Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Christmas With The Cartoonists

Harold Gray 
(Little Orphan Annie)

This was Gray's house in Westport, Connecticut... 
also had nice digs in La Jolla, California



Monday, December 17, 2018

Christmas With The Cartoonists

J.W. McGurk
Dec 24, 1922


Dick Moores – Sketch

Courtesy of Rick Marschall

Christmas With The Cartoonists

Roger Armstrong 
(Napoleon, Ella Cinders, Bugs Bunny, Little Lulu, Little Hiawatha, Scamp, etc)


Sunday, December 16, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Walter Berndt

by Rick Marschall

Berndt Memories

My gregarious Uncle Gus used to greet people with a salutation that began, “Shake the hand that shook the hand of...” and would supply names, invariably fantasized, ranging from Babe Ruth to Spike Jones to Weenie Phimpf.

But there is a serious side to the concept, and I am grateful, myself, to have been born and reared in a time and places, and infected with certain interests, that I can say I met many pioneer figures in cartooning and cinema history and legends from country music to jazz.

That is one of the reasons I share these memories in A Crowded Life via Yesterday’s Papers. Also, I want to record pieces of history – of people I wanted to interview “before the colors fade” – before my own colors fade. And… to encourage cognoscenti to gather all the information they can manage as they explore and learn.

As I remember my friendship with Walter Berndt, creator of the famous Smitty comics strip, I dug out a letter he wrote and tucked into a Smitty reprint book in which he drew a  sketch. A portion put me in this mathematical-tinged nostalgic mood:

“Ye gods…! Little Herby was forty (gulp) years younger then – me too! Yipes!”

Indeed. The book was printed in 1928, and this note and sketch were sent to me in 1968.  But I can say Ye gods; gulp; and Yipes, myself, as I write this precisely 50 years subsequent. So I can recall a friendship with a man whose character starred in a reprint book 90 years ago. In fact his Smitty strip itself will have its 100th birthday in 2022.

Chicago Tribune, January 11, 1931
His strip was “vintage” in 1968, yet was popular enough – and Walt was vital enough – that the very next year he was awarded the National Cartoonist Society’s Reuben award. His colorful origins reflect the halcyon days of comic strips’ first steps. When he was 16 he secured a job as office boy in the bullpen of the New York Journal, putting him in direct contact with George Herriman, Winsor McCay, Cliff Sterrett, TAD Dorgan, Elzie Segar, and others.

Walt graduated from pushing brooms to fraternizing during breaks to inking pencil lines and filling in blacks and drawing backgrounds to occasionally submitting his own drawings.

His signature can be found on Hearst fill-in features; then strips and panels for other newspapers and syndicates around New York. In 1922 he scored with, I think, Bill the Office Boy (happy inspiration) at the Daily News. In a familiar episode of inspiration, the legendary editor Captain Joseph Patterson re-named the young hero Smitty. Eventually Smitty’s parents provided a little brother, Herby. In the cast also were Mr Bailey, the office boss, and – as Smitty matured to teen years – girl friends like Ginny.

Walt lived in Port Jefferson, in a grand house on a promontory, and I occasionally visited him after I started a job as cartoonist and editor at the Connecticut Herald. It was old-fashioned fun, actually, to take the Bridgeport-Port Jeff ferry. Once my fiancee Nancy joined me (Sagamore Hill was on the agenda that day too) and she was charmed by thye old boy.

The only people who were not charmed by the warmth and friendliness of Walter Berndt were those who had not met him.

When I became Associate Editor / Comics of the News Syndicate, it was just after Smitty was retired, in 1973. Walt lived until 1979. The Long Island chapter of the NCS meets in formal honor of Walt, calling itself the “Berndt Toast Society.” Fitting, for its conviviality. (Walt pronounced his name in the manner that invited a pun, but the German pronunciation – there is a German couple in my church sharing the surname – is “bairnt.”)

Another aspect of his name: his signature. And it returns us to the happy headwaters of comics lore. Walt shared how TAD Dorgan, the legendary sports and panel cartoonist, befriended the office boy who aspired to draw newspaper comics, too. Dorgan supposed that Walt’s signature could be a tad (sorry) more distinctive, and he invited the boy to appropriate the “T” from TAD’s own famous trademark. Thus are torches passed!

“Shake the hand that shook the hand...”



Saturday, December 15, 2018

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Sunday With Jimmy Swinnerton and Tad Dorgan

Jimmy Swinnerton, Dec 18, 1898
Top: Tad Dorgan. Bottom: Jimmy Swinnerton, Dec 18, 1898

Jimmy Swinnerton, Dec 25, 1898

Christmas With The Cartoonists

John Groth


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics

Mell, Miss Peach, Momma… and The Producers

by Rick Marschall

When the New York Herald-Tribune was in its last gasps in the 1950s, it truly was a “gray lady” (the nickname often applied to the New York Times) in view of its stately dignity, rarified pedigree, and, um, imminent demise.

The merger of the New York Tribune, child of the eccentric vegetarian, Republican critic of Abraham Lincoln, and 1872 presidential candidate Horace Greeley; and the New York Herald, the “penny daily” whose Scottish founder James Gordon Bennett sent Henry Stanley to find Dr Livingston, I presume, in darkest Africa, the Herald-Tribune was the legatee of amazing traditions.

The Trib, as it commonly was called even after its 1924 merger, had other limbs on its family tree. When Greeley’s successor Whitelaw Reid was Publisher and Editor he reinforced the power of its weekly National Edition, and the Tribune was regarded as the  mouthpiece of the Republican Party (much as the New York World came to be regarded as the semi-official Democrat organ after Joseph Pulitzer bought the paper). Reid was so active in GOP circles that he was tapped as Vice Presidential candidate in 1892; his ticket, with Benjamin Harrison running for a second term, lost. And Theodore Roosevelt named Reid Ambassador to the Court of St James.
April 18, 1959
The Herald was always interesting. Behind its conservative exterior and layout, it was almost as “yellow” as the Journal and the World in its scandal-mongering. It was as enterprising, too: it produced color supplements (on rag paper) and color comics and cartoons before Pulitzer or Hearst joined the game. Buster Brown was created in the Herald; and Little Nemo was born there too. Winsor McCay had been lured to New York by Bennett’s sister paper, the Telegraph. The Bennetts also published the Paris, France, edition of the Herald. Dignified-looking, too, but when I mentioned its “yellow” aspect I submit as testimony the fact that far back as the 1880s – and as recently as 15 years ago in the International Herald-Tribune – classified ads appeared for prostitutes, something shunned by other newspapers. Like “escorts” today, here and there, those ads advertised  companionship, company for the lonely businessman, lovely tour guides, and, well, escorts.

It seems I have gone off on a tangent before the main point of this essay. But… a flavor of what the Trib was in the 1950s. Respected, colorful, and doddering. Many newspapers in New York were in their death throes.

The Trib did not go down without a fight, however. In the 1950s it was distinguished paper with notable writers – opinion, reporting, and features. Tom Wolfe cut his eye teeth there. They were connected to Newsweek magazine, on the rise as it was receding. It was the “voice” of the Republican Establishment: that is, the East-Coast Rockefeller wing. In the early ‘60s I was at a luncheon and sat next to Clay Felker, who was fashioning its revolutionary Sunday magazine, bold in design and editorial focus, that would soon evolve to a life of its own as… the newsstand New York magazine.

In the interregnum, the Trib’s weak sister, the Herald-Tribune Syndicate, having limped along with ancient features like Clare Briggs’ old Mr and Mrs, and merely old features like Harry Haenigsen’s Penny and Our Bill, was about the last syndicate to which cartoonists would submit their strips. Last stop, last try, last chance.

… which means the syndicate could either die, or go one way: up.

And now we get to the nub of this chapter of A Crowded Life in Cartooning. One of the cartoonists who caught fire there in the 1950s. It was amazing, really… and exciting for kids like me who instinctively recognized when new and hip and exciting strips were breaking through.

Johnny Hart sold BC, and it was different. And funny! I think Harry Welker was the name of the syndicate chief then, and he was either wise or lucky. Or both. Johnny’s strip was one of a kind. Arnold Roth sold Poor Arnold’s Almanac; wild. Al Jaffee did the oddly formatted Tall Tales. The Trib landed Peanuts; although from a different syndicate, the paper picked it up when new because no other New York paper wanted it. Suddenly the Trib’s Sunday comics – even when they printed them in black and white during a period of penury – were hip, and fun, and Must-Read.

Intellectual strips, most of them were called. “In the tradition of Krazy Kat and Barnaby. Yeah. And there was the strip with little kids with big heads and scribbly props. Adult sarcasm from their mouths while Charlie Brown was still a blockhead. Miss Peach. By Mell.

Mell? What’s a Mell? Gee, that cast was funny. Kids in Miss Peach’s classroom at the Kelly School. Many gags were single, long panels, with dialog reflecting the kids’ distinct personalities. I wanted to talk like all of them; even Arthur, sometimes.

Miss Peach by Mell Lazarus was an instant classic, and an instant hit. There was a great, early reprint collection, for which Al Capp wrote the Foreword. I learned that Mell worked for him at one time, in the sweat-shop that churned out Li’l Abner comic books and licensed items.

I met Mell a few years after my initial enthrallment, at a National Cartoonists Society meeting I described here recently. He was one of the cartoonists who signed a big poster to me. I remember when I got home that night, my dad thrilled by all the cartoonists’ sketches, but the one that made him  laugh out loud, was Mell’s drawing of Miss Peach and a bunch of the kids. She says: “Say hello to Dick, class!” They say, in unison, “Hello to Dick class!”

Within a dozen years I was Mell’s editor at Publisher’s Syndicate, never ever having to ask him about late strips or content problems. A joy. And… by then he was also drawing Momma, which had more client papers than Miss Peach. A mitzvah. A nicer man and better friend – or funnier one – did not exist in cartooning.
August 1, 1959
One story that not everyone knows. When he was a galley slave in the shop of Al Capp and his brother Eliot Caplin, Mell somehow (!) conceived the idea of a conniving pair of bosses who thought they could create an idea, attract investors – in fact multiple and overlapping investors – with a concept so stinko it was sure to fail; and they would keep the “lost” capital. Until…

… until the stinko property was a success. If you find yourself, right now, humming “Springtime for Hitler,” you’re getting warm. Mell’s book was titled The Boss is Crazy Too. A modest success as a paperback book. Nobody ever accused Mel Brooks or anyone else – well, some of us thought it would be justice to make a public fuss – of swiping the concept for The Producers. But imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, no?

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Christmas With The Cartoonists


December 17, 1911
Chicago Tribune