Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Opper-Level Memories.

By Rick Marschall

Two special drawings of Mr. Hooligan – the 1907 sketch was done for cartoonist Gus Mager’s ailing sister; he arranged to have cartoonists in the Hearst bullpen send sketches in separate postcards to her. 

A couple of weeks ago I shared my affection – hagiography, really – for Frederick Burr Opper. Still my favorite cartoonist, whose work in old books attracted my interest before I could read; creator of Happy Hooligan, Maud the Mule, Alphonse and Gaston, and more than 10,000 cartoons and strips throughout his career. Political cartoonist, book illustrator; strip pioneer; and the cartoonist who codified conventions like speech balloons in progressive panels.

As I chip away at my full-length biography of Opper and his work, I will share a few more treasures here. (And in an early issue of the revived NEMO Magazine.) No need for much narrative, since I confessed my fealty already. His work did, and does, and will, speak for itself.

Opper among eight other prominent cartoonists of his day, ca. 1903. 

A card from a testimonial dinner given in honor of F. Opper, Cafe Martin, New York, April 1912. Among those present, and signing their names on this part of the program, were Carl Anderson, C. S. Rigby, Gustrave Verbeek, Albert Levering, George McManus, H. A. MacGill (The Hall Room Boys), Jimmy Swinnerton, Rudolph Dirks, L.N. Glackens (Puck), Rudolph Block (editor of the New York American comic section), Gus Mager, Al Frueh, animation pioneer E. G. Luitz, Fred Nankivell, political cartoonists William H. Walker and Charles Macauley.

Fifteen years later, another testimonial dinner – this one a massive affair where Opper, Charles Dana Gibson, and political cartoonist W. A Rogers were honored. At the Hotel Astor in Manhattan. I also have an enormous “gaslight photograph” of the entire room, hundreds of guests at their tables. (And giant drawings, hanging from the balconies, by Winsor McCay and others. Oh! Whatever happened to those drawings?) Signers of this program were the three honorees, and humorist Irvin S. Cobb, Mayor Jimmy Walker, Arthur Brisbane, Sen. William Borah, and Broadway compoer Gene Buck.

When Opper retired in 1934 (due to failing eyesight; he died three years later) he was given yet another testimonial dinner. Here he draws his old hero Happy Hooligan In the background, Harold H. Knerr (The Katzenjammer Kids) look on.

… and when the evening was over, the assembled cartoonists drew their characters as a send-off to the “The Dean of American Cartoonists.” With Opper at the easel was King Features’ newest star, Alex Raymond, who commenced Secret Agent X-9, Jungle Jim, and Flash Gordon that year.

No. 59

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