Thursday, April 29, 2010

Ward Greene (1893-1956)

Ward Greene, journalist, playwright, and novelist, was born in Ashville, North Carolina in 1893, grew up in Atlanta, and died at Havana, Cuba 22 January 1956. William Randolph Hearst and Sylvan S. Byck were two of his pall-bearers. After attending the University of the South in Tennessee, he began his journalistic career as a reporter on the Atlanta (Ga.) Journal in 1913, worked a short period for the NY Herald-Tribune, and joined King Features Syndicate in 1920. He eventually became the general editor at King Features.

Writer Mel Heimer recalled the day Greene had a new intercom installed in his office at KFS -- “he called up a sub-editor and said ‘Listen’ -- whereupon he promptly played the verse and chorus of Dixie on the harmonica.” Greene wrote Cora Potts, Death in the Deep South, Route 28, Weep No More, and Ride the Nightmare, a story of a highly paid violent, lusty, drunkard comic strip artist, based roughly on the life of author William Seabrook. Death in the Deep South was compared favorably with Theodore Dreiser’s American Tragedy and filmed as They Won’t Forget, directed by Mervyn LeRoy with actress Gloria Dickson.

Ward Greene and Alex Raymond co-wrote the stories for Raymond's detective strip Rip Kirby. Ultimately Greene's greatest creation was the book Lady and the Tramp, which was immortalized by Walt Disney in 1954, and spun-off as a popular comic strip, Scamp, on 2 Jan 1955. The Scamp strip ran daily and Sunday until December 1977.

Vernon V. Greene (1908-1965)

Vernon Greene was born 12 Sept 1908 and grew up on a 650 acre ranch in Battleground, Washington, with 40 riding horses at his disposal. He worked on the ranch and as a logger and blacksmith. He began drawing editorial cartoons at 17, in 1930, for the Oregon Journal which lasted until 1943 when he took over Cliff Sterrett’s Polly and Her Pals with the aid of a ghost writer. His stint on Polly lasted 5 years and earned him a good living. He then spent three years drawing Walter Gibson’s Shadow comic strip (and the comic book).

During the war Greene drew Mac the Medic and contributed pages of Charlie Conscript cartoons to PIC magazine. He also drew comics on the weekends for bubble gum manufacturers. Two gum comics would pay him a cool $500. In 1954 he took over George McManus’s Bringing Up Father for King Features. Greene died on 5 June 1965 at age 56.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Morty Meekle

I don't imagine Morty Meekle would mean anything to most people these days but in the fifties he was a very popular comic strip character. In my neighborhood it was common practice to tease other kids by yelling at them: “Morty Meekle! Morty Meekle!” The response was usually an angry “Har-de-har-har! Very funny!”

“I used to carry a pad and pencil with me. That’s the old thing from all the ‘how-to-draw’ schools. You were supposed to see funny things around you and write them down. Well, all I noticed was the pad growing gray. My notebook would say ‘remember to pick up a six-pack of beer.’”

The cartoonist was Dick Cavalli, from Brooklyn. Cavalli attended the School of Visual Arts in New York on a G.I. Bill and began selling gag cartoons to magazines while still a student. Cavalli sold Morty Meekle 'on the spot' to NEA Enterprises. It began on January 9 1956. Morty was eventually edged out of the strip by the kid characters and the name was changed to Winthrop in 1967. The strip ran until May 14 1994. Cavalli produced his strip in a garage studio in New Caanan, Conn.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Osgar and Adolf

Osgar and Adolf by Armando D. Condo and Fred Shafer (or Schaefer). Selection from Feb 1911 to Dec 1912 from The Des Moines News. Very bottom cartoon 13 August 1909.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Johnny Reb and Billy Yank

Gene Autry recorded Charles Tobias song “Johnny Reb and Billy Yank” for Columbia Records under the direction of Mitch Miller. The song was inspired by the weekly comic strip distributed by the Sunday New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. “Johnny Reb and Billy Yank” made its debut as a Sunday page 18 Nov 1956 and appeared in sixty papers at its peak.

The artist was Civil War buff Frank Giacoia (1924-1988) of New York, the excellent scripting was by Ben Martin. Bell J. Wiley, professor of history at Emory University in Georgia, was the historical consultant. The strip told the story through the eyes of two soldiers on opposing sides of the battle. Real-life personalities like Quantrill, Frank James, and John Wilkes Booth played their parts in the gripping serial.

I’m not sure how long the strip lasted but Giacoia began another strip “Thorne McBride,” commander of a nuclear submarine, on 31 October 1960. It was distributed by the Copley News Service of San Diego and was scripted by Kenneth Simms. Giacoia’s first comic strip was “Sherlock Holmes” and he was also active in comic books as an artist and inker for most of the major golden and silver age publishers. Probably the best work of Frank Giacoia’s long and prolific career.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Laredo Crockett

The Laredo Crockett comic strip opened with the perfectly drawn cinematic sequence at top and was deservedly popular with audiences for the next eighteen years. Both script and art were always top-notch and if he was not a seminal influence on the style of Alex Toth I’ll eat my Stetson. Bob Schoenke wrote and drew Laredo Crocket from June 12 1950 to January 27 1968. He had no assistants so the strip was discontinued after his death from the flu on January 13 1968. Between 1965 and 1967 Schoenke was drawing the long-running Jane Arden comic strip -- in a wild west locale. It was simply Laredo Crockett with a female heroine. Before beginning Laredo Schoenke was the artist/writer of the Jack Armstrong strip which also featured western themes.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Condo's Favorites

In APRIL 1969 Alley Oop artist V. T. Hamlin and assistant Dave Graue paid tribute to Armando D. Condo in a continuity that began as an investigation of a haunted house and ended with Condo’s characters Osgar and Adolf and Everett True returned to 1911 and their own comic strip via Professor Wonmug’s time machine. Any reader not in their fifties or sixties at the time must have been bewildered until the ‘history’ was explained.

Hamlin was wrong in his dates however -- all of Condo’s characters, Osgar, Adolf and Everett True were created and ran in alternating cartoons in 1904. Osgar and Adolf originated as a single panel with “Lyrics by Fred Schaefer and Music by Condo” and in time became a multi-panel strip. That may have been the point of the December 6 1911 strip below where Osgar and Adolf recruit Everett True to pound on base imitators Mutt and Jeff who had their beginnings on November 15 1907 when A. Mutt was introduced to the sports-page of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dorman H. Smith (1892-1956)

Dorman H. (Henry) Smith began drawing editorial cartoons for Cleveland’s NEA Service in 1921 then left in the early thirties for Chicago’s Herald Examiner. Smith was replaced by Herblock in 1933 and when Herblock began his service in the Army in April 1943 Smith returned to NEA. Herblock’s politics had been at odds with the viewpoints of the VP at NEA, Fred Ferguson, who took a personal vindictive hand in editing his cartoons, while Smith, an anti-Roosevelt Republican was more in tune with Scripps/NEA’s isolationist editorial policies.*

Smith was self-taught and sold his first drawing to Life magazine when he was 17 years old. During this early period he worked in Cleveland’s steel mills to augment his cartoon earnings. His cartoons appeared in more than 700 newspapers in the US and Canada. In 1924 he accompanied Hemingway to Pamplona, Spain.

Smith worked in a studio at the Cleveland office of the NEA, reading newspapers, magazines, and following the wire service as research for his political cartoons. His watercolor paintings earned him numerous prizes and he was a member of the Cleveland Society of Artists and San Francisco’s famed Bohemian Club. He won numerous awards for cartooning and in 1950 was awarded the George Polk Memorial award presented by the journalism department of Long Island University for his two 1949 interviews with Stalin.

As far as I know the short lived ‘The Gremlins’ was his only strip. These samples are from February and March 1943.

*Many thanks to Warren Bernard, author, collector and Herblock lecturer.

Home Sweet Home

Home Sweet Home by H. J. Tuthill, 9 August 1922 and 26 August 1922.This strip was begun in 1918 and was retitled The Bungle Family in 1924.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Hard-boiled Heroines

Hard-boiled Heroines; or, Crime, Sex, and Crinoline in the Penny Dreadfuls

“If Madame Tussaud could conceive a series of waxwork figures which would begin by looking like virtuous and lovely waxworks and end by turning into wax murderesses, she would have accomplished in wax all that homicidal-heroine-makers accomplish ordinarily upon paper. As a matter of taste we prefer the waxworks to the murderesses with Balmoral boots and devilish eyes that stare at the public out of so many works of fiction. They are quite as natural and they do not degrade fiction.”

- Homicidal Heroines. The Saturday Review April 7, 1866.

The Saturday Review critic was referring to Mary Braddon and her 3-volume imitators. If, however, he had checked the news stalls, it’s likely he would have been rendered speechless at the catch-penny works enticingly displayed in the finger begrimed windows and would have fallen into a comatose swoon whilst perusing the hot-blooded text contained therein.

For a number of years Mary Braddon has been a hot topic in feminist studies, strange then that the strong resourceful (and often homicidal) women of the penny dreadfuls have been neglected by Victorian academics. James Malcolm Rymer’s 1858 The Sepoys; or, Highland Jessie (later reprinted in Every Week ) is a wonderful romance featuring a gutsy two-fisted kilted Scottish Wonder Woman as the heroine of the Sepoy Mutiny. Rymer’s women were handy with guns, knives, and poison and rode their horses like men.

Ritchie’s New Newgate Calendar, an eight-page weekly penny dreadful of 1864, contained “Horrible Murder and Mutilation of John Hayes by his wife Catherine,” “The Diabolical Career of Mother Brownrigg, the Fetter-lane Fiend,” and “Vicissitudes of Jenny Diver, the Female MacHeath,” all dolled up in “magnificently coloured wrappers.”

Other “crime and crinoline” titles on sale throughout the sixties were Jack Harkaway author Bracebridge Hemyng’s The Women of London Disclosing The Trials and Temptations of a Woman's Life in London With Occasional Glimpses of a Fast Career, the pseudonymous Rose Mortimer; or, The Ballet-Girl's Revenge Being the Romance and Reality of a Pretty Actress's Life Behind the Scenes and Before the Curtain By a Comedian of the T. R. Drury Lane, and Edward Ellis (probably Charles Henry Ross) Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, a satire on James Malcolm Rymer’s 1843 penny blood title Ada the Betrayed; or, The Murder at the Old Smithy.

It was no surprise that Victorian penny dreadful heroines took to the gun and the axe when we look at the trials they underwent in the hands of imaginative penny-a-liners. Women were stripped, whipped, kidnapped by lustful aristocrats, imprisoned by murderous nuns, and (in Fanny White and Her Friend Jack Rawlings, A Romance of a Young Lady Thief and a Boy Burglar) raped by hunchbacks.

Divine Providence and hidden inheritance, masks and faces and cross-gender dressing, the orphan raised in poverty who is really a Lord or a Lady, - these were the elements used time and time again by the dramatists and penny-a-liners of Victorian England, and the audience never tired of it. The best of the serial writers, James Malcolm Rymer, Charles Henry Ross and Edward Ellis, all serial writers for Reynolds’s Miscellany, used the cliches in every work and managed to make each story fresh and exciting. The reader who was familiar with the conventions knew what to expect and enjoyed the anticipation.

Rymer was the leading writer of penny dreadfuls from the beginnings in the 1840’s to the modern crop of writers appearing in print during the glory days of the 1860’s. He was particularly inventive in his use of the conventions of the form. The heroine of May Dudley; or, The White Mask is not even in reality May Dudley, she is Phoebe Carrol, whose mother took in the real May Dudley, who died, and Phoebe’s father substituted his daughter for the dead heiress. “-some day, as sure as this is sunlight that shines in upon us, the secret of my not being of noble birth will be discovered.” Rymer enjoyed overturning the readers expectations, his highwayman, the White Mask, is a woman, and her page Rachael, also known as Robert, dresses in the costume of a groom.

When May Dudley transforms herself into the White Mask the affinity with melodrama becomes apparent, even the word metamorphosis is reminiscent of the stage with its grandiose effects and transformations;

“That is all well,” replied May Dudley; and then she stood up in the barouche, and unclasped the Kamschatka mantle from her throat.
Released from that golden clasp, the heavy sable robe fell in a confused heap to her feet in the carriage, and revealed May Dudley, again in that same costume which she had worn in the Park on the night before.

The scarlet cloak, the rich lace trimmings, the faultless boots, and the cravat so full and so costly, with its long ends tucked carelessly into the breast of the embroidered vest.

Charming, as she there stood, with her own beautiful hair about her sweet face - a picture of youth, of gaiety, of love.

But the beauty was soon eclipsed.

She drew on that terrible, that hideous head-dress, the white mask, that at once covered up all the fair hair and the sweet, gentle, girlish face, that many a Court gallant retired to rest that night only to dream of.

The metamorphosis was complete.

The silken hat was straightened out and placed over the white mask.

The gauntlet gloves were put on.

May Dudley was no more; but in her place there leaped from the carriage the knight of the road.

The White Mask !’

Rymers luxuriant description of fashion was probably for the benefit of his female readers, but the disrobing and gender-change was obviously aimed at raising the blood pressure of the male.

When a mysterious packing-case shows up in her parlour and may Dudley observes movement from within she does not hesitate ;

“From the breast pocket of the scarlet coat she still wore beneath the Kamschatka robe she produced a pistol.

She levelled it at the packing-case.

She fired !

A yell burst from within the packing-case. The side of it fell to the marble floor of the hall and a hideous face appeared.

A robust man, with a physiognomy on which every vice had set it’s seal, rolled out of the case.

There was blood upon his face.”

The ugly burglar turns out to be the wondrously named Cloudy Carrol, May Dudley’s wicked father ! (Or is he?)

Edward Ellis’s The King’s Highway. A Romance of the London Road a Hundred Years Ago had a unique twist on the gender-bending serial heroine. His hero, Paul Clifford, the highwayman, dresses as a woman for a prison play and is set free by a puritanical prison warden who drives him out of prison like the snake out of the garden of Eden.

‘Within he saw a gay silk dress and a wonderfully gorgeous head-dress. “Come out!” he cried, in breathless anger, “Come out, I say ! Come out you painted Jezebel!”
But Paul thought it safer to remain where he was.’

Ellis wrote ‘Fanny White and Her Friend Jack Rawlings A Romance of A Young Lady Thief and a Boy Burglar,’ in which Fanny White escapes from a madhouse and robs a farmer with his own pistol. She steals his clothes and leaves him in a petticoat then dresses ‘in male attire - and uncommonly pretty she looked in it too,” and then relives Dick Turpin’s Ride to York on her mare ‘Black Prince.’ The Boy Burglar is much more bashful, he attends a masquerade with Mr. Gimp, and they choose costumes;

“Charlesh the Shecond, an Italian Brigand, a monk, a nobleman of the reign of Louish The Fourteenth? Shay the word.”

“I’ll have a monk’s dress,” said Mr. Gimp.

“Would your young friend like a female dress? He’s fair. He’d make a very pretty girl.”

Jack negatived this decidedly.’

Fanny is always hopping in and out of her clothes, dressed first as a man, then a woman, ad infinitum ;

“-it was not long before she had disencumbered herself of all these ugly impediments, and stood in the ruddy glow and genial warmth, adorned only by her own loveliness- but then, you know my heroine throughout has always been such a shocking slut.”

Jack is jailed and then escapes twice from Newgate. Near the end Fanny spies on a horrible hunchback as he roasts and eats a dead infant ;

“He dug his long, fang-like teeth into the flesh. (Only half-cooked!) Into the tender infant flesh. He snarled over it like a savage cur. He worried it ! He gnawed it ! Jagged it !”

After his meal he hears a sound, hides his meal , and engages in a knock down brawl with his bald scarecrow of a wife;

“ I should rather have liked to have seen them making love,” thought naughty Miss Fan.’

He poisons his wife, hacks off her head with a blunt knife, and then captures Fanny;

“With furious eagerness, he tore her apparel from her palpitating form. Her bosom rose and fell like a tempestuous sea. He strained her to his breast. His eyes glowed like burning coals. He glued his horrible blue and swollen lips to hers, red and pouting. He covered her lovely face and bare white bosom with passionate kisses.”

Fanny, with cool aplomb, slashes his eyes with a knife and then beats him unconscious with a poker.

Pseudonyms were a not unusual occurence in the Victorian Age. Jane Austens novels were by “A Lady,” The Bronte sisters wrote as Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell, Marian Evans wrote as George Eliot, Sir Walter Scott wrote anonymously, and Dickens was “Boz.” At the time Dickens wrote Pickwick, authors and theatre folk were thought to be disreputable characters, not suitable for mixed company. Women adapted masculine identities to avoid public censure, pseudonyms were adapted when authors had too much product on the market at the same time; and sometimes , as in the case of pornography and penny dreadfuls (sometimes considered the same thing) to conceal the identity of an author who sailed against the prevailing middle-class code of conduct.

Edward Ellis (pen-name of Charles Henry Ross and Ernest Warren) tongue-in-cheek parodies featured sex with hunchbacks , wicked murderous nuns who stripped captives and whipped them in stinking dungeons, a heroine who kept a brothel in Belgravia, women who bludgeoned men to death with hatchets, lustful princes, scions of the aristocracy, and degenerate street children. Under the prevailing social code Ellis would have been considered a bohemian pornographer and libertine on the scale of an Oscar Wilde.

Ruth the Betrayer is full of uncensored scenes. Here is a description of Ruth’s mansion party in Belgravia. Although not specifically identified in the dread as a brothel, Belgravia was notorious for its high priced prostitutes.

“A chosen few went to her mansion in Belgravia, and were acquainted with something of its inner mysteries. They had been presented, perhaps, at some of the wild and reckless orgies which were there of such frequent occurrence. They had seen and assisted in some of the revels where wine had flooded the table, women had gone crazy drunk, and the entertainment had subsided from frantic hilarity into bestial debauch.

Ruth had been present upon these occasions over and over again - had been as loud as any in her laugh - as lawless in her talk; but she had somehow or other always disappeared towards the close of the saturnial, and nobody could say what had become of her.”

The women were “beautiful bloodsuckers” with “Their scented hair - their moist red lips and pearly teeth - their fair white necks, swelling bosoms and voluptuous forms.” His romances were illustrated by two of the best artists in the business, Robert Prowse Sr. and Frederick Gilbert, talented brother of Sir John Gilbert, R.A.

It was obvious that Edward Ellis had read Bracebridge Hemyng’s article on Prostitution in Mayhew’s London Labour, which he used in Ruth The Betrayer under the chapter heading A Hot-Bed Of Juvenile Vice.-

“Wretched young thieves, lads with hang-dog faces and wisps of hair tortured into the corners of their eyes, were to be seen associating with, and treating to gin and beer, with their air of men of forty, little strumpets not more than twelve years old, whose faces already bore evidences of profligacy and intemperance, and whose language and behavior were revoltingly indecent.”

The penny dreadful heroines were no shrinking violets, Ruth is a frighteningly malicious woman, - in 411 double-columned pages of eye-straining print she decimates half the male population of London with gun, axe, knife and her bare hands. The bigamous heroines of Mary Braddon (with a nod at G. W. M. Reynolds) were mercilessly parodied throughout ;

“It was the head of a woman of no more than twenty - a pink and white faced beauty, with delicately chiseled features, and a clear, open, frank and honest face, over which, from time to time, there played a gentle smile of so much sweetness, one would scarcely have believed that it could have had birth save in purity and innocence.

But, oh ! who shall say what records of treachery and baseness were hidden beneath that fair, white bosom, which rose and fell as placidly as that of a sleeping babe ?

Who shall say with what black crimes was she not familiar - had she not herself committed - was she not doomed yet to commit, before her allotted race was run, and the lovely head, with its lustrous orbs of blue, its crimson pouting lips, and rich, soft, silken curls, should be in its last bed, beneath earth, and food for worms.

On, on the cab rattles merrily through the busy streets, alive with gay-hearted, careless holiday folks. the policeman nods and dozes, and the Spy, still smiling sweetly to herself, closes her eyes, and dreams of vengeance and death !

On, on ! She is on thy track, wretched, doomed one !

The she-leopard is on thy path !

See how parched are her lips - how hungry her eyes !

She is athirst for thy blood !

She is crouching for a spring, and will be on thee in another moment, rending thee limb from limb !”