Sunday, October 28, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Li’l Ricky

by Rick Marschall

A Stir Is Born

“The child is father to the man,” and all that.

I recently unearthed a clipping from the Bergen Record, August of 1962. It was, and still is, the major daily newspaper of north Jersey, across the George Washington Bridge from New York City.

At age 13 I was already a comics fanatic, amateur historian, and collector. For some reason I loved the older comics from the start. A pattern – I like roots music better than contemporary forms of country and jazz. Older women, too, but that’s another column…

Anyway, for any of my friends and neighbors, or current readers, who doubted my love for the old-timers, in the photograph, li’l Ricky is reading a 1905 Hearst section with Happy Hooligan on the front page.

Hooligan is still my favorite comic strip, and F. Opper my favorite cartoonist. It is fun, sometimes, not to grow up.


Thursday, October 25, 2018

Sunday with Happy Hooligan


Chicago Examiner
May 2, 1909


Saturday, October 20, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Dwig and Billy Marriner

by Rick Marschall

1– Book illustration by Billy Marriner, from Billy Burgundy’s Letters (1902)

Dwig’s Rime Of the Ancient Marriner

(Clare Victor Dwiggins and Billy Marriner)

“Dwig” is a signature that was commonly seen in American comic strips, book illustration, and other cartooning venues during the entire first half the 20th century.

Clare Victor Dwiggins (1874-1958) drew magazine cartoons for Judge; a multitude of Sunday funnies for the New York World, Ledger and McNaught Syndicates, and various McClure syndicates; serious book illustrations and humorous drawings for books of aphorism and poetry; hundreds of comic postcards; a Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn feature that was licensed by the Mark Twain Estate; color strips for the Farm Journal and Ford Times; poster designs and sheet music covers; comic-book work, including in Supersnipe; and several children’s books written by August Derleth.

Some of his book illustrations and postcards (with his version of Gibson Girls) were racy for their day, but the consistent flavor of his work bespoke “native humor” – insouciant themes, freewheeling lines, and casual compositions. His top strip Footprints On the Sands of Time predated the birds-eye views and dotted passage lines of Bil Keane’s Family Circus.

2– Photo of one of the 17 x 20 inch letters from Clare Victor Dwiggins. 
As his work was figuratively all across the comics landscape, so were the places he hung his hat through the decades. He was born in Pennsylvania, and spent the formative years of his career, and those of the comic strip itself, in New York. He spent his last years in Pasadena (where he lived near the ranch of his friend, cartoonist J R Williams) and he died in North Hollywood. A fine treatment of Dwig and his work can be found by Jay Rath in Nemo magazine number 11.

During his time in New York he admired the work and became the friend of a fellow World cartoonist, Billy Marriner (1873-1914). Marriner, who earlier had drawn for Puck, was a public favorite and influential with other cartoonists. His wispy lines and  big-headed, good-natured characters, particularly kids, were trademarks of his style. Among his many strips for the World and the McClure syndicates were Foolish Ferdinand; Mary and her Little Lamb; Wags, the Dog that Adopted a Man; and Sambo and His Funny Noises.  

Responding to a fan letter in the 1950s, Dwig remembered Marriner: “Billy Marriner was tops. He tried to refine my ‘line’ and was responsible for the style I used in [the book] Crankisms, and the several books, similar, which I did at the turn of the century. The delicate line. I worked out of it, however, as I rolled along, to wind up with a heavy, black treatment, more like the beloved Zim [Eugene Zimmerman], who is my Hero No, 1. McManus, too, was influenced by Marriner’s light line. And he stuck to it.”

3– Portion of letter by Dwig, and two caricatures of Billy Marriner – full, pie-eyed, face; and at drawing board.
Dwig’s letters were as peripatetic as his his drawing style. He seemingly reached for, and wrote on, any paper nearby. One letter, also from the 1950s, was scribbled in  pencil on an enormous sheet of newsprint – 17 x 20 inches, then folded to fit an envelope.

I will trust to the miracles of new scanning technology, and the skills of YP’s good John Adcock, and hope that the images and scrawl of two “captures” are clear and legible. I share three drawings by Dwig of Marriner: a face and Billy at the drawing board; also a sketch of the diminutive Marriner trying to get his arms around his latest “big woman.” A photo of a wall-to-wall letter is on the subject of pen nibs, pencil types, and brushes he preferred through the years.

In the caricature of Marriner at his drawing board, you will notice that Dwig drew a bottle or flask on the floor. He was, unfortunately, as addicted to booze as he was to gargantuan wimmen. Unlike the innocent and friendly characters he drew, Marriner met a violent and horrible end. In Harrington Park NJ (the next town to where I grew up) he was in a frenzy about his missing wife, and was heard by a neighbor threatening to burn down the house and himself. Apparently drunk, he fired gunshots as his house indeed burned to the ground.

4– Dwig’s sketch from memory of Billy Marriner trying to get his arms around one of his large girlfriends – having fun at her expense.
Marriner’s strips were continued, in his approximate style, by the neophyte Pat Sullivan, a few years before Felix the Cat was created.

Them was the happy days, all ways around, as Dwig wrote.

5– The original artwork for one of Dwig’s glamour girl postcards.


Friday, October 19, 2018

Sunday With Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy
Chester Gould

Chicago Tribune
February 10, 1935
November 11, 1942

"I don't like (Bob)Fletcher's drawings at all. 
He hasn't captured Tracy's character. I'm very
disappointed." - Chester Gould

Ray Gould (L) brother of Chester Gould (R) helped with the lettering
 and story ideas for Dick Tracy using FBI and police text-books. 
Dick Tracy's Boss by Robert M. Yoder, 
Saturday Evening Post, December 17, 1949

Sunday, October 14, 2018

A Crowded Life in Comics – Gene Carr

by Rick Marschall

Carr became famous for his kids. They vaguely resembled those of Jimmy Swinnerton, but so did the characters of Dink Shannon and other cartoonists. Eventually they became constant cast members of Lady Bountiful’s adventure, and by the ‘teens virtually took over her strip.

A Used Carr Salesman

(Gene Carr, Pioneer Strip Cartoonist)

An early memory has reminded me, or begrudgingly persuaded me, that one of the wellsprings of my interest in cartoons was my first-grade teacher, when I was growing up in Closter NJ. 

(baseball drawing) Carr’s kids, ca 1908. He became so associated with gamins that a reprint book of his social-commentary cartoons in the 1920s was nevertheless titled “Kid Kartoons.”
Mrs Kuenlin was without a doubt one of the most unpleasant harpies I ever knew beyond the immediate circle of my wife’s family. In appearance, she looked like she had been weaned on a pickle, to borrow Alice Roosevelt Longworth’s description of Calvin Coolidge (in a dozen years I would get to know “Princess Alice” herself; Theodore Roosevelt’s colorful daughter). Anyway, Mrs Kuenlin was a blue-ribbon witch, probably planting the seeds of my subsequent detestation of classrooms and state education. 

I never saw her smile but once… and therein my tale.

Carr illustrated several books in the first decade of the century. These two, 1903 and 1904, were slightly naughty for the day.
One of my classmates’ mothers brought in a scrapbook of her father’s published cartoons. I remember: it was the work of Gene Carr, who at the turn of the century had drawn Lady Bountiful and other pioneering strips. He later drew the social-realist Metropolitan Movies for the New York World. And at this time, a few years before his death, he was still cartooning, selling gags to the Saturday Evening Post.

The scrapbook was never shared with us students, naturally. Even if my friend’s mom would have allowed it, Mrs Kuenlin would have withheld it just to disappoint the little inmates of Hillside School. But the effect of those cartoons on Cruella deTeach astonished me: Mrs Kuenlin’s face lit up; she smiled; she actually laughed occasionally.

“Down By the Sea,” early 1920s newspaper panel. Carr inherited the social-commentary panel “Metropolitan Movies,” originated in the New York World by George Rehse, and later drawn by Denys Wortman. They usually dealt in irony or pathos rather than laughs.

Gee. Cartoons could have that power.

After a Crowded Life as an avid collector – amassing piles of Gene Carr’s Sunday pages for Pulitzer and Hearst; scores of comic post cards; political cartoons and social-commentary cartoons for the dailies; Broadway shows based on his creations; and magazine cartoons into his nonage and my youngage – I cannot see his signature without the ancient but not faded magic associated with his name.

Gene Carr inscribed his “Chorus Girl” book to his fiancee – predictably with a sketch of one his famous Kids, not the Chorus Girl.

And the power of cartoons to make even gargoyles smile. 
Carr advertisement for the Photographer of Celebrities Pirie McDonald featuring his iconic Lady Bountiful, the comics’ version of the Gibson Girl. 1904. She starred in Sunday comics variously in the Hearst and Pulitzer papers before settling in the New York World.



Saturday, October 13, 2018

Segar Dead for 80 Years

by Chris Beneke

Eighty years after his premature death on October 13, 1938, at the age of 43, Elzie Crisler Segar’s corpus cries out for exhumation and re-examination.

Segar reclaimed his immortal comic creations, wasted for decades babysitting the kids, before the startled eyes of contemporary readers, thanks to not one but two Fantagraphics series reprinting Segars complete Thimble Theatre with Popeye, beginning in 1984 with a suitably shabby black-and-white-only eleven-volume series. The six-volume set with original newspaper colors produced earlier this millennium is definitive. In Segars deft hands, Popeye, Wimpy, and the rest were revelatory, imbued with surprisingly adult passions and moved to often hilarious results.

There's more Thimble Theatre without Popeye, however, than there is Thimble Theatre with Popeye by Segar, and the continued neglect of this earlier material tarnishes today’s claim to being a golden age of comic reprints.

This neglect will be partially corrected by the forthcoming Sunday Press compilation of nearly half of the pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre Sunday pages, at their original published size and in their original colors, including the complete two-year-long adventure of Castor Oyl and Ham Gravy cowboying out west. This sequence was a favorite of Bill Blackbeard (he counted 1,700 panels on its 104 pages; was he right?) and its ending, with Castor and Ham returning home to discover Olive on Popeye in flagrante delappo, marked Popeye's takeover of both Olives fickle affections and the Sunday page. Popeye had taken over the distinct continuity of the dailies on August 5, 1929, more than six months after his debut, minus a month when Segar had abandoned his immortal sailor as just another bizarre supporting player.

Segar, unlike any other classic American comic strip artist, still provokes audible, belly-shaking laughter. Even Herriman, who is certainly appreciated more now than when he was living, pales besides Segars wicked, occasionally deadly funnybone. Segar and his characters engaged with harsh realities, where oversized fisks smacked faces that stayed smacked. They made no retreat to magical mesas, where mice chase cats and poetical bricks, hurled with hate, land on heads with strange, platonic love. In Segars deserts, unlike Herrimans, vultures always lurk, waiting to eat or be eaten. Herrimans currency, printed on preciousness with whimsy, could never buy Wimpy a hamburger not today, not Tuesday.

Segar trucked in tougher stuff: Nature, of the aminal or hoomin kind, indifferent to the suffering of others, either satisfied or thwarted his protagonists raw drives and baser instincts. Amorality and criminality could be the answer, and often was, if survival was the question.

Segars bent for black humor enlivens his comics for modern audiences uniquely. No other pre-underground cartoonist is within shouting distance of his darkness, though Carl Barks, a Segar fan who, like Segar, concocted both long adventures and hilarious vignettes, passed through the neighborhood in his best duck stories, especially those produced during and after his second marriage dissolved.  

If that underground comparison seems specious, look again at Crumb’s early underground characters: They emerge from the same dank, bigfoot gene-pool from which Segar supped; Mr. Natural, much more a wiseass than Ahern’s lookalike nameless hitchhiker, and O. G. Wotasnozzle might not have been separated at birth, but they shared a mother.

Black humor was the descriptor used repeatedly by Bill Blackbeard in his multiple appreciations of Segar’s work. But this term was coined by Surrealist Andre Breton around 1940, in the airs of Segar’s last breath, for an anthology of the progenitors and proponents of this previously unnamed essential component of surrealist thought and art. Black humor, which fearlessly goes to extremes in pursuit of the liberating effects of laughter, survives as an idea, while surrealism (and its iterations) has been corrupted by misuse (e.g., since everything became surreal, whenever that was). That mysterious box shall be left unopened, unlike the other boxes from Uncle Ben Zene Oyl.

Three pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre runs of dailies, totaling a scant sixteen weeks, perhaps 96 strips (You count the panels!), have snuck into contemporary reprints since the early 1980s. Two of those sequences are from 1928, the year that Bernice the Whiffle Hen arrived, to be quickly followed by that whiffle-rubbing sailor man.

Blackbeard’s summary of the pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre storylines in Nemo #3 (1983) remains provocative and probably the most complete overview of that era of the strip, thanks to select reproductions of choice samples, including a few Popeye precursors who share his asymmetrical facial features but lack his personality. This issue also includes 15 episodes of Castor’s exasperating stint as a newspaper editor trying to hire a cartoonist. Blackbeard included a longer (24 total!) but jumbled selection of this sequence in Kitchen Sink’s Comic Strip Century (1995).

Fantagraphics’ first reprinting of the daily strips, The Complete E.C. Segar Popeye, Volume Five (1987), begins two months before Bernice’s arrival, the starting point for the dailies in the second complete reprinting. Ham Gravy is in conniving proto-Wimpy mode, wooing a rich old crone, and driving jealous Olive from delusional stalking into fits of lunaphobic madness.

The U.K.-published Popeye The 60th Anniversary Collection includes five 1924 weeks (January 22 through February 27) of the Blizzard the fighting bird story that had begun in 1923 and would end in early July.

In these earlier episodes, the nuanced characterization and more assured graphic stylization that would arrive with Popeye and Wimpy is missing, but the strange situations and idiosyncratic gags, all flaunting social niceties, abound, as do the laughs. Scour mounds of moldering newsprint for a similar achievement: You will find nothing.

The flowering of genius that birthed Popeye surprised even Segar; he seemed content to abandon the sailor man and wend his merry way, as he’d been doing for nearly ten years, in relative obscurity. Had Segar died before he birthed his sailor man, these earlier Thimble Theatre dailies would have already enlightened our world with their dark laughter, probably among Bill Blackbeard’s overly ambitious 1977 Hyperion Press re-printings.

Popeye and Wimpy reign as cartoon icons, transcending their original medium, and recognized worldwide like few other comic characters. But the talent, if not genius, that created them was evident years before: In similarly sharp scripts acted by understudies, dress rehearsals without superstars. A complete Thimble Theatre before Popeye is too-long overdue.

Thimble Theatre and the pre-Popeye comics of E.C. Segar

Introduction by Paul C. Tumey with essays by Jeet Heer and Michael Tisserand.

Available now for pre-order – books ship around November 1st

144 pages, 13 x 17 inches, $85

Order HERE

Friday, October 12, 2018

Sunday with Frank King

Gasoline Alley
Frank King
Chicago Tribune
July 2, 1933

July 24, 1938 advertisement

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sunday with R.F. Outcault

Clarence Rigby
R.F. Outcault

New York Herald
August 11, 1901

Saturday, October 6, 2018

The Last Word in Twentieth-Century Fun

–July 31, 1920

–September 22, 1917

–April 17, 1920

–August 27, 1921