Friday, August 14, 2009

Comic Periodicals of America


American Bibliopolist Vol. VII., December 1875, Pg. 262

[see American Bibliopolist, Vol. VII, pp. 199, 201, 217. __EDS.]

In the August Bibliopolist is given an incomplete list of the comic periodical publications, forty-six in number, which have been started in America, and most of which after lingering for a brief time, have died a matural death, generally for want of funds to keep them alive. Mr. Matthew’s paper was originally published in the New York Evening Post. Frank Bellew, the artist, subsequently published in the (now defunct) Fifth Avenue Journal the following additions to the list of Mr. Matthews:

“City Budget.”. -- Published 1853, by Radway & Co. Edited by Mr. James. An illustrated weekly; lived for a year or more.

“O.K.” -- Published 1853. Short-lived; further facts unknown.

“Reveille. -- published 1853-4. Published and edited by Cornelious Matthews. Illustrated by T. B. Gunn. Weekly; lived for more than a year.

Young Sam.” -- Edited by Thomas Powell. Illustrated by Chas. Rosenberg. Weekly; short-lived.

The Hint” -- 1854. Published by Smith of the Sunday Courier. Edited and illustrated by William North. A daily illustrated comic paper; six numbers were published of the daily, when it was enlarged and changed to a weekly and lived a fortnight.

“The Phunniest of Phun.” -- 1865-6-7. Started by N. Jennings Demorest. Edited by Frank Bellew. Illustrated by Frank Bellew and Frank Beard. Lived about three years.

“The Pick.” -- 1854. Published and edited by Joseph Scoville. Illustrated weekly. Many of the illustrations were by John McLenan. This paper was an off - shoot of the Picayune and lived some time.

Mr. Bellew thinks that The Moon never appeared.

Both Mr. Matthews and Mr. Bellew appear to have forgotten or overlooked the first American comic publication, The Pictorial Wag, a semi-satirical newspaper, which was published in New York about the year 1842. It was a quarto and was published by Robert H. Elton, a wood engraver, who had gained some little notoriety from his comic almanacs, which were poor affairs in comparison with those of the present day, and which were made up of reproductions of Cruikshank’s and Seymour’s designs, interspersed with jokes and humorous sketches. “Comic Elton,” as he was known, secured as editor of his paper, Thomas L. Nichols, at that time a well --known water-cure physician, whose name, however, did not appear as editor. The only artist was John H. Manning, whose designs were considered at the time very funny. Nichols was an egotistical person and unpopular with his brethren of the press. When it came to be known that he was the editor, the circulation fell off, and Elton, having found a more profitable business in manufacturing comic valentines, allowed the paper to die after publishing only about a dozen numbers. Elton afterwards built up the village of Morrisiania, above New York, and the adjacent village of Eltonia is named after him.

The next attempt to found an American comic paper was made in 1845, when the publication of a sixteen- page quarto ws commenced in New York, by Cornelious Matthews (“Puffer Hopkins”), G. G. Foster (“Gaslight” Foster), Richard Grant White, and others. It was called Yankee Doodle, and the chief artist was a man named Martin, whose cartoons were highly appreciated at the time, but who appeared to have very little humor in his designs. Some of the numbers are curious at the present time as containing caricatures of Horace Greeley, who was at that period a young man of about twenty-four years of age. The literary department was weak. Mr. Hopkins, the chief editor, although a polished writer, had very little of the satirist in his composition. He was a man of wealth and the publication of Yankee Doodle is supposed to have been one of his literary eccentricities. Among the contributors were Horace Greeley and Nathaniel P. Willis. The paper expired within a year after the publication of its first number.

A few weeks after Yankee Doodle started, a rival appeared in the field. It was in its form and style an attempted facsimile of the London Punch and was called Judy. Geo. F. Nesbitt, the well-known Nassau street punster, was the publisher, and Harry Grattan Plunkett, or Harry Plunkett Grattan (for by both of these names he was known), was the editor. Grattan was an actor and dramatist, and is said to have been at one time connected with Punch. He was assisted by Dr. W. K. Northall, whose burlesques had made a hit at the Olympic Theatre, and other well-known litterateurs of the day. The chief artists were J. W. Ehwinger and Mr. Wolfe, afterward leader of the orchestra in Burton’s Theatre. Judy died a natural death a few weeks previous to the collapse of Yankee Doodle.

The next candidate for public favor was John Donkey. This was also a sixteen page quarto, and its publication was commenced in 1848 by Geo. B. Zeiber & Co., in Philadelphia. It was edited by Dr. Thomas Dunn English and G. G. Foster, and its chief illustrator was F. O. C. Darley, who was just beginning to make some little reputation as an artist. The paper might have been a success, as its circulation averaged about five thousand copies, but at the end of about nine months Zeiber & Co. failed, and its publication ceased.

The next venture on the sea of comic journalism appears also to have been overlooked by Messrs. Matthews and Bellew, The Bubble was published in New York and but two numbers were issued, as had been the intention of its projectors, concerning whom little appears now to be known.

The longest lived of any American comic paper was the New York Picayune, the publication of which was commenced in 1847. It was a folio sheet and was originated by a Dr. Hutchings in order to advertise his patent medicines. As it proved more successful than had been expected, it was enlarged in size and the eccentric and erratic Joseph A. Scoville became the editor and so continued until 1854, when he quarreled with the proprietor, left the paper and started The Pick as an opposition paper. The Pick was published something over a year and then collapsed. The Reveille, which was commenced in 1853, was edited by Cornelious Matthews and was published nearly two years. The Picayune, the Pick and the Reveille were of about the same size. The illustrations were few, and consisted each week of one cut about six inches square, with smaller ones, generally on the first page. After the defection of Scoville, the Picayune was edited successively by Robert H. Levison, John Harrington and John D. Vose. While Lenson was the editor he was assisted by J. C. Haney, the present publisher of the Comic Monthly. Lenson made some additional reputation for the paper by the publication of some negro sermons, purporting to have been delivered by one Prof. Julius Caesar Hannibal, and which at the time were very popular. On the 27th of March, 1858, the Picayune had reached its tenth volume and had passed into the hands of Thomas Butler Gunn. Its editor was “The Triangle,” (Frank Bellew) who had been the artist of the Reveille. With this volume its pages were reduced to 11 x 17 inches, and it was issued as an eight page paper, with an increased number of illustrations, and so continued until July 25, 1857, when another change was made, and the paper was turned into a sixteen page quarto, the same as Punch. It was now edited by “The Triangle,” (Bellew) and “Doesticks” (Mortimer Thomson) and the cartoons and many of the smaller illustrations were by Bellew. On the 20th of March, 1858, the last number was issued and the publication of the Picayune was at an end.

While Lenson was amusing the people with his negro sermons, in the spring of 1852, Dr. Hutchings, the originator of the Picayune, commenced the publication of a new comic paper, The Lantern. This was a sixteen page quarto and lived about eighteen months. John Brougham, the actor, and Geo. G. Foster were the principal contributors, and the illustrations were by Bellew and Gunn. After a time the paper passed into the hands of Geo. Woodward and its editors were John Brougham and Thomas Powell, the latter an Englishman, who was said to have been the original of Dickens’ “Pecksniff” and “Micawber.” Woodward soon retired and Brougham and Powell conducted The Lantern until it was extinguished. During their administration it was the best comic paper ever published in America. The contributors were Fitz James O’Brien, Charles Seymour, the theatrical critic of the Times, William North, Dr. English, G. G. Foster, Madam De Marguarites and others.

Young Sam was the next comic paper. It was published in New York by Porter & Abbott and edited by Thomas Powell of The Lantern. It was in every way inferior to the latter. Its contributors were Henry C. Watson, Chas. Rosenberg, John savage, George Arnold (“McAvore”) and others. After the publication of twelve numbers, Young Sam expired for want of funds. Then followed Young America, another sixteen page quarto, which was published in New York in 1853 by Thomas W. Strong, an engraver and the successor in business of “Comic Elton.” Mr. Strong is, we believe, still the publisher of the Yankee Notions. Young America was edited by Charles Gaylor, the dramatist, and its chief contributors were Fitz James O’ Brien, John McLenan and Hoppin. After running a little over a year, the publisher was sued for libel by a druggist, who felt aggrieved by a ten line paragraph, and, having a dread of litigation, Mr. Strong discontinued its publication.

Vanity Fair, another sixteen page quarto was commenced December 31, 1859. Louis H. Stephens was the publisher, and Frank Wood, the burlesque writer and dramatic critic was the editor. The cartoons were drawn by Henry L. Stephens, a brother of the publisher, assisted by Bellew, E. F. Mullen, McClenan, Sol Eytinge and others. The corps of writers embraced among others Fitz James O’Brien, William Winter, dramatic critic of the Tribune, Henry Clapp, Jr., (“Figaro”) Richard Henry Stoddard, George Arnold, Edmund Clarence Stedman, Fitz Hugh Ludlow, Charles Dawson Shanley, C. F. Browne, (“Artemus Ward”) and Thomas Bailey Aldrich. After a little over a year, Charles Godfrey Leland became the editor and was succeeded in a brief time by “Artemus Ward,” who left, after contributing some of his best sketches, on a lecturing tour. Charles Dawson Shanley then assumed editorial control, and continued until the periodical expired on the fourth day of July, 1863, aged about three and one half years.

In 1868 an attempt was made to establish a comic illustrated daily in New York. It was called Momus and its pages were a little larger than those of Punch. After a few numbers had been published, it was changed to a weekly, soon after which it quietly gave up the ghost.

Mrs. Grundy made her first appearance in New York on the 15th of July 1865. Dr. Alfred L. Carroll, an artist who had drawn comic pictures for Mr. Strong, the Harpers and others was the editor. The cartoons were drawn by Stephens and Thomas Nast and the smaller cuts by Hoppin, Nast, Mullen and others. After eleven numbers had been issued its publication was suspended. Mrs. Grundy was a sixteen page quarto the same size as Punch.

The last effort to found an American comic paper was made in April 1870, by Wm. A. Stephens. It was called Punchinello, was edited by Charles Dawson Shanley, and lived until December, thirty-nine numbers only being issued. It was a sixteen page quarto, printed on tinted paper, and its pages were a trifle longer than those of Punch. The cartoons were drawn by Stephens, the artist of Vanity Fair and Mrs. Grundy, and the smaller cuts by Bellew, Bowland, Fiske, and others. Besides Mr. Shanley, R. H. Newell (“Orpheus C. Kerr”) Montgomery Schuyler, of the World: Charles T. Congdon, of the Tribune: D. O. C. Townley, of the Mail, and W. L. Alden were contributors. Mr. Newell burlesqued Dickens’ novel for it under the title “The Mystery of Mr. E. Drood,” which was afterwards published in book form under the name of “The Cloven Foot.” Punchinello was ably and carefully edited, contained many excellent things, and never violated good taste.

Since the demise of Punchinello no attempt has been made in America to establish a comic paper to rank with those mentioned in this imperfect sketch, although there are many papers with a humorous department like some of those mentioned by Mr. Matthews, such as the Danbury News, Detroit Free Press, &c., but which cannot be properly classed with such exclusively comic journals as the Lantern, its predecessors and its successors.

L. W. Kingman.

*Yankee Notions cover courtesy Joe Rainone

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