Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Interview with Frank Beard 1895
Interview with Frank Beard,
Illustrated by Himself.
The First War Cartoons-Caricatures in Daily Newspapers-Some Artists of the Cartoon.
(Copyrighted 1895 by Frank G. Carpenter)
September 15, 1895, Morning Oregonian.
CHICAGO, Sept. 11.-- I have just had a talk with Frank Beard about himself and American caricature. He is, to a certain extent, the father of the American cartoon, and he has been making funny pictures for the newspapers all his life. He is now about 50 years of age, and his first picture was published when he was under 30. He has opened a new field in cartooning, as the editor of the Ram’s Horn. This is the Puck and Judge of Chicago, but its pictures are semi-religious instead of political. In it Frank Beard is trying to reform the religious world by exposing its shams. The paper had nothing of a circulation when he took hold of it. It now publishes 50,000 a month, and is rapidly becoming one of the leading pictorials of the country. Its field was well expressed by Mr. Beard during the talk, when I asked him as to what he thought of the future of American caricature. He replied:
“I think we are just at the beginning of the use of the cartoon. Pictures can often tell stories quicker and better than words, and I believe that cartoons can be used in the service of religion, righteousness, truth and justice without being subject to pary. I believe in the fundamental principles of Christianity, but I can take a text from the Bible, and with the utmost reverence can, through the medium of the cartoon, apply it to the civilization of today. I can point a moral in this way, and by a picture can make a tract which every man who sees it must read. This is what we are trying to do through the Ram’s Horn, and we are succeeding beyond my expectations.
THE FIRST CHALK TALK.
My talk with Frank Beard took place in his office, and before I go further I want to tell you how it was carried on. Frank Beard is as deaf as a post, and he has been so from birth. The only way to talk with him is through a black rubber tube, about as big around as a garden hose and as long as your arm. This he always has about his neck. When you talk to him he uncoils it and puts one end of it to his ear and hands you the other. You place your lips to the mouth of the tube, and through this make your connection with Frank Beard’s brain. Mr. Beard is an inveterate sketcher, and during my conversation he illustrated his points by drawing pictures, talking all the while, so that it seemed a race between his tongue and his pencil as to which should convey the idea first. There is no man in the United States who can give forth ideas in this manner as he can. He is, you know, the originator of the chalk talk, and there is hardly a town in the United States in which he has not given this sort of a lecture. Standing on the platform with a roll of paper stretched on an easel before him, and with a half-dozen colored crayons in his hand, he carries his audiences away with him while he draws pictures illustrating the philosophy, fun and satire which he throws at them in solid chunks. There are today a score or more of this kind of entertainers in the United States. Frank Beard, however, was the author of the business, and he made today a sketch for me in illustration of his story as to how he came to make the first chalk talk. Said he:
“It is now more than twenty years since I gave my first talk of this kind. I was a young artist of New York, and had just gotten married. My wife was an enthusiastic church-goer and a great deal of our courtship was carried on in going to and from the Methodist church. The result was that I struck a revival and became converted. This occurred shortly after I was married, and like other enthusiastic young Christians, I wanted to do all I could for the church. I was on hand at all the meetings, and I took part in all the church work. Now, our church, like many others in the United States, was very hard up. We were always needing money for something, and we tried to supply this by means of entertainments and socials. Soon after I joined the church the young people gave an exhibition, and the ladies suggested that I draw some pictures as a part of it. I consented, but I felt that the standing-up before an audience and sketching without saying anything in illustration of the pictures would be a very silly thing. So I concluded to make a short talk and draw the sketches in illustration of it. I wrote out my story and rehearsed it half a dozen times beforehand. The entertainment was for a Thanksgiving celebration, and one rehearsal took place at home, my wife, my mother-in-law and the turkey, which we tied up in a chair, forming the audience. Well, my wife survived, my mother-in-law did not die while I was talking, and the turkey was not spoiled. The exhibition came off in the church, and it was a great success. Other churches heard of it, and I had applications to repeat it again and again. At first I was flattered and readily consented. I never thought of charging for it until the demands became so numerous that I was unable to fill them. It was taking much of my energy and lots of my time. To put a stop to it my wife suggested that I charge so much for each entertainment. So, when the next application came, I replied that I could oblige them, but that it would cost $30. To my surprise they accepted my offer by return mail. It was so with nearly everyone who wrote, and I soon found that I was making more at my chalk talks than at my newspaper work. I then charged $40, then $50, and so on, until I now get what is considered a very good price. I don’t like to lecture very well, however. The wear and tear is too great, and you have to hurry too much to make trains.”
A BOY SKETCHER.
“When did you make your first cartoon, Mr. Beard?” I asked.
“My inclination to make caricatures dates back to my boyhood, “ was the reply, “My father was an artist, you know, and he has painted some very good pictures. When I was a boy, away back in the ‘30s, we lived in Plainville, Ohio, a little town near Cleveland. The chief county paper at this time was the Yankee Notions. It would be considered a very poor thing today, but it was the best of its kind then. As soon as I saw it, I became one of its regular subscribers. All of my spare cents went for it. When I was about 10 years old, I came in to my mother one day with this paper in my hand and said: “Ma, I am going to draw some pictures and send them to the Yankee Notions.”
“’All right my son,’ was the reply, ‘If you think you can do so.’
“I then asked her to give me the jokes, that I might make pictures to them. She objected to this, and told me that I must make the jokes, as well as the pictures. And that the man who made the one always made the other. This bothered me somewhat, but I finally succeeded in making a joke and a picture. I mailed it to the paper, and in due time received 50 cents for it. This seemed a great deal of money to me, and for a long time after that I thought of nothing but jokes and pictures. I kept sending more jokes, and sometimes, I remember, I got as much as $5 at a time for 10 jokes. This was a fortune for a schoolboy, and I was the envy of my companions.”
FRANK BEARD’S FIRST CARTOON.
“Do you remember what that first joke was, Mr. Beard?”
“Yes,” replied the cartoonist, with a laugh. “It was not the most elegant, but it was such as a schoolboy might naturally originate. It represented a lean, old schoolmistress, with a spelling-book in one hand and a ruler in the other, sitting before a little boy perched upon a bench, who was saying his spelling lesson. Under it were these words:
“Teacher- Bobby, what does b-e-n-c-h spell ?”
“Bobby- I don’t know, mum.”
“Teacher- Why, what are you sitting on ?”
“Bobby- I don’t like to tell.”
“My other schoolboy efforts were somewhat similar, such as any schoolboy might originate. One, for instance, was a professor, reading from his lecture, with a little girl standing beside him with a statuette of Bonaparte in her hand. The professor meditatively exclaims: “Analyse or break the bony part and the inside will be found to hollow out.” Following this were the words: “So Ann Elizar breaks the Bonaparte, but presently hollers out herself.” I continued making cartoons like this throughout my schooldays. It didn’t pay much, however.
“You were in the army, Mr. Beard; how could you pass the examining board, with your deaf ears?” I asked.
“That is quite a story,” replied Frank Beard. “I tried to pass the officers, but failed. I was just 18 when Fort Sumter was red upon. With the first shot an epidemic of patriotism broke out all over the North. Everyone wanted to go right away and fight for his country. I got the epidemic and was crazy to go. I went down to Camp Dennison near Columbus, Ohio, and attempted to pass the examiners. This was at the first of the war, and they were more particular then than later on. I knew they would not pass me if they discovered I was deaf, so I learned the order of the questions and committed the answers to be given to them. I met a number of men who had been examined, and I thought I had it down pat, when I went in. It happened, however, that one of the board had heard something of my infirmity, and at his whispered suggestion the order of the questions was changed. Instead of asking me my name the first question was:
‘How old are you?”
“Frank Beard,” I boldly answered.
“What is your name?”
“Eighteen years old,” was my reply.
“This went on for perhaps half a dozen questions, when the officers burst into laughing, and I saw that it was no go. I hung around the camp for a short time, and was about to go back home in despair, when one of the captains took pity on me. He told me that I might go with his company without pay, and that he would get me a uniform and a musket. He did so, and I served through the war as a private without pay. I did some sketching, but not much, and made just about as much out of my pictures as I would have received from Uncle Sam had I been on the regular pay-rolls. This seems rather extraordinary now. You can hardly understand it. It was not strange in 1861. Patriotism was then alive. The country was on fire with it. There were thousands of young men who would have done the same.”
“What was your regiment?”
“My regiment was the Seventh Ohio. We had a rather serious time during some parts of the war. A number of our officers were killed, but I escaped without being wounded. I underwent all the duties of a private soldier, though the officers were very lenient with me, on account of my receiving no pay.”
AS AN ARTIST PRIVATE.
“You must have had some curious experiences?” I said.
“No, not particularly so,” replied Frank Beard. “My life was that of the private soldier. I had perhaps a few more privileges than some others, but not many. I remember one funny thing which occurred during the campaign in West Virginia. Lieutenant-Colonel Creighton was in command of our regiment. We were on a hard march, and we had gone for nearly a day without water. I was very thirsty and I noted that the colonel’s Negro servant had a load of full canteens on his back. I concluded to have some of that water, and I assaulted him and grabbed a canteen. The colonel saw me, and he came up and asked me what I meant by such action. I replied that I was thirsty and that I was bound to have a drink. I said, “You fellows riding along on your horses don’t know how we fellows on foot suffer. You ought to get down and try it, if I had a horse like you, I wouldn’t grumble, and I wouldn’t growl at the fellows who grabbed at canteens to save their lives.”
“Well,” said Colonel Creighton, “why don’t you get a horse?”
“I would if I could,” I replied, “but if I did you would not let me ride it.”
“Yes I would,” was the rejoinder.
“Then where can I get one?”
“There is a cavalry regiment just behind us,” replied Colonel Creighton. “It is in camp over there, two miles away. Why don’t you go there tonight and take this one?”
“He said this, of course, in a joke. There was much liberty allowed between officers and men at the beginning of the war, and he had no idea that I would carry out his suggestion. That night, however, I slipped out of camp and went to the cavalry regiment. I took the best horse I could find and brought it back with me. Before morning the cavalry regiment was ordered to march on, and no inquiry was ever made about the horse. He had the letters U.S. branded upon him, and he was a first class animal. The colonel carried out his promise and didn’t object. I rode him for more than a year, and it was only through my peculiar position as an artist private that I was permitted to do so.”
THE FIRST GREAT WAR CARTOON.
“The war was practically the mother of American newspaper caricature, Mr. Beard, was it not ?”
“Yes,” was the reply. “The illustrated newspaper grew rapidly during the war. Before it the only cartoons of much account which we had, were in the paper which I spoke of, known as the ‘Yankee Notions.’ It is true there were cartoons, but they did not appear in the newspapers. They were drawn and lithographed and sold by the sheet. The cartoon most in vogue prior to the war consisted of stilted figures, with words coming out of their mouths, and the words and not the pictures told the story. I think I am the author of what was, perhaps, the first war cartoon. It was in 1861, and it represented a Southern march on Washington. General Scott was in command of the army, and was defending the capital. The rebels were threatening to march to the North. I made a cartoon representing General Scott as a big bull-dog, with a cocked hat on its head, sitting behind a plate containing a bone marked ‘Washington.’”
“Back of him were some tents and the American flag. In front of the bone, and trembling in fear, cowered a lean, hungry hound, labelled ‘Jeff Davis.’ This hound was looking at the bone, but it feared to seize it. Under the cartoon were the words, “Why don’t you take it?” This cartoon made a great hit. It was lithographed, and we sold it in Cincinnati for 10 cents a copy. It was copied all over the country. It made a great sensation. The newspapers published it, and the commercial houses had cuts made from it and put on their envelopes. Had I had the sense to have copyrighted it I would have made a great deal of money out of it. But I was a boy then, and did not know as much as I do now.”
“What did you do after the war closed?”
“I went to New York and made sketches for the Yankee Notions. I did work on a number of different papers, and tuned my hand at anything I could find to do in the way of sketching. I had a bad time at first, and sometimes I nearly starved. I have walked the streets night after night in New York because I had not enough to pay for lodging, and I have made many a lunch off crackers and cheese. I could have gotten money, of course, by sending home, but I was too proud to do so. After a while, however, I got a foothold, and I did work on nearly all of the illustrated papers.”
THE AMERICAN CARTOON.
“Tell me something about cartoon making in America ?”
“The first paper that published cartoons was the Yankee Notions of which I told you. This was owned by a man named Strong, and it had a long run. Then Nicknacks appeared, which was followed by the Comic Monthly and Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun. Then we had Vanity Fair and then Mrs. Grundy, illustrated by Thomas Nast and published by Harper’s. Puck and Judge were later creations, and now the daily newspapers are publishing their cartoons.”
“Speaking of the cartoons in the dailies, Mr. Beard, do you think it has come to stay ?”
“Yes,” was the reply. “Pictures tell a story so much quicker than anything else that they will always be in demand. They have increased the circulation of the daily and Sunday newspapers, and they are improving in quality right along. I believe they will continue to improve, and that invention will make such processes of printing that they will be able to produce good work in the daily papers. I think the demand for good sketches increases. Printing must be illustrated nowadays, and the cheap processes will make an increased demand.”
MORE MONEY FOR ARTISTS.
“What is the effect of this on artists and illustrators ?”
“It increases their value, of course,” replied Frank Beard, “But it also brings up a great crop of new sketchers and of mediocre men. By the poor processes of printing now used in the papers the sketches of the best artists look scarcely better than those of the amateurs who scratch out pictures on the chalk plates in the country newspaper offices. Take Dana Gibson’s pictures. They would lose half their force if published in the daily newspapers instead of the magazines. Still, the increased demand helps the better artists too. Prices are twice as high now as they have been in the past, and the demand for drawings has never been so great as it is now. It is easy to find a man who can draw. It is hard to find one who can tell what to draw. What the world needs is men with ideas. We want creative men, and such men receive higher prices every year. They will be worth more and more as time goes on. Machinery does not hurt them. The only factory that can turn them out is God Almighty.”
-- “Frank G. Carpenter.”