Sunday, June 9, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

← The Twain Has Left the Station

 by Rick Marschall 

I intend to write more about the great Lucca Comics Festival in Tuscany, as I did a few weeks ago with photos and sketches. Especially after the death this week of its manager for many years, Rinaldo Traini. I am gathering photos, drawings, and memories; and will share them soon.

When I lived in Weston CT my home was 15 minutes’ drive to Redding, where Mark Twain spent his last years. He moved there in 1908 and built his great home “Stormfield,” and died there in 1910, the year of Halley’s Comet, summoning one of the writer’s many superstitions.

As an aspiring humorist and cartoonist myself since I was old enough to laugh, I virtually worshiped Twain, and had all of his books, including first editions. An additional Mecca for me in my Connecticut years was the annual Mark Twain Library book sale. As in many places where I have lived or nearby – Weston, Westport, Greenwich; Abington and Bryn Mawr PA – book sales in neighborhoods once populated by accomplished artists, writers, cartoonists, and illustrators frequently yielded rare and often inscribed books.

I also honor Twain for the cartoonists he introduced or showcased as illustrators of his books. E W Kemble was a little-known aspiring cartoonist barely cracking the pages of the New York Daily Graphic and Life when the famous Twain noticed his cartoons and thought he had a flair for drawing rural folks, black and white. Thus the obscure Kemble illustrated Huckleberry Finn and subsequent books.

F Opper, A B Frost, Dan Beard, True Williams, Baron DeGrimm, and eventually Norman Rockwell were among the scores of illustrators and cartoonists who accompanied Twain’s prose.

As a collector of original art as well as first editions, I was always happy to discover visual treasures. Here, photographed from a very large watercolor caricature, is Mark Twain by “Vet” Anderson. Largely forgotten today, Anderson (no relation to his contemporary Carl Anderson of “Henry” fame) drew full-page caricatures in this style of panache and boldness, for Sunday New York Herald entertainment sections early in the 20th century. Born in Bear Lake MI, midway between my current home and Traverse City, he later was an animation pioneer in the studio of Raoul Barre and others.

The other caricature of Twain is by Albert Levering, prolific book illustrator and frequent contributor to Puck and Life (for which this was done). Besides Twain, he illustrated works by John Kendrick Bangs; Ellis Parker Butler; and Edward W Townsend, author of Yellow Kid texts.

To bring this little Mississippi River cruise (of sorts) back to port – it was Albert Levering who illustrated the last book Twain published in his lifetime, and one whose title was an inside-joke calling upon his estate in Redding – Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.


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