Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Muybridge and the Comic Strip

While cartoonists A. B. Frost and Henry Stull left undeniable proof of their indebtedness to the work of Eadweard Muybridge others were less obvious about his influence on their comic strip work. One way of identifying Muybridge influence is by imagining that an animator’s in-betweener could fill in the spaces between actions to create a free-flowing cinematic animation. Charles Green Bush’s “At the Photographer’s,” HERE, is a case in point. The cartoon above by Frederick Burr Opper, “Some Studies of a Character Artist at Work,” was published in Puck 30 November, 1887.

Eadweard Muybridge’s photographs of humans and animals in motion made a world-wide stir in scientific and artistic circles and he went on the lecture circuit to explain his earth-shaking discoveries with the aid of a zoopraxiscope, which an English writer described as “a magic lantern run mad.” On 18 November 1882 Muybridge lectured on “The Romance and Reality of Animal Motion” for a packed house in a show sponsored by the New York Turf Club.

He illustrated his lecture by projecting his stationary photographs on a canvas screen and afterward, as a New York Times columnist wrote, “displayed the figure of the animal, first at a walk across the canvas, then pacing, cantering, galloping, and even jumping the hurdle. The effect was true to life, and the spectator could almost believe that he saw miniature horses with their riders racing across the screen.” He followed up with animations of a running bull, a goat, a deer, and a man, all walking, running, jumping, and in the case of the man, turning somersaults.

The first silent movie, “The Great Train Robbery,” was not produced until 1903, and the first animated cartoon was J. Stuart Blackton’s “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” in 1906, but comic strip artists were already anticipating animation in work done in the 1880’s and 1890's.

Below is another Frederick Burr Opper cartoon on caricature from Scribner’s circa 1883.

See also part II HERE

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Charles G. Bush and the Comic Strip

“While drawing weekly cartoons for the New York Telegram Bush made a few hits that brought him fame. One of these was his “Klondike,” a powerful sermon against the lust for gold which even the religious papers copied. Then he gave David B. Hill the little hat with its big streamer reading “I am a Democrat.” Being well read in the classics, Bush draws upon history and mythology for characters and settings, while the main idea of the cartoon is often developed in a chance conversation or even worked up after the artist sits down to his task with the feeling that something must be done. “Study, appreciation, and hard work” is his stereotyped advice to beginners who burn for fame and yearn for emoluments around the art sanctums of the New York press.” -- Cartoonists of America. The Funny Fellows who Furnish Pictorial Political Sermons to the Newspapers. Dubuque Sunday Herald, 21 October 1900.

Charles Green Bush, a contemporary of Homer Davenport’s, was born in Boston in 1842. He began contributing political cartoons to Harper’s Weekly in the 1870’s and in 1875 studied art in Paris with Léon Bonnat, the portrait painter before returning to New York in 1879 to continue at the Weekly. Both Harper's Weekly and Harper's Magazine were pioneers in the early use of sequential art in America, most importantly in the work of A. B. Frost.

Bush was not known for his comic strip work but in 1890 he drew a series of comics for Harper’s Weekly that show the influence of A. B. Frost, and, in the case of the animated ‘baseball’ strip, probably Eadweard Muybridge, whose photographic studies in human and animal locomotion (1878) had a seminal influence on both the cinema and the comic strip.

Charles Green Bush (1842-1909) illustrated Canadian writer James De Mille's novel The Lady of the Ice (1870), Adeline Dutton Train's Faith Gartney's Girlhood, (1891), and Rhoda Thornton's Girlhood by Mary E. Pratt.(1874). In his book The Political Cartoon, Charles Press argues that the first use of Uncle Sam in a cartoon was by Charles Green Bush on February 6, 1869 in Harper's Weekly, as Frank Weitenkampf showed in "Uncle Sam Through The Years : A Cartoon Record, Annotated List and Introduction," an unpublished manuscript in the New York Public Library, 1949, 24 pg. By 1900 Press states Bush was known as the "dean of American Political cartooning."

Top to Bottom: Harper's Weekly, 30 August, 1890, 25 January 1890, 27 September 1890.

See also A Master Cartoonist HERE

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Good Artists

“I was a fizzle as a cowboy, a logger, a printing press feeder, a steelworker, carpenter, an animator, a chicken grower, and a barfly.” -- Carl Barks, born 1901, recalls the first forty years of his life.

In the forties Barks drew 33 stories for Dell Comics outside the Disney family. They featured Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Andy Panda, Happy Hound (Tex Avery’s Droopy), and Benny Burro and his partner Barney Bear. The Barney Bear stories foreshadow in story and situations a lot of the content of the Donald Duck stories from Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories, such as the idea of neighbors feuding over the fence.

He also used characters which seem to be poking fun at the famous Disney Mouse, Mickey, when Barks drew a mouse he was usually a thug and a thief.

Like most artists Barks was not allowed to sign his work, although it was obvious to fans that Walt Disney was not drawing the various ducks, thus Barks was referred to as “The Good Artist,” until his identity was sussed out by comic fan John Spicer in 1960.

The other “Good Artist” of course, was Floyd Gottfredson, shining light at the helm of the Mickey Mouse comic strip, and his identity was uncovered by Hollywood book dealer Malcolm Willits in 1968.

*Barney Bear illustrations from The Barks Bear Book, Editions Enfin, 1979.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Melchor Niubó, alias Niel

El Abuelito has been posting some brilliant covers that fascinate me by Don Melchor Niubó, alias Niel, who was a cover artist for penny dreadful type serials published in Spain by Gato Negro in the twenties and early thirties. His style is reminiscent of the woodcut but also resembles the Rider/Waite Tarot cards illustrated by Pamela Colman Smith.

The inspiration for Gato Negro serials seems to have been the Aldine penny dreadfuls featuring Spring-Heeled Jack and Dick Turpin as well as the American dime novels of Buffalo Bill and Nick Carter which were imported and adapted for a Spanish audience. I am not too sure (my Spanish is not fluent*) but I believe that Gato Negro was a publishing house founded by Juan Bruguera in 1921 which published Pulgarcito, a periodical of infantil historietas (children’s comic strips). Pulgarcito reprinted many English comic pages from Puck, Funny Wonder, Comic Cuts, the Rainbow, and Illustrated Chips. They also published adventure and humor strips by Niel such as Extraordinarias adventuras de Quisquillas y Materile and La Vuelta Al Mundo.

See much more Niel Here and Here.

*Los Comics en Espanol by Luis Gasca, 1969

Friday, March 19, 2010

Los Caprichos

Francisco Goya's Los Caprichos, 80 aquatint plates,1799. Goya was born in Spain 30 March 1746, and died on 16 April 1828 in France. There is an exellent book called Goya and the Satirical Print in England and on the Continent by Reva Wolf, a book written to accompany an exhibition displayed at the Museum of Art at Boston in 1991. The book charts the effect of commerce on the dissemination of caricatures from England to the Continent, with illustrations by Hogarth, Goya, Bunbury, Rowlandson, George Murgatroyd Woodward, even Mary and Matthew Darly.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Naissances de la bande dessinée

Many of us in North America may not be aware that a quiet revolution has taken place in world views on the topic of the origins of the comics, and the pre-history of the comic strip. Much of the research on origins has taken place in Europe; in Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Italy, and diverse other places, and is often not available in the English language.

I think we can trace the beginnings of the change in perception to 1966 when the Smithsonian Institution put on an exhibit honoring 75 Years of the Comics, showing the growth and development of form in the newspaper strip. One year later an international exposition on comic strips and their creators was held at the Louvre hosted by Claude Moliterni, director of the French Society of Research in Illustrated Literature. The exhibition traced the evolution of figurative drawings from carved Trojan columns to space-age comic strips using slide projections and panel blow -ups of comics from America, Europe, Argentina and Mexico. Among the early pioneers in historical research was David Kunzle, with a massive two volume History of the Comic Strip (1973) which searched for precursors from 1450 to the late nineteenth century, and Denis Gifford’s Victorian Comics (1976) with its emphasis on British beginnings.

An impressive recent book on beginnings is Thierry Smolderen’s Naissances de la bande dessinée De William Hogarth à Winsor McCay, published in late 2009 by Les Impressions Nouvelles. Thierry Smolderen is a Brussels born scriptwriter, essayist, theorist and Professor at the European School of Visual Arts. His articles have appeared in the periodicals Les Cahiers de comics, 9th Art, and Comic Art and he has been writing scenarios for graphic albums since the eighties.

Naissances de la bande dessinée (“The Many Births of the Comics”) studies the parallel growth, and world-wide diffusion of influences, from the days of William Hogarth to the modern baroque stylings of Winsor McCay. Smolderen starts with Hogarth, and rightly so, as he was the originator of commercial reproducible caricature in Britain and strongly influenced Rodolphe Töpffer and George Cruikshank, the two giants whose experiments would have the most influence on the practitioners of 19th century comic art. Hogarth’s Harlots Progress was sold by subscription for one guinea, and the buyer was supplied with a bonus in the shape of an illustrated ticket. Hogarth’s famous pictorial dramas had a tremendous effect on the nascent novel, the drama, book illustration, sequential caricature, and even social reform.

Smolderen's most surprising claim is that Töpffer, contrary to Kunzle’s theory of him as “Father of the Comics,” had no interest in promoting the modern comic strip, that instead he invented the form in order to ridicule G. O. Lessing’s theory of poetry as a sequential art, which was put forth in The Laocoon: or the Limits of Poetry and Painting: “The rule is this, that succession in time is the province of the poet, co-existence in space that of the artist.” Töpffer’s ironic use of sequential graphics was meant to expose the fallacies of Lessing’s ideas, and Töpffer showed little interest in the comic albums produced by those artists he influenced.

Naissances de la bande dessinée investigates the role played by various media in the organic development of the comic strip; in novels, the romantic gestures of the stage melodrama, the rise of book illustration, photography, magic lanterns, and the cinema. George Cruikshank’s spectacular use of sequential illustrations in Ainsworth’s Jack Sheppard was inspired by the pictorial drama of William Hogarth, and turn of the century comic strips by A. B. Frost were influenced by Eadweard Muybridge’s photographic studies in human and animal locomotion.

The book is illustrated throughout with examples of sequential art drawn from all corners of the globe. Samples from all the major actors are presented in sharp focus reproductions: Töpffer, Cruikshank, Cham, Dore, Grandville, Caran d’Ache, Doyle, Oberlander, Christophe, Frost, Sullivant, Outcault and McCay. The whole is so information rich that it comes as a surprise to find it weighing in at a mere 144 pages.

Smolderen’s book is a graphic reminder that the comic strip was not the invention of the American comic supplements at the turn of the century. The comic strip was the result of a century (possibly more) of world-wide experimentation by artists and writers with a mass appreciative audience drawn from every class of society. There was very little that was original to the comic supplements. Comic strippers like Frederick Burr Opper and F. M. Howarth had been supplying comic journals with sequential art since the 1870’s, the format of the Yellow Kid followed Hogarth and Cruikshank, the Katzenjammer Kids were borrowed from the German bilderbogen of Wilhelm Busch, and even Little Nemo’s technicolor dream-world had been anticipated by the artists of Quantin’s l'Imagerie artistique of the 1880’s.

The comic strip was the result of a continuous diffusion of world theory, experimentation, and technology from the days of Hogarth to the present. The history of the comic strip is a world history and we can only hope that Naissances de la bande dessinée and other essential works of European comic scholarship will someday be translated into English for the education and enjoyment of North American audiences. Strangely enough my search of Google blogs and newspapers for English reviews of Naissances de la bande dessinée was a dismal failure, not one English language review could be found.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Sketches by Seymour

Robert Seymour (1798-1836) apprenticed as a pattern-drawer. He began as a copper-engraver in 1827 and later worked chiefly in lithography. He was a frequent woodcut contributor to the unstamped papers of the radical press. His cartoons appeared in The Looking Glass, McClean’s Monthly Sheet of Caricature, the Odd Fellow, The Museum, Bell’s Life in London, The Comic Magazine, Figaro in London, and The Squib. He illustrated Hervey’s Book of Christmas in 1835 and contributed to Louisa H. Sheridan’s annual Comic Offering.

Sketches by Seymour were published between 1834 and 1836 in detached prints at 3d. each, by Richard Carlile, radical publisher of Paine’s Age of Reason. Seymour was paid 15 shillings per drawing. Carlile sold the copyright and lithographic stones to Henry Wallis, picture dealer and engraver, who retained the copyright and passed on the stones to G. S. Tregear of 96 Cheapside, London, who transferred the drawings to steel and published them in 1838 in 5 bound volumes.

Seymour is best remembered for instigating “The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club.” In 1836 Charles Dickens agreed to write the text to accompany comic prints by Seymour. Sales were slow, and the illustrator shot himself to death after the second number, but by the fourth number things had improved and Dickens was a household name in England.

The cover illustration at top is from Volume 4 of Tregear’s version in steel-engraving. The illustrations below are from volume One. And I wonder if the corpulent cricketer in No. 8 below was the original inspiration for Dickens famous Fat Boy from Pickwick.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Die Karikatur Poster Art

A fine collection of German and French centerfolds from Die Karikatur der Europäischen Völker, 1921.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Jacques Callot (1592-1635)

I found this remarkable caricature, dated 1715, in Die Karikatur der Europäischen Völker, published by Albert Langen and written by Eduard Fuchs, 1921. Jacques Callot is mentioned in the text, but he died in 1635 and so this Austrian print must have been something influenced by the French caricaturist. On the bottom left is a wonderful joke, a little man who has lost his glasses and is seeking them. Below is an engraving by Callot from the same book.

William Hogarth (1697 – 1764)

I was reading Thierry Smolderen's recent [and well-recommended] book "Naissances de la bande dessinée De William Hogarth à Winsor McCay" which brought to mind this ancient article "Memoirs of the Celebrated William Hogarth," from the November 1780 Universal Magazine. I have cleaned my photocopies up a bit -- in the original the type bled through the paper so the reproduction is not of the best quality.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Cruikshank Comicalities

These 1876 cartoons came from the Leisure Hour, published in December of 1876. They originated in George Cruikshank's Scraps and Sketches, folios published by the artist and sold by James Robins and Company of London in 1828, 1829, 1831 and 1832.

Some similar to these were pirated for "The Gallery of 140 Comicalities," published by Bell's Life in London in 1828, which understandably offended the artist. Photographs of the 1832 Scraps and Sketches HERE.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

American Comicalities

My good friend Joe Rainone sent me this photograph of an American “comicalities” broadsheet approximately 19 by 24 inches tall, printed one side, and dated 1832. The Saturday Courier newspaper was published in Philadelphia by Woodward and Spragg in 1832 and featured at least five early works by Edgar Allen Poe and this EXTRA may be the earliest example of broadsheet “comicalities” produced in the United States. One drawing in particular caught my eye, “The Odd Fish” with the caption “A strange fish found by one Mick Maguire, on the coast of Ireland, in the year of grace 18--. For a full description of this wonderful animal, and his humorous propensities, see Philadelphia Lady’s Book for May 1831.”

I recognized this transatlantic travelling oyster as the work of George Cruikshank from Points of Humour illustrated by the designs of George Cruikshank, London: C. Baldwyn, Newgate Street, 1823, reprinted by J. Robins (no date). The American version was probably pirated from Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle where it would have appeared about 1827 or 1828. It would be an easy matter to have a staff artist draw a free hand copy onto a fresh block of wood and have it engraved and published in Philadelphia. 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 J. Grant. The Courier would have had plenty of samples to choose from and may even have used some home-grown caricaturist’s work.

Below: Points of Humour

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 1827 half-a-dozen cuts from his collection of “scraps” (originating in Illustrations of Time) which appeared one at a time as “Gallery of Comicalities” on the front page of Bell’s newspaper with captions added, presumably by the editorial staff. 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 artist’s) “comicalities” were pirated by The Observer newspaper on 21 July 1828

Below: Cruikshank heading for Pierce Egan's Life in London March 20, 1825.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

As to Cartooning

As to Cartooning by Ambrose Bierce, 1900. I'm not sure where this article made its first appearance, possibly in one of Bierce' many newspaper columns. Compare "bitter" Bierce opinion to that of Frederick Burr Opper's 1901 article In Caricature Country HERE. Illustrations from Harrison Cady's sweet comic strip Peter Rabbit.