Saturday, December 24, 2016

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Fineheimer Twins and The Irresistible Rag

How do you expect a comic artist to tell how he gets up his ideas? That would be giving away his groceries. And besides, half the time he doesn’t know himself. To my mind, the best ideas are the most ridiculous ones – I mean, without being silly. — H.H. Knerr

HAROLD HERRING KNERR, or H.H. Knerr, was born September 4, 1882 at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, the son of a leading Philadelphia physician. Knerr’s first job was drawing pictures of gravestones for the Philadelphia Record newspaper. His first cartoons appeared in the Philadelphia Press. His first — comic series was Zoo-Illogical Snapshots drawn for the Public Ledger. In 1899 he moved on to the Philadelphia Inquirer where he drew further series entitled Little Scary William — Adventures of Mr. George — As a Cook Wifey Was a Frost — George was A Real Good Boy — and The Irresistible Rag. The hero, a ragtime flute-playing tramp, was like Jimmy Swinnerton’s comic character Laughing Sam, and Clare Briggs’ Sambo Remo Rastus Brown characters. Knerr stayed with this employer for twelve years drawing daily and Sunday page comic strips, some capitalizing on the popularity of the Katzenjammer Kids made by Rudolph Dirks.

[1] January 20, 1907
From 1903 to 1914 Knerr drew The Fineheimer Twins, a Katzenjammer derivative, for the Inquirer. The similarity of the Fineheimers to the Katzenjammers helped land Knerr the job as Dirks’ replacement on Hearst’s New York American where he was assigned the Katzenjammer Kids Sunday page in November 1914. His many interests made it “difficult for him to keep up as comic artist (...) His hobbies were golf, horseback riding, and aeronautics, including ballooning and airplaning.” The strip topper on Knerr’s Katzenjammer Kids Sunday was his own creation, and a wonderful comic in its own way, Dinglehoofer and his Dog Adolph, started on May 16, 1926.

[2] March 10, 1907
Other strips originating with the Philadelphia Inquirer were Sidney Smith’s series of strips, Bear Creek Folks (Brer Wolf) — Sleepy Willie — and Midge and Madge. Billy Marriner drew Little Si — Little Abe Corncob — “Wags” The Dog That Adopted A Man — and Too Strenuous Thomas. The strip Jimmy the Messenger Boy looks like the work of Marriner but is always signed “Redw. Shellcope.” Clarence Rigby had Little Ah Sid, the Chinese Kid and Inquisitive Clarence. C.M. Payne drew The Little Possum Gang — Scary William — and Bear Creek Folks.

[3] March 31, 1907
Harold Knerr appears to have been a lifelong bachelor, a shy man residing in a hotel in New York with his valet. On July 8, 1949, Knerr was found dead in his central New York city apartment by his physician. He had been having heart problems for 10 years previous. His brother Horace, in Philadelphia, and a sister, Mildred Knerr, of Carmel, California, survived him. He was replaced on the Katzenjammer Kids by Charles H. Winner.

[4] April 14, 1907
[5] August 16, 1914
[6] April 9, 1916
[7] Percy Crosby dinner photo for his second marriage, at the Hotel Warwick, in New York, April 4, 1929 — f.l.t.r. Harry Hershfield, Louis Biedermann, Jack Callahan, Russell Patterson, Percy Crosby, Bert Green, Cliff Sterrett, and HAROLD KNERR. In the Sunday Repository, Canton, Ohio.

The Fineheimer Twins scans courtesy of Pierre-Henry LENFANT of Lomé (TOGO).

Original art and autograph courtesy of Don KURTZ.

Topper illustration from Comics Kingdom HERE.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

KRAZY – A Life of HERRIMAN in Black and White

‘The Clocks of The Universe Are Chiming The Hour of Now — And Joe Stork, who Dwells on The Topside of The Enchanted Mesa” in The Desierto Pintado — And Who Pilots Princes, And Paupers, Poets And Peasants, Puppies, And Pussy-Cats, Across The River Without Any Other-Side To The Shore of Here, is Telling Krazy Kat a Tale Which Must Never Be Told, and Yet Which Every One Knows.’ — opening frame of Krazy Kat Sunday by George Herriman, in Los Angeles Examiner, February 11, 1917
‘Wundafil Mr. Stork. 
Just simpfully Wundafil.’ 

GEORGE Joseph Herriman (1880-1944) was an American cartoonist best known for the comic strip Krazy Kat. Now there is a first biography, published this week — titled KRAZY; George Herriman, A Life in Black and White. Impeccably researched by New Orleans author Michael Tisserand. A book that draws back the curtain on the shadowed life of the renowned comic strip artist, and the secret he kept up to the day of his death, that he was a Creole man, born in New Orleans, passing for white in Jim Crow’s dangerous America. 

CONTRADICTIONS filled his life. As a sporting cartoonist during the Great White Hope era of boxing, to a soundtrack of ragtime, coon songs and jazz, Herriman drew numerous racial cartoons that were indistinguishable from the stereotypical creations of his contemporaries, Tad Dorgan, Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield and Bud Fisher. Like his close friend, Jimmy Swinnerton, and much of black and white America, he once participated in a minstrel sketch in blackface.

[1] George Herriman, photo of Dec 1, 1912

HERRIMAN lied about his birthplace and ancestry, avoided photographers as much as possible, and parried questions from interviewers with self-effacing good humor. Herriman’s bottled-up double life was relaxed in one instance, in the Krazy Kat comic strip, where he used dream and fantasy to explore race, color-line, and gender. There are so many instances of kat and mouse changing color from black to white that it is indisputable that the deeply ambiguous verbal poesy hid painful autobiographical truth. Several puzzles are illuminated but for readers several mysteries remain. Numerous anecdotes show that Herriman’s fellow ink-slingers, who followed his work, spent an inordinate amount of time ribbing him about his ancestry and his curly hair. Were they aware of the “tale which must never be told, and yet which every one knows?” That’s a question that will never be answered; Michael Tisserand, unraveling the puzzles like a string from a ball of twine, keeps such speculations to a minimum in favor of facts.

[2] Krazy Kat, Jan 16, 1914 (not in book; found vertically published)

KRAZY’s illustrations are slight but well-chosen. It has nice photographs and image-pages. My daughter came down and looked at me in the armchair with the just arrived book and said incredulously, ‘You finished that already?’ It stirs my imagination. Tisserand in ten years of research did a magnificent job digging up unknown stories of Herriman, Tad and what he calls the ‘Sports,’ I would have used ‘sporting cartoonists’ but that’s a minor quibble. It is a book, to use a cliche, that is difficult to put down. In the words of Krazy Kat: ‘Wundafil Mr. Stork. Just simpfully Wundafil.’

[3] Krazy Kat, June 11, 1916 (not in book)

BRILLIANT and knowledgeable as KRAZY is, it is the best kind of biography, illuminating the revolutionary life of a comic artist while providing a perfect pen-picture of the racially-charged times he and his fellow Hearst cartoonists lived through. Herriman’s cartoons influenced such disparate literary giants as P.G. Wodehouse, E.E. Cummings and Jack Kerouac. His Krazy Kat comic strips, all in print to date, will, from this day forward, be parsed for meaning with as much passion as Dylanologists expend on deciphering the lyrics of Bob Dylan — and all this just in time for a joyful Christmas!

★ KRAZY; George Herriman, A Life in Black and White, by Michael Tisserand, illustrated, over 500 pp., US release date, Dec 6, 2016; UK release date, Jan 12, 2017.