Thursday, April 30, 2009

Mutt and Jeff

[ May 2, May 5, and May 6 1930]

When I was a young tad we had a great way of making my dad laugh. All it took was for one of us to say “Mutt and Jeff!” and repeat it every time he took a breath between bellows of laughter. I didn’t really appreciate Mutt and Jeff myself, Al Smith had been drawing the strip since I first picked up a funny paper and it was god awful. All the laughs had leaked out of the comic after Fisher’s death and it was now strictly a commercial concern limping along on its past glory.

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, seen HERE.

[April 29 1920]

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.”

[Augustus Mutt's family, Ma, Cicero and Desdemona. June 4 1913]

Look up Bud Fisher on Google and you will find that he was born in 1884 or 1885 in Chicago Illinois, which is probably wrong. According to the MacLean’s article cited above, 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.”

[October 4 1913]

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.

[Living in Lonesomehurst,

by Ed Mack, June 26 1918]

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Unsern Feinden

J. B. Engl, 9 May 1896, Simplicisimuss, Vol. I No.6

Shenanigan Kids

More boofheaded jokes from The Shenanigan Kids by John Campbell Cory. From Sept 10 1918 on.

Adolf Willette

The Art of Willette, from The Bookman (U. S.) March 1910-Aug 1911. Color illustration from Eduard Fuchs Die Frau In Der Karikatur ; Albert Langen 1907.

Caption: The Indecisive Penitent "The Church of the Sacred Heart was created by men's hands, but this came from the hand of God!"

French cartoon by Adolf Willette, 1903.

Wilhelm Schulz (1865-1952)

Umsonst ("In Vain") by Wilhelm Schulz from Simplicissimus Volume I No. 31 October 1896. Bottom 1895.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Young Folks

I always enjoy the kid's pages in old newspapers. Young Folks appeared in the Lethbridge Herald in the fifties and had beautiful comic art by an anonymous artist. The artist on Canadian Trails is mentioned: Jacques Gagnier -- possibly these were all his work.

The Old Home Town

The Old Home Town by Lee W. Stanley,
April 6 1934 to April 12 1934,
Central Press Syndicate.

What I Read Then

What I Read Then -- What You Read Now, an Essay for the Young, from Stephen Leacock's Laugh Parade; A New Collection of the Wit and Humour of Stephen Leacock (1940)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Dick Dauntless

Dick Dauntless The Boy Privateer. London : Hogarth House, Bouverie Street, Fleet Street, E.C. 12 Nos., c. 1885.

Dick Dauntless is a short, bloody, brutal boys sea adventure. No indication of author or illustrator, possibly Harry Maguire and one of the Emmett’s. The story is not terribly original, it was used with many variations in almost every sea tale I have read, from Money Marks to Handsome Harry to Black Rollo. What is different is the surprisingly good writing of the author, not only does he have a thorough knowledge of ships and the sea, he can write literate lines, and has a strong power of description. The action moves along like a freight train.

Its 1788 and England is at war with France and Spain. The heroes are two boys, Harry Seymour and Dick Dauntless, the villains are Dick’s cousin Jack Dauntless and his uncle Richard Dauntless, in reality Black Beard, scourge of the Caribbean, known as the Demon of the Seas. Cousin Jack is cheeky enough to try using a blade in a roughhouse with other boys. He is disarmed by Dick and hates him with a savage fury. Two boats set out, one under Captain Richard, one under Captain Robert, Dick’s father. Richard (Black Beard) takes over the ship and a bloody slaughter takes place, two young girls Katie Percival and May Clifton catch the eye of the lusty pirate.

“I’ve had twenty-seven wives in six years, and they all die for love of me - sooner or later, you know, generally sooner.”

The ship is burned and sunk along with captain Robert, women and children. Then its join or die as eighteen men walk the plank. The boys accept service under Black Beard and his odious son Jack in order to save the girls. As in most tales of this type the girls are mindless ciphers used as a foil to keep the action moving.

The pirate’s island in the Caribbean is approached through a whirlpool, only Jack and Black Beard can find the way through. Once there the pirates get drunk and have a shindig whereat they dance the “Bolavolta,” with topless women. A pirate grabs a woman around the waist and spins her in circles, the woman slaps the backs and shoulders of anyone she can reach.

“It was a wild and exciting scene - lithe bodies swaying, either to give or avoid a blow; plump shoulders shrugging, stricken flesh quivering, white flesh reddening or black paling ‘neath the slaps, with cheeks crimsoning and eyes flashing, as in many instances angry passions rose with the smarting.”

“Dimpled backs that had gone into the contest as white as snow, blushed finger marks, creamy shoulders ditto, hair became disheveled, chests panted, bosoms throbbed, female hearts thumped against manly ribs...some fainted, others lost their tempers, and began to double their fists and even use their nails...”

The "dance" ends and the “merry” women load up on champagne.

The girls are kept in a castle overlooking a village of huts. The only way in is by ladders, which are pulled up overnight to keep intruders out. When another pirate ship appears in the harbour Dick and Harry follow an underground passage that leads inside the castle, rescue the girls, capture the ship and with a squirming Jack in tow to get them by the whirlpool find their own island and set up as privateers preying on the French.

The island is the only one in the Caribbean inhabited by large stone-throwing apes. The boys find Captain Kidd’s treasure, chase Black Beard and even kill a cephalopod (“It’s head rose above the water as large as the buoy at the Nore, with eyes as big as the buffer lights of an express engine..,”) and drag it on board where it takes up the entire length of the main deck.

“Dick would gladly have carried the monster’s body ashore somewhere and presented it to some museum or scientific institution; but, after it had been dead a couple of hours, it began to stink so atrociously that he was fain to order it to be cast overboard, which (so rapidly had decomposition had set in) was done by spadefuls at a took six hours to get rid of him.”

Dick Dauntless and Harry Seymour end up killing the villain and become the heroes of the hour. There is the hint of a sequel in the final paragraphs;

“If our readers have been pleased with our narrative, we may perhaps at some future date, tell them another tale of this family of Crusoes.

How they were invaded by savages, and about a wonderful ape, who haunted their isle, and committed robbery, arson and murder, defying every effort at capture, and even the discovery of his retreat, until he was looked upon as supernatural, and everyone dreaded to go abroad; with many another strange peril and adventure, and whether or no Jack Dauntless was ever discovered and forced to pilot the “Rattlesnake” away from the island.

For the present however, we will write - Finis.”

Mr. and Mrs.

Mr. and Mrs. by Arthur Folwell and Kin Platt from April 2 and April 30 1955.

Man Without a Face

Arthur Folwell ? January 6, 1942

Clare Briggs (1875-1930) Jan 27, 1928

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Heavenly Daze

Heavenly Daze by Ben Martin, New York Herald Tribune, Christmas 1954. A few are missing but here is a nice selection of a short Christmas serial from Dec 3 1954 to Dec 24 1954.

Popeye’s Creator is Gone

Popeye’s Creator is Gone
October 13, 1938
Winona Republican-Herald

There was something Olympian about Elzie C. Segar. Like Jove, he created a child of his brain which became a great public personality.

A rather small, tired-looking man, he dwelt in a world of his own making, a world which combined perhaps a whimsical translation of a gently satirical view on human life, a shy but sturdy belief in basic ethical conduct and a secret longing for the physical strength denied him in real life.

His Popeye is the best known of the comic invincibles. When this character goes into action you know that no matter what he encounters he will be victorious in the end. Toar, King Cabooso and other he-man characters go down before him.

Segar possessed an eerie imagination too, as shown by the Goons, the Men from Mars, the Sea Hag with her buzzard and other characters. But his strips always were comic, and J. Wellington Wimpy, Olive Oyl, Swee’pea and the rest always relieved any situation with their mirth.

Always he preserved the fundamental morality of his outlook on life. ‘I yam what I yam,” said Popeye, and further exhorted his readers to be kind, to scorn lying and dishonesty, to fight for the right. The impact of his creations could be economically proved by the rise in popularity of spinach as food among young Americans. But he also left deeper and less measurable influences. To millions of boys and girls, and their elders too, he sleeps in a Valhalla all his own, peopled by the personages of the strange and pleasing world he created.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

George McManus Self-portrait

I managed to clean up this self-portrait from an article titled Bringing up Geo. McManus, from the Lethbridge Herald 14 Feb 1942.

George was a St. Louis boy who quit school age thirteen for a job as a newspaper office boy. His first comic strip was Alma and Oliver for the St. Louis Republic, drawn when he was seventeen, and followed by Snoozer, Merry Marcelene, and Let George Do It. He drew Nibsy the Newsboy, Panhandle Pete and The Newlyweds for the New York World. In 1912 he began a comic strip called Their Only Child in the New York Journal followed by the Bringing up Father daily on 3 Aug 1913, while Rosie‘s Beau was the title of his Sunday page.

McManus was antipathetic to speed and exercise. He took great pleasure in relaxing beside his radio with a cigar and a tall one, delivered by his man-Friday Ben, a Filipino. He averaged 30 cigars a day.

Herbie, the Fat Fury

From Forbidden Worlds Mar-April 1965, American Comics Group