Thursday, July 30, 2009
In a Preface to the 22nd Annual Collection of Norris cartoons, in 1972, Jack Webster described celebrated Canadian cartoonist Len Norris as “a prissy little man, 145 lbs. soaking wet, claims to be 5 foot 10 1/2 ins. (in his lifts of course), balding, round-shouldered, obsequious, and obsessed with his daily routine.” That first annual collection of Norris cartoons, from the Vancouver Sun, had been published way back in 1950. With the cold war heating up, and the populace squirming under the thumbs of pettifogging bureaucrats, Len Norris editorial cartoons reflected the anxiety felt by the middle class residents of Vancouver and Victoria Island.
Norris cartoons, in facile pen, brush, and zip-a-tone, only occasionally took note of world-events, more often they were editorial jokes based on local and national newspaper headlines. The targets of Len Norris caricatures were taxpayers, post-office workers, policemen, beatniks (then hippies). The cartoons, emanating from Norris middle-class conservative viewpoint, were based on headlines about the topics of the day, like baby bonuses, raises in minimum wage, pollution, automobile safety, Canada Council Grants, and sex/violence in the popular culture. He would show the genesis of his idea by featuring a newspaper with a headline somewhere in his cartoon, perhaps draped over the stomach of a sleeping middle-class couch potato, or lying crumpled on a crowded hospital floor.
Norris annual cartoon collections vividly capture decades of mundane history, what people wore, what they were concerned about, and what made them angry.
Sunday, July 26, 2009
The Casey Ruggles Sunday strip began on May 21 1949, followed by a daily strip in the Fall. Ruggles was a former cavalry sergeant who, on his return from the war in Mexico found the entire country enthused by the discovery of gold in California. Tufts, a native of Fresno, California, had “spent his life studying California lore and the history of the west.”
Tufts father was a manager in a Fresno produce and frozen foods firm when Tufts was born. After graduating from Fresno High School, Tufts worked as a freelancer in local radio, starting with a series of Twilight Tales he wrote and narrated for Fresno Bee station KMJ. He spent two and a half years in the navy during the war where he turned out weekly how-to-survive adventure comic strips for the publication at the Farragut Naval Training centre in Idaho, and served as editor of the Seattle Naval Air Station newspaper. Tufts had been working as a program manager at Radio Kyno when he quit to produce and market Casey Ruggles in December1948.
“I first got the idea of a Gold Rush strip during the exploration of ghost towns and abandoned mines in the Mother Lode country while I was a boy scout in Fresno.” Tufts had no formal training. “I started drawing comic strip characters when I was about six years old and have made a hobby of it ever since. I guess I have worked up about twenty strips and I have plenty of rejection slips.”
Tufts persistence paid off and he credited A. V. Buel, cartoonist of the Fresno Bee, with the encouragement that kept him going. “Real life characters will be introduced into the feature and I will do my best to keep the story historically accurate,” Tufts told the Sacramento Bee. Alex Toth helped out on Casey Ruggles for a few months in 1950.
Following struggles with the syndicate Warren Tufts resigned Casey Ruggles in 1954 to develop the adventures of Lance, which appeared daily and Sunday. Tufts syndicated the strip himself under the name Warren Tufts Enterprises and did his own writing, drawing, and color separations. Lance was Second Lieutenant Lance St. Lorne, Company B, U.S. First Dragoons, a Virginian fresh out of West Point. He was assigned to fort Leavenworth, Kansas, on the far frontier in 1836. When the story opened in July 1955 Lance was out on patrol in search of Loud Thunder, a rogue Indian who had just scalped and murdered a small party of Sioux Indians.
Tufts details made Casey Ruggles and Lance different from the average run of horse operas. Before beginning Lance he spent two years on historical research and mechanical techniques and it showed. Lance appeared in 15 newspapers with well over 3,000,000 circulation but despite the excellence of writing and drawing Lance failed to survive. Tufts left comic strips in 1960 but continued producing comic book art for various Dell and Gold key titles. He was killed in a plane crash in 1982.
Friday, July 24, 2009
Human Procession, Newark Advocate, January 2, 1914
Every profession has its dean, and Mr. F. Opper does the deaning for American cartoonists. The benign and benevolent appearing gentleman – he is all of that, which proves that looks are often deceitful – has known fifty-seven varieties of annums, having been born at Madison, Lake county, Ohio, fifty-seven years ago today, January 2, 1857. His full name is Frederick Burr Opper, but he signs his work simply “F. Opper.”
Mr. Opper’s alma mater was an Ohio village school. At fourteen he left that institution to take a post-graduate course in a county newspaper office. He had decided that newspaper work offered the shortest path to fame and fortune, and while this would indicate that Freddie wasn’t a very bright lad, it must be remembered that he was only a poor country boy. At school, and while acting as devil in the rural newspaper office, Opper was very fond of drawing, and even at that tender age he made caricatures of local people. It is understood that the subjects of these sketches were no more pleased with them than Mr. Bryan, Mr. Root, Mr. Archbold, and other worthy gentlemen who have since felt the sting of the Opper lash.
After a year in the newspaper office, Mr. Opper decided to go out into the great world. If he had been an ordinary lad he would have chosen Cincinnati or Cleveland or Columbus or Canton, or some other Buckeye state city beginning with C, as the One of his operations. But, no. Nothing less than New York would do for Freddie Opper. For a time he kept the pot boiling by working in a store, drawing display cards and doubling as a salesman. It was only a little while, however, until he placed several sketches with several New York comic papers, including the “Phunny Phellow” and “Wild Oats.” This work attracted the attention of Frank Leslie, who gave the youthful artist a regular job on Leslie’s Weekly. After three years with that publication he went to Puck. For eighteen years his work appeared weekly in Puck, but in 1899 he accepted an offer from Mr. Hearst, and has been with the Hearst publications ever since. His work now appears regularly in all of the Hearst papers and in scores of others.
In addition to the newspaper work, Mr. Opper has illustrated books for Mark Twain, Bill Nye, George V. Hobart, and Finley Peter Dunne. Among his best known cartoon series are “Happy Hooligan,” “Maude,” “Alphonse and Gaston,” “John Bull,” “Willie and his Papa,” and “The Cruise of the Piffle.” “Uncle Trusty” and “the Common People” are well-known figures in Mr. Opper’s cartoons.
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
Oct. 10, 1915, New York:
“Master Booth Tarkington Jameson, son of Mrs. Ovid Butler Jameson, a sister of Booth Tarkington, Indiana author, created quite a disturbance at the McAlpin Hotel one day this week. Master Jameson is about twelve years old and is said to be the original “Penrod Schofield.” He has lots of his own ideas and has been delighted with New York since coming from Kennebunkport, Me., where he and his mother spent the summer.
Mrs. Jameson was ready to go to the station to leave on the noon train for Indianapolis. She suddenly realized that Booth Tarkington Jameson was not in the apartment in the hotel. He could not be found. Bellboys were sent scurrying and finally the hotel detective was appealed to. Fifteen minutes before the train was due to start, Booth Tarkington Penrod Schofield Jameson was located behind the newspaper counter reading the latest story by his uncle. Mrs. Jameson and her son got the train by a minute.”
The illustrated Penrod serials were distributed to newspapers through the Wheeler syndicate and appeared simultaneously in McClure’s Magazine. In 1958 my brother joined the Canadian Navy and gave me a pile of hardcover books from his childhood. There were three titles, Tarzan and the Ant Men, Bob, Son of Battle and Penrod . I read them in that order. I enjoyed Penrod, with its evocative drawings by Gordon Grant, so much that I read the book at least fifty times over the next five years. I then lost interest and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I found copies of Penrod and two sequels that I would have died to have read when I was eleven, Penrod and Sam and Penrod Jashber.
I was perplexed while reading these stories that one of the key scenes from the first novel was missing. I searched all three books carefully and the hilarious scene was not there. I noticed however that the Penrod book said “expurgated edition” on the title page, so I had not dreamed the scene, somewhere, possibly in the first edition, was the scene I longed to renew acquaintance of. Every time I saw a Penrod book in a library or used bookstore I searched for the expurgated scene with no luck. I have since found that scene through microfilm in the December 20, 1914 chapter of the newspaper serialization of Penrod, entitled The Fall of Georgie Bassett. Now I could refresh my memory. Why was the dimly remembered scene, which we loved to read out loud, expurgated from most printed editions? I thought one reason may have been because it featured two Negro characters, the hilarious pair of brothers Herman ‘n’ Verman. Let’s have a look, shall we?
Penrod and his companions were discussing their futures. “When I’m a man,” said Sam Williams, “I’m going to hire me a couple of colored waiters to swing me in a hammock and keep porin’ ice water on me all day out o’ those watering cans they sprinkle flowers from. I’ll hire you for one of ‘em Herman.” “No; you ain’t goin’ to,” said Herman. “you ain’t no flowah. But nev’ min’ nat, anyway. Ain’t nobody goin’ hiah me whens I’m a man. Goin’ be my own boss. I’m goin’ be a rai’road man.”
Herman, the “colored expert” questions Georgie on his qualifications: “How good kin you climb a pole?”
“Preachers don’t have to climb poles,” Georgie said with dignity.
“Good ones do,” declared Herman. “bes’ one ev’ I heard, he clim’ up an’ down same as a circus man. One ‘nem big ‘vivals outen when we livin’ on a fahm, preachah clim’ big pole right in a middle o’ the church, what was fo’ to hol’ roof up. He clim’ way up high an’ holler: “Goin’ to heavum, goin’ to heavum, goin’ to heavum now! Halleluiah, praise de’ Lawd!” An’ he slide down little, an’ holler: “Devil’s got a hole’ o’ my coat tails; devils tryin’ to drag me down! Sinnuhs take wawnun! Devil’s got a hole’ o’ my coat tails; ahm a’goin’ to hell, oh Lawd!” Nex’ he clim’ up little mo’ an’ yell an’ holler: “done shuck ole devil loose; goin’ straight to heavum again! Goin’ to heavum, goin’ to heavum, my Lawd!” Nex’ he slide down some mo’ an holler” “Leggo my coat tails ole devil! Goin’ to hell agin, sinnuhs; goin’ straight to hell, my lawd!” An’ he clim’ an’ he slide an’ he clim’ an’ all time holler “Now ‘m a goin’ to heavum; now ‘m a goin’t to hell! Goin’ to heavum, heavum, heavum, my lawd!” Las’ he slide all a way down, jes’ a squallin’ an’ a kickin’ an’ a rarin’ up an’ a squealin’ Gone to hell! Gone to hell! Ol’ Satum got my soul! Gone to hell!”
Herman possessed that extraordinary facility for vivid acting which is the great native gift of his race, and he enchained his listeners.
“Herman, tell that again!” said Penrod, breathlessly.
My sentiments exactly, tell it again, Herman! The rest of the chapter concerns Georgie Bassett, urged on by his companions, re-enacting the pole-climbing scene just described by Herman, outside the window of Georgie’s house wherein Georgie’s mother is entertaining a bachelor clergyman. It seems this scene was considered so injurious to a boy reader’s morals that it was ‘expurgated’ from future editions.
Monday, July 20, 2009
I recieved a recent email query from the happy owner of a piece of Li'l Abner original Sunday art from 1955 "How do I tell if this is a Frazetta work or not?" Frazetta worked on Li'l Abner from 1953 to about 1961 although he was not the only 'ghost' artist in Capp's employ. Frazetta undoubtedly worked from Capp's pencils so the strips can only nominally be said to be true Frazetta pages.
The best way to identify a Frazetta ghosted page is by examining the *gulp* women in the strip, in particular the rumps (rumps is the only word that fits) of the women. The Frazetta 'rump' is easily recognizable in both his comics and oil paintings. Frazetta preferred a rump that stuck four feet in the air, a train's caboose of a bottom, proudly waving in the breeze. To prove my point what follows *choke* at 'bottom' are two samples of the Frazetta women, one from 1955, the other from 1956 based on the hourglass figure of Marilyn Monroe.