Friday, June 29, 2012

Wild Oats (1870-81) – edited by George Small, aka Bricktop

Wild Oats – subtitled “An Illustrated Weekly Journal of Fun, 
Satire, Burlesque, Hits at Persons and Events of the Day.”
cover by C.J. Howard, No. 28, Vol. III, April 11, 1872.
      by Richard Samuel West

The dominant humor magazine in America in the 1870s was Wild Oats. When it was launched as a monthly in February 1870, in New York, it joined a crowded field. Four other folio monthlies were by that time well-established. Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun (1859-78), The Comic Monthly (1859-81), and Phunny Phellow (1859-73) were all over a decade old. The Jolly Joker (1866-78) was nearing its fiftieth issue. None of them was particularly healthy (though the Budget of Fun was still the best of the four), but New Yorkers were well accustomed to seeing them around town. There were also three comic quartos that vied for the railroad passenger crowd, Yankee Notions (1851-75), Nick-Nax (1856-75), and Merryman’s Monthly (1863-75). They had all seen better days. So when Wild Oats hit the newsstands it actually stood a good chance of success.

It was edited by 35-year-old George Small, aka Bricktop, perhaps the most prolific comic writer of the post-Civil War period. Born in Maine, raised in Massachusetts, the eldest in a family of nine children, Bricktop earned his sobriquet due to his shock of (rapidly thinning) red hair. He was a gentle humorist, a specialist of the mildly amusing yarn told at a glacial pace. Previously he had been the editor of The Jolly Joker, both when it was owned by the Leslie brothers, Alfred and Henry, and then after they sold it to their father Frank Leslie in the summer of 1868.  Bricktop had joined with the advertising manager of The Jolly Joker, Jinks Winchell, to establish Wild Oats. Winchell was a half-dozen years younger than Bricktop. He (and his mother) boarded with the Bricktop, his wife, and child in a New York City rooming house.

Full-page comic strip, titled: “ ‘Turning Over a New Leaf,’ or,
Mr. Nogg’s New-Year’s Calls.” During its first four years 
or so Wild Oats printed a good deal of sequential art, 
some of it pirated, but most of it original.
The monthly appeared to prosper from the start. It was not a polished effort, but it exuded energy, which was more than could be said of its older competitors. It employed the drawing talents of Currier and Ives artist Thomas Worth, C.J. Howard (not to be confused with the more talented J.H. Howard), and the youthful Livingston Hopkins, fresh to New York City from his native Ohio. As a sign of its success, after two years as a monthly, the owners converted Wild Oats to a fortnightly, just in time for the 1872 presidential campaign. The magazine did not seem to care one way or the other about President Grant, but it vilified Horace Greeley. More talent came Wild Oats’ way. By the turn of the year, Mike Woolf, Frank Bellew, Frank Beard, and W.H. Shelton were contributing cartoons and John Harrington, writing as ‘John Carboy,’ and ‘Tom Wonder’ were contributing fiction.

In November of 1872, for reasons unknown, Winchell dropped out as co-owner and was replaced by 30-year-old John Collin (no ‘s’), a New York printer. Usually when this happened in 19th century journalism, it meant that the publisher could not keep up with the printing bills and in lieu of payment deeded over his share of the magazine to the magazine’s printer. While this seems the likely explanation for Winchell’s departure and Collin’s arrival, it would have been considered a surprising development since by all appearances Wild Oats was prospering.

In early 1874, James A. Wales, following in the footsteps of his fellow Ohioan Hopkins, began drawing for the magazine. Frank Bellew stepped up his contributions when The Fifth Avenue Journal, the Democratic weekly he had been working for, fell on hard times and eventually folded. On the literary side, sometime during the year, John Harrington became assistant editor. In October, Collin and Small converted Wild Oats into a weekly, making it the only comic weekly magazine in America at the time.

The staff of Wild Oats. Pictured on the left shaking hands 
are publisher John Collin and assistant editor John Harrington 
(‘John Carboy’). In the foreground is editor George Small   
(‘Bricktop’) greeting the Wild Oats fictional character ‘Elam.’ 
Waiting in line to say hello are the magazine’s artists, 
from left to right: Livingston Hopkins (with cane)  
Thomas Worth, Frank Bellew (in cape), a mystery figure,  
James A. Wales, and two other mystery figures.
The New Year’s issue of 1875 contains a wonderful full-page cartoon by Wales depicting the Wild Oats stable of writers and artists. Here we find caricatures of Collin, Bricktop, and Carboy. The artists stand in a line waiting to share New Year’s greetings with the editor. In order, they are Hopkins, Worth, Bellew, Shelton or Howard (?), and Wales. The man between Bellew and Wales is the only questionable identification. Shelton or Howard are the logical candidates for such a position of prominence, certainly in front of Wales, but pictures we have of an older Shelton, when he attained success as a fine artist, do not match the visage of the man depicted here. And we do not know what Howard looked like. This is a mystery to be solved another day.

Yet another Ohioan, Frederick Burr Opper began contributing cartoons in October 1875. His work figures prominently in the magazine in 1876, especially after Wales departed for study in Europe and Bellew fell ill for much of the year. Wild Oats pulled off something of a literary coup in August when it pirated a chapter of Mark Twain’s forthcoming novel, already published in England. It became the first magazine in America to publish ‘How Tom Sawyer Got His Fence Whitewashed’ in the August 23 issue, several weeks before Tom Sawyer was published in New York. In the fall, Wales joined the staff of Frank Leslie’s, replacing Joseph Keppler, who had left to found the German-language Puck. Not long after, Opper would join Wales at Leslie’s. By the end of the decade, both of them were lured away by Keppler to help him illustrate the increasingly prosperous Puck.

Wild Oats, No. 181, Vol. XIV, June 14, 1876 front page. 
Cover by F. Opper satirizing fellow cartoonist 
Thomas Nast’s anti-Catholic fixation.
In 1877, Collin and Small dissolved their partnership and Small resigned as editor. The loss of comic talent both literary and artistic hit Wild Oats hard. In September Collin converted the weekly back to a fortnightly. The contents grew more and more bleak, as the magazine spiraled downward. To save money, Collin began printing second-hand engravings, an increasing number of which were not even comic in nature, and the unpolished work of his wife, Lucy. In 1880, Palmer Cox’s work was being printed alongside the occasional cartoons by old stalwarts Bellew and Worth, but their bright contributions failed to mask Wild Oats’ otherwise seedy state. It limped along into 1881, when it was discontinued, unnoticed and unmourned. By then, Puck was lighting up the skies and the world of the American humor magazine would never be the same again.

[ Postscript ] Bricktop was not done. After departing Wild Oats, he formed a partnership with Frank Tousey, a story paper publisher, and they appeared to prosper. In 1881, they made a bold move to challenge Puck’s supremacy. Gathering the old staff of Wild Oats from its heyday, Bricktop and Tousey hired Wales away from Puck and enlisted the talents of Livingston Hopkins and Thomas Woolf, both freelancing at the time, to found The Judge. It was initially a success and all looked bright, but before long the new venture faltered. Tousey sold out, Bricktop moved on, Worth joined the staff of Texas Siftings, Hopkins absconded to Australia, Wales quit, and the magazine teetered on the brink. In 1886, however, it was purchased with GOP money by W.J. Arkell a newspaperman from upstate New York, and it roared once more to life. But that is another story. By then, Bricktop was gone, dying of consumption at the age of 51 on March 10, 1886. Aside from his countless books, he had steered the fates of three American humor magazines, The Jolly Joker in the 60s, Wild Oats in the 70s, and The Judge in the 80s. The Judge would last the longest (until 1947), but Wild Oats would be his crowning comic contribution. 

* Richard Samuel West’s new book Iconoclast in Ink; The Political Cartoons of Jay N. “Ding” Darling can be purchased HERE.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

How The Comickers Regard Their Characters, 1917

F. Opper, ‘Maud’, October 18, 1908
Cartoons Magazine, Vol. 11, 1917, ‘How The Comickers Regard Their Characters,’ pp. 470-476, and ‘Comickers and Their Characters - 2’, pp. 668-672, by William P. Langreich.

Collier’s, October 4, 1913 advert

Monday, June 25, 2012

Southward Ho!

‘Southward Ho!’ and ‘The Lure of the Golden Scarab!’ Billy Bunter, Harry Wharton & Co. travel to Greece and Egypt in search of the Golden Scarab in this two part adventure by Frank Richards, in The Schoolboy’s Own Library, Amalgamated Press Ltd., 1940.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Pokemon Graphics 1995-2001

The original ‘Pokemon’ manga was titled Pocket Monsters. Ash Ketchum’s adventures were serialized in the Japanese childrens magazine Koro Koro in 1995 and collected in book form. The artwork was by Kosaku Anakubo. Instead of Pikachu, Pippi (Clefairy) was the monster hero.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The London Miscellany

The London Miscellany, No. 2, February 17, 1866
The London Miscellany, vol. I, No. 1, was begun February 10, 1866. The editor (and possibly proprietor) was James Malcolm Rymer. The penny weekly was printed and published by Charles Jones, West Harding Street, Fetter Lane. Illustrators were Hablot Knight Browne (Phiz) and Robert Prowse.

The first serial,
‘A Mystery in Scarlet,’ by Malcolm J. Errym (Rymer), was illustrated by Phiz and ran through the first eighteen numbers. Errym also wrote the secondary serial ‘Emmeline: or, The Serpent of the Wreath.’ Frank Jay wrote that

“ ‘A Mystery in Scarlet' created a mild sensation at the time, and the late Robert Louis Stevenson offered a reward for a copy.”

It’s hard to understand why he held this serial in such high esteem. Rymer wrote better penny dreadfuls in ‘Edith the Captive; or, the Robbers of Epping Forest,’ and ‘The Dark Woman,’ both of which were borrowed from to produce the plot of ‘A Mystery in Scarlet.’

The London Miscellany, No. 9, April 7, 1866
‘The Withered Hand: A Story of Woman’s Love and Hate,’ by Julian St. George began in No. 9, April 7, 1866. It has been conjectured that Julian St. George was a pen-name of Charles Henry Ross but it may have been another Rymer authored serial.

The London Miscellany, No. 8, March 31, 186
If Charles Henry Ross did write for The London Miscellany he may have been the author of ‘Mr. Honeybun’s Proposals: A Serious Story for Maids, Wives, and Widows, Young Married Men, and Very Old Bachelors,’ a humorous serial of love and romance.

The London Miscellany, No. 7, March 24, 1866
‘The Fair Savage: A Story of an Indian War Trail,’ was written by William H. Hillyard. William Heard Hillyard was fairly prolific. He was the author of ‘Recollections of a Physician: Or, Episodes of Life, Collected from Thirty Years' Practice,’ and ‘Catalina; or, The Spaniard’s Revenge,’ published by John Dicks in 1847. A poster exists for a London Miscellany serial called ‘Mysteries of a London Convent,’ by author of ‘The Fair Savage’ which presumably appeared in the New Series. This would have been written by William H. Hillyard.
The London Miscellany, No. 15, May 19, 1866
On February 24, 1866, it was announced that a series of papers titled ‘London Revelations’ would begin, “...written by a gentleman who at our request undertook a tour of inspection among the outcasts of the metropolis.” The articles would include “the strange, the curious, and the terrible in the Dark Side of London.” They would also “serve to dissipate a few of the illusions engendered by clap-trap romances, especially among the younger class of readers.”

The London Miscellany, No. 17, June 2, 1866
On April 28, The Editor wrote under the heading LONDON REVELATIONS that

“...hitherto he has paid no attention to certain anonymous letters containing absurd threats, because he thought them to be beneath contempt. As, however, since the receipt of a letter dated the 5th of April affairs in one quarter have assumed a serious aspect, he begs to say that the proprietors of the LONDON MISCELLANY have placed the matter in the hands of their solicitor, and proceedings will forthwith be taken against the offending parties.”

The charade continued on May 5, when something incredible happened to the intrepid London author-reporter.

TO THE PUBLIC: Last week we announced a paper by the writer of the LONDON REVELATIONS, entitled “A Quiet Cup of Tea in the Haymarket.” The gentleman in question had promised to forward us his manuscript in the usual way, but at the last moment we received the startling intelligence that he was lying at his house in a very dangerous state, having been waylaid and brutally assaulted by a band of ruffians, upon whose traces, however, we are happy to say the police have at once been set by the writer’s friend, Mr. Addison.
For some time past both the Editor of this journal and the writer of the LONDON REVELATIONS have received a series of threatening letters, supposed to come from certain disreputable persons alluded to in a recent article called “The Happy Hunting Grounds,” and we can easily trace this last disgraceful outrage to the same source. We take this opportunity of informing the parties interested that we shall pursue the course we have laid down for ourselves, and the LONDON REVELATIONS will continue fearlessly to expose the various haunts of crime unhappily still existing in this metropolis. The article published this week in the LONDON REVELATIONS was, fortunately in our possession before the accident, and we sincerely hope that our talented contributor may so far have recovered during the course of the next few days as to be able to write the promised article about the Haymarket in time for the next number.

The last issue of the first series was dated June 9, 1866 (No. 18). An announcement appeared on the last page (288) that the first number of a new series of the publication under new management would begin on June 12, 1866. The editor’s (Rymer’s) office on that date is given as The London Miscellany, 1 Savoy Street, Strand, The Trade supplied at 147 Fleet street (Offices of the Newsagents Publishing company). The new or second series finished its run at No. 29, on December 29, 1866. 

The London Miscellany, No. 3, February 24, 1866
*The first 18 Numbers of The London Miscellany are online HERE.  
Originals from Indiana University.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Eugene Stratton (1861-1918)

 “Eugene Stratton”

Eugene Stratton was born Eugene Augustus Rühlmann on May 8, 1861, in Buffalo, New York. He began in Negro minstrelsy in 1871, age ten, in a duo known as The Two Wesleys. At fifteen he was traveling in a circus as ‘Master Jean’ until he became one of the Four Arnolds. In 1879 he was off to London as one of Haverly’s Original Mastodon Minstrels under manager Charles Frohman. In 1881 he joined the Moore and Burgess Minstrels (he married the daughter of Pony Moore), remaining with them until 1887. A year later he went solo, becoming one of the most popular music hall entertainers in Great Britain.

1879 advertisement – Mastodon Minstrels
Owing to his long residence in England Eugene Stratton was usually referred to as “the English coon singer,” or sometimes, “the colored Englishman.” He returned to New York in 1895 to perform a four week engagement at Koster and Bial’s:

“I am delighted to be back in New York, even for a few weeks. I have not recovered from my surprise at the changes in New York… I will sing ‘The Idler,’ my latest success; ‘Is Yer Mammy Always Wid Yer?’ and other songs.”

Songwriter Leslie Stuart
Eugene Stratton’s ineffable, plaintive, halting, and melancholy voice endeared him to the early record buying audience. In 1904 he recorded ‘Little Dolly Daydream, the Pride of Idaho’ (HERE) by Liverpudlian Leslie Stuart, composer of ‘Floradora,’ and ‘Tell me Pretty Maiden.’ Stuart recalled

“One of my ‘coon’ songs was called ‘Little Dolly Day Dream, Pride of Idaho.’ I have since learned that Idaho is not literally overrun with colored folk. I know as well as anybody else that the London Christy Minstrel type is nothing like the real thing. In fact, London is no longer deceived on this point. When we write ‘coon’ songs we idealize the colored man, just as Chevalier does the coster. Now, have you ever seen a coster going around Whitechapel making a nuisance of himself and weeping over ‘My Dear Old Dutch?’ Of course you haven’t.”

‘Lily of Laguna’ (HERE) was also a big hit. In 1911 he recorded ‘I May be a Millionaire,’ a song with no discernible Negro connotations at all. He died at Christchurch, Hampshire, on September 15, 1918, leaving £3100 in his will.

The following article, ‘The Song and Dance of the Coon’ by Robert Machray, was published in The Ludgate, Vol. IV (New Series), May-October 1897, pp.519-526.









‘Lily of Laguna,’  ‘Little Dolly Daydream' and  ‘I May be a Millionaire’ are available on ‘A Night at the Music Hall’ on JSP Records (UK) HERE.