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.


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