Thursday, March 19, 2015

Chalk Talk and Lightning Cartoonists

[1] J.W. Bengough.

by John Adcock  

IN an 1895 interview with Frank Beard the American artist claimed to have originated the chalk talk “about twenty years ago (1875).” Claims like this one should always be treated with suspicion; a case could be made that cave paintings might have been accompanied by lectures thus qualifying as chalk talks. The earliest lectures on caricature with diagrams would appear to be by the pioneering British/American cartoonist Frank Bellew as noted in Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper on December 28, 1861, as follows,
“We are glad to see that Frank Bellew, Esq., is about to make the public partake of his extensive knowledge of Comic Literature and Caricatures, by giving Lectures upon those subjects. The first is to be on Caricature, and will be illustrated by humorous diagrams made at the moment. 
The second will be on the London Punch which cannot fail to be of great interest, as he has been, and still is, one of its favored contributors and artists. When it is said that he is also the leading caricaturist of Frank Leslie’s Budget of Fun, we can add nothing more in his favor. His first Lecture will be given in New York.”
The earliest American chalk talkers seem to have entertained in churches, YMCA type organizations, and later Vaudeville. In England it was done through churches and Music Halls. In time the cartoonists took up the stage and lecture hall billing themselves as “lightning cartoonists.”

[3] An outdoor chalk talk by Charles L. ‘Bart’ Bartholomew.
A newspaper column from February 13, 1876, comments on Beard doing a chalk talk in a church in Wisconsin. A squib from the St. Louis Globe-Democrat on July 29, 1875, mentioned “Thomas Nast will chalk and talk again. Beecher will talk, but will not chalk. That is to say, each will lecture the coming season.” Canadian political cartoonist J.W. Bengough, of Toronto, Ontario, gave his first chalk talk with cartoons at the Toronto Mechanics’ Institute on March 20, 1874. He used black conté crayons “not much thicker than slate pencils” on white newsprint paper. Thomas Nast was his hero.

[4] Caricaturist Tom Merry.
The earliest chalk-talking cartoonists I have found in England were Tom Merry, billed as the “Lightning Portrait Delineator” in the May 28, 1876, theatrical paper The Era, and Edgar Austin billed as the “Lightning Cartoonist and Instantaneous Sketchist.” I found the following description of Austin in The Standard for March 5, 1879: “Edgar Austin’s lightning cartoons of well-known people are truly astounding.” Austin was the stage name of William Edgar Piercey or Piercy who died in his lodging on the Waterloo Road, Lambeth, at 32 years of age on February 28, 1893.

[5] Valda, the Lightning Cartoonist, Chums, May 9, 1894.
Other early British practitioners of the chalk mentioned in newspaper advertisements were Alfredo, “the Lightning Cartoonist,” who was featured in Pall Mall Gazette, Oct 22, 1899, and Erskine Williams, “the young  Lightning Cartoonist,” in The Era, Oct  12, 1889.

[6] Livingston Hopkins, 1892.
Bengough toured Australia with his chalk talk performance and in 1899 American/Australian cartoonist Livingston Hopkins of the Sydney Bulletin gave a humorous lecture on caricature in that city using chalk on a blackboard.

[7] Clare Briggs.
In 1913 May Van Dyke was in Vaudeville billed as the “girl lightning cartoonist.” Traveling medicine shows also had their performing cartoonists. Ludwig, an American lightning cartoonist of 1916 was billed as “21 years of age and 21 inches tall.”

[8] Neysa McMein.
By 1895 lightning cartoonists were ubiquitous in Europe and the Americas particularly among the artists of the comic supplements. Clare Briggs, Sidney Smith, John T. McCutcheon, Fontaine Fox, Frank Wing, Carey Orr, Frank King and Winsor McCay were the most illustrious names associated with lightning cartooning. McCay carried it further than most — he gave lectures while pointing his stick at animated motion pictures.

[9] Robert Ganthony.
The ancient entertainment is still ongoing although ink markers and paper have replaced chalk and blackboards. You can watch film of the great British lightning cartoonist Bill Tidy in action HERE and HERE.

[10] Winsor McCay.
[11] J.W. Bengough.
[12] Charles L. ‘Bart’ Bartholomew.
[13] Clare Briggs.
[14] Frank King.
[15] John T. McCutcheon.
[16] Sidney Smith.
[17] Sidney Smith.
[18] Reverend Phillips E. Osgood.
[19] Fontaine Fox.
[20] Charles Plumb.
[21] Sidney Smith.
[22] J. Stuart Blackton.
[23] Winsor McCay.

Random Recollections 
by Robert Ganthony (1899) HERE.

Chalk Talk and Crayon Presentations 
by ‘Bart’ (1922) HERE.

J.W. Bengough’s Chalk Talks (1922) HERE.

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