Thursday, November 28, 2013

American Cornball; A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny

CHEERED ON by an anvil chorus of quotable comic writers like H.L. Mencken, Mort Walker, and James Joyce, writer Christopher Miller digs up the bones of America’s humoristic past with an autopsy of the obscure, forgotten, and unimportant clichés, tropes, memes, and comic stereotypes of American popular culture. With a cast of thousands, real and imaginary, reading this illustrated volume in one gulp can have a discombobulating effect on the brain. 

THERE ARE ninety-five entries in his new book American Cornball; A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny, covering the first two thirds of the 20th century with examples taken from comic strips, animated cartoons, radio, films, comedy shorts, postcards, Tijuana Bibles and cocktail napkin ephemera. The jokes, as the “formerly funny” in the title suggests, may not be all that funny to the modern reader, but with humorist Christopher Miller investigating we get an obsessively detailed and amusing examination of the nuts, bolts and brickbats of vintage stereotypical humor.

BROOKLYN based Miller’s previous novel Sudden Noises from Inanimate Objects was the Seattle Times Book of the Year; and his novel The Cardboard Universe was Huffington Post’s Best Book of the Year. American Cornball; A Laffopedic Guide to the Formerly Funny (Harper-Collins) will be available March 2014 from good booksellers everywhere.

FOR A PREVIEW of the type of humor found in American Cornball check out Christopher Miller’s illustrated Facebook page HERE.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Germ of the Detective Novel

Gaboriau’s The Widow Lerouge, illustrated by Louise L. Heustis, 1900.
A SHORT ESSAY — ‘The Germ of the Detective Novel’ by Henry Llewellyn Williams — published in The Book Buyer, Vol. XXI, August 1900 to January 1901, pp. 268-274. French writer Émile Gaboriau (1832-73) died when he was forty.


For more on Henry Llewellyn Williams, see HERE.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Palmer Cox, The Brownie Man

“I keep my pictures true to life, with the exception of the Brownies. Most of the places the Brownies describe I have visited and the pictures were either drawn from my own observations or made from photographic originals.” ‘Palmer Cox, Brownie Man, at 77 Hard at Work in East Quogue,’ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1917

by John Adcock

PALMER COX won worldwide fame so its a shame that Canada, the land of his birth (he also had American citizenship) should treat his memory so shabbily, as Montreal author Brian Busby notes in a recent blog-post — see A Dusty Bookcase. Cox was one of the most famous and recognizable cartoonists of the nineteenth century. Ironically the idol of the globe’s children had no babies of his own.

The portrait above, from The Bookman, Vol. 27, 1908, pictures a kindly looking gentleman but his cartoons often showed cruelty in regard to animals. But then, kids were tougher in those days and parents were strict. Before the turn of the century North Americans were mostly rural dwellers, and death was more visible than it is now. 

2 [Sept. 1893] The Ladies’ Home Journal

COX (b.1840) drifted from railroad work, art school and a stint as a jeweller to newspaper cartooning in California, before moving to New York about 1876 where he created The Brownies, which ran serially in St. Nicholas children’s magazine. The characters were also published in the Ladies’ Home Journal and were heroes of a short lived color Sunday comic strip. 

3 [1894] The Brownies

His first book was Squibs of California, or, Every-day life illustrated by Su Donim, published in San Francisco in 1874. This was followed by How Columbus Found America; In pen and pencil (1877), That Stanley (1878), Hans von Pelter’s Trip to Gotham (1879) and Comic Yarns (1888).

His memoirs were published (date unknown) as Frontier Humor; Some rather ludicrous experiences that befell myself and my acquaintances among frontier characters before I made the acquaintance of my esteemed friends “The Brownies.” 

Cox’s book Queer People and their Kweer Kapers; Birds that talk, giants that flee, beasts that think, insects that flirt, sprites that dance, with their various antics illustrated was published in Toronto, by Rose, in 1888. Queer People ran to three volumes.

4 [1885] Wisdom in Fable
Cox used woodcut advertisements in Harper’s Weekly and in newspaper columns to promote his neverending series of books. His serial comics appeared in Wild Oats and The Graphic. The Brownies were featured on posters and theatrical hoardings. They were a merchandising phenomenon to rival the later The Yellow Kid.There were thirteen Brownie books and two successful touring stage plays, Palmer Cox’s Brownies and The Brownies in Fairyland.

5 [Nov. 23, 1893]

“I had been brought up among Scotch people and had heard a great deal about the traditions of the Highlands, where they still believe in fees and hobgoblins. Brownies had always taken my fancy. They were intelligent, observing little fellows, who knew all about mortals and helped them when they were good. The Brownies could point the moral I wanted for my stories, so I utilized them. They were a new departure in literature and made a hit from the first.” ‘Palmer Cox, Brownie Man, at 77 Hard at Work in East Quogue,’ Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Dec. 16, 1896  

6 [1886] St. Nicholas

Palmer Cox, who was born at the Scottish settlement of Granby, Quebec, April 28, 1840, quit drawing The Brownies in 1918 and died at his home in Granby on July 24, 1924, when he was 84.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

“Aerial Alphabets” — The Age of Disfigurement

“…When street architecture disappears, when the metropolis becomes one vast expanse of aerial alphabets, when the dome of St. Paul’s and the towers of Westminster are intercepted by a gigantic web of posts and rails, the dullest soul will feel that a wanton outrage is being perpetrated. I went on cynically to reflect that someday or other the crazy structure would come down with a rush…” The Age of Disfigurement by Richardson Evans, National Review, October 1890.

 Illustration by Alfred Concanen (1835-86). The fold-out frontispiece to Henry Sampson’s A History of Advertising from the Earliest Times; Illustrated by anecdotes, curious specimens and biographical notes, lithographic stone print in five colors, 1874.