Thursday, March 3, 2022


 ‘Merriest Guy in America’

[1] TAD DORGAN, Daffydills, Cupples and Leon, 1911

New York – “Tad,” the cartoonist who has been called “The Merriest Guy In America,” died In his sleep yesterday at his home in Great Neck, L. I. After nine years of taking it from fate as an invalid and a last five years of bondage to a wheel chair.

[2]  TAD DORGAN, Boston American, Nov 17, 1911

He was 52 years old last Monday and his real name was Thomas Aloysius Dorgan. He was born In San Francisco, and the first national intimation that something had happened to make life a little easier to bear came a few years later when the phrase, “Twenty-three- Skidoo” swept the country. That was “Tad’s” phrase, and it skidooed him from a $5-a-week office boy on a San Francisco newspaper to the East, three square meals every day, and the gorgeous idea of making “Judge Rummy” a national institution during the Thaw trial.

The expressions “Tad” kept putting in the mouths of his horde of cartoon characters have since been tossed glibly about by millions of his fellow citizens. Most of them - the phrases - are meaningless but irresistible.

[3] TAD DORGAN, ‘Elizas Crossing the Delaware – After Washington,’  LA Herald, Feb 24, 1913

“We Have No Bananas” 

“Officer, call a cop,” “Daddy, I see ducks,” “See what the boys in the back room will have” - these awaken memories as sentimental as love songs. “Dumb-bell” is prying its way into dictionaries, as may “Cake-eater,” “Dumb Dora,” “Drugstore cowboy” and “Nickel-nurser.” 

They are all “Tad’s”, and so are “Finale hoppers,” “Storm and Strife,” “Cat's Meow,” “For crying out loud,” and “What, no spinach?”

“Yes, we have no bananas” was his, too, and it became the most popular song of a decade. Many like best of all, however, his classic: “Drop that wheelbarrow - what do you know about machinery?” Although, “Let him up —he’s all out” has its loyal following.

These gaudy expressions rolled off “Tad’s” pen and a week later they would be in the mouth of every amateur wise-cracker from Baton Rouge to Point Barrow. “Tad's” eye first discerned that a hat was a “skimmer” and that eyeglasses were “cheaters.”

Dorgan was possessed of an encyclopedic savvy of prize fighting as well as of the homelier amusements of his fellow citizens. His stories of the Gans - Nelson and Jeffries - Johnson fights are classics of sports writing. He looked at fights and fighters with the same tender attention that Sir Joseph Duveen bestows upon old masters, and his tendency was to become tremendously excited.

[4] TAD DORGAN & HYPE IGOE, c. 1910. Courtesy Rob Stolzer (see more HERE)

Heart Trouble

The Dempsey-Miske affair in Benton Harbor, Mich., in 1920 seemed mild enough to many people but it marked the beginning of the end for “Tad.” He was forbidden by physicians ever to attend another boxing match. Something had happened to his heart.

Even at that time, “Tad’s” general appearance was that of an object any reasonably determined wind could blow through a keyhole. He was more than thin. Such hair as he had was of an indeterminate sandy shade, He limped slightly with a motion that furthered the effect of scuttling before the wind. 

And the second, third and fourth fingers of his right hand had been lost somewhere early in his career. A factory accident in his youth was reported to be responsible for the missing digits. This was before “Tad” learned to draw, grasping his pen with the thumb and forefinger remaining to him.

“Tad” was as little handicapped in work by his heart as by his crippled hand. Confined to a wheel chair for the past five years, he continued to write boxing articles and draw his cartoons, getting his sports news over the radio. He died three weeks ahead in his work. His last cartoon, for publication May 21, was delivered to the office of King Feature Syndicate two days ago.

by an unknown author from an unknown newspaper from 1929

[5] TAD  DORGAN, Judge Rummy Joins the Stars of the Screen (with Silk Hat Harry,), Film Fun, January 1919

Note: TAD Dorgan must have been familiar with Cockney slang where “trouble and strife” referred to “wife.” TAD apparently used (above) the phrase “storm and strife” to the same purpose.

One old baseball term that qualified as good Americanese is “boner.” This is an abbreviation of “bonehead play.” The first man to use this form was T. A. Dorgan, or Tad, the sport-page cartoonist of the Hearst papers who had a baseball character called Bonehead Barry, the bush league bear. We owe “bonehead” and “boner” to him. – Westbrook Pegler, May 27, 1947

According to an article in ‘Fights and Fighters from Punch’s Scrapbook,’ The Mail (Adelaide SA), Oct 29, 1938: In writing an article about the match lost by Terrible Terry McGovern to Young Corbett on Nov 28, 1901, Tad Dorgan said, “Corbett got Terry’s Goat” — and thereby coined a phrase.” 

Note: About 23 Skidoo, the phrase credited to TAD Dorgan and popular in the 1890s. 23 was revived by FB Opper according to The Wasp Jan 27, 1906. Both were based on the knitting lady at the foot of the guillotine in Dickens. Skidoo was from the Greek word shedad, the Norse skedad, the American skedaddle meaning scatter or scat.

Monday, February 7, 2022

A Crowded Life in Comics –

 Another Survivor. Another Tale.

by Rick Marschall

Art Spiegelman is in the news, prominently again; and from which the modest but talented cartoonist never should be far, because he always has things to say. His magnum opus, the Pulitzer Prize winning graphic novel, Maus, has returned to the top of best-seller lists. 

Maus in one of its levels is a personal memoir; seen through his eyes, seeing history through his father’s eyes. But writ, or drawn, large, it fixes the world’s eyes on concentration camps and the Holocaust. Hannah Arendt identified the banality of evil, but Art’s contribution to Holocaust literature is perhaps the depiction of how unique horrors simultaneously could inhabit, and corrode, the most private places of individual emotions.

As Hall of Fame baseball players all began their careers on sandlots and in the minor leagues, Art paid his dues as a cartoonist. Yet he never did minor league caliber work as a cartoonist, and indeed was a figure in many significant places, and among other cartoonists who also achieved prominence. He was part of the Underground movement whose West Coast names like R. Crumb defined a generation. Themes of social and political protest paralleled the graphic experimentation that arose from those studios in San Francisco and Seattle. 

At another extreme, perhaps, was the corporate work Art oversaw when back on the East Coast, with Topps, the company that produced bubble gum and trading cards. Hardly a gray-flannel suit executive, Art worked for the legendary Woody Gelman, and virtually institutionalized (and sanitized) the Undergrounds – or, perhaps, MAD Magazine – overseeing products like the Garbage Pail Kids.

Contributions to various Undergrounds, and contact with the movement’s artists, led to Art and his wife Françoise Mouly to establish a slick, stylish, graphic magazine with mature sensibilities, RAW. Its immediate impact and success can be seen as a latter-day counterpart of The Masses, which in 1911 summarized and succeeded many smaller protest and avant-garde publications. Thematic preoccupations were many, in each magazine, but graphic excellence was the irreducible standard.

The rest, similarly condensed, is history. Maus, before its serial chapters were collected as books, found its home in RAW.

I first met Art not in New York or the United States, but at a European comics festival as was my experience with many other cartoonists. I had been a guest at the Lucca Salon of Comics, Illustration, and Animation since the 1970s, as member of juries, as an exhibitor, or as a participant in round tables. Today the event in the quaint Tuscan city  largely has been given over to games and computer animation, but in those days was a major intellectual event. Historical monographs, debates, and awards were major components.

In 1982 Art was one of the American guests, and he was presented with the Yellow Kid award.

We shared some panels and round tables, as well as fraternization at Lucca’s restaurants and bars late into the nights. Truthfully, there was as much beneficial interplay, and even business deals, in the festival’s after-hours as in the scheduled events. Cartoonists and historians from all over the world communed; multi-lingual friends were never far away; and if language ever became a challenge, Hugo Pratt would pick up a guitar and sing. Or cartoonists would sketch. Halcyon days.

I recall the last day of Lucca that year. Some guests gathered in front of the Hotel Universo, on the plaza of the Teatro Giglio (the opera house, Lee Falk reminded us, where Puccini began his career), waiting for rides to the train station or the airport in nearby Pisa.

We went on to share professional and personal friendship and interplay, even without the smoky ambiance of Lucca’s hotel lounges. Art and his wife Françoise – now The New Yorker’s art editor – visited my wife Nancy and me at our home in Connecticut, and I was a guest in their loft in lower Manhattan. Art occasionally borrowed books and vintage magazines from my collection.

When RAW and other activities increasingly occupied Art’s time, he recommended me to succeed him at the School of Visual Arts, where he had been teaching a course on “Language and Structure of the Comics.” I wound up at SVA for years, teaching that class and additional courses of my suggestion. When I had to be away myself, among my substitutes were Donald Phelps. – introduced to me by Art, for which I was very grateful – Peter Kuper and others. Some of those cartoonists, and many of my students, are friends to this day.

As Maus was serialized in RAW, I sometimes saw its work in progress, and I remember one half-inked page of whose construction Art was especially proud. The architectonic possibilities in comics was among Art’s intuitions, and when I published a reprint volume of Cliff Sterrett’s 1920s surrealistic color Sunday pages, I invited Art to write the foreword. It was a uniquely (and typically) perceptive essay limning the affinities between Sterrett’s art in Polly and Her Pals and Jazz Age music.

Art Spiegelman at Angouleme, 1991 (photo: Alan Kaplan)

In 1991, I think it was, the Angoulême Comics Festival designated the “American Year,” and I was hired as the representative. Eventually more than 125 American cartoonists and publishers joined the jaunt to France, and we arranged a few days in Paris before and after the actual festival; a special BD-train was chartered for the trip south. Art was among the attendees; his interest in vintage French comics was separate from Françoise’s roots (I recall now that she once bought a run of L’Assiette au Beurre from me for Art’s birthday). RAW hosted the work of many French and Belgian cartoonists.

Our conversations were not always about comics and popular culture. A few years ago Art and I staked opposing views on the ideals of the German Romantic philosopher Gottfried Lessing. (Lessing’s disinclination, in his seminal work Laocoon, to apply similar critical standards to all art forms, was derived from Aristotle’s On Poetics. While this is the most persuasive of Aristotle’s essays to me, I am basically a Platonist.)

As noted above, Art Spiegelman is back in the news these days and Maus has returned to the top of best-seller lists. In news cycles swirling with various incidents of censored news, banned viewpoints, and a growing “cancel culture,” the Board of Education in a small Tennessee County voted to remove Maus from its curriculum for 8th-grade classes and seek “age-appropriate” works on the Holocaust.. 

The reaction of much of mainstream media has condemned the Board’s decision. They have evoked the Scopes Monkey Trial of the 1920s, and have raised spectres of Southern rednecks flexing their innate antisemitism: stereotypical illiterates perpetuating centuries-old bigotry. Art himself, in interviews, has cited the low reading-scores of students in rural McMinn County as he struggled with “bafflement” over the decision. He suggested the relative illiteracy of county residents as an explanation for school board members who might “possibly not be Nazis.”

There is a bit of nonsense about all this. The school board, whose minutes are available online, did not ban Maus from the county and its town libraries or bookstores, much less its school libraries. It removed the book from the curriculum of 8th-grade classes, citing its standing policies for pre-teens. The discussions manifested no antisemitism – quite the contrary – and there was agreement to substitute another book about the Holocaust in the curriculum.

Despite New Yorkers’ stereotypical beliefs about Tennesseans – and obviously different standards regarding language and images appropriate for, and recommended to, pre-teen students – there were no hints of bigotry in the board’s discussions. Even The New York Times and CBS in New York have reported on low literacy rates among New York City’s students (lower than those routinely reported for Tennessee students), so that factor seems not dispositive. New Yorkers might wish to impose their opinions about age-appropriate normatives to other communities, but they likely would object, and have chafed at the reverse  imposition of others’ cultural points of view on them.

Interviewed during Tennessee school board controversy

Back in the news, as I say, Art Spiegelman has a chance to contribute to the important public discussion, and not be merely at its center. Interviewed on CNN (while eating breakfast and vaping; explaining that he was unaccustomed to answering questions at 8:30 in the morning) he delivered, according to one reviewer, “one of the greatest television interviews of all time.” The segment’s director, Ron Gilmer, subsequently wrote on Twitter, “In 49 years of directing TV news, I’ve never seen [anything like] this. He was amazing.”

If there was no antisemitism evinced in the school board’s deliberations, neither was there any prejudice against a “comic book” per se being in a school curriculum. In this case Art may feel justifiable pride for the role he has played in elevating the acceptance of graphic novels, their potential, and the the codification of their narrative structure, in America.

Much is made these days of “cancel culture” – in contemporary America, almost everything becomes a slogan or a brand – and that likely is because many cultural things  are being canceled: books, shows, songs, websites, posts, communications, and thoughts. The curriculum change voted by the McMinn County School Board is, relatively speaking, very likely in the minority of targeted themes.

When the tumult and the shouting dies, as per Kipling’s phrase, at the moment in America the persecution of cultural traditions, conservative values, and longstanding worldviews is more virulent, and currently successful, than contrary efforts against progressive agendas and iconoclasm. It is the stuff of daily headlines, often hyperbolic, and not likely to fade while the antagonists seemingly enjoy the tumult and shouting.

I have been in the unique position (I mean unique among people I know, anyway) of having had close relations, shared projects, and even friendships, with people on the Left and the Right; even the Far Left and the Far Right. And unique that, unlike most people except aid workers and missionaries, my victimized friends have suffered from wildly disparate sources of persecution. Innocent tourists in Washington on January 6, some in jail after a year with no charges filed against them. I knew one of the cartoonists murdered in the “Charlie Hebdo” massacre. Another friend spent a year in solitary confinement in a European jail for publicly (in fact it was privately) sharing his own research and views of historical matters. And so on.

I mentioned America’s predilection for making brands or slogans of every phenomenon – categorizing, I suppose; the easier to explain… but also the easier to dismiss.

Françoise Mouly

So, currently, has Maus become, maybe more than ever it has been, a subset or detail of the cultural wars. In some people’s fevered imaginations, a minor adjustment (not banning) in that small county’s pre-teen curriculum might be a harbinger of crematoria erected across the mid-South; but I don’t believe it. The fact that there are far greater – let me say, at least, more numerous – censorious acts in the news, against conservatives, reminds us to retain perspective. Literal banning of Huckleberry Finn and To Kill a Mockingbird are two examples of Political Correctness on steroids. Who, indeed, are the fascistic masters of our minds? Once putative, now looming.

It might not seem so now, but Art Spiegelman is rather a victim of this cultural maelstrom. He surely is not a commercial victim; but he can be properly satisfied, in spite of the winds he faces, to be an essential voice of education and palliative debate.

Yet speaking personally (which is all I can do), and returning to our common devotion to cartooning history and the art form of the comic strip, I fervently hope that Art’s great talent and many achievements (no less shared by the justly, much-awarded Françoise), his encouragement of others, his fidelity to graphic excellence, his body of work, will not be subsumed by such controversies. That is, not the somber leitmotif of Maus, but the 8th grade’s curriculum adjustment in Tennessee.

History and art are not mutually exclusive, of course; least of all Spiegelman’s own history and his own art. I return to Gottfried Lessing, who believed that words and ideas are extended in time, whereas representational art and graphics are extended in space. Art Spiegelman, rarely among his peers but with remarkable frequency has melded the two in in his own work.


Monday, January 17, 2022

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Chronicler of Many Adventurous Decades

Rick Marschall

Birds Of a Feather? Rick Marschall and Ron Goulart on the right; R C Harvey and Shel Dorf, left.

Ron Goulart died on the morning of January 14th, 2022. It was the day after his birthday: an irony wrapped in a riddle strangled by a conundrum. Actually the date was merely a coincidence. No, it was an irrelevant fact. 

I am struggling with a way to begin this, fooling myself that I can “open” with a type of grabber that he did in one of his, oh, 200+ novels.

Tougher than a “lede” will be how to close this remembrance, because with Ron there was always a story to be continued, or a sequel, or a next book; or a conversation to be finished next time. A “hook,” maybe; a cliffhanger. Or a happy ending.

But, no. Ron Goulart died on the morning of January 14th, 2002. “The End.” 

But only the end of those great long and rambling phone calls. Never with no point to them, but rather dozens of points. Funny. Trains-of-thought. Questions. Answers. Frequently with grumbles and complaints. Gossip. Memories from, say, something we he and I did 45 years ago. Even a loose thread from a chat we both remembered from 45 years earlier.

But Ron’s “passing” was not the end of his legacy. Three hundred books (we must also remember the numerous histories and anthologies); bottomless pits of clips and files and letters – the collection that not only filled his Connecticut homes (making mazes of living-room floors, between stacks) or with his friends, sometimes vaguely remembered, across the continent, who held his “stuff.” The stuff ranged from mail-in premiums to personal sketches he received from an array of legendary figures. 

Many aspects of Ron Goulart will live forever. Not the least in the fond memories and now broken hearts of many friends and uncountable strangers he inspired.

I first met Ron at some Seuling Con or other in New York City, those early conventions in small, seedy hotels, before the days when Phil Seuling expanded into large, seedy hotels. It was the 1960s, and I was a young fan of strips, attending with my usual sloppily tied portfolio of originals. Ron routinely showed up with a retinue of Connecticut friends – cartoonists who had peripheral interest in vintage comics and vintage artists and vintage tales. Ron and I shared knowledge of ancient lore, even from before our times. Affinity. His friends – Bob Weber, Gill Fox, Orlando Busino – became my friends too.

[Having invoked “irony,” I will note here that only three days before Ron died, our old and beloved mutual friend Orlando Busino died. My next column will recall this great cartoonist and great man.]

(l-r) Gene Hazleton; Rick Marschall; Sheldon Moldoff; Ron Goulart; 
Dick Sprang; Vin Sullivan. (Photo by John Province)

A few years later I moved into the midst of Cartooning Country, Fairfield County, Connecticut. I was political cartoonist on The Connecticut Herald, and lived in Westport, then Weston. Most important, perhaps, was the full-bloom friendship with Ron Goulart (and Bob and Gill and Orlando). 

A rather wider circle, in those halcyon days, consisted of cartoonists like Dik Browne, Dick Hodgins, Jerry Dumas, John Cullen Murphy, Jack Tippit, Frank Johnson, Mort Walker, Stan Drake, and Len Starr… at parties, BBQs, Long Island Sound cruises, golf outings. But a circle within a circle comprised the merry men I described around Ron – Weber, Fox, and Busino. With Jerry Marcus and Joe Farris and Jack Berrill and a couple other guys, it was a virtual fraternity.

Ron, in fact, described our group as a Movable Frat Party, no offense to Hemingway. At least twice a week we gathered for early lunches, sometimes in Westport but usually in Bethel or Ridgefield. More often than not we straggled in to a restaurant… exchanged news… looked at the menus… at which time Jerry Marcus would complain about something or other, and we then discussed where else to meet in 10 minutes. Lunch was eaten leisurely and we talked and laughed, laughed and talked. Sometimes we adjourned to my house where I would do a show-and-tell with vintage art or Sunday funnies.

Ron and I saved a lot of money through the years by reliably presenting our latest books to each other, always with inscriptions and drawings. 

Invariably, Ron was the focus of impromptu trivia challenges – “Who Was What,” for instance (he was a fount of knowledge about the sexual leanings of Hollywood’s bit players) or great stories about scores of cartoonists and writers he met as a fan in his youth.

As evening approached, we all scurried home in time for dinner. Our wives suspected that we goofed off during these days, but we knew the truth – we goofed off on these days. Occasionally, however, we straightened up. That is, we met for midnight snacks at a local diner instead.

Ron was always at the center of such get-togethers. He was as funny as the cartoonists, and usually more interesting, which everyone acknowledged. He always had news about his latest projects, or frustrated projects; and he added us, variously, as characters in his books. Oddly, if not inappropriately, not always as heroes or innocent bystanders. 

Ron and I traded a lot of stories and a lot of cartoon collectibles. I brought Bill Blackbeard up to meet him, and once we traveled down to New Jersey to meet Boody Rogers (joined by a gosh-wow Craig Yoe). I interviewed Ron for my paper (“The Master of Ghoul-Art” was my title; horror fiction was one genre he seldom visited, but the pun was irresistible to me). When I was a comics editor at three newspaper syndicates I tried to get this maestro of so many fields to script a comic strip, but only (after me) did he collaborate on one – Star Hawks, with the local Gil Kane). Leonard Starr invited us both to do stories for Thunder Cats

After I left Connecticut we kept in close touch. We bummed around Comicon together many times. We both contributed to Toutain’s Spanish part-series History of the Comics. When was editor at Marvel, I gave him writing assignments for the black and white magazines. When I launched NEMO magazine, about strip history, I commissioned Ron – of course! – for the first, and subsequent, issues.

When I moved from Connecticut, the “Movable Fraternity” had a farewell BBQ, everyone doing a drawing for a presentation binder. This was from Ron Goulart and wife Fran, evoking – as many of his drawings and notes did, a moldy strip character. Here, Slim Jim.

I am bragging, obviously, about having known Ron Goulart. I was proud to have known him and to have worked with him. But peripherally, for any uninitiated readers, I have shed light here on his many activities in many areas. 

We shared tips and leads as freelancers in the same fields. Slow-pays and no-pays are banes of our “existence,” such as it is. He shared backstage-stories about ghosting the TEK Lab series “by” William Shatner. We had similar reactions to R C Harvey virtually accusing us of character assassination for writing that Milt Caniff occasionally relied on other artists like Bud Sickles. Ron would have written a regular for the imminent revival of NEMO magazine.

Many contemporary fans and scholars of vintage strips learned from Ron’s many books and anthologies. Many fans of science fiction, mystery, and licensed-character novels have enjoyed Ron’s work… even without knowing it. Many of his books were ghost-written; and his list of assumed names was as lengthy and colorful as pioneer recording artists or clever confidence-men. (Did you really think Lee Falk wrote those Phantom novels, too?)

In fact, I was a fan of Ron Goulart before I knew there was much to read in the world beyond cereal boxes at the breakfast table. As a kid I hounded my mother to buy Chex cereal. She wondered why I eagerly risked the challenges to my regularity – but it was to read the Fake News called “The Chex-Press” on those cereal boxes. Hilarious! Ron Goulart wrote them for the ad agency, the early-and-often work of the most prolific friend (or stranger) I knew, Ron Goulart. 

Vicarious pleasures: I think the only times Ron ever danced was in his self-caricatures. But he was known to stick his tongue out. The Andriola reference is the plethora of back-stories we shared about the cartoonist.

It is not often that a person can dominate fields of which he is also a pre-eminent, honest-broker historian. His personality – I mean his compelling arsenal of virtues – was more than humor and sarcasm, cultural acuity and cynicism. He occasionally was philosophical and introspective, too. Not particularly religious, he taught me, by example, the meaning of that Christian virtue, unconditional love.

“To be continued”? Actually, yes. Until printing presses and used-book stores disappear, Ron Goulart will indeed always be with us.



Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Meldrum Family –

by John Adcock

One extraordinary fictional serial of 1848, The Meldrum Family, was written by William Howitt for his own periodical Howitt’s Journal. The complete title is Facts from the Fields – The Depopulating Policy, Extension of the English Manufacturing System by Which Men are Worked up into Malefactors: The Meldrum Family. 

A labourer named James Meldrum is driven to the city to seek work, a victim of the Enclosures Acts, a series of Acts passed between 1750 and 1860, which enclosed open fields and common land in the country, creating legal property rights to land that was previously considered common ground. Falling on hard times, described in excruciating detail by Howitt, Meldrum’s children become increasingly disobedient to their distracted father. While Meldrum trudges the country begging for odd jobs to keep food on the table, his sons quit going to chapel and stay up all night drinking in taverns. The breaking point is reached when his daughter Dinah joins her rebellious brothers.

She appeared to hold the same notions as her brothers, and to be resolved to “live while she could,” as she called it. Often when James came home at night he found Dinah reading. Sometimes her brothers were in, and she read aloud; but what they read he scarcely knew, for he became so drowsy on entering the house, that he could just but keep his eyes open while he got his supper, and then fell asleep in his chair (…) 

But one Sunday he saw a quantity of those cheap publications with which the little book-shops abound, lying about, and he took up first one, and then another, and read. They were stories of the most inflated and extravagant kind, of lords and ladies, and thieves, and people with the most romantic names and startling actions imaginable. Murder, seduction, contempt of everything sacred, crime and dissipation of every possible kind, were dressed up in a fashion which would disgust and shock the refined and the virtuous, but which only stimulated the mind already depressed. 

“Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood;” “The Murder at the Old Ferry;” “The Hangman's Daughter;” “The Illuminated Dagger;” “Prince Morio and the Fair Vatilde;” “Seduction;” “The Love Child;” “The Wife's Tragedy;” “Mantel;” “The Ordeal by Touch;” “The Rivals, or the Spectre of the Hall;” “The Old House of West Street,” etc. etc., and numbers of the like relations, all illustrated by engravings of the most atrocious character, were the staples of this literature which poured in myriads of sheets on the devoted heads of the poor and ignorant. 

To these were added cheap reprints of infidel writers, in which religion was represented as a mere state invention to feed priests, and frighten people into submission. There were halfpenny “murder sheets,” detailing all the most revolting murders as they every week occurred, and every species of vileness, villainy, and horror, in pennyworths and halfpennyworths.

“What was the effect on the mind of Meldrum?” asks Howitt.

For a moment, he appeared surprised; then stunned; then he took up another and another, and a new and wild appetite seemed to seize on him. Strange and dark thoughts had passed through the mind of James Meldrum as he plodded along the road to and from his labour in wind, and rain, and darkness. Strange and dark thoughts, darker than the night, wilder than the wind, more chilling than the rain, not only passed through his mind, but remained in it, and brooded there like evil spirits that had found a roomy and congenial home.[i]

Meldrum, losing his faith in a benevolent God, rushes out to walk the night country in the drenching rain and thunder, mind racing with horror. “From this day Meldrum was another man,” a mere work of chance in an indifferent universe, and he spent his non-working hours drinking gin, avoiding chapel, and reading “the fatal literature.” Eventually he becomes a madman, a murderer, and a homeless wanderer, rejected by his own children and his community. 

The devouring of penny bloods did not cause Meldrum’s madness; it was the catalyst that opened his mind to madness. The source of his insanity was industrial London’s debilitating depopulation policies.

[i] Howitt's Journal, Vol. 3, 1848

Friday, December 10, 2021

Christmas with the Cartoonists –



Chicago Examiner, Dec 20, 1909

Chicago Examiner, Dec 18, 1910

Friday, November 19, 2021

London to Glasgow and back again: BEFORE THE CARTOON –

by John Adcock


Pub May 30th, 1829 by T McLean, 26 Haymarket, Sole publisher of P. Pry Comicalities

Forty years ago, a wild author, of no school at all, wrote a book called Tom and Jerry, or Life in London, and Robert and George Cruikshank illustrated it. There was “Corinthian” Tom,” and such lovely and unlovely specimens of humanity. They went behind the scenes, and saw fast life in its coarsest way… The illustrations were worthy of the text: gross exaggerations, twisted and contorted forms, not caricatures but ugly monstrosities… – ‘Bell’s Life’, The Sphinx, August 7, 1859

The first monthly part of Pierce Egan’s Life in London; or, the Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorne, Esq., and his elegant Friend Corinthian Tom, accompanied by Bob Logic, the Oxonian, in their Rambles and Sprees through the Metropolis, was published July 15, 1821, with illustrations by the brothers Isaac Robert Cruikshank and George Cruikshank.

Life in London; or, the Sprees of Tom and Jerry, attempted in cuts and verse [c.1821]

Pierce Egan railed at the “Mob of Literary Pirates” who stole his idea and ran with it. One of these pirates was Jemmy Catnatch who published on March 23, 1822 a broadsheet Life in London; or, the Sprees of Tom and Jerry, attempted in cuts and verse for street sale at two pence featuring twelve cuts. The illustrations were rough woodcut copies of the Cruikshank illustrations. Denis Gifford mentioned two sequels in The Evolution of the British Comic: Green in France; or, Tom and Jerry's Rambles through Paris (Dec 26, 1822) and The Charlies Holiday; or, The Tears of London at the Funeral of Tom and Jerry (Mar 25, 1823).

George Cruikshank, Tom & Jerry's Funeral, aquatint, 1823

“Paul Pry” (signature of William Heath)

Before Punch published John Leech’s Cartoon, No. I — Substance and Shadow on July 15, 1843, cartoons were known as “comicalities,” “cuts,” or “comic cuts.” “Comicalities” had many meanings. Mostly it referred to the “funny business” of the stage, both high and low, and from a very early date. From there it came to describe purely textual jokes; single or sequential comic cuts, dumb, or with the text or verse placed under the image or in word balloons.

The first thirty years of the new century were a time when the coloured print was in its decline. The best of the caricaturists turned to book illustration as well as producing comic cuts for a variety of comic annuals. William Heath (1795-1840) was one of the most prolific print artists between 1821 and 1829, the majority produced for the Haymarket print-seller and publisher Thomas McLean. Heath signed much of his work with a little figure of Paul Pry, a famous comic character of the stage.

“Lord how this world improves as we grow older,” The March of Intellect, William Heath, Thos. McLean, 1829

Heath traveled to Glasgow in 1825 where he illustrated the Glasgow Looking Glass, whose printing is usually attributed to John Watson. John Strang noted in Glasgow Clubs, 1856 that William Heath and the lithographic printer “Mr. Hopkirk” came up with the idea of the Glasgow Looking Glass in a Glasgow club christened the Cheap-and-Nasty by its enemies.

Mr. Heath came to Glasgow, from London, to paint two or three large panoramas, and while here amused himself occasionally in caricaturing the leading follies of the day, as he had previously done in the Metropolis. At that period lithography was in its infancy in Glasgow – the only press being that belonging to Mr. Hopkirk in George-street, and which was successfully employed in printing the “Northern Looking Glass.” Mr. Hopkirk was the representative of an old and most respectable family, with rather a shattered fortune. He was endowed with an excellent heart and rare natural talents. He possessed a highly cultivated mind and considerable scientific acquirements. He was extensively acquainted with natural history, particularly botany, and was one of the earliest promoters of the Glasgow Botanical Gardens. He spent the latter years of his life in Ireland, and died there on the 23 of August, 1841.  Glasgow and its Clubs, 1856

William Heath (courtesy University of Glasgow HERE)

The Glasgow Looking Glass consisted of lithographed broadsheets issued every fortnight beginning with Vol. 1 No. 1 dated June 11, 1825. The title changed to Northern Looking Glass with issue No. 5 until April 3, 1826. A further ‘new series’ lasted two issues and was printed by Richard Griffin & Co until June 1826. That same year Heath issued The Edinburgh Spy. No 1 sold for 1s 6d. As seen by the McClean caricature opening this post (The man wots got the whip hand...) Heath was back in London by 1829.

Masthead: Glasgow Looking Glass, Vol. 1 No. 1, June 11, 1825
More details and illustrations HERE

The Looking Glass, Vol 1 No.1, Jan 1, 1830
Drawn and Etched by William Heath, Author of The Northern Looking Glass,
Paul Pry Caricatures, and various Humorous Works

The Looking Glass was a large sized lithographed four-page monthly magazine composed entirely of comicalities. The first seven issues were drawn by William Heath and published by the print seller and publisher Thomas McLean of 26 Haymarket. Heath departed and the eighth issue was drawn by Robert Seymour from Aug 1, 1830 to  April 1836. McLean retitled it McLean’s Monthly Sheet of Caricatures or the Looking Glass. The price was 3s plain, 6s coloured (hand-coloured), very expensive for the times. The first volume was collected in 49 pages as The Looking Glass; or, Caricature Annual, published by Thomas McLean, 26 Haymarket (HERE).

William Heath, The Looking Glass No. 5 (courtesy National Library of Australia)

Robert Seymour, Monthly Sheet of Caricatures No. 62; or, The Looking Glass, Feb 2, 1835

Robert Seymour, The March of Intellect, Thomas McLean, 26 Haymarket, 1829

George Cruikshank’s first comical newspaper wood-engravings were drawn for Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide, but these were simple humorous drawings sans captions. He granted permission to Vincent Dowling, editor of Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, to reproduce in issue 289, September 9, 1828 half-a-dozen cuts from his collection of “scraps” (originating in Illustrations of Time, 1827) which appeared one at a time as Gallery of Comicalities on the front page of Bell’s newspaper with captions or verse added, presumably by the editorial staff.

George Cruikshank cut, Mornings at Bow Street, John Wight,1824 (see HERE)

 Circulation went up and Bell’s began raiding Cruikshank’s Phrenological Illustrations and Mornings at Bow Street (without the artist’s permission) in order to keep up with the demand. Large broadsheet collections were issued separately from the newspaper cuts as Gallery of Comicalities and Comic Album. Complaints and threats of a lawsuit led to Bell’s discontinuing the piracy of Cruikshank’s engravings in 1828 and substituting “scraps” by Robert Seymour, John Leech, and Kenny Meadows. Twenty-seven of Bell’s Cruikshank (and other artists) “comicalities” were pirated by The Observer newspaper on 21 July 1828.

Advertisement, Figaro in London, Sept 21, 1833

By 1832 there were numerous broadsheet galleries being published in London with unsigned work, some pirated, some commissioned, by the brothers Cruikshank, Robert Seymour, John Leech, Hablot Knight Brown, and Charles Jameson Grant (mostly signed CJG.)

George Cruikshank, Gallery of Comicalities; embracing humorous sketches by the Brothers Robert and George Cruikshank, Robert Seymour and Others, London: Charles Hindley, 1880

Since this post is running longer than expected I will finish here (there will be a Part Two of Before the Cartoon). But I have saved (perhaps) the best for last. This strange and wondrous comicality, a broadsheet sequential story, which seems to have originated in Germany in 1814, which precedes the Glasgow Looking Glass by eleven years, was found in the online Wellcome Collection, and shows (if the dating is correct) that there is still much comic history yet to be unraveled. Note also in panel 5 lower left are the engraved initials LB.

Doctor Zirkel

July 1814, Coloured wood engraving.


Guy Lawley has pointed out that the artist of Doctor Zirkel was Ludwig Bechstein (1843-1914) and the cartoon was Munchener Bilderbogen no. 461, see HERE. The book collection of Bilderbogen in which it is listed is  dated to 1867-1868.

Thanks to Guy Lawley


Eckart Sackmann


The Evolution of the British Comic, Denis Gifford, History Today, Vol XXI, No. 5, May 1971

Glasgow and its clubs; or, Glimpses of the condition, manners, characters, & oddities of the city, during the past & present centuries, John Stang, London & Glasgow: Richard Griffin & Co.1856

English caricaturists and graphic humourists of the nineteenth century :how they illustrated and interpreted their times, Graham Everitt, London: Swan Sonnenschein, Le Bas & Lowry, Paternoster Square, 1886

The Draughtsman’s Contacts: Robert Seymour and the Humorous Periodical Press in the 1830s, Brian Maidment, Journal of European Periodical Studies, 1.1, Summer 2016

Between Broadsheet Caricature and “Punch”: Cheap Newspaper Cuts for the Lower Classes in the 1830s, David Kunzle, Art Journal, Vol. 43, No. 4, The Issue of Caricature, Winter, 1983

Most of the prints pictured, unless otherwise noted, are courtesy Wellcome Collection