Saturday, June 15, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

An Idol with Kley Feet

by Rick Marschall

Heinrich Kley is an artist whose talents were virtually (and wonderfully) schizophrenic in their impressive variety, but who remains generally a cipher to historians and students of cartooning.

This dichotomy, in itself, is not a rare thing that needs to confound researchers. It is we, rather, who are perched between curiosity and selfishness, wanting to know everything we can about those creators whose work impresses. When all is said and done – anyway, not a horrible status to settle for – an artist’s work will speak for itself.

When I engaged in research for my biography of Johann Sebastian Bach, I was struck (and, yes, dismayed) by the paucity of information about the man, particularly by the man. There were comments by some other composers, occasional letters by his children, a few minutes of town-councils and church boards. But scarcely any diaries or letters or journals by old Bach himself; no introspection.

… except through his music. Which is exactly what satisfied Sebastian.

So with Heinrich Kley. We know what he did – although, you eventually will see, far from all of it has been reprinted – and we know what jobs he held through the years. But like Bach and other geniuses through the centuries, we have little sense of what he was like; his creative inspirations; his prejudices and enthusiasms; whether his multi-facted output reflected his passions… or were some activities jobs-on-commission?

Again, we don’t have to know everything. His work does not merely speak to us: it shouts. Kley was born in Karlsruhe in 1863 and died in Munich in 1945. In his 82 years he was a remarkable artist, impressing cartoonists, painters, and connoisseurs in Europe and the United States; and mastering – seemingly from the very start – several distinct genres.

Any one genre would have been astounding. But Heinrich Kley was a superb pen and ink artist and illustrator; he became identified with fantasy and erotic drawings; he executed hundreds of watercolor cityscapes and landscapes; he depicted, in exquisite and accurate details, mighty industrial scenes; he illustrated several books, from The Swiss Family Robinson and Reynard the Fox to science-fiction novels. Were all these thematic preoccupations passions of the same man? None ever betrayed a pedestrian approach.

It is difficult to make too much of my own “crowded life” in relation to Kley, for I was born after he died. Yet, like countless readers and aspiring cartoonists, I discovered his work in two trade paperbacks that Dover published in the early 1960s. Thereafter the story became a little personal, because I eventually was able to collect many European first editions; runs of the magazines he drew for; original artwork; rare art portfolios; the post cards of his stunning watercolors… and even tracked down, on a trip to Germany, the house that seemed to be his when he died. (There is no plaque there, nor any memorial. And his burial was in a small-town cemetery, marked by a small and modest stone.)

(watercolor of Maria Kirche church)

Mystery about aspects of his life are, and were, many; and mostly, as mysteries anyway, silly. His modesty possibly invited some of it. When the American magazine Coronet in the 1930s published portfolios of his work in three succeeding issues, it stated that Kley “reportedly went insane” and was institutionalized; other writers were to suggest that he died a suicide. But that all too likely was to cover for old-fashioned piracy, the unauthorized theft of his work.

“Sanity” and strange seclusion were also convenient explanations for those who could not understand any artist, or any one, not fleeing Germany or consigned to a labor camp, during the Third Reich. But he remained, he continued to draw – as did other cartoonists for Jugend and Simplicissimus – even through the War, and was a creative force who continued to create. Similar putative anomalies were Wilhelm Furtwangler and Carl Orff (the composer whose output and personality, as far as we can tell, bore resemblance to his fellow Munchner Kley).

The satyrs and orgies of blended creatures never were judged “degenerate art” by the Nazis. And while on the subject, it is interesting to note that many of  Adolf Hitler’s own watercolors and submissions to art schools in Munich and Vienna, in the days prior to the Great War’s outbreak, closely resembled Kley’s popular postcard art.

Heinrich Kley can be characterized as a male Aphrodite – he appeared, full grown and almost perfect, on the scene in 1886. (Maybe not a real stretch; Aphrodite was born of sea-foam, and the famous petrified sea-foam called Meerschaum is native to Kley’s Bavarian Alps… and “kley” means loam or clay) To commemorate the 500th anniversary of the University of Heidelberg in that birthplace of the university-system, a “Leporello” book – one drawing, folded accordian-style, depicting a parade of scholars and townspeople of the five centuries – was drawn by Kley in incredible detail.

I have mentioned the other fields he visited, and conquered, and for now, for here, that will suffice. I share with you images not usually seen… a couple of sketchbook pages from my collection (almost all his drawings were virtual sketches, masses of lines coalescing into perfect anatomy) that show that Kley did use a pencil! … and a letter from his widow Emily.

She wrote this letter to publisher Emanuel Borden of Los Angeles. It seems that Borden was at first another pirate, but after the war he produced two more handsome Kley collections; and appears – from this letter – that he earned Emily’s trust, and perhaps paid her royalties. Her letter is pathetic, sad. Three years after the War’s end; Munich devastated and still occupied; and the widow of one of the century’s great artistic geniuses – she is hardly a military threat to the American troops – finds it difficult to send or receive mail, or find bread.

I hope this letter, from my collection, is legible. Click twice and squint.

It might be appropriate that the genius who was Heinrich Kley be relatively obscure to us and more than a little enigmatic. Already attracted to his work when our eyes meet it, we are, perhaps, compelled not to merely look, but to enter his scenes – his fantasy-flavored perceptions of reality, and realistic depictions of the his wild imagination.


Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

← The Twain Has Left the Station

 by Rick Marschall 

I intend to write more about the great Lucca Comics Festival in Tuscany, as I did a few weeks ago with photos and sketches. Especially after the death this week of its manager for many years, Rinaldo Traini. I am gathering photos, drawings, and memories; and will share them soon.

When I lived in Weston CT my home was 15 minutes’ drive to Redding, where Mark Twain spent his last years. He moved there in 1908 and built his great home “Stormfield,” and died there in 1910, the year of Halley’s Comet, summoning one of the writer’s many superstitions.

As an aspiring humorist and cartoonist myself since I was old enough to laugh, I virtually worshiped Twain, and had all of his books, including first editions. An additional Mecca for me in my Connecticut years was the annual Mark Twain Library book sale. As in many places where I have lived or nearby – Weston, Westport, Greenwich; Abington and Bryn Mawr PA – book sales in neighborhoods once populated by accomplished artists, writers, cartoonists, and illustrators frequently yielded rare and often inscribed books.

I also honor Twain for the cartoonists he introduced or showcased as illustrators of his books. E W Kemble was a little-known aspiring cartoonist barely cracking the pages of the New York Daily Graphic and Life when the famous Twain noticed his cartoons and thought he had a flair for drawing rural folks, black and white. Thus the obscure Kemble illustrated Huckleberry Finn and subsequent books.

F Opper, A B Frost, Dan Beard, True Williams, Baron DeGrimm, and eventually Norman Rockwell were among the scores of illustrators and cartoonists who accompanied Twain’s prose.

As a collector of original art as well as first editions, I was always happy to discover visual treasures. Here, photographed from a very large watercolor caricature, is Mark Twain by “Vet” Anderson. Largely forgotten today, Anderson (no relation to his contemporary Carl Anderson of “Henry” fame) drew full-page caricatures in this style of panache and boldness, for Sunday New York Herald entertainment sections early in the 20th century. Born in Bear Lake MI, midway between my current home and Traverse City, he later was an animation pioneer in the studio of Raoul Barre and others.

The other caricature of Twain is by Albert Levering, prolific book illustrator and frequent contributor to Puck and Life (for which this was done). Besides Twain, he illustrated works by John Kendrick Bangs; Ellis Parker Butler; and Edward W Townsend, author of Yellow Kid texts.

To bring this little Mississippi River cruise (of sorts) back to port – it was Albert Levering who illustrated the last book Twain published in his lifetime, and one whose title was an inside-joke calling upon his estate in Redding – Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.


Friday, June 7, 2019

Printing in the Fifteenth and the Nineteenth Centuries

Monthly Supplement 

of the 

Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge

No. 369

Charles Knight & Co.

Nov 30 to Dec 31, 1837

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Sunday with Burne Hogarth –

Burne Hogarth – Star Weekly, Jan 6, 1945

Burne Hogarth – Coq Hardi, France, Jan 1, 1948

Sunday, June 2, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Good Sports

by Rick Marschall

[TOP] Pap

Depicted is the dean of all sports columnists, Grantland Rice. Trivia: I own (or my son does, now) Rice’s golf clubs. Bequeathed to his friend, syndicate pioneer John Wheeler, and passed on to me.

Sports cartooning is, or was, a category of cartooning that arguably can be considered an incubator once on a par with political cartoons, magazine panels, and book illustration. The National Cartoonists Society used to present a category award for Sports Cartooning, and hands out plaques for New Media, Greeting Cards, and On-Line Short-Form Comics… but discontinued the Sports Cartooning honor more than 25 years ago.

This situation surely is attributable to an ossified genre and reduced population as much as the NCS’s institutional distractions.

But some of the finest cartooning talents in history have Protean roots… and indeed some practitioners never “graduated” to other levels of cartooning.

I will share, here, some memories of sports cartoonists I have known  in my Crowded Life.

When I was a kid – I mean so young I had to take buses and subways from our suburban  New Jersey home into Manhattan, and visit cartoonists and syndicates three times a year, Easter holiday, summer vacation, Christmas break – I ventured to the bullpen of the Associated Press.

In those days (obviously the halcyon times of virtually no security in public buildings and newspaper offices) the AP had its own syndicate operation. It was small but significant; and among its “graduates” through the years were Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Al Capp, and Frank Robbins.

R B Fuller created Oaky Doaks for the AP, and remained all his life. During the time I am writing about, Ralph Fuller was a neighbor in Leonia NJ. He willed me volumes of Judge Magazine from his time on staff in the 1920s. At the AP I also met Dick Hodgins Jr. I thought him austere in his horn-rimmed glasses and looming height, but he encouraged me by looking at my sketches and saying if I were five years older I could get a job in the bullpen. I never did apply, but in five years or so I was taller than Dick, and learned how affable he was. He became one of my best friends in this business. 

But the end of the row of drawing-tables, in the corner, was Tom Paprocki, sports cartoonist. On every visit I would check in with Dick, and editorial cartoonist John Milt Norris, panel cartoonist Joe Cunningham (“’ham”), and others, before sitting next to “Pap.” I remember two things especially: a warm friendliness beneath his gruff visage; and a stack of his original daily sports-cartoon panels. Added to for who-knows how many years, the pile must have been 40 inches high! Pap gifted me with a few… but I have always wondered what happened to them, ultimately.

The AP was a “service” organization for newspapers, not a true syndicate. As with its news, features, and wire-photo services, newspapers subscribed, or not, and received everything, to use as they wished. Comics, cartoons, columns, and material offering advice to the lovelorn, bridge and poker strategies, kids’ puzzles, and such, were part of the “package.” (It is difficult to gauge, therefore, the popularity or client lists of its comic strips, as editors variable commitments to cartoons and comics).

So Pap’s cartoons were run by major newspapers, many minor newspapers seeking the look of a pro in their pages depicting major personalities and events, and even Sunday color sections for a while. He was a consummate professional indeed, composing this panels in the form associated with (but not originated by) Willard Mullin – a large realistic portrait, realized by aid of a Pantograph, from photo reference; smaller line drawings, often humorous, illustrating facts and stats in an orbit around the star of the day.

Yes, THAT Ozzie Nelson, later of Ozzie and Harriet; father of Rick Nelson

 Here are a couple of Sports Slants by Pap. The color feature was offered to Sunday supplements; the AP struggled to maintain a foothold in those venues, with minimal success. Nevertheless features like Things To Come by Clyde Barrow; Scorchy Smith by Frank Robbins, Rodlow Willard, and others; Neighborly Neighbors by Morris; and Oaky Doaks ran for some years.

Charlie McGill

Charlie McGill was a local sports cartoonist – local to me in the North Jersey suburbs of New Jersey – and he lived in my town of Closter. The example here is a spot drawing he did for a sports column. McKevin McVey also drew for the Bergen Record, a paper I delivered after school. McVey, who joined the ADK hiking club I belonged to in upstate New York, drew more theatrical caricatures than sports or editorial cartoons.

Ray Gotto “Play Ball! – New York Mets logo

I knew Ray Gotto in several capacities. I seldom read The Sporting News, where his mannered sports cartoons often graced front pages. I was a fan of his two baseball-themed comic strips, Ozark Ike and Cotton Woods. But to many of us Ray’s place in history was cemented as the designer of the New York Mets logo. My hometown team, wherever I have lived; suffering with them today. Ray’s design was their first, in 1962, and is on uniforms and licensing products still.

 Sometime, here, I will share more of Ray Gotto’s artwork, non-sports. Back in the 1970s  Max Allan Collins and I dreamed up a 1930s detective strip, Heaven and Heller, and Ray was one of the artists who auditioned, drawing two weeks of dailies, and a Sunday page. Collins successfully roamed the landscape, subsequently, with premise in various permutations and plain mutations. I have read about them.

Bill Gallo – caricature of Rocky Graziano and Rocky’s autograph

Bill Gallo drew, and wrote (mostly about boxing) for the New York Daily News. Always nice to me, Bill was the old-fashioned “colyumnist” and sports cartoonist – taciturn and cigar-chomping – but warm and congenial very close to the surface. He was a very effective president of the National Cartoonists Society for a term or two (thanks in large part to his great wife Delores). Here is a drawing he did of the colorful boxing legend Rocky Graziano, when we were all at some dinner together.

John Cullen Murphy – caricature of Jack Dempsey and Jack’s autograph

Speaking of sports strips, and boxing legends, I will call up again a caricature from another dinner when I asked John Cullen Murphy – who drew the boxing strip Big Ben Bolt for years prior to Prince Valiant; Al Capp’s brother Elliott Caplin was its writer – to sketch the legendary Jack Dempsey.

Before I leave – I will write more about other sports cartoonists I knew in future columns – no mention of the genre should be allowed with pausing at the greatest of them all, Willard Mullin. (Yes, deserving of a separate column.)

Willard Mullin – “’Tain’t a fit night out for man nor beast...” except in the hands of Willard Mullin

This example, of hundreds that could be called up, shows Willard at his best. Concepts? He was Mr Sports. Likenesses? Thanks to the sports cartoonists’ best friends, Pantographs and “Lucie” projectors – flawless. But Willard was astonishing at his cartoon line-work: casual but impeccable anatomy (figures seemingly in poses impossible to photograph, but invariably spot-on as Willard drew them); arresting compositions; humorous all the time, but never a detour from the subject matter.

Willard Mullins’ pen lines and anatomy and composition all struck me – no matter how unlikely the juxtaposition – of what Russell Patterson sports cartoons would have looked like if he strayed from Broadway and Hollywood to the gyms, camps, and prize fights. I mean that as high compliment to both artists.

More to come. This topic can go to extra innings!


Monday, May 27, 2019

Sunday with Jimmy Swinnerton –

Pink Whiskers Jones! - Ah Yes! 
Roy Delancey, To Be Sure! 

Chicago Examiner 
Sept 13, 1908

Friday, May 24, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Cartoonists’ Love Notes, Good-Byes, and Get-Wells

Rick Marschall

May 24 was the anniversary of me and my late wife Nancy. She died six and a half years ago, a great wife and mother to our three children. She endured a lifetime of ailments – diabetes, heart attacks, strokes, cancer, celiac disease, amputations, dialysis, heart and kidney transplants, and, at the end, creeping dementia. She was strong; complained little; and kept her faith. The transplants were forecast to buy her three extra years, but she survived 16 years.

She was a saint to endure my comics and cartoon collecting; but after all I knew someday I would be writing this column for Yesterday’s Papers. She was also the star of our team, socially. The only people who did not love her were those who had not yet met her. A favorite of cartoonists and their wives; there were many dinners and parties in Connecticut especially, when we lived in Westport and Weston; and she loved throwing parties herself, especially surprise parties for us all.

Among the cartoonists and wives at our wedding were Dik Browne, Jerry Dumas, Jack Tippit, Bill Brown, Mel Casson, Mort Walker. Comics historians Maurice Horn and Bill Crouch were also there.

I will share some drawings here to illustrate the memories. The first is a Little Nemo take-off. When I left the Connecticut Herald political-cartooning job to join United Feature Syndicate, Dik and Joan Browne threw a little farewell party, and son Chris – the best amateur cartoonist of the day – drew me (Ouch! Yes, I looked like that, then) having fever dreams… with a cameo of Nancy, looking like, well, Nancy.

When we moved, years later, to Bucks County PA, a bunch of cartoonists had a BBQ where we were farewelled. Ron Goulart joined Bob Weber, Leonard Starr, Stan Drake, Ray Burns, Jack Berrill, Herb Green, and others. Orlando Busino engineered a scrapbook of everybody’s farewell drawings, some of which I have shared in Crowded Life columns. Here is the title page Orlando drew (yes, characters are his versions, including Moose Miller, which he occasionally ghosted). Also here, the Jerry Marcus vision of visitors at our old house’s door. I used this as a change-of-address card!

About a decade after we moved to Pennsylvania,  Nancy’s health problems spiked, and she was listed for transplants. More than four months, waiting for organs. Was her hospital room cheery? There was hardly room for flowers, so many cartoonists having sent get-well drawings for the walls. I shared some of these earlier; here are others – by Bob (Chance) Browne, with Hi & Lois and Hagar’s family; and by Dick Hodgins, who ghosted Hagar magnificently for years, followed by his son Richard III.

Nancy’s life was “crowded” in her own way – with challenges and faith, but also with cartoonist friends and their families.


Friday, May 17, 2019

Comic Shorthand – The Melee

by Jimmy Swinnerton 
encounter between a dog and a bad mans

another encounter between a dog and a bad mans

encounter between a dog and an artist

encounter between a cat, a dog and a bad mans

Sunday, May 12, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The World’s Greatest Comics Festival, Lucca  

[1] Sergio Aragones prepares his morning cappuccino

by Rick Marschall

I have been to Europe more than 60 times, a good percentage of those trips centered around comics festivals, salons, and symposiums. That I often planned trips to coincide, or, more often, I was an invited guest as speaker, juror, or exhibitor (not exhibitionist) made for very nice icing on the cake. I often took a week or two extra, since I was given freedom to choose the dates for the flights they booked… and this Intentional Tourist checked many boxes in cultural, musical, and sight-seeing categories.

It started somewhere, besides connecting dots of interest in comics and a Wanderlust. The major American cons, of course. But I have attended many international comics festivals including Angoulême; ExpoCartoon in Rome; Erlangen in Germany; and in Prague, London, and Brussels. A speaking tour for the US Information Service of the State Department. At many I was the American representative of festivals, sharing presentations or exhibitions; bringing American cartoonists and fans (more than 125 to Angoulême one year – whoosh!); and waving the flag at roundtables.

[2] Bonvi and Victor de la Fuente greet each other

But the earliest for me, my most attended, and most fondly remembered, is Lucca.

The Festival began in the Ligurian Italian town of Bordighera, beautifully nestled on the French Mediterranean border. It was the convention to which Al Capp was invited, and ultimately made a LIFE Magazine cover story out of the challenge of finding it. It moved the next year to Lucca, a Medieval Tuscan town situated roughly equidistant from Florence and Pisa. It has remained there ever since, surviving budget crises and politics; a biennial schedule; an osmosis-like split with ExpoCartoon in Rome; revival as Lucca Cartoons and Games.

[3] Moebius – Jean Giraud – on a chill October morning

For many years I was the American representative, succeeding Maurice Horn and David Pascal; often sitting on the International Jury. 

Of those days I can share much that will be interest to readers (maybe decade-by-decade here in A Crowded Life sometime) about those guests and those awards (plucking a couple myself) and those debates and those lectures and those side-trips and those restaurants… and those friends. It got so that I anticipated every Lucca largely because the cartoonists, the “experts” from all over the world, and special fans, formed the core of a true family reunion for me. 

[4] John Prentice, Mordillo, and de la Fuente looking over a Rip Kirby reprint book.

The “community,” now since dispersed or expired, felt the same way. Conventions endure, but “Luccas” are no more. In the golden days of Lucca, crowds would fill the Opera Theatre to listen to lectures about the most obscure aspects of comics history and theory; and once upon a time there were no costume events or laser-fencing on the streets. Readers will know what I mean.

For this column I will share some photographs from the first couple of Luccas I attended, and some sketches that were drawn… often late at night, at the bar of the Hotel Napoleon (built as the Hotel Mussolini in the 1930s) or the lobby of the Universo. Talking (as best we could), sketching, laughing, drinking, Hugo Pratt playing the guitar and singing… but there I go. More stories later. Here, visual memories.


The first Lucca I attended was 1978. I was still editor at Marvel (I convinced Stan Lee to send me and scout for talent for EPIC). Harry North, the British cartoonist for MAD, said he would do a sketch if he could take my book to his room overnight. Here is what met me at breakfast –

Harry North sketch

Jaroslav Horak, cartoonist of the James Bond strip

Hugo Pratt’s classic Corto Maltese

The great Guillermo Mordillo, Argentine cartoonist


Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Comic Science Investigation #1


by Chris Beneke

     COMIC EXPERIMENT. American comics of the early 1900s were rich with experimenters and experimentation. Within a decade or so, and certainly by the close of World War I, if not before, this experimentation had given way to a formula, based on strong characters and what-came-to-be-called sequentialism.

     Here’s how Sidney Smith began Old Doc Yak in The Chicago Tribune in February 1912, with Yak’s kicking his way through a miniaturized front page:

In my recollection of my first encounter with this strip, it was somewhat different: A single panel on the paper’s actual front page. The historical record does not seem to bear out this memory; this first installment seems to have been on an interior page.

     Chicago readers of the sports page of Hearst’s competing Chicago Examiner would have recognized Smith’s anthropomorphized goat (or goat-o-morphized man) as Buck Nix.

Chicago Examiner, August 9, 1908

The Buck Nix dailies in Blackbeard’s Smithsonian newspaper comics collection remain a highlight of that book. On my one visit to Blackbeard’s San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, seeing more Buck Nix was a top request: the Smithsonian seems to have presented the most interesting episodes, however.
     Smith’s goat predated his Examiner run: The goat had been a comic commentator in Smith’s editorial work for The Toledo News-Bee as early as 1907, some of which are collected in Yankee Boodle Army [HERE], published in that year and reprinted in 1928. Like so many other comic characters, Nix/Yak just grew.

The Toledo News-Bee, September 30, 1907

     In the 1912 Chicago Tribune, during his first week, Old Doc Yak used the tools and plans that Smith had drawn for him to expand his space, but an even more powerful tool, one specific to comics, balloons, enabled Yak to act seemingly independently of creator Smith. Balloons opened the words and thoughts of comics characters to direct reader observation, free of a creator’s traditional literary tools, like narration or explanation; balloons freed comic characters, at least seemingly , of a creator’s control. [Read HERE at Barnacle Press]

Chicago Tribune, April 24, 1912

     By week’s end, on Saturday, the strip had unfurled to occupy the page’s full width. The animal neighbors sharing this panorama with Yak would be featured in later dailies.

Chicago Tribune, unknown month and day, 1918
     A color Old Doc Yak Sunday page, usually centered around his car, followed a month later.
Chicago Tribune, April 13, 1918

     Old Doc Yak had built the space that would be his home for the next five years. Through Yak, creator Smith claimed his own regular space in the daily newspaper, a space that would outlast Yak, thanks to Smith’s later, more popular feature, The Gumps.

Film Daily, Nov 26, 1923

     Even the most disinterested newspaper reader that first week would have noticed the strip’s expansion from day to day. This novel debut might have attracted readers to the new feature.

Chicago Tribune, April 9, 1933

     Bud Fisher had begun the first daily comic strip, A. Mutt, in 1907, only five years before Smith’s inaugural Old Doc Yak stunt. Smith’s stunt might have seemed incomprehensible to that earlier audience. That Smith dared, and apparently gathered and kept his audience, shows how quickly those 1912 comics readers had developed expectations of what a comic is (or can or should be): One or more recurring characters performing in a series of panels, separated by borders, and “speaking” through balloons.

     Strong characters had been instrumental in popularizing and sustaining comics features since the Yellow Kid, a diminutive waif who addressed the audience through “speech” scrawled on his nightshirt, made the overcrowded Hogan’s Alley, a full-page single panel, a popular weekly destination, and his creator, Richard F. Outcault, thanks largely to merchandising the Kid’s image outside the Alley, wealthy.

     Audience expectations about a comics’ content and form, already in 1912, were also understood by publishers and creators, eager to attract the most readers and fans and perhaps partake in the success that Outcault and his papers had enjoyed. In the 1910s, daily strips would depend on the popularity of such recurring, recognizable figures. Daily features in the 1920s and 1930s would develop more insistent hooks: continuing stories that required a reader’s daily attention.

     Smith’s 1912 self-conscious playfulness about his medium, equating a physical space on a newspaper page with a comic character’s home, was revisited in 1917, five years later: Yak’s bear landlord evicts Yak and son Yutch to ready the space for The Gumps.

     This gag repeats again in 1919, two years later, when the Gumps take possession of Old Doc Yak’s car (and his 348 license plate) and assume occupancy of the Sunday page. The Gumps would henceforth rule both spaces, and make that car an even more famous comic icon. A car-less Yak eventually reappeared in a Sunday topper strip.

Chicago Tribune, June 5, 1911

     The editor, of course, ruled every space on every page, though he was seemingly invisible (or hiding?) and, unlike a paper’s comic characters, faceless

Chicago Tribune, Mar 9, 1912

     With Old Doc Yak’s 1912 debut in The Chicago Tribune, Smith plays off his readers’ expectations of sequentiality, then a novelty, but rapidly establishing its dominance within the American comics medium. Hogan’s Alley had debuted only 17 years before and the regular use of balloons, begun by Opper or Dirks, was only a decade or so old. Captions under comics panels had persisted for much of the 20th century’s first decade; The New Yorker sophisticates have still not given up this holdover from 19th century illustrated humor. 

Chicago Tribune, June 6, 1912

     The comic formula that Sidney Smith gently mocked in Old Doc Yak’s debut week, one or more strong characters contained in sequential panels, became the formula that made American comics a mass medium for the next two decades or more. Later, talking films and radio would put a huge dent in comics’ dominance of American storytelling media.

This formula yielded the formulaic, a bad enough outcome, but, worse, as comics became equated with sequentialism, the understanding of comics, past and present, became hobbled, let us hope not permanently.

     Today’s lesson: Comics take up space

Chicago Examiner, July 19, 1908


Non-sequential tendencies, despite being ignored, unnamed, or glossed over, persist within comics. Some early American comics more boldly exhibit such non-sequential tendencies and a few comics from this experimental era seem wholly non-sequential. 

Comic Science considers the visible, not the invisible. These early American non-sequential comics will be examined in subsequent essays: They will not be dismissed as “non-comics.”

Comic Science asserts that the better comics of tomorrow will be built upon non-sequential principles, and with non-sequential practices. Subsequent Comic Science investigations into early American comic strips and pages will elucidate these principles and practices.