Sunday, November 10, 2013

Palmer Cox, The Brownie Man

“I keep my pictures true to life, with the exception of the Brownies. Most of the places the Brownies describe I have visited and the pictures were either drawn from my own observations or made from photographic originals.” ‘Palmer Cox, Brownie Man, at 77 Hard at Work in East Quogue,’ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1917

by John Adcock

PALMER COX won worldwide fame so its a shame that Canada, the land of his birth (he also had American citizenship) should treat his memory so shabbily, as Montreal author Brian Busby notes in a recent blog-post — see A Dusty Bookcase. Cox was one of the most famous and recognizable cartoonists of the nineteenth century. Ironically the idol of the globe’s children had no babies of his own.

The portrait above, from The Bookman, Vol. 27, 1908, pictures a kindly looking gentleman but his cartoons often showed cruelty in regard to animals. But then, kids were tougher in those days and parents were strict. Before the turn of the century North Americans were mostly rural dwellers, and death was more visible than it is now. 

2 [Sept. 1893] The Ladies’ Home Journal

COX (b.1840) drifted from railroad work, art school and a stint as a jeweller to newspaper cartooning in California, before moving to New York about 1876 where he created The Brownies, which ran serially in St. Nicholas children’s magazine. The characters were also published in the Ladies’ Home Journal and were heroes of a short lived color Sunday comic strip. 

3 [1894] The Brownies

His first book was Squibs of California, or, Every-day life illustrated by Su Donim, published in San Francisco in 1874. This was followed by How Columbus Found America; In pen and pencil (1877), That Stanley (1878), Hans von Pelter’s Trip to Gotham (1879) and Comic Yarns (1888).

His memoirs were published (date unknown) as Frontier Humor; Some rather ludicrous experiences that befell myself and my acquaintances among frontier characters before I made the acquaintance of my esteemed friends “The Brownies.” 

Cox’s book Queer People and their Kweer Kapers; Birds that talk, giants that flee, beasts that think, insects that flirt, sprites that dance, with their various antics illustrated was published in Toronto, by Rose, in 1888. Queer People ran to three volumes.

4 [1885] Wisdom in Fable
Cox used woodcut advertisements in Harper’s Weekly and in newspaper columns to promote his neverending series of books. His serial comics appeared in Wild Oats and The Graphic. The Brownies were featured on posters and theatrical hoardings. They were a merchandising phenomenon to rival the later The Yellow Kid.There were thirteen Brownie books and two successful touring stage plays, Palmer Cox’s Brownies and The Brownies in Fairyland.

5 [Nov. 23, 1893]

“I had been brought up among Scotch people and had heard a great deal about the traditions of the Highlands, where they still believe in fees and hobgoblins. Brownies had always taken my fancy. They were intelligent, observing little fellows, who knew all about mortals and helped them when they were good. The Brownies could point the moral I wanted for my stories, so I utilized them. They were a new departure in literature and made a hit from the first.” ‘Palmer Cox, Brownie Man, at 77 Hard at Work in East Quogue,’ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1896  

6 [1886] St. Nicholas

Palmer Cox, who was born at the Scottish settlement of Granby, Quebec, April 28, 1840, quit drawing The Brownies in 1918 and died at his home in Granby on July 24, 1924, when he was 84.


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