brooks by publishing a little book of his cartoons titled Cape Codder Library Volume 1: Thre Best of Brooks Looks. This, to my knowledge, is the only book of Brooks Looks material, and is well worth searching out. Just in case word gets out, you might want to start looking now while the prices are cheap. 

I've been saving the most amazing thing about Brooks Looks for the end. The real Ripley moment comes now, when I let it fly that Gordon Brooks apparently produced Brooks Looks weekly for that newspaper for 54 years!! The only other unassisted cartoonist I can think of who produced a weekly for five decades like that is another Massachusetts guy, Ed Payne, who did Billy the Boy Artist. His record is a little blurry because the strip did not appear every week in its early years. Of course these both pale in comparison to the achievement of one Charles Schulz, but then again, Sparky got rewarded very well to produce Peanuts, unlike these gents who laboured in relative obscurity.

Though cited in multiple places to have run until 2011, the year Brooks died, sadly I cannot give a definite end date for Brooks Looks. The online archives of The Cape Codder, which seem to only be available from the website of the Snow Library in the town of Orleans, seems to only go up to 1999.

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Sunday, January 14, 2024

 

Wish You Were Here, from Reg Manning

 

Here's a Reg Manning 'Travelcard', this one designated 8-41or 1B-H1561, take your pick. They were called Travelcards because there are fill-in-the-blanks on the reverse for the sender to enter the date and time and where they were at that moment on their journey. Manning's Travelcards were printed by Curteich out of Chicago, and distributed throughout the southwest by Lollesgard Specialty of Arizona. Since these were published in 1941, you find a lot in unused condition since pleasure trips were about to pretty much go out the window as soon as the US joined the war in December.

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