Sunday, June 28, 2009
‘The Brighter Side,’
by Damon Runyon
January 25, 1939
Just for the purpose of the record, we want to say that nearly all the funny fowl, insect and animal characters, and the fantasy thereof that you see in movie shorts and in newspaper comic strips trace to one man.
We mean as far as the idea is concerned, and of course it is the idea in a thing of this kind that is important. Without the idea what have you got? The answer is nothing.
George Herriman is the man we are talking about. He is a slightly built, self-effacing chap, so mild that he would not say boo to a crawfish, and he has considerable fame in his own right as the author of well-known newspaper comic strips which appear in what children call the funnies.
George is probably comfortably fixed in this world’s goods but we venture to say that if he had a royalty of 1-2 of 1 per cent on the gross “take” from ideas that stem directly from his ideas, he would be an enormously rich man. That “stem” is putting it mildly for some cases.
We do not say that George originated the insect or animal or even the fowl comic character. They are older than the hills in humorous drawings but what we do say is that he was the daddy of fantasy in this field and certainly he was the originator of certain specific characters that others have used to greater financial advantage than George.
“Krazy Kat” is one of the more familiar of George’s characters, this being a cat that has the most fantastic adventures and is often coupled with “Ignatz Mouse.” We are pretty sure that George was the first to employ the lowly mouse as a character and to give it a definite, living personality, but after “Ignatz” came other mice to achieve greater fame than George’s brain child, which was alright, perhaps, except that we have never yet seen any of these other mice labeled “with a bow to George Herriman.”
Probably George himself has never paid any attention to the matter, but we just think that when laurels are being passed around for ideas there ought always be a sprig for the fellow who had the idea first, even though he may not have capitalized on it to the same extent as someone else.
The trouble with George has always been that he is too prolific in ideas. He has so many that he never misses one when it is borrowed from him. It is his admiring friends, like us, who burn up when they hear someone being exploited as the originator of an idea that George thought of first.
It must have been nearly 30 years ago that big, bluff Charley Van Loan, who loved Herriman as a brother, walked into the art room of the American and Journal, then in the old Rhinelander building on North William street, and growled at an artist who afterwards became famous and who was not noted for not being choosey where he got his ideas:
“Well, I see you grabbed Herriman’s duck this morning. Why don’t you take his cat and then you’ll have it all?”
That was the end of a speaking acquaintance.
It shows you how long ago Herriman was using a duck as a character in his strips, and it was that long ago that he was using “Krazy Kat” and “Ignatz Mouse.” The artist that Van Loan addressed that day did not take Herriman’s cat, too, but another artist did. He made an entire comic strip of the cat and for a long time it enjoyed considerable popularity.
The artist is dead now. He never had much standing as a creative artist among his fellows with that cat strip because they all knew where it came from.
If you ask the average comic artist of today his idea of an artist he will probably tell you George Herriman. He is what might be called an artist’s artist.
That is to say, his work is more appreciated by his fellows than by anyone else. He may not be the greatest draughtsman in the world but he has the imagination of a Grimm and the lyrical expression of the poet.
Dogs, coyotes and all kinds of animals have been endowed with amazing individuality by Herriman in his drawings. Generally he makes them humorous, but sometimes he makes them sad, and always through their lives run a curious streak of fantasy. Herrriman was probably a man born to be a teller of fairy tales for children. The exigencies of life put him to work as a newspaper cartoonist.
He lives out in California somewhere, probably in the southern end of the state. It is our impression that he is a native born. We used to see him in New York occasionally but he always looked so sad and lonesome that we would be glad when we heard that he had gone back west. Those Californians away from home are enough to break your heart.
If you do not know George Herriman’s work, look it up right away and take off your hat while inspecting it. You will be looking at the work of a genius.
Saturday, June 27, 2009
Walt McDougall, Cartoonist
Made Famous by his Caricatures of the Late Bill Nye.
Walter McDougall, the artist who for years illustrated Bill Nye’s articles, is today one of the most famous cartoonists in the country, although he is a comparatively young man. Nye used to say that McDougall robbed him of his hair in order to avoid work. The first time that the artist drew a picture by which the humorist became so well known was on their first meeting. Nye had just arrived in New York to go to work on The World. He met McDougall, who took him to visit the courtroom where a criminal trial was underway. During the trial McDougall drew the picture, and it was such a good caricature of Nye, who was then thin and angular, that it was used in The World soon after. McDougall stuck to the original, although Nye became fleshy and lost all the angularity that he possessed when he came out of the west.
At that time McDougall had been employed on The World but a short time. He had been endeavouring to sell sketches and jokes to the illustrated comic papers, but with poor success. One day he made a cartoon of Blaine which he took to Puck, where it was promptly refused. As a last resort he sent it up to The world office by the elevator boy. It was printed in the next issue and created something of a sensation. When the artist called to see how much he was to get for his picture, he was told that Mr. Pulitzer wanted to see him. The result of the interview was that McDougall was engaged to draw funny pictures for The World at a liberal salary. He has been there ever since, although he has done other work.
McDougall began drawing as an engraver and designer and once accompanied a party through the Colorado canyons to furnish the illustrations for the report that was made. He has also tried his hand at writing and with no little success. He has published a novel, “The Hidden City,” which is a good story, and he has written many shorter articles and stories. In the artistic line also he has attempted more serious work than drawing cartoons. For a local New York paper called The Suburban he did some work in illustrating of which he is quite proud. He was part owner of the paper, which was not a brilliant financial endeavour, however.
McDougall is almost 40 years old, but his hair is so light and his complexion so fresh and boyish that he does not look more than 25. He is a good natured, amiable young man, whose bright, clear eyes always seem to be seeing something funny, as they probably do.
Friday, June 26, 2009
Frank H. Willard (1893-1958) worked as a timekeeper, claims tracer and hot dog operator before starting “Moon Mullins” in 1923 at the suggestion of J. M. Patterson, publisher and founder of the New York Daily News. Patterson suggested the name “Moon” and Willard found the last name by leafing through the ‘M’s’ in a Bronx phone book.
July 12, 1954 >
As Westbrook Pegler Sees It:
Brash Impulse at 12!
When I detected in Frank Willard’s ribald comic strip “Moon Mullins” a proud innuendo that he was going back to his old hometown of Anna, Ill., as a triumphant prodigal for civic ceremonies and tributes, I bethought me of one of these conversational evenings which are the bliss of my estate.
Mr. Willard was the first person, to my best knowledge and belief, who ever thought of dropping a salt-cellar into a napkin as a gesture of diplomatic force. By brandishing same at persons unknown in a speakeasy in a viaduct in Chicago, Mr. Willard persuaded our way out of a crisis concerning who had said what to whose babe. I am not the one to say that Theodore Roosevelt’s big stick was more to be respected. Frank Willard, known as “Doc” because in his gallus days he solemnly advised gin as a prophylaxis against the common cold and other vulgar ills of that echelon, never had to wield his salt-cellar. He just waved that napkin with that 3-ounce nugget in the pouch and they even called a cab for us outside and sped us on our way.
That, however, was not the evening when I asked Doc how he had chanced to become a comic-strip artist.
False Step Recalled
That was another evening. That evening, I said, I had made the same false step myself, in my ‘teens but, being a worse artist and incapable of improvement because an arbitrary savant at the art institute had insisted we draw people from the feet up, because who ever heard of building a house from the roof down, had chucked it to hew a career in beautiful prose. Mr. Willard said he always had suspected that there had been some draftsman lousier than he, and he drank to me as his long sought vindication.
“Well,” he said, “I will tell you how I came to be a comic-strip artist.”
“If this is going to drag up your past,” I said, “Let us talk of other things.”
“No, no,” Mr. Willard exclaimed, “I must speak out. I must tell someone.”
So he began:
“I was born in Anna, Ill.”
Mr. Willard prepared another black cow of sarsaparilla and vanilla ice cream. His little boy, Kayo, who somewhat later flew a B-29 in the Pacific, was snoozing in a dresser drawer.
“Anna, Ill. I was living with my Aunt Sadie and my Uncle Watt. They were fine American types, Uncle Watt had answered the bugles and marched with the colors in 1898. He came back from Tampa impaired in health and was receiving from a grateful republic a modest reparation of about $75 a month. We were not rich, as riches go, But neither ill-housed, ill-fed, ill-clothed.”
“You are not getting mileage or space-rates for this recital,” I said.
“You are hearing a saga,” Mr. Willard said.
“I used to take subscriptions for the Youth’s Companion. The revenues from these honest efforts kept me in chewing tobacco and catfish tackle, and life extended before me as a gentle, undulating career until one night, by kerosene lamp in the parlor, I drawed me a picture of Col. Custer in an advertisement in that admirable bladder.
“The ad said, “The boy who sends in the best free-hand copy of this pitcher will get absolutely free of all cost and/or expense one Daisy repeating air rifle and one ounce of BB shot.”
“Like those girls who send their pitchers to the beauty contest editor, I never expected to hear any more about it. But fancy my happy consternation when a few weeks later the mailman delivered a notice that I had won one Daisy repeater with one ounce of BB shot. Same arrived by Adams express a few days later. There was terrible carnage, I can tell you, among the cats and robins, and sparrows and chickens, of Anna, Ill., the next few days.”
“Are we getting warm?” I asked.
“You will regret this flippancy,” Mr. Willard said, “This is a story you will long remember. You may write a classic on it when you get old and your cold bones need a little whisky to warm the marrows. But you will not have the decency to thank me.”
“You can’t tell,” I said, “I am erratic.”
“Oh, well,” Mr. Willard went on, “there came a hot Saturday night, and a brakeman, who lived close by, was having himself a wonderful time in the tin wash tub in his kitchen. This brakeman took a bath every Saturday night. I chanced by, stalking whatever prey might be, and observed him standing in this tin tub, squeezing water over himself with a towel.”
A hush fell on the room.
“I had a wicked impulse,” Mr. Willard said. “Satan whispered to me. We did not have wire-mesh screens in those days. We used cheesecloth screens. I dropped to one knee. I drew a bead. I aimed. I fired --
“All went black -- reason tottered -- and this brakeman let out a yell and came right through that mosquito screen at me. My pulses pounded in my veins. I made for the tracks on the C. & E. I., and hopped aboard a soft coal gondola. In the morning, at East St. Louis, I hocked my Daisy repeating air rifle for $2. I bummed my way to Chicago and got a job in the Boston store as a copy boy in the art department where they drew the ads for corsets.
“The rest is history,” Mr. Willard said. “I went to France to conquer the Hun, returned home and asked Captain Joe Patterson for a job drawing funnies. He asked me ‘Any experience?’ I told him how I happened to leave Anna, Ill. He said ‘You are hired.’”
Mr. Willard’s hand trembled as he mixed another black cow. Our third.
“No,” he said. “I have never gone back to Anna, Ill. I left under a cloud. Oh, would that I could prove my repentance of my brash impulse at the age of 12!”
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
SLUGGED INTO CARTOONING
by Wesley W. Stout
Oakland Tribune Magazine, Dec 10, 1922.
Unlucky Experiences as Reporter Brought Fontaine Fox Over to Newspaper Cartooning.
Fontaine Fox, whose cartoons appear daily in the Oakland Tribune, wanted to be a writer, and had no gift for drawing, according to his telling.
Fox was born and reared in Louisville and still talks like it. When he graduated from the Boys’ High School, where his English teacher had encouraged him to take up literature as a goal, he got a job as a reporter on the Louisville Herald.
Fox went to work with high journalistic ideals which survived the better part of a week. He was given what was known in the Herald city room as the “West End run.” That is, he made his headquarters in the reporter’s room at City Hall, called on a few undertakers, justices of the peace, and politicians, and waited for telephone calls from the city editor.
In practice he spent his time shooting craps with the opposition reporters. He learned, moreover, that scoops or beats were bad form. At 5 p.m. the reporters divided up their gleanings, each returning to his office with the same grist. This left small opportunity for independent effort by an ambitious cub.
Someone told him that a colony of men and women were conducting themselves scandalously on an island in the Ohio river just below the city. Islands being out of bounds, Fox didn’t share his tip. Instead he hired a farmer to row him to the island.
On landing Fox said to the farmer: “You better wait for me here. I’m with the Herald and I’ll be going back as soon as I get this story.”
“Oh, you are, are you?” exclaimed a male member of the colony, and hit Fox with force and accuracy on the point of the jaw. This blow knocked Fox 51 percent of the distance from literature to art.
Fox told the city editor, who told everyone. A political reporter named Peters, with a robust sense of humor, had Fox assigned to accompany him to the Churchill Downs racetrack. In the paddock Peters pointed out a large hook-nosed person and said: “Get a good sketch of him, my boy.”
The hook-nosed man was Ed Corrigan, master of Hawthorne, a notorious camera smasher and sketch artist caner. Fox got in range and began sketching under the impression that Corrigan would be flattered. The sketch was almost finished before Corrigan noticed him. The Master of Hawthorne’s cane just missed the artist’s head. Fox dropped his pencil in getting away, but saved the sketch. Back at the office the sketch was praised as a likeness and the sketcher for his temerity. Fox confined himself thereafter to art.
“As a boy I had sketched as most boys do,” he will tell you, “but I had no real gift for drawing and no thought of caricature. Instead I had a very real desire to write, forced myself later on to a stiff course of reading as a preparation, and worked much harder at it than I did at drawing.”
“After that summer on the Herald I went to Indiana university. In my second year there I decided to earn part of my expenses and I made a dicker with the Herald to send them a cartoon a day for $12 a week. I not only had to find time to work out the cartoons, but I had to stay up until one o’clock every morning to mail them on the Monon (sic) train.”
“I had done well enough after seven years to get a contract from a syndicate and move to New York. In drawing for a hundred scattered papers instead of one, I realized the need of identifying myself in the mind of my readers with a series of characters, and making each cartoon’s appeal as sure in Spokane as in Providence. In Chicago I had begun to evolve some stock characters, such as ‘Thomas Edison, Jr.,’ ‘Sissie,’ and ‘Grandma, the Demon Chaperone,’ but I wanted new, more, and better ones.”
The Toonerville Trolley was one of these, and my most successful. It has been done in the movies, will be put in vaudeville next season, and has been made into a toy. In…(undecipherable sentence)… around the city known as the Brook-street line. It gets all the cast-off equipment of the trunk-lines. I lived on it, as did my managing editor, A. T. McDonald. He lampooned the service in his daily column of paragraphs and had me draw some sketches to support his campaign. These memories were stored in the back of my head.”
“Soon after coming to New York my wife and I went up in the Pelham neighbourhood and found a rattletrap trolley at the station. The car and its combination conductor-motorman were a pretty close approximation of the Toonerville trolley and the skipper. When we got back home I worked out the idea.”
“My wife says that I am the original of the Terrible Tempered Mr. Bang. Back in Louisville they recognized my father. He was a very irascible man, his temper furious, though short-lived. We had a cook named Lizzie who had worked for us sixteen years with great satisfaction. My father and Lizzie disagreed about the weather one morning and he fired her on the spot. My sister and I hurried out and rustled another cook. The next morning the new cook brought in a batch of fine biscuits. They were generally admired and more bespoken. After some delay a second platter of biscuits was brought in, not by the new cook, but by Lizzie. We all gasped and waited.
My father said, “Good morning, Lizzie;” she replied, “Good morning, Jedge,” and Lizzie had returned to work. I hunted up the new cook and asked her how she came to quit.
“Lizzie, she discharged me,” she told me.
“But we hired you, not Lizzie,” I suggested.
“Yes, sir,” was the answer, “but Lizzie had that job sixteen years and I ain’t disputin’ it with her. She’s a blue gum nigger and her bite is death.”
“ ‘The Little Scorpions’ and ‘Micky McGuire’s gang’ were the boys I played with in Louisville and the boys ‘across the tracks’ respectively. Everywhere in America where a railroad runs through a home district the property on one side of the tracks is cheaper than on the other, with a corresponding social distinction. I hit the prototype of Mickey McGuire in the stomach with a rock one day and knocked him out. A death-like silence fell over both camps and I hurried home to find out if there was any chance of our moving soon.”
“ ‘The Powerful Katrinka’ is a combination of two cooks we had and a ‘Dear Old Siwash’ story of George Fitch’s’ One of these cooks, Sally, was a powerful negress. She saved me more than once from Mickey and his gang. The other was as stupid as Sally was strong. While I was trying to put them together I read Fitch’s story of Ole Oleson, the giant Siwash fullback, who while at the bottom of a heap of players suddenly had an idea. Why not simply get up next time and carry both teams and the ball down the field for a goal? Which he did. That suggested making my strong woman a Scandinavian.”
“Cartoonists are supposed to work by inspiration. I do not, nor any I have known, We get our background from our own lives. In my case the particular idea almost invariably is the result of the impact of two disassociated ideas, produced after much thought and experiment. I first noticed the trick in the stories of O. Henry, who, like a cartoonist, first thought out his climax, then worked back. My last Fourth of July cartoon is an example. I thought over all the hackneyed subjects of the day; no idea there. I remembered a last-year’s cartoon contrasting the stealthy home-brewer with the title ‘Independence Day.’ That conception had been exhausted. Home-brewing and exploding firecrackers bear no relation to each other, but suddenly they came together and produced a cartoon.”
“Why not have the home-brewer’s still explode, but in the midst of the usual racket of the Fourth and thereby escape notice? There it was. It was original, it was laughable, and it was possible. That’s all there is to it.”
Monday, June 22, 2009
Newgate, a Romance by T. P. Prest, London: E. Lloyd, 97 numbers, 1845-1847
Newgate, a Romance by T. P. (Thomas Peckett) Prest, published by E. Lloyd, 12, Salisbury Square, began publishing in weekly penny numbers in 1845 and finished 97 numbers later in 1847. The serial was probably inspired by G. W. M. Reynolds’s best-selling Mysteries of London, most notably in the opening illustration which bares an uncanny resemblance to the opening illustration to Reynolds’s popular romance.
The nameless narrator has an unhealthy preoccupation with the ancient prison of Newgate. Days he spends watching from an inn across the street. Eventually his compulsion leads to an early morning visit to the empty street where he is accosted by a truculent crippled dwarf who promises to gain him admittance to Newgate if the narrator will accompany the beggar home.
After a long and tortuous journey through the maze of streets and alleys they come to the dwarf’s home in an offal cellar under a butcher’s shop. It turns out they are situated directly behind Newgate prison and a locked stone arched doorway leads directly into the catacombs of the “house of despair.” The excitable dwarf reveals all his secrets, steps backward, and falls screaming into a bottomless well. His exit leaves our hero with a wallet full of manuscripts and the keys to the ominous entrance to the prison.
Once home he opens the wallet and finds various romances of the wretches who ended their days in Newgate cells. The first is entitled The Shadow of Death; or, the Coffin Cell which covers nos. 3 to 13. This is actually a long excerpt from a current Lloyd serial called Captain Hawke; or, May Boyes; and the Shadow of Death. The narration returns to our nameless hero who enters Newgate through the offal cellar and into the hidden cell where the long dead highwayman had spent his last hours on earth. After this successful adventure he returns home and begins reading a short manuscript from the wallet, Proud Prudence of Aldgate: an Episode in the Life of Captain Hawke the Highwayman (Nos. 18-24) followed by another long tale titled Adam Beech the Burglar.
The narrator’s story weaves in and out between his reading of the manuscripts. He returns to Newgate and is almost arrested when the bodies of a man and a woman are found in the well. He gains an accomplice in the person of a theatrical Shakespearean actor, and finds that subterranean London is a larger geography than he imagined when they end up in a bizarre game of Skittles in an Inn’s cavernous cellar. Soon the narrator himself is leading a life of crime and serial murder.
The Hangman’s Tomb begins about no. 42 and Chapter XLVI. Contains the story of Frank Hayward the Footpad, then The Greenford Murders (words in gothic type),a highwayman romance featuring a prophesying hag. Next up: Continental Bandits, which contains the tale of Orlando the Owl; or the Highwayman of Hampstead Heath, and last The Poisoner; or, the Perils of Matrimony, a melodramatic romance full of captures and escapes of the fair Marianna. Instead of returning to our hero and tying up the narrator’s plot the manuscript romance comes to a sudden halt with the end of Marianna. The End after 97 numbers, approximately two years after the serial started.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Monday, June 15, 2009
King Arthur and his Knights by Elizabeth Lodor Merchant with illustrations by Frank Godwin, Philadelphia, Chicago, etc. The John C. Winston company c1927. Godwin also illustrated the classics Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Robinson Crusoe.
Sunday, June 14, 2009
Frank Godwin, illustrator and cartoonist, was a native of Washington D.C. He began his career as a sports writer for the Washington Star, where his father was an editor, then did the “Connie” strip for the Philadelphia Inquirer in the twenties, followed by “Rusty Riley” for King Features. His brother Harold Godwin wrote the continuity for “Connie.” Godwin provided illustrations for “Vignettes of Life” in 1927 before the strip was passed on to J. Norman Lynd. Godwin was well known as an illustrator for magazines and children’s books. He illustrated Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” and painted murals, including one in King’s County Hospital in New York.
“I am a frustrated engineer,” said Godwin in 1952. He was six foot two and his nickname was “Mr. Meticulous.” Godwin kept a wood and metal shop on the ground floor of his studio in Buck’s county, Pennsylvania, where he built a four foot long live-steam working model locomotive. He built a six inch telescope with an electrical device which allowed him to follow stars across the heavens. He planned on building another steam-locomotive, this time fourteen feet long.
In the early days he made “terrible blunders” in drawing horses in his comic strips. Godwin began travelling to Kentucky sketching thoroughbred horses for use in his adventure strips. Back home he would make up a clay model of the horse from his preliminary drawings before drawing the horse into his comics. He kept ten dogs and two cats. He began his days early, drawing about two strips a day. Rusty Riley’s Sunday strip followed a different story than the daily, and the Sunday took about two days to complete. With difficult subjects he relied on photography.
He was a member of the National Press Club, vice-president of the Society of Illustrators, and a member of the Dutch Treat and Salmagundi clubs in New York City. He died August 1959 aged 70.
Friday, June 12, 2009
My favourite blog for browsing adventure comic strips is Rotebor’s blog Peripecias de Chiquirritipis, a cornucopia of graphic delights from the likes of Burne Hogarth, Arturo Del Castillo, Josè Luis Salinas, Hugo Pratt, Warren Tufts, Hal Foster, Frank Godwin and Phil Davis. His latest post has plenty of fine Mandrake artwork in color and the dailies that introduced Mandrake and Lothar in b&w, photos, and an article on the creators in Spanish. Click on the illustration above to be instantly transported.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
THE GAY THIRTIES was created by Milton Caniff from GILFEATHER, a single-panel which he had taken over from Al Capp who quit in 1932. Caniff sent Gilfeather on vacation and created a new cast of characters under a new title. These samples are all from 1938 and 1939 by an artist whose name I can’t quite make out. Caniff gave up the strip when he took over Terry and the Pirates in October 1934. Whoever this is he has that lovely Noel Sickles style. There are some good reproductions of Caniff's Gay Thirties panels in Robert C. Harvey's Meanwhile...
*Update. The mystery cartoonist is revealed in the comments section.