Monday, February 18, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Other Crime-Strip Cartoonist Gould  

( Red Barry’s Creator )

IDW Publishing, 2016
by Rick Marschall

I have elsewhere told the story of Will Gould and Red Barry. In the first incarnation of Nemo magazine I ran a full daily episode of the hard-boiled detective strip. For Fantagraphics Books in 1989 I expanded the look back in a paperback compilation of four Sunday stories. The nascent revival of Nemo will reprint a number of Will’s garish, Expressionist, tabloid-infused Sundays.

That book also featured an essay I commissioned of Walter Frehm, Will’s admiring but frustrated assistant.

So I have written of Will Gould and Red Barry; and I shall write more of Will and Red, but here I will share a little story about meeting the cartoonist.

I am calling him “Will” here not just because I knew him, but to carefully differentiate between two cartooning Goulds of the 1930s who specialized in detective comic strips. Chester Gould and Will Gould even had another connection – having struggled in the Hearst bullpens of the 1920s. Chet had knocked around the King Features bullpen; drawn Fillum Fables, one of several attempts to topple Ed Wheelan’s Minute Movies at its own game. In a final move he voluntarily drew up episodes of Plainclothes Tracy for the Chicago Tribune, and the rest is history.

Will similarly knocked around – the Bronx Home News; the New York Daily Graphic; the New York Mirror; King Features Syndicate.  Along the way he drew sports cartoons, race-track comic strips, gag strips, illustrations.

Their similarities pretty much ended there. Chet was a WASP; Will (and his brother Manny, a pioneer animator) Jewish. Chet was preternaturally ambitious, even after he was at the top of his game and fame; Will always had a chip on shoulder, a punk attitude of the pool halls and race tracks he haunted. Chet hired assistants to help him with guns, polygraph machines, and backgrounds; Will hired his assistant so he could play golf more often.

Assistant Frehm recalled how Will Gould was practically suicidal, as a “working” cartoonist, after they moved to California, forever late with deadlines and creative with excuses.

The birth of Red Barry, as I said, has and will be told elsewhere. Frustrated that Chet Gould slipped away from King Features and created a big hit – unlike, say, E C Segar, who toiled on the plantation for a decade before Popeye entered the world – KFS President Joe Connolly (and his comics adviser Lee Falk) swamped the field with not one but four rivals.

Secret Agent X-9 was created, with Dashiell Hammett as the writer and, after Will Gould’s art seemed inappropriate, young Alex Raymond as artist. Gould’s own submission Red Barry was launched (one wonders whether the “Gould” signature upped his chances). The local Boston strip Pinkerton Jr was transformed into Sergeant Pat of the Radio Patrol. And, in a junior-league version of Hammett’s X-9, the pulp mystery writer Edgar Wallace was invited to script Inspector Wade, drawn at first by Lyman Anderson, later a close friend of mine who attended my daughter’s baptism.

I have gum-shoed from memories to history. The future Nemo profile will tell the full story; and share full stories. How I first met Will was connected with Bob Weber Sr., creator of Moose (now Moose and Molly) and my first trip to the San Diego Comics Convention, 1976.

A drawing of Moose and Chester Crabtree done for me recently by Bob Weber.
Bob, one of the most colorful of cartoonists, and a cartoon fan himself, loves meeting cartoonists, talking about cartoons, even to the extent that his own deadlines frequently are threatened. In Mort Walker’s reminiscences he told stories of Bob feverishly inking dailies on the train from Westport CT to New York; or inking them in a friend’s speeding car; or finishing the lettering on a counter at Grand Central Station, all to deliver them “on time” to King Features.

Comicon was no different. Bob flew from New York, so not to miss the event; I took the train from Chicago, an interesting excursion, and we met up in San Diego. Sort of. Bob was so late with his strips that he spent almost the entire week in his hotel room, readying them for Special Delivery.

Oddly, or appropriately in Weber-World, Bob was as free as a lark after Comicon. So we snaked our way up the coast for a week, visiting cartoonists, bookstores in Los Angeles (I scored a run of CARTOONS Magazine from the ‘teens at Cherokee) and, basically, watched the clock tick down until Bob was late again on Moose.

Somehow Bob had gotten to know Will Gould, then living in retirement, I think in Santa Monica. It was an apartment or motel, or a former one-or-the-other. Sort of like the modest place that the retired Stan Laurel lived in, also in Santa Monica. So it was easy for Bob to arrange a visit; especially since Will asked us to pick up some groceries before we arrived.

I was coached that Will likely would be a little prickly – or, if not, outright grouchy. That he would pretend to be bothered about “the past”… but in fact loved reviving memories and legends. He was everything that Bob forecast. The grouchiness added to the long afternoon’s colorful memories. Will talked about his brother; he answered questions about the King bullpen and Hammett – who supposedly consulted with him about continuity writing, but wound up preferring to get drunk together – and how he was the first to bestow the nickname “Schnozzola” on Jimmy Durante.

In Will’s telling, it was not enough to brag about originating the famous moniker. He had to complain: “I never got a penny for it!”

Drawing of Red Barry that Will Gould did for me.
Bob pulled out items from his own bag of tricks. He is the most versatile kidder, bluffer, teaser; and his hulking 6-foot-5 (or so) size keeps people from challenging him. Straight faced, only slight smile. I have watched him flummox clerks and wait staff, and have swiped many of his routines.

So, before we left Will’s apartment that day, the cartoonist wanted to share something from the top shelf of a closet, and he asked Bob to get it down. As he did, Bob said, “Will, if you weren’t so extremely short, you could get this yourself.”

OK, maybe you “had to be there.” But Bob knew how to tease and get a rise out of Will – who was not extremely short. He was extremely old, so it was a reasonable request. But, oh, did Will explode. Even as we left the second-floor apartment, after a nice afternoon, Will Gould was still hopping and shaking his fist: “You big hick! I am not extremely short!” Bob laughed for a couple days… as a matter of fact, still does.  The humor was not in “short,” or objecting to the favor, but the use of “extremely.”

On my subsequent solo visits to Will, he remembered that closet-shelf bit too, but without Bob Weber’s chuckles. When all was said and done, however, Will Gould was the type of guy who used to populate Tin Pan Alley, speakeasies, betting parlors, and corners of tabloid newsrooms – he was the “type” because he was one of them – and was kind of happier kvetching than kvelling.

The “edge,” if it can be called that, contributed to the edginess of Red Barry – a lost masterpiece of hard-boiled crime and violence in comic-strip context, of action and extreme characterization, pure film noir, or as close as the comics ever got, including in the hands of Will Gould’s buddy Dashiell Hammett.

Friday, February 15, 2019

DAILY MIRROR comic strip series index — Now Available in 2019 Update

Can You Beat It?, Jack Monk, Mar 20, 1937
The DAILY MIRROR comic strip series index has now been updated until January 26, 2019 (previous version was done a year ago, on February 3, 2018) and there were some changes in the Daily Mirror’s comic strips line-up during 2018 after the previous update, so now the newspaper has even less strips...

Also new is the addition of the two old strip-like features by Jack Monk from 1936 and 1937 (“Can You Beat It?” and “Behind the Scenes...”). These two comic features are now included in the Index because of the artist’s significance and also because they have never before been referenced with any dates, even partial.

DAILY MIRROR comic strip series index 1904-2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Crowded life in Comics –

The Cat Who Walked
( Otto Messmer )

A sketch that Otto drew for me. So many coincidences in my Crowded Life in Cartooning – I later visited Joe Oriolo, who managed Felix after Otto’s retirement. A high-school crush of mine, Janet Ralston, later a TV news anchor, had dated Joe’s son.

IT WAS SERENDIPITY, for a young fan of comics and cartoons, to grow up in the New York City area, as I did. I wrote sincere fan letters to cartoonists out of the region, and usually received gracious responses; and some of those letters resulted in invitations that, thanks to my indulgent parents, often led to visits.

Among the long-distance replies to fan letters, I received letters and signed artwork from the likes of Charles Schulz, Frank King, Gluyas Williams, Bill Freyse, Lank Leonard, Crockett Johnson, and Jack Kent.

But closer to home, in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, the streets and woods were full of cartoonists. Those who were not available for the world to discover in phone books – O halcyon days – like Rudolph Dirks, John Bray, and Gardner Rea, the cartoonists I did know as a young guy, were happy to make invitations. Like a happy game of telephone, cartoonists recommended me to friends and associates they knew.

Evidently I was just on the right side of Pestering to merit this networking. Indeed I tried to be polite, and I unconsciously honed my interviewing skills, wanting to do more than stare admiringly at my heroes and assorted legends.

One day my initial mentor, Al Smith of Mutt and Jeff, told me about a cartoonist who lived in nearby Fort Lee NJ, with his daughter. Maybe I didn’t know his name, but surely I knew his work – Otto Messmer of Felix the Cat.

Surely I did. I knew his work on the King Features strip, because he eventually was allowed to sign it; but his longtime work in his amazing style stretched back to the 1920s in my collection of old funny papers. And I was aware of his pioneer work in animation.

I even had examples of cartoons he signed in the ‘teens, for the New York World comic magazine Fun; and for Judge.

… which items I brought with me, you can be sure, when I visited him. Otto was as a gracious as any of the cartoonists I met, and immediately invited me to visit when I called and introduced myself. Fort Lee is at a terminus of the George Washington Bridge (and has a fascinating history itself, “America’s First Hollywood,” where many early movies such as The Perils of Pauline serials were filmed, before the studios moved to Astoria, Queens; and Long Island; and then California) and was close enough to me parents’ home that frequent visits were comfortable. And comfortable visits were frequent.

Photo of Otto Messmer at the drawing board during one of my visits. 
I HAD CAMERAS and sketchbooks in hand, but I regret never taking notes nor recording our conversations. Curse my foggy memory, but had stories of cartooning even before he met Pat Sullivan, of Felix in the early days (maybe before Sullivan himself – see what I mean?), of a train ride with Walt Disney and their wives, discussing early conceptions of Mickey Mouse…

Otto was kind, gentle, and modest – every one of the characteristics to the nth degree. It was evident there was no “shadow of turning” in him, no embellishments of what was a fabulous career. Most of that career was spent in anonymity, signing Suillivan’s name, or none, to his work for decades.

Except for some forgotten footnotes, rather momentous to the histories of comics and cartoons, I have a passel of memories of a modest genius, generous with his time and friendship. A retired cartoonist living in his daughter’s house.

Behind the kindly smiles and his self-effacing memories, there sat the man who created one of the century’s iconic animated heroes, favorite of generations of children. He spun stories of whimsy, comic adventures, and plots that were both vivid and hilarious in ways that could exist on the screen and comic pages.
Otto Messmer’s artwork – anonymous, as usual – 
during the glory days of Felix. 
I THANK GOD for the Good Neighbor Policy among cartoonists during my youth!


Friday, February 8, 2019

Sunday with Hal Foster –

Vancouver Sunday Sun
April 24, 1954

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sunday with Arch Dale –


August 29, 1925


Saturday, February 2, 2019

New Reprint of Ruth the Betrayer –


The first 8-page installment of Ruth the Betrayer; or, the Female Spy appeared on London newsstands on February 8, 1862, price one penny. The entire text, along with the complete wood-engraved parts illustrations by W.H. Thwaites, have been carefully edited by Dagni A. Bredeson, a professor of English at Eastern Illinois University and brought back to life by Valancourt Books in a handsome affordable reprint. 

Ruth The Betrayer is one of the greatest of all penny dreadfuls, and a long one at 416 pages, or 52 penny numbers. This modern edition runs to a fat 1119 pages with an appreciative introduction by Bredeson and two near contemporary articles in the appendix:

Anonymous, “Something  About Working Men, By One Of Themselves,” The Argosy, Sept 1, 1868
James Greenwood, “Penny Awfuls,” St. Paul’s Magazine, Vol XII, 1873

The author was “Edward Ellis,” and Dagni Bredeson writes that “it has been argued” that Charles Henry Ross was the author. I should point out that it was myself doing the arguing (I was a consultant on the book) and Dagni is cautious about making the claim (and quite rightly so) since there is no absolute proof.

George Vickers published a penny dreadful on August 2, 1863 with the long title Fanny White and her Friend Jack Rawlings, a Romance of a Young Lady Thief and a Boy Burglar, including their Artful Dodges, their Struggles and Adventures; Prisons and Prison-breakings, their Ups and Downs; and their Tricks upon Travellers, Etc., Etc. by The Author Of “Charley Wag.” Following a scene where Fanny addresses a religious society with a sex talk followed by an erotic fandango, the author of Fanny White states in the text on page 153;

“Those who kindly followed the fortunes of Master Charley Wag, a hero of mine who made a very successful debut some time ago in society, and of pretty Mrs. Ruth, the female spy and betrayer, will allow, I think, that I have somewhat freely exposed religious hypocrites. In Charley’s life you had a show-up of the “shepherds.” In Ruth’s adventures you had some rather singular details respecting London nunneries.” 

“Ruth” was Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy by Edward Ellis (the author of “Charley Wag”) published by John Dicks, No. 1 appearing February 8, 1862. The Halfpenny Gazette, whose proprietors were G. W. M. Reynolds and John Dicks, ran a serial called The Felon’s Daughter; or, Pamela’s Perils: a Romance of London, from the Palace to the Prison, by G. W. Armitage on March 15, 1862 and The Daughter of Midnight; or, Mysteries of London Life, by the author of “Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy” commenced with No. 21, July 25, 1863.

When The Felon’s Daughter was published in penny parts by John Dicks the title-page of the bound volume stated that it was “by the author of “Daughter of Midnight.” Thus “Edward Ellis,” was also “G. W. Armitage,” and “George Savage.” Based on my notes and reading of Charley, Ruth and Fanny, and comparing those with over 20 texts written under the name C. H. Ross I reached the conclusion that all three were were pseudonyms used by Charles Henry Ross (creator of the celebrated Ally Sloper) and his collaborator Henry Warren.

The title of Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, was surely intended to invoke James Malcolm Rymer’s 1843 penny blood title Ada the Betrayed; or, The Murder at the Old Smithy. It was also a parody of the homicidal heroines made famous by Sensation novelists like Mary Braddon in books like Lady Audley’s Secret. A writer in The Saturday Review in 1866 referred to these as “crime and crinoline” romances. “Edward Ellis” was able to combine humor and horror in a manner that makes the serial adventures of Ruth Trail, Death’s Head, Jack Rafferty, Eneas Earthworm, Alice Tevellyan, Charley Crockford and the Cadbury Kid a thrilling and amusing book to curl up with when the winter wind is howling at the outer door. Ruth the Betrayer is a fantastic addition to any Victorian bookshelf.

Ruth the Betrayer is available now on Amazon or from Valancourt Books

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Usual Christmas Pantomime,

Nast's Almanac 
Harper & Brothers 

Saturday, January 26, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Precious Jules

(Jules Feiffer)

These memoirs will sometimes coincide with other remembrances, so I was reminded that the day I write this, January 26, is the birthday of Jules Feiffer. He was born in 1929. It has been one of the honors of my life to know Jules, to call him a friend, to have worked with him.

Knowing Jules is a cheap way of feeling like a whole room-full of people are friends. It saves time. Having conducted many interviews and written biographies, one day I realized that precious few cartoonists have had feet – or hands – in virtually every category of cartoon art. Walt Kelly is one – strips, comic books, animation, political cartoons, columns, music, illustration, advertising. Al Capp came close to that “full house.”

Jules Feiffer has had many careers – succeeding, and successful, activity in even more realms besides cartoons: comic books (The Spirit), strips (his mononymous Feiffer), books (many collections, and original titles like Passionella and Other Stories), children’s books (including A Barrel of Laughs, A Vale of Tears), animation (script for Munro, 1961 Oscar),graphic novels (Kill My Mother and others), illustration (The Phantom Tollbooth), musicals (The Man In the Ceiling), plays (Little Murders), screenplays (Carnal Knowledge and Popeye), novels (such as Harry, The Rat with Women), histories (The Great Comic-Book Heroes), and autobiography (Backing Into Forward). Jules has collected so many awards and honors that he had to move from Manhattan to Shelter Island, just to make room.

These activities, titles, and credits are tips of many icebergs; and everyone knows his name and his works. The wispy lines and casual compositions, even to the invariable absence of panel borders in the strips. But his works, especially lately and especially his favored dancing figures, betray a killer grasp of anatomy. (I was also grateful to compile a preliminary list of his ouevre, because I seldom get the chance to employ “mononymous,” much less “oeuvre.”)

[a] A promotional drawing for the FEIFFER newspaper strip,
when it went nationwide in syndication.

When I was a kid, the only reason I bought The Village Voice was to read Feiffer; just as the original reason I bought The Realist was Jean Shepherd. So when I became Comics Editor of Publishers Newspaper Syndicate (previously Hall Syndicate and Field Enterprises and Publishers-Hall; and eventually News America Syndicate and North America Syndicate…) Jules Feiffer was in my stable.

Only technically. Like Herblock and a few others, Feiffer was a cartoonist who was distributed by us, but “edited” separately or by others. Milton Caniff’s Steve Canyon carried our copyright, but contrary-wise, was edited and distributed by King Features. So I never had to edit Feiffer’s work – how could anyone, except maybe spelling errors? – but I sure enjoyed the advance peeks. Since many strips were topical, he worked on a tight deadline, two at a time.

As I did with most of the cartoonists while I was at Publisher’s, I established contact and visited them in their lairs. Jules lived in Manhattan, upper West Side, and in my first visit, a look at his walls, where so many other things could and did hang, I discovered that he liked vintage comic strips. I was able sell him some treasures from my collection, and others I found.

[b] A drawing of the Honorable Richard Nixon around the time of the 
president’s resignation. Feiffer published two books off Nixon’s corruption and scandals.

Not a surprise to anyone who appreciates his output, but Jules is a polymath, interested in almost everything, and the point, modestly but earnestly, of wanting to know everything about everything.

We had other meetings including at meetings of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, but the fondest memory is one I have told here in a remembrance of Tony Auth. When I lived outside Philadelphia, Tony called one day and said that Jules was coming to town – actually Cheltenham, the next town to my Abington – to speak at the high school in a special evening program. Cheltenham is a special enclave, its high school lobby’s wall festooned with pictures of notable grads including unlikelies like Benjamin Netanyahu. But that night Jules Feiffer would grace the stage.

Tony, Pulitzer Prize winner of the Inquirer, was asked by Jules to be his shepherd and guide that day; and Tony in turn asked if they might visit my house, maybe to look at parts of my collection.

[c] Feiffer, June 15, 1967

Well, that turned into a full and fun afternoon – and early dinner prepped by my wife Nancy – digging through piles of originals, stacks of old newspaper comics; runs of political-cartoon magazines like Puck, Judge, Life, and The Masses; and many more of the rare old European magazines of graphic commentary and social protest. Jules loved the classic cartoons.

I loved it more when that evening, in the school auditorium, despite his slide show, he made repeated references to things in “Rick’s collection,” with probably two people out of 600 knew who the hell Rick was (and they were Tony Auth and a friend from France who staying with us).

Jules is still going strong at 90, the last I checked writing, drawing, and teaching. A great life, and life for us to behold, for a kid from the Bronx who started in the business(es) by offering to work for free with Will Eisner. That’s the spirit! – that’s how much he loved drawing cartoons. After success with Eisner, he first approached the Voice with the same offer – that’s how much he loved drawing cartoons.

Great lessons, precious Jules.


Sunday, January 20, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Chance Browne, son of our beloved friends Dik and Joan Browne, recruited Hagar, Hi & Lois and company, to call out a cheery greeting. 

I Heart Comics
(Cartoonists’ Get-Well Wishes)
by Rick Marschall

This column is devoted to my life in comics (so far!) and readers generally expect, as do I, interaction with moldy strips, vintage collectibles, and half-forgotten masters of the art. But it is about life too; inescapably recent life, and I hope readers will indulge. Last column was about a cartoonist I met the afternoon of my high-school prom – actually, that does seem like ancient history – and this will be a little more personal than usual.

Six years ago this week my wife Nancy died, after a lifetime of horrible afflictions including heart attacks and strokes, kidney failure and dialysis, celiac disease and cancer, amputations and, at the end, creeping dementia. Oh, and heart and kidney transplants. A tough lot, which she always faced bravely with few complaints, and a personal faith that held firm.
The great Mike Peters camouflaged Grimmy as a doctor with a prescription for giggles. 
The only people who did not love her were those who had not met her. When we settled in Connecticut, in the middle of the artists’ colony and cartooning community of Fairfield County, she became a favorite of the cartoonists’ wives, socially, and not a few of the cartoonists themselves. Midway, or so, in her health-journey her heart and kidneys gave out, and she was listed for transplants.

Our old and good friend Dick Hodgins, who I met when I was 12 or 13, was Dik Browne’s ghost on Hagar.
When the word got out among the cartoonists, hand-drawn get-well drawings flooded her hospital room. During the 10-week stay, awaiting appropriate “matching” organs; and during several weeks of recovery, her rooms looked like galleries in a cartoon museum – hand-drawn, colorful cartoons on every wall. Visitors, doctors, and nurses gawked and laughed and admired the cartoons. Of course. And the drawings buoyed Nancy immeasurably.

For me, “well wishes” might mean that people wish I would fall down a well. I realize that. But with Nancy, the love of our cartoonist friends showed through with sincere – and splendid – little masterpieces. I will share a few here.

Five-page Nancy-themed Get Well card, large sheets, from the great Orlando Busino.
As the “hook” for this little memoir is Nancy’s passing, I will reinforce how our family in general trafficked in cartoons and humor. It gets you though life, even physically challenging lives. I hope nobody will be dissuaded by the revelation that Nancy was a conservative, and not a huge fan of Barack Obama.

So, with that as the backdrop, I will say that she died on the very day that Obama was sworn in after his re-election. Nancy had been in a coma for a week, and off life-support for 24 hours, almost exactly. The television in her room was not on, of course; but throughout the hospital floor, the inauguration was on every TV set, and its proceedings, in faint echoes, could be heard by me and my children, who had gathered from points around America and the world.

Coincidentally, just as Obama repeated the oath of office… Nancy flat-lined. Scarcely missing a beat, our son Ted commented, “Mom always said that if Obama got to be president again, she would just die.”

Mel Casson, veteran of many strips and master of many styles, went stylin’ with this happy-dance.

Laughter, if not the best medicine, is a great palliative. And cartoons – so often called mere “lines on paper,” can also be genuine Love on Paper.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Sunday with Jimmy Swinnerton

Can This Be Santa Claus? 
Chicago Examiner, Dec 19, 1909