Friday, April 19, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

It All Started with Alice –

My Friendship with Virginia Davis

by Rick Marschall

Brochure cover page of the original Alice cartoons of Walt Disney

“It All Started with a Mouse” is a legend, logo, saying that is marketed at Disney theme parks and elsewhere – this colossal enterprise all around you, all around the world, really the Disney behemoth, all commenced with a simple cartoon mouse. 

Presenting Ginni Davis with a directors’ jacket embroidered with image
 of the original Alice in Cartoonland promotional image

In fact it really began before that, and there might not have been a “Disney” empire, nor a Mickey Mouse himself, if it had not been for a little girl from Kansas named Virginia Davis. I was blessed, during my Crowded Life in Comics, to know Ginnie, and even to introduce her to cartoon fans in Rome and in San Diego, and play a little role in shining the spotlight on her career in her last years.

She was not in complete obscurity when my old friend John Province made contact with her. Her Disney years were long in the rear-view mirror, and she lived in semi-retirement as a real-estate agent in Boise, Idaho. She was a footnote in some studies; mentioned at festivals; and received attention in the book Walt in Wonderland, published in Italy and co-published by an academic press in the US. But unjustly, not a household name.

 Virginia Davis, Rick Marschall, Jassanne Wallace 
of the Circle Gallery

John tracked Ginni down and I immediately assigned him to interview her for an early issue of Hogan’s Alley.

For those of you who don’t know the name Virginia Davis, I shall not get further ahead of myself. She was born in 1918 in Kansas City, and her family were neighbors of Walt Disney. He was a struggling cartoonist and aspiring animator, producing primitive Laugh-O-Gram commercials for merchants advertising in local motion-picture theaters. He aspired to make cartoon shorts for a national audience and conceived the novelty idea of having a live-action character cavort in an animated world – the opposite, really, of the popular Out Of the Inkwell series of the Bray Studio and managed thereafter by the Fleischer Brothers.

Exhibitors Trade Review, Mar-May 1924

Disney asked the Davises if their five-year-old daughter Virginia would play Alice in the Alice in Cartoonland series he envisioned. The first, Alice’s Wonderland, became his sample, sent to distributor Margaret J Winkler in New York. She and her husband Charles Mintz had success with Pat Sullivan’s Felix the Cat cartoons. 

At ExpoCartoon, Rome, Italy: Rick Marschall; Virginia Davis; Andrea Felice, 
for whose definitive history of Disney’s Silly Symphonies I had written a chapter.

In short order, Winkler ordered a series of Alice cartoons; Disney moved to Hollywood (invited by his convalescing brother Roy, and enticed by their uncle’s offer of his garage that could serve as their studio); and Walt asked if the Davises would move to California on the promise of multiple films in which Ginnie would star… 

At Comicon: Mike Peters (political cartoons, Mother Goose and Grimm); 
Rick Marschall; Virginia Davis 

The Davis family indeed moved West. Little Virginia starred in 14 Alice comedies (Disney produced 57 in all) and through the years remained close to the movie industry, if not swimming in the middle of that stream. She auditioned for the voice of Snow White; Walt himself had the studio train her for the ink-and-paint department, and she appeared in a few movies, like The Harvey Girls and Three On a Match. 

John Province and Virginia Davis

Oh, and another of myriad footnotes to her fascinating story: when the Davis parents needed their final household items and their Cadillac brought to Hollywood, they asked another Kansas City friend, who agreed for the task… and he never really left Hollywood afterward. That friend was Ub Iwerks. After chicanery and other factors caused Walt to move from Alice to Oswald the Rabbit to… Steamboat Willie, it was Iwerks whose conceptualization of Mickey Mouse and, later, technical and thematic innovations, made him an animation pioneer in Disney’s echelon.

Virginia was in her spry eighties when I met her. She was grateful for the Hogan’s Alley interview; I invited her as a special guest to ExpoCartoon in Rome, the breakaway festival of Lucca. The director Rinaldo Traini usually issued two invitations to America guests, and Ginnie brought her teenage granddaughter. Virginia Davis was feted grandly and received a special Yellow Kid award.

Ginni Davis at the Hogan’s Alley table signing autographs, 
Comicon 1995

When Hogan’s Alley was new I invited special guests to appear at our Comicon table and in special programs. One year it was Ginnie; and the magazine arranged a special evening in her honor at the Old Town Circle Gallery in San Diego. I had several directors’ jackets embroidered with an image from an Alice cartoon, the early Disney logo, and the legend “It All Started With a Mouse” crossed out to read, “It All Started with the Alice Comedies.”

 At venues in America and Italy I hosted Ginni in interview 
sessions and walking fans through her cartoons

It is a treat, a rare privilege, to know someone who embodies a rich heritage. Virginia Davis was the last surviving link with the seminal days of Walt Disney; she was “walking history,” in a literal sense. Humble, giggly… not too far, I often thought when with her, from the little girl in pigtails who was a star before anyone ever heard of Mickey Mouse.


Sunday, April 14, 2019

Cartoonist Arthur H. Lindberg (“Lyndell”) and Gulf Funny Weekly –

🙶 Wings Winfair, Speed Spaulding and 
This Wonderful World

🙶 It’s my favorite picture. He made those pastels, the colors were amazing.  As a kid I wanted to play with those pastels, but couldn't ...🙷  – Pam, Lyndell's granddaughter

[1] Mar 26, 1937
The earliest comic book to see the light of day was The Funnies (subtitle: “Flying – Sports – Adventure”), a dime weekly which carried original art and stories rather than newspaper comic reprints. Printing was done by Eastern Color. It ran from January 16, 1929, to October 16, 1930, a total of 36 issues. Each issue had 16 pages of four color material printed on newsprint.

Three years later Eastern Color’s sales manager Harry I. Wildenberg approached the Gulf Refining Company to produce a weekly giveaway, titled Gulf Comic Weekly. The Library of Congress Catalog of Copyright Entries gives the date of the first issue as April 28, 1933. The title changed to Gulf Funny Weekly with No. 5, May 26, 1933. The premium comic was produced until May 23, 1941, ending at 422 issues.

Previously I noted that the lead serial ‘WINGS WINFAIR’ was originally credited to Stan Schendel (writer) and the unknown artist Lyndell. Recently the granddaughter of  ‘Lyndell’ wrote me identifying the unknown artist as Arthur H. Lindberg, well known in his time as a fine artist. He was born September 29, 1895 and passed away on July 23, 1977. Pam H. writes “My older sister is cleaning out her house to sell. It used to be my grandparents house and has been in the family since 1941.  Last night she brought over many portfolios of my grandfather's works... and in it are his cartoons he did as Lyndell.”

One other piece of comic art was saved — a Sunday SPEED SPAULDING strip.  Speed Spaulding was a curious strip based on the book When Worlds Collide, by Edwin Balmer and Philip Wylie, drawn mostly by Marvin Bradley, who would go on to work on Rex Morgan, M.D. The strip was distributed by John F. Dille Co., Chicago and would run under several different artists in the Famous Funnies comic book in the forties. The muddled history can be explored HERE and HERE. Since Arthur H. Lindberg only saved one original example it is likely the Sunday was drawn on speculation and never saw print.

[4] Speed Spaulding, John F. Dille Co., circa 1940
[5] Speed Spaulding, Marvin Bradley, Jan 29 1940
[6] Famous Funnies advertisement, cartoonist unknown, June 1940
[11] July 30, 1937
[12] Aug 6, 1937
[13] Sept 10, 1937
[14] Sept 24, 1937
[15] Oct 8, 1937
[16] Nov 26, 1937
[18] Lyndell, July 30, 1937
[19] Fred Meagher, July 22, 1938

Wings Winfair and Gulf Funny Weekly HERE

Gulf Funny Weekly Scans courtesy Arthur Lortie.

Coming soon: Pulp Western Illustrator Arthur H. Lindberg

Special thanks to Pam H. 


Sunday, April 7, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Reserved Mastery of Gluyas Williams

by Rick Marschall

Williams is a fairly common surname, in comics and cartoon history no less than in other areas of life. An immediate detour before this week’s “journey” – about the name Williams. I cannot help think of the Bob McDill song “Good Old Boy Like Me” (HERE) with the line Those William Boys, they still mean a lot me: Hank and Tennessee. The fact that it was recorded by Don Williams made it resonate even more.

So the name Williams, or any other name, is not magic, except what the magicians do with it. In cartoon history we have by coincidence three of the greatest exponents of single-panels and social commentary, rough contemporaries – J R Williams, Gaar William and Gluyas Williams.

Today we will visit Gluyas… as I was privileged to do in real life. His drawings are iconic in several ways. The full-page drawings and double-page strip sequences for Life in the 1920s and The New Yorker beginning in the 1930s, are masterpieces. His illustrations of humorous fiction represent his times and especially the “Little Man” school of humor; it is impossible to read, or think of, the great work of Robert Benchley without being reminded of Gluyas William drawings.

He illustrated short humor pieces and books by Corey Ford, Edward Streeter (Father Of the Bride), and others. From the 1930s to the 1950s he drew daily panels for my old friend John Wheeler’s Bell Syndicate. His work was twice anthologized in his lifetime, and in recent years the cottage-industry producer of reprints, portfolios, and frameable prints, Rosebud Archives, issued several volumes (HERE) of Williams’ work – Short Stories; People of Note; The Wide Open Spaces; And So to Bed; and others. My Rosebud partner Jon Barli is working on two more series – the reprints of all of the Gluyas Williams newspaper panels; and thematic compilations of the Williams character Fred Perley, harried suburbanite.
And So To Bed book cover
Gluyas Williams was preceded in the cartooning field by his sister Kate Carew (pen name) who was a popular cartoonist and caricaturist. For a while her celebrity interviews and caricatures in the New York World were promoted on huge New York City buses and billboards. Gluyas attended Harvard; studied art at the famed Académie Colarossi in Paris; and became art editor of the children’s magazine Youth’s Companion.

His path first crossed Robert Benchley’s when he edited the humor magazine Harvard Lampoon in college. He was editing words, and Benchley was an aspiring cartoonist; and Williams’ suggestion that they trade avocations changed history. (At least our favorite corners of history, right?)

He was slow to join The New Yorker, a magazine with which he frequently is associated. Actually – largely forgotten by posterity – in the 1920s many cartoonists and writers initially contributed to TNY out of friendship or sympathy with founder Harold Ross; and in any event and in many ways his magazine was a carbon-copy of Life. Benchley, Sherwood, Dorothy Parker, Gluyas Williams, Held’s flappers, S J Perelman: these and other prominent mirth-makers were slow to join Ross’ weekly.

Williams vouchsafed a story to me about an early submission to Ross, who suggested a multi-panel strip about a demolition team arriving at the wrong house. He suggested a woman in the bathtub among funny bits. Williams told me he sent the suggestions back to Ross with the personal note that he found humor in understatement, not slapstick or bawdy gags. He told me he wished he still had the response from Ross, who said that the exchange revised his entire view of humor! This might have been the genesis of the urbane humor for which The New Yorker became famous.

Such an anecdote told by almost anyone else might have had a whiff of hyperbole or self-aggrandizement. Not so with Gluyas Williams. In person, he was as modest and reserved as any member of his cast of thousands.

“The distinguishing aspect of suburban life is the commuter.”
He was so reserved that when Brian Walker and Chuck Green produced a National Cartoonists Society album in 1980, they listed him as “deceased.”

He fulfilled the sad designation in 1982. And by the way, he was born in San Francisco in 1888. In other housekeeping, and a matter of curiosity among cartoon fans, his Christian name was pronounced GLUE-yas: his mother’s maiden name.

His reserved nature and eventual obscurity was confirmed at our first meeting, and many subsequent visits. He was always gracious to me and, more than that, a cordial and frequent correspondent. His letters, to his last days, were written in a patient cursive. He loved talking about his career – again, never bragging – the people he met, student days in Paris, his approach to drawing.

Throughout most of his life he lived in and around Boston. When I first met him he lived in a nursing home in one of the Newton-towns of suburban Boston… not for himself, but to be close to his wife who had grown infirm. The only chat I ever recorded was on an afternoon when building repairs were being done at the old house-turned-nursing home; so it is punctuated with hammering and power saws.

There might be readers who do not know the work of Gluyas Williams. To describe it – and him – I will steal from myself, and articles I did for Cartoonist PROfiles and my old Nemo magazine. Also, R C Harvey quoted me in a Comic Journal piece:

Gluyas Williams did more with less than practically any cartoonist in history. His masterful panel drawings are genre studies, more often than not crowded with figures, and frequently confusion is the mood. No: confusion is the subject; urbanity is the mood....

All of Williams’ characters somewhat nervously floated through the Twentieth century, slightly intimidated by technology and more than a little suspicious of the traps and trappings of modern life that awaited, ready to attack, around every corner.

Perfect were his evocations of personality types and the upper-middle-class milieux that he delineated. But Gluyas Williams’s most stunning accomplishments were as a draftsman. Here was an artist in total command of his media—every pen line is in place, nothing superfluous, yet everything so marvelously expressive.

Here is the doing-more-with-less ideal, aspired to by many cartoonists, in its finest incarnation.... The stark economy in a Williams cartoon came nowhere close to sterility: rather the scenes were vibrant and bursting with personality. Every figure is doing something—and doing something so expressively that you feel a part of the scene. Added to these gifts were Williams’ awesome sense of design, perspective, and composition.

Cover of Rosebud anthology, The Wide-Open Spaces –
The Gluyas Williams Panoramas
I couldn’t have said it better, which is why I am not trying. I can not add to my awe at the talents of Gluyas Williams; he should be on every cartoon connoisseur’s list of favorites. I paused over the word “talents” in assessing the work of Gluyas Williams; he had something that transcended talent. He had instincts in every aspect of an artist’s work I listed above. Instinct scarcely can be taught, and is even more daunting to learn. “What to leave out” has been a goal of uncountable painters and illustrators throughout history.

Choosing and understanding your subjects is always an exquisite discipline whose first rule is to remain modest (there is that word again) and who determine not to wander off looking for new artistic worlds to conquer. Gluyas Williams declined to employ slapstick; to work in other media than pen-and-ink; to accept assignments of rural or urban humor, historical themes, or foreign subjects.

He was at home in America’s suburbs at a time of their rise across the landscape. His goal was not to break into the metropolis, but to be welcome in the suburban neighborhoods of picnics, kids’ baseball games, and social teas.

The final testament to Gluyas William’s mastery of all he chose to survey is his original artwork. I have many pieces, including ones he inscribed to me (like one of his most famous, And So Bed, delineating the myriad diversions of a boy at bedtime) and they are wonders to behold.

Williams was, no surprise, a consummate craftsman. Working on drawing paper of almost porcelain-type surfaces, his pencil lines are sometimes discernible. But they are not the gaggle of sketch-lines that many cartoonists – many superb cartoonists – employed. No, they are virtually as simple and precise as the trademark Williams ink-lines that filled his compositions. And… never a correction. I have never seen a Gluyas Williams original with a paste-over, white-out, or correction.
Gluyas Williams, 1975
… besides: who could correct anything in such a cartoonist – from capturing the essence of everyday moments, to creating characters who lived, to depicting it all so perfectly?


Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Sunday with Hy Mayer

The Sphinx and the Drummer – an 
 Oriental Pipe Dream

New York Journal
Oct 31, 1897

Monday, April 1, 2019

That Conference – by Raemaekers

Louis Raemaekers


Chicago Examiner, September 27, 1917


Sunday, March 31, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Lyonel: Cartoons and Fein Art 

by Rick Marschall

[1] “The White Man”

Bad pun. This is a story about Lyonel Feininger, the German artist born (and died) in America. The son of a prominent musician, Lyonel was born in 1871 and initially studied music himself. In 1887 he moved to Germany, land of his parents’ birth, and only returned to America about 50 years later. He died in New York City in 1956.

An early Cubist, and a founder of the Bauhaus, Feininger is a major name in 20th-century art. But he began his career – and had an extensive career – as a cartoonist and caricaturist. The two pursuits occupied almost exactly equal periods of his life, with a decade overlap in the ‘teens.

As a cartoonist, he drew book and magazine illustrations; humorous, social, and political cartoons; and comic strips. As a close relative of the genres, wooden comic figures he carved and painted were placed in front of his unique, distorted urban scenes and photographed – “The City At the End of the World.” Music and photography were also lifelong pursuits.

[2] Character sketches for Kin-Der-Kids

There have been books and museum exhibitions of Feininger’s works, but he remains generally more respected than familiar beyond a few famous works.

In my collection in the late 1980s I had much of his printed works, including cartoons in German and American magazines, and an original page, and color guide, of Wee Willie Winkie’s World, the fantasy strip he drew for the Chicago Tribune in 1907. (He also drew the amazing Kin-Der-Kids at the same time.) I also own – all this for a book I have yet to produce – the complete run of his Chicago Tribune pages, including the paper’s ads and promotion.

In service of that book I hoped to write, I discovered the location of his grandson. And made it a point to visit him – a nervous pilgrimage for me.

[3] “The Miller and His Wife.” 1907

Danilo Curti lived in a little corner of Italy I had never visited – Trento, capital of the autonomous province of Trentino-Alto Adige, on the Adige River in Südtirol, in the shadow of the Dolomites. The city is a prosperous small town, by feeling, its status of semi-independence the result of proximity to Austria. In fact, similar to Alsace on the German-French border, it has been a part of both Italy and the old Austro-Hungarian Empire through the years. And its streets, native dress, and cuisine display the best of both traditions. 

I secured an invitation from Danilo, and took several trains north, north, north to that mountainous old village. In the town itself I followed narrow, cobblestone streets, aware of old lampposts and wrought-iron signs and decorations on charming old buildings.

Danilo was a shy but gracious host. Lyonel Feininger had three sons, Andreas, a famous photographer; Theodor Lukas (T. Lux), a painter and musician; and the reclusive genius Laurence, father of Danilo. 

It was Laurence who developed a passion for musicology and music history, and became his generation’s foremost authority on music of the 13-17th centuries; especially church music and liturgies, an admirer of Johann Sebastian Bach and an expert on Josquin des Prez and contemporaries. He was the son who secreted himself to Trento, privately researching (and privately financing) his groundbreaking work.

[4] The Church in Gelmerode – a town, and a building, 
to which Lyonel Feininger returned through the years for inspiration.

It was while in Trentino, except for his forays to the Vatican Library, that Laurence became a priest. I am not sure whether before or after his ordination that Danilo arrived on the scene – things happen – but in any event Laurence’s priestly life was devoted to ancient music of the church.

Danilo had, as I had hoped, much of the family archive. Many drawings, clippings, tearsheets, magazines, books, artwork. We spent all afternoon poring over these amazing materials. As it grew late, a friend he invited to join us for dinner, I think a handy translator, called from a couple streets away – I still remember, “Dan-i-LO! Dan-i-LO!” We spent a wonderful meal and evening, the three of us, Danilo recalling family stories about his grandparents and uncles.

He knew little about cartoons… but was learning, and that was part of the reason he responded to my inquiries. Otherwise he was a musicologist like his father (I cannot recall if he went into the priesthood also) and has become a prominent historian.

[5] Political cartoon by Feininger, 1915 – British King Edward in Hell

There was so much much material, including things I would never find elsewhere, that Danilo agreed to arrange for a local photographer to shoot many things we tagged. He presented me with scholarly works of his own, and a couple music-history books by his father; and he loaned me a couple of items, including a rare, early book of fairy tales that Lyonel illustrated. When I returned to the States, I sent him some rare material I had.

Danilo’s scholarly growth has included a recent cartoon-history project, Pencil Strokes: The Great War in Caricature. The exhibition has toured Europe and the world.

With a monumental amount of work, by a monumental talent, having passed in front of me that day, it was difficult to fall asleep. Very conscious of being in (as I have called it) an obscure virtual corner at the top of the world, a fairy-tale vestige of earlier times, where the archives of an influential artist of our age emerged from boxes and trunks… the whole experience was, for me, not exactly rare, but I was grateful for another sweet moment in a Crowded Life in Comics.


Monday, March 25, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Power of Cartoons

 by Rick Marschall

Short and sweet this week.

I came across this drawing when I was a young kid. I was hooked on cartoons and comics from an early age… and I mean cartoons and comics from THEIR early ages too.

I relished being able to meet, or correspond with, Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield, Rudolph Dirks, Jimmy Swinnerton, Russell Patterson, Otto Mesmer, C M Payne, and other old-timers. And when I met cartoonists who merely were old, I pumped them for information about older cartoonists they had known. I met Walt Kelly when I was 12, I think; and what did I do but pump him with questions about T S Sullivant. (That evening, he was not in state to chat about much, especially a punk asking about someone who died in 1926…)

I don’t know why I had these tendencies. Perhaps my mother was scared by an antique when she carried me.

However, what sealed my fate going forward was when I discovered this drawing in an old magazine. It was an ad for a cartooning correspondence school (I recently promised readers of my promise to Fantagraphics Books to finish my book about mail-order cartoon courses…)

It was all I needed. Documentary evidence. Proof! One look at this (anonymous) drawing and my path was charted – cartooning, strips, political cartoons, comic books, collecting, research, history, scripting, writing, editing, publishing. What an amazing array of ways to go bankrupt.

I drew my version of the ringleader in this cartoon and begged my mother to buy me a suit just like his. It took an awful lot of persuasion, but I was outfitted. Unfortunately, the most use I ever got from it was on Halloween when, with the addition of a cardboard  monocle, I roamed the neighborhood as Mr Peanut.

Seriously, I did hear of one cartoonist with a similar experience – and I assume equally  as apocryphal. Al Capp told me that when he was young he saw a newspaper photo of Bud Fisher (Mutt and Jeff) leaving on a cruise ship, showgirls hanging on his arm… and he decided right there on a career.

Following a thread, Fisher was a playboy who enjoyed hot and cold running showgirls. The story goes that he met a “countess” of fuzzy nobility, returning to America on one of those cruise ships. He married her. This one, however, he neglected to divorce; and also neglected to see her again for decades; but somehow appeared when his death was announced in the papers.

True or almost true, that is the Power of Cartoons.