Saturday, January 18, 2020

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Happy New Year. Again.

By Rick Marschall

OK, I get it; I’m old. That’s part of the point of these columns. Otherwise they’d be called A Crowded Bunch O’ Dreams. But I have been thinking lately of the cartooning and comic-strip pioneers who were still alive when I barely was alive… or, that is, when I was young enough to overlap with legends.

Jimmy Swinnerton, Rudolph Dirks, Rube Goldberg, Harry Hershfield, Russell Patterson, Frank King, Charles Payne, Ken Kling, Otto Messmer, Gene Byrnes, Edwina. You see I am not including legends and heroes who are in misty halls of memory now, but when I was a kid, I met and did not consider to be sacred (but living, breathing) relics – as I now with passage of time consider myself blessed also to have met: Roy Crane, Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Hal Foster, Chester Gould, Burne Hogarth, Walt Kelly, Charles Schulz, Herblock, Bill Mauldin, Johnny Hart, Mort Walker, Dik Browne; some of whom I knew more than casually, editor of some, neighbor of some, a few even at my wedding.

I stink at math, but as these fondly recalled ghosts inhabited my thoughts recently (perhaps because it is New Year time and auld acquaintance might get forgot if I am not careful) I realized that when I started to meet cartoonists, in my early teens or earlier with Al Smith, Vern Greene, and some early-birds, this stretch of time I call a (crowded) life, is approximately half the period from the birth of the newspaper comic strip, till now.

File it under “so what?” but it prods me to dig deeper in my memory. So in this brief contribution I pulled up a page by Rudolph Dirks, a Katzenjammer Kids strip on the same nostalgic theme… starring Father Time himself.

I think I have written here about Rudy and John Dirks; meetings and friendships; my role in preserving some dignity for John when his syndicate canceled the legendary page; sleeping in the studio of Rudy in Ogunquit, Maine, and being curator of a comics show in the town’s museum; of Rudy’s memories of Herriman, Mager, et al. … of designing the Katenjammer Kids postage stamp for which John did special art… and if I have not told those stories, I will someday soon.

In the meantime, here is a page that appeared in 1950, not exactly on New Year’s Day; neither on the precise birthday of Dirks’s landmark strip… but on the theme of the passage of time. Der Captain might be tweaked every week, but not Father Time! A clever reminder of the boys’ place in comics history… and our own life-histories if, dod-gast it, you grew up like me.

John Adcock



  1. Rick, I would love to read your story of helping out John Dirks in a time of trial. I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with John and his wife, back in 1979. We had a wonderful visit. He was such a kind and gracious soul, and obviously very dedicated to keeping alive the flame of Der Kids, and Rudy. I am a huge fan of both the Dirkses, and the Katzies! I was interviewing John for a radio documentary series I was doing for CBC Radio in Canada. By the way, I am very much enjoying your columns here on John Adcock's site. Keep it up, please!
    — Katherine Collins (formerly Arn Saba)
    still alive & working on a new graphic novel

  2. Thanks, Katherine - looking forward to your new graphic novel! I passed your comment on to Rick M.