Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Early California Cartoonists

Swinnerton Self-Portrait, Oct 15, 1897 Denver Daily News

Early California Cartoonists (Note: Parts of this piece appeared in earlier Yesterday's Papers posts on Tad Dorgan, Bud Fisher and Hype Igoe. I may have forgotten someone important, if so I may update this post further in future.)

Much has been written about the early New York cartoonists from the early years of the newspaper supplements, much less about the cartoonists of California, many of whom worked for Hearst‘s San Francisco Examiner and its rivals. Two of the earliest California cartoonists of all were George Frederick Keller of the San Francisco Wasp and Carl Browne of the Weekly Graphic and Anti-Monopolist. These two political cartoonists were active in the seventies and eighties.

By 1895 with improved technological advances in the reproduction of illustrations and cartoons a new generation of cartoonists and illustrators emerged to fill the pages of the weekly supplements. One of the earliest was Charles H. Owens, who reminisced about his life in the newspaper world of the nineties in a 1930 article titled Ink-slingers. Charles learned the rudiments from a forgotten sign painter named Charley Arcanne, and a Mr. Lemos, who ran an art class in Santa Cruz, where shy Owens would eavesdrop on classes from the doorway. His first boss was Charlie Edwards on the old San Francisco Record, a chalk-plate artist, who became redundant with the advent of new ways of reproducing newspaper illustration.

While memories of Owens have disappeared into history the next two ink-slingers on the list, Homer Davenport (1867-1912), and Jimmy Swinnerton (1875-1974), had world-wide reputations. On Swinnerton’s 97th birthday Milton Caniff called him “the grand daddy of us all.”

On 17 August 1895 the Oakland Tribune reported that “the art of making illustrations for newspapers is a branch in itself. The advance made in magazine works is one of the notable features of the nineteenth century. A school of magazine and newspaper illustration has been opened at 424 Pine Street in san Francisco, under the most favourable auspices. The best illustrators of the metropolis have lent their names and will give the benefit of their training to the institution.”

The instructors for what may have been the earliest school of commercial newspaper art in the country (Partington’s School of Magazine and Newspaper Illustration), were J. H. E. Partington, Gertrude Partington of the Examiner, and R. L. Partington of the Call. Visitors and examiners were the cream of California cartoonists and illustrators, Jules Pages, Homer Davenport, and James Swinnerton all employed on Hearst’s Examiner. Students studied painting from the antique and from live models using both oils and watercolours.

Jules Pages, the son of an artist, was born in San Francisco, studied under Jules Tavernear, who taught many early California artists, and worked his way to fame as a newspaper illustrator, first on the San Francisco Call, then as head of the art department of the Examiner, and finally on the New York Journal. Passing under his wing at one time or another were Davenport, Swinnerton, Harrison Fisher, Hayden Jones, and Gertrude Partington. He saved his money, studied Fine Art in Paris, and became a world famous artist, decorated with the Chevalier of the Legion ’d Honneur from the hands of the French Republic. He dropped dead of a heart attack on a downtown San Francisco street on 23 May 1946.

Homer Davenport was born in the mining town of Silverton, Oregon, 8 March 1867, and, like most boys spent his time drawing pictures of the teacher on the fly-leafs of his work books. A cousin visiting from Chicago was impressed with a sketch of himself drawn by the young boy and suggested the old man send Homer to art school in San Francisco where he eventually ended up on the Examiner.

On 5 October 1896 it was reported that Hearst, proprietor of the Examiner, had purchased the New York Reporter. “This statement is born out by the fact that Homer Davenport, the well-known artist, Mrs. Orrin Black, better known as Annie Laurie, and Charles Dryden, a clever writer, have left for New York in compliance with orders from Mr. Hearst.”

A year later, according to an article in Hearst’s Evening Herald, Joseph Pulitzer “sat in his palatial quarters” at the World building looking at Davenport cartoons. He called a subordinate and sent for Mr. Davenport. The popular cartoonist, the story goes, was offered $150, but, on Davenport’s expressing the opinion he was satisfied with Mr. Hearst, it was upped to $200. Davenport rushed out in the street to think it over and ran headlong into William Randolph Hearst himself.

“Mr. Hearst,” he said, “Mr. Pulitzer has just offered me $200 a week.”

“Come right into the office,” said Hearst. “I’ll make your salary $250 a week, but don’t you go back and see Pulitzer. He can’t have you.” When they were seated in Hearst’s private office, the editor said: “I’ve been thinking sometime of making you a present. I was going to wait for Christmas. But I guess I’ll make the present now.” So saying he took out his check-book, and wrote a check for $5,000. Davenport gasped. “I guess you need not see Mr. Pulitzer again,” concluded Hearst.

Hearst’s next star cartoonists was Jimmy Swinnerton, born in Eureka, California in 1875, who took a year of art school in San Francisco when he was 15, and in 1892 was recommended by Davenport for a job in the Hearst Examiner art department. There he drew a panel featuring a comic California Grizzly Bear prognosticating the weather. He followed this with a comic strip work titled “The Little Bears and the Little Tykes” in 1894.

He soon moved on to Hearst’s New York American. The cartoonists, Homer Davenport, Swinnerton, ‘TAD’ Dorgan, and ‘Hype’ Igoe, worked hard and long at their drawing boards. “We existed on liquor and black coffee,” he told reporter Neal Ashby in 1966. In 1905 he launched a kid’s strip, Little Jimmy, and it ran for forty years in a colour Sunday. A second cartoon called Canyon Kids appeared in Good Housekeeping Magazine.

Bobo Baxter, Feb 20 1928

Herbert A. (‘Hype‘) Igoe, sporting cartoonist, and “probably the best informed writer on boxing that ever lived,” according to Damon Runyan, was born 27 April 1878 in Santa Cruz, California. He and his best friend’s Rube Goldberg and Thomas Aloysius “TAD” Dorgan, (1877 -1929), attended Polytechnic High School where they were taught art.

Hype Igoe started his newspaper career at 15 as an office boy, alongside Tad, for Homer Davenport and Jimmy Swinnerton on Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. It's been said that Igoe got Bud Fisher his first job, on the San Francisco Chronicle. In 1905 Swinnerton, famous for the “Little Bears” cartoons , brought the inseparable pair to New York. Brisbane only wanted Tad, who refused to make the move without Hype Igoe. Both were hired and moved to the Hearst newspaper building at 238 William Street. Hearst was publishing two newspapers from the plant, the Morning American and the Evening Journal.

There were a lot of stories as to the origin of the name “Hype” including this one :“It was Dorgan who helped popularize the label “Hype”, which Igoe had hung on him by a 300 pound Negro elevator operator. The operator took one look at the slender 15 year old copy-boy back in the days when he was working for the San Francisco Examiner and observed: “Mr. Igoe, yo ain’t no bigger than a hypodermic needle.””

Thomas Aloysius “TAD” Dorgan, (1877 -1929) sports cartoonist, comic strip artist, and coiner of slang, died in his sleep in Great Neck, Long Island on May 2, 1929 age 57. A heart ailment had kept him confined to his home for eight years. His wife Isole Dorgan, a writer before marrying TAD, cleared up his estate and started a successful doll furniture factory. She was vice-president of the National Doll and Toy Collectors Club. Together they had raised two Chinese children to adulthood.

Tad was born in San Francisco and his father ran a cigar store. When Tad was a boy his hero was scientific boxer Gentleman Jim Corbett. When he wasn't spending his time following fighters around Tad was drawing boxing pictures on the walls of neighbourhood warehouses and stables. According to one chronicler he was left with just the thumb and first knuckle on his right hand, the result of an accident when he was ten. Other accounts differ saying he lost the fingers on his left hand.

Tad’s brothers Dick and Joe drew as well. Dick Dorgan drew two comic strips, Kid Dugan and Mr. Gilfeather (later to be drawn by none other than Al Capp). Tad, along with fellow student Rube Goldberg, attended Polytechnic High School under art teacher Rosey Murdoch.At fourteen Tad joined the art staff at the San Francisco Bulletin. The New York Journal hired him in 1902 as their sports cartoonist and reporter. Along with Rube Goldberg, Hype Igoe, and Robert Ripley he became a celebrity in the sports world.

In 1910 Tad was covering the Jeffries vs. Johnson heavyweight prize-fight. Negro boxer Jack Johnson laughed all the way through his fight with Jim Jeffries. TAD asked him “Why do you laugh?” “You would laugh too if you had such a picnic as I am having.”

Tad was generally given credit for inventing the term hot dog. He did popularise the words ‘hot dog’ worldwide through his cartoons. Every Christmas Harry Stevens, who claimed to have “discovered” the hot dog, used to send a box of cigars to Tad in appreciation.

The star single-panel cartoonists of the 1920's were Clare Briggs of the New York Tribune, T. A. (Tad) Dorgan of the American and Journal, and HT Webster of the World and Herald Tribune. Tad’s most famous comic creations were Indoor Sports and Silk Hat Harry’s Divorce Suit. Tad was famous just for being Tad.

Goldberg, Fisher, and Dorgan let their mugs be used for Tuxedo pipe and cigarette tobacco advertising; “tuxedo can’t be equalled in soothing refreshing qualities.” Billed as the greatest cartoonists in the country “they all smoke and endorse TUXEDO.” Tad joined a vaudeville ticket giving chalk talks with Winsor McCay, Rube Goldberg and Bud Fisher.

Tad Dorgan was so well known for his linguistic inventions that, on his death in 1929, W. L. Werner wrote an article for American Speech with the anguished title Tad Dorgan is Dead.

According to a MacLean’s article of June 1916 titled Making a Fortune out of Comics, how “Bud” Fisher is Capitalizing “Mutt and Jeff,”: “As soon as the boy was big enough to hold a pencil he began expressing his infant soul in scrawls. His father’s linen collars, off or on, were his favourite drawing boards …” Bud Fisher never took a drawing lesson in his life but his bigfoot style was very influential, most noticeably with George Herriman, author of Krazy Kat. In 1917 a close study of Mutt and Jeff appeared in the shape of Hitt and Runn, by Oscar Hitt.

Harry C. “Bud” Fisher was the unlikeliest person you could think of to draw Mutt and Jeff. John Wheeler, of the Wheeler Syndicate, described him as a belligerent “dapper cocky little guy,” a sun dodger, who hated the daylight. Fisher, along with most of his contemporary cartoonist-journalists pals, enjoyed fights, chorus girls, gambling, and saloons. Fisher liked to shoot up hotel rooms with his pistols, one of which was a gift from Pancho Villa, indoors when he was drunk. His first wife was a Vaudeville showgirl who led a tragic life. In 1927 his second bride, a Countess, charged Fisher with throwing her out of their luxurious Riverside Drive apartment and beating her on several occasions. “Bud” wasn’t present when she was granted separation, he was aboard a ship to Europe.

Wheeler seems to have studied Fisher carefully and concluded, “Fisher’s life was full of crises, most of which he made himself. He was a strange contrast of shrewdness and stupidity about his own affairs.”Al Smith, one of Fisher’s ‘ghosts,’ told the Associated Press that “Ghosting for Fisher was rough. He fired me three or four times and I quit three or four times.” Smith ghosted Mutt and Jeff from 1932 to 1954, when Fisher died, and Smith took charge of Mutt and Jeff, and created its topper, Cicero's Cat. “I really love doing it. The years have passed so quickly, and Mutt and Jeff have become a part of me. I wake up in the morning, and there they are, waiting for me to go to work.”

Harry C. Fisher was born in 1885 in San Francisco and moved with his parents to Portland, Oregon, to Milwaukee, and then to Chicago, where he attended Hyde Park High School.He attended a brief course at the University of Chicago before drifting west to San Francisco, where he earned fifty cents apiece doing cartoon drawings for tradesmen. His application for a job on the San Francisco Examiner was turned down but he was accepted at the San Francisco Chronicle at fifteen dollars a week. He worked for the Chronicle from 1905 until near the end of 1907. The San Francisco fire ruined the Chronicle offices and he found himself laid off and pounding the pavement again. Fisher moved on to Los Angeles.

“There he ran into a man named Steele, who was getting out an emergency Sunday section for the wrecked Chronicle, on the presses of the Los Angeles Times. Steele could not gat any good artists to work for him, because all the local men were employed by the Los Angeles Examiner, and could not accept retainers from another paper. He offered Fisher fifteen dollars a page.”

“I took him up,” says Bud, “and then I got a lot of the Examiner artists -- who could not work for Steele, but could work for me -- to make me these pages at seven dollars and a half apiece. I cleared the other seven-fifty. At that rate, I didn’t really care how long the fire lasted.” (*All the newspapermen who went through it referred to the Earthquake as “the fire.”)

He returned to San Francisco and the Chronicle with sixteen hundred dollars in his pockets and went back to work at twenty-two-fifty a week. On November 15 1907 A. Mutt was introduced to the sports-page of the San Francisco Chronicle and on December 10 the Examiner, (a Hearst paper,) who years before had turned Fisher away, made him a mighty attractive offer which he accepted. Soon after Augustus Mutt was joined by little Jeff (Mar 27 1908) and Fisher’s reputation spread East, leading to another move, New York.

In 1913 Fisher’s Hearst contract (for $300 a week) would shortly run out. John Wheeler took the opportunity to visit Fisher in his New York office and offer him a guaranteed $1000 a week and sixty percent of the revenue from syndication. Hearing of the impending departure the art director at Hearst hired Ed Mack to ghost a supply of Mutt and Jeff dailies for stockpiling. When Hearst lost the ensuing lawsuit Fisher hired Mack as his assistant. In 1914 Ed Mack drew an obscure comic Sunday for the Star Company syndicate entitled “Living in Lonesomehurst,” drawn in a Fisher influenced style.

By 1916 Bud Fisher was the highest paid cartoonist on earth. He made $150,000 total a year at his peak. He and his ghosts’ drew six comic strips a week, for forty-eight weeks a year, for a total of $78,000. The remainder was made up from Vaudeville engagements, Mutt and Jeff theatrical shows, Mutt and Jeff animated cartoons, an annual Mutt and Jeff comic book and licensing for postcards, plaster statues, and buttons. When leaving the Examiner Fisher had used a subterfuge to gain copyright to his own creations and was now fabulously rich.

Bobo Baxter, Feb 24 1928

Rube Goldberg was born on the 4th of July, 1883, in San Francisco. He claimed to remember the day he was born, and that his first act was asking his mother for a pencil. He started drawing cartoons for his Lowell High School publication. After high school he worked as a city engineer for awhile before landing a job on the San Francisco Chronicle between 1904-1905 at $8 per week.

His next berth was the San Francisco Bulletin (1905-1907) where he replace TAD Dorgan as a sports writer and cartoonist for that paper. He took a train to New York in 1907 and hit every newspaper office in the city before landing a job on the New York Evening Mail. His most famous creation, Boob McNutt, was distributed by Hearst’s Star Co. in 1915.

Other cartoonist with beginnings in California were Merle “Bug” Johnson, Bob Carter, Haydon Jones, Harrison Fisher, Bob Edgren and Dan Smith.

Bobo Baxter Feb 25, 1928

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