Saturday, December 12, 2015

Looking for Bud Fisher!

Bud Fisher is the John D. Rockefeller of newspaperdom, the highest-paid man who ever drew a picture and perhaps the most envied and most misrepresented fellow in his line. He has made Mutt and Jeff the two best-known comic characters in the world.” Hugh S. Fullerton, The Highest Paid Newspaper Contributor in the World, in The American Magazine, May 1920
by John Adcock

  A. MUTT    I always thought the most notable influence on George Herriman’s (b.1880) drawing style in his daily strips Baron Mooch, The Family Upstairs, and Krazy Kat was Bud Fisher (b.1885). Now I’m not so sure, perhaps it was the case that Fisher was imitating George Herriman.

1915 [1] The Dingbat Family by George Herriman, Oct 31.
“They have been in several of the revolutions in Mexico. They have dallied with the dandies of Paris and Ostend. They attend all the big prize fights for championships, and they never miss a world’s series for the baseball championship.” “Bud” Fisher – His Life Story, Chapter IV, in Idaho Statesman, July 30, 1915
Bud Fisher’s A. Mutt hit the starting line on November 15, 1907, in the San Francisco Chronicle, and from December 11, 1907, on moved to The Examiner in the same city. There sporting sidekick Jeff made his first appearance (as “Jeffries” after the famous pugilist) on March 27, 1908. Comic strips were never expected to be profound or thought-provoking, they were ephemeral and expendable, primarily designed to sell newspapers. A. Mutt introduced a recurring character and was the first popular daily comic strip to bring in shovel-loads of money to the coffers of the newspapers’ proprietors.

1907 [2] A. Mutt by Bud Fisher, Nov 16.
“There were Bud Fisher playing cards, and Mutt and Jeff statues, and Mutt and Jeff cigarettes, and Mutt and Jeff books, and vaudeville engagements for Fisher.” As his personal wealth piled up Fisher spent much of his time in court protecting his characters from infringement on his proprietary rights by burlesque operators and commercial merchandisers.

1908 [3] Mutt and Jeff by Westover, Jan 27.

  MISSING IN ACTION    The sad truth is that Bud Fisher was not much of a comic artist; his sporting cartoons had been nicely drawn but he had little interest in the comic strip once his pockets were bulging with dough. By February 1908 Fisher was missing in action and for a long period the strips were signed by Russ Westover who would later have a successful comic strip of his own, Tillie the Toiler. Fisher returned to the strip but got wanderlust once again. On August 17, 1910, the last panel of the strip showed Mutt and Jeff rushing for a train to take a vacation. Then on August 18 the comic strip disappeared from the daily newspapers altogether. August 19 it was back under a new title Mutt and Jeff Secure Mr. O. U. Boob to Keep the Space Warm for Them by Peter (possibly Wonder Woman artist Harry G. Peter). Mutt and Jeff vanished and O. U. Boob took over eventually having a fantasy adventure undersea with King Neptune and his daughters. A “critical office boy” comments at the bottom of one panel “Who makes this bum series?”

1910 [4] Mr. O. U. Boob by Peter, Aug 19.
Mutt and Jeff make the best comic ever put out – my readers never tire of it. Every time a picture is not published in the paper, my desk is buried under letters demanding why we failed the writers and declaring that they had bought the paper just to get this comic.” Unnamed newspaper editor, July 30, 1915
1910 [5] Inspector Stew by Ed Mack, Sep 12.
The last Boob replacement was on August 26 and Mutt and Jeff were still missing in action. September 3, 1910, a strip by cartoonist Ed Mack appears with a caption reading Pipe! Alphonse and Gaston Join Der Captain in Search for Mutt and Jeff. Next day Jimmy Swinnerton’s characters and Tad’s Bunk join the search. Next day Swin’s dog Violet and Der Captain. Next day Swin’s Laughing Sam. The next day, September 10, Mutt and Jeff were discovered and Fisher signed the strip from Newport. Then on September 12, 1910, Mack is drawing Tad and Swinnerton characters again, in a new search for Mutt and Jeff. September 17 titled Mutt and Jeff on the Job Again, Now that the Big Vacation is Over. I missed Mack and his parade of Hearst characters.

1910 [6] The Hearst Family by Ed Mack, Sep 14.
Ken Kling,  got his start as an unpaid Fisher assistant before the start of World War I. Looking back, LIFE magazine (of July 29, 1946) noted that “Fisher was anxious to reduce his two-hour working day to even less arduous dimensions, and it was not long before Kling was doing all the lettering and all the backgrounds as well as the shadows.” Kling drew in a style based on Bud Fisher’s but was twice the artist Fisher was. His first strip was Katinka, followed by Joe Quince and Windy Riley. His last was Joe and Asbestos.

1923 [7] Joe Quince by Ken Kling, May 7.
Aggressive hustling men win; and they sacrifice much popularity to win. Being afraid that people will not like you is the next worse thing to false modesty in business.” Bud Fisher, Seven Tips I Have Picked Up on the Way, in The American Magazine, May 1920
  THE INSIDE    Historian Bill Blackbeard noted in The Forgotten Years of George Herriman (in Nemo – The Classic Comics Library, No. 1, pp.50-60) that he had found that the second daily comic strip had its beginnings in the sports section of the Sunday Examiner on December 8, 1907, in a one-shot strip titled “The Race Track Bug is with Us Once More” which became a daily on December 10, 1907, under the title Mr. Proones the Plunger until its conclusion on December 26, 1907. Blackbeard then notes the “striking similarity between Herriman’s bald, rotund, heavily-moustached, top-hatted Mr. Proones and Fisher’s later Little Jeff of Mutt and Jeff. They are simply ringers for one another.”
“It has been said that the idea of Mutt and Jeff was suggested to Bud Fisher by two characters he knew in San Francisco.

‘Nothing to that,’ he stated, Mutt and Jeff are no one in particular except themselves. They were merely created for amusement purposes and in time came to be fixtures. They ‘growed’ in other words
The Story of “Bud” Fisher, in Duluth News Tribune, June 16, 1912
1915 [8] Bud Fisher.
Blackbeard’s intuitions were correct however; in fact the similarities were noted in a long Godwin’s Weekly (Salt Lake City, Utah) article on January 25, 1919, The Inside on Mutt and Jeff —
Discussion is renewed as to who was the creator of these supposedly humorous characters. Newspaper men from Chicago have told local newspaper artists that A. Mutt was a direct adaptation from A. Piker, one of the creations of Claire Briggs, once of Chicago, but now with the New York Tribune. Briggs is said to have run A. Piker for several months, twelve or thirteen years ago. In the same circles the original of Little Jeff is credited to George Herriman of Los Angeles, now on the Hearst Syndicate payroll as the parent of the entire Dingbat family. Herriman, I am told, ran a Little Jeff series which he later abandoned and Fisher adopted the character as a companion to Mutt. Herriman has never taken credit for Jeff, telling his friends ‘Bud got away with Jeff and I didn’t, so he deserves all the credit he can get out of it.’ I understand Herriman declined the drawing of a substitute Mutt and Jeff series for Hearst.” 

  A. PIKER CLERK    Tad Dorgan (1877-1929), George Herriman (1880-1944), Rube Goldberg (1883-1970), Bud Fisher (1885-1954) and Harry Hershfield (1885-1974) were all making a living as sporting cartoonists in 1904 when Clare Briggs (1875-1930) was drawing a comic strip called A. Piker Clerk for the sporting page of the Chicago Evening American. Moses Koenigsberg, city editor of Hearst’s Chicago-American in 1903, dated the strip to 1904, consisting of “eighteen connected episodes – three weeks’ releases,” however, for unknown reasons; Bill Blackbeard date the strip’s first appearance occurring in December 1903.

R.C. Harvey dates it to late 1903, “short-lived and, in its last manifestations, only sporadic rather than daily.” Eddie Campbell researched the Chicago-American and did not get the idea that it appeared daily, “the sports pages just didn’t work that way.” Generally A. Piker Clerk was published about three times a week in between the Tad Dorgan and Bob Edgren sporting comic imports. Clare Briggs must have thought little of the strip, there is no record of him ever mentioning A. Piker Clerk.

1904 [9] A. Piker Clerk by Clare A. Briggs, Feb 6.
Series of cartoons are largely accidental. Mine, The Days of Real Sport, originated back in 1910, and When a Feller Needs a Friend started about 1912. The series by which I suppose I am best known is the kid pictures.” Clare Briggs, May 25, 1919
Briggs started his career in 1896 on the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “Coming east after the Spanish American War I spent two years looking for a job, but eventually hooked up with the New York Journal in 1900.” He was sent to the Chicago American and Examiner and stayed there seven years. In May 1907 he went on to the Chicago Tribune where he remained until 1914 when he was invited back to the New York Tribune. Briggs remained there under the consolidation of the New York Herald-Tribune until his early death at 54 on January 4, 1930.

  STAYING POWER    While Fisher’s swiping of Herriman’s character appears to have been deliberate, few people recall Mr. Proones the Plunger today. It was Mutt and Jeff who had the staying power, a continual 75 years of daily and Sunday publication. Mutt and Jeff ended Sunday, June 26, 1983, and strips from the past are still in online syndication. At the end it appeared in about fifty newspapers, twenty in the United States. George Breisacher, 41, at that time an artist for the Charlotte Observer, was told the comic was losing money; to be considered successful a strip had appear in 100 newspapers — 75 at the least.

1907 [10] Bud Fisher sporting cartoon, Aug 4.

Thanks to Eddie Campbell who is currently finishing off a lavishly illustrated book of comic history titled The Goat-Getters — A new angle on the beginnings of comics, casting a bright spotlight on the Fight of the Century and reserving a few mellow sidelights for The San Francisco Graft Trials, Harry Thaw’s Murderous Crime of Passion, The Story of the Lemon, and featuring art by Jimmy Swinnerton, Tad Dorgan, Robert Edgren, Bud Fisher, Rube Goldberg, George Herriman and a host of early sporting cartoonists.

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