Thursday, February 28, 2019

Sunday with The Chicago Examiner

        SWINNERTON & OPPER         

 March 28, 1919 


Sunday, February 24, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Origin of the Collecting Bug

Cartoon by Orlando Busino about the Marschall Move from Connecticut.
by Rick Marschall

… or at least my variation of the bacilli.

This is not ancient history, but for the fact that I am ancient. The “origin tale” of how I fast-forwarded to a collection of comics, art, magazines, newspapers, and comics ephemera that fills a house, eight storage units, and corners of friends’ and relatives’ odd spaces.

When I was in first grade, I was already drawing cartoons at a feverish pace for my own enjoyment and, no doubt, the annoyance of neighbors and relatives. I had drawn as early as the first day I discovered which was the working end of a pencil and that it was not intended to probe electrical outlets.

My father was never a cartoonist, never even attempted to draw that I saw. But he was an inveterate cartoon fan. As a teenager he read and saved the cartoon weekly Judge magazine (ironically, when we moved from Ridgewood, Queens, in New York City, to north Jersey, he sold his collection despite transitioning to a larger space that could house them). On Sundays he bought a dizzying array of newspapers, just to read all the funnies he could. Some papers’ main sections he never opened.

We subscribed to the New York Times, the only comics apostate; and the local Record out of Hackensack. (Eventually I was a Record newsboy, and I requested a route that included Al [Mutt and Jeff ] Smith’s house, though it was half an hour by bike, and required me to take more than 100 houses in between.) But Dad subscribed to the Sunday editions of the New York News, the Journal-American, the Herald-Tribune, and the Mirror. Back in New Jersey, we took the Newark Star-Ledger, the Newark News. He induced my uncle to save the funnies of the Long Island Press; an old army buddy saved the Atlantic City Press (which carried all the NEA strips), and friends in Philadelphia saved the color funnies of the Inquirer and the Bulletin.
By the time I was 10, thanks to my father, I probably tracked more comics than Editor and Publisher’s annual syndicate issue. Dad also went to out-of-town newsstands in Manhattan and routinely picked up funnies from far and wide – Chattanooga was exotic to me because its Times bore a resemblance to The New York Times (it also had been founded by Adolph Ochs)… but overflowed with color comics: the only paper I discovered that ran a Standard and Tabloid color section every Sunday. So I had them all, and still do, from black-and-white Sunday sections of newspapers whose unions had not yet bled and struck them to death, to garish Rotogravure sections so shiny I could comb my hair by them.

One can see how my comics and collecting appetites both were nurtured. Of course I saved all these funnies, and was a prototype of the Hoarder of current cable-TV celebrity. My mother used to mutter that her house was turning into the Collier Mansion – that era’s disparagement of collecting, an invidious comparison to a Manhattan brownstone inhabited by two eccentric brothers and such an accumulation of ephemera that callers (eventually, first-responders) could scarcely gain entry. I politely declined the compliment, because I did not save things indiscriminately. For instance, gum wrappers were beyond my ken. At least most of them. Or some of them. Theoretically.

Anyway, my father continued to enable this addiction. When I left home for college – and every day until he died – he dutifully cut the daily comics, too, from the papers where he lived, and saved them with the Sundays for my next visit. Needless to say, he read every comic, and liked discussing them all. The ones that made him laugh out loud most often were Bob Montana’s Archie and Dick Brooks’ Jackson Twins.

So I built a respect for otherwise “normal” people who liked comics, or certain comics, and liked them obsessively. My father-in-law knew the details of every one of Prince Valiant’s adventures. My boss in my first political-cartooning job (William Loeb, HQ’d at his chain’s flagship paper, The Manchester (NH) Union-Leader, used to take time to call me or write notes discussing plotlines in Steve Roper or the gags in Hagar the Horrible. Occasionally Charles Schulz called my house, to do no more than pick my brain about an old strip, or chat about – often venting – contemporary strips.

Cartoon by gag cartoonist Herb Green about the Joy of Moving a Collection...
The collection grew to such a size that it has become a logistical nightmare to move it when I move to new houses. More than two 4-foot moving vans. It is something of a splendid distraction – for a fan, a good problems to have? – but for my cartooning friends, a bit of a subject for merriment.

A couple of drawings, here, done by friends Orlando Busino and Herb Green, when we moved from Connecticut to Pennsylvania. Moving van gags, even almost 35 years ago...


Monday, February 18, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

The Other Crime-Strip Cartoonist Gould  

( Red Barry’s Creator )

IDW Publishing, 2016
by Rick Marschall

I have elsewhere told the story of Will Gould and Red Barry. In the first incarnation of Nemo magazine I ran a full daily episode of the hard-boiled detective strip. For Fantagraphics Books in 1989 I expanded the look back in a paperback compilation of four Sunday stories. The nascent revival of Nemo will reprint a number of Will’s garish, Expressionist, tabloid-infused Sundays.

That book also featured an essay I commissioned of Walter Frehm, Will’s admiring but frustrated assistant.

So I have written of Will Gould and Red Barry; and I shall write more of Will and Red, but here I will share a little story about meeting the cartoonist.

I am calling him “Will” here not just because I knew him, but to carefully differentiate between two cartooning Goulds of the 1930s who specialized in detective comic strips. Chester Gould and Will Gould even had another connection – having struggled in the Hearst bullpens of the 1920s. Chet had knocked around the King Features bullpen; drawn Fillum Fables, one of several attempts to topple Ed Wheelan’s Minute Movies at its own game. In a final move he voluntarily drew up episodes of Plainclothes Tracy for the Chicago Tribune, and the rest is history.

Will similarly knocked around – the Bronx Home News; the New York Daily Graphic; the New York Mirror; King Features Syndicate.  Along the way he drew sports cartoons, race-track comic strips, gag strips, illustrations.

Their similarities pretty much ended there. Chet was a WASP; Will (and his brother Manny, a pioneer animator) Jewish. Chet was preternaturally ambitious, even after he was at the top of his game and fame; Will always had a chip on shoulder, a punk attitude of the pool halls and race tracks he haunted. Chet hired assistants to help him with guns, polygraph machines, and backgrounds; Will hired his assistant so he could play golf more often.

Assistant Frehm recalled how Will Gould was practically suicidal, as a “working” cartoonist, after they moved to California, forever late with deadlines and creative with excuses.

The birth of Red Barry, as I said, has and will be told elsewhere. Frustrated that Chet Gould slipped away from King Features and created a big hit – unlike, say, E C Segar, who toiled on the plantation for a decade before Popeye entered the world – KFS President Joe Connolly (and his comics adviser Lee Falk) swamped the field with not one but four rivals.

Secret Agent X-9 was created, with Dashiell Hammett as the writer and, after Will Gould’s art seemed inappropriate, young Alex Raymond as artist. Gould’s own submission Red Barry was launched (one wonders whether the “Gould” signature upped his chances). The local Boston strip Pinkerton Jr was transformed into Sergeant Pat of the Radio Patrol. And, in a junior-league version of Hammett’s X-9, the pulp mystery writer Edgar Wallace was invited to script Inspector Wade, drawn at first by Lyman Anderson, later a close friend of mine who attended my daughter’s baptism.

I have gum-shoed from memories to history. The future Nemo profile will tell the full story; and share full stories. How I first met Will was connected with Bob Weber Sr., creator of Moose (now Moose and Molly) and my first trip to the San Diego Comics Convention, 1976.

A drawing of Moose and Chester Crabtree done for me recently by Bob Weber.
Bob, one of the most colorful of cartoonists, and a cartoon fan himself, loves meeting cartoonists, talking about cartoons, even to the extent that his own deadlines frequently are threatened. In Mort Walker’s reminiscences he told stories of Bob feverishly inking dailies on the train from Westport CT to New York; or inking them in a friend’s speeding car; or finishing the lettering on a counter at Grand Central Station, all to deliver them “on time” to King Features.

Comicon was no different. Bob flew from New York, so not to miss the event; I took the train from Chicago, an interesting excursion, and we met up in San Diego. Sort of. Bob was so late with his strips that he spent almost the entire week in his hotel room, readying them for Special Delivery.

Oddly, or appropriately in Weber-World, Bob was as free as a lark after Comicon. So we snaked our way up the coast for a week, visiting cartoonists, bookstores in Los Angeles (I scored a run of CARTOONS Magazine from the ‘teens at Cherokee) and, basically, watched the clock tick down until Bob was late again on Moose.

Somehow Bob had gotten to know Will Gould, then living in retirement, I think in Santa Monica. It was an apartment or motel, or a former one-or-the-other. Sort of like the modest place that the retired Stan Laurel lived in, also in Santa Monica. So it was easy for Bob to arrange a visit; especially since Will asked us to pick up some groceries before we arrived.

I was coached that Will likely would be a little prickly – or, if not, outright grouchy. That he would pretend to be bothered about “the past”… but in fact loved reviving memories and legends. He was everything that Bob forecast. The grouchiness added to the long afternoon’s colorful memories. Will talked about his brother; he answered questions about the King bullpen and Hammett – who supposedly consulted with him about continuity writing, but wound up preferring to get drunk together – and how he was the first to bestow the nickname “Schnozzola” on Jimmy Durante.

In Will’s telling, it was not enough to brag about originating the famous moniker. He had to complain: “I never got a penny for it!”

Drawing of Red Barry that Will Gould did for me.
Bob pulled out items from his own bag of tricks. He is the most versatile kidder, bluffer, teaser; and his hulking 6-foot-5 (or so) size keeps people from challenging him. Straight faced, only slight smile. I have watched him flummox clerks and wait staff, and have swiped many of his routines.

So, before we left Will’s apartment that day, the cartoonist wanted to share something from the top shelf of a closet, and he asked Bob to get it down. As he did, Bob said, “Will, if you weren’t so extremely short, you could get this yourself.”

OK, maybe you “had to be there.” But Bob knew how to tease and get a rise out of Will – who was not extremely short. He was extremely old, so it was a reasonable request. But, oh, did Will explode. Even as we left the second-floor apartment, after a nice afternoon, Will Gould was still hopping and shaking his fist: “You big hick! I am not extremely short!” Bob laughed for a couple days… as a matter of fact, still does.  The humor was not in “short,” or objecting to the favor, but the use of “extremely.”

On my subsequent solo visits to Will, he remembered that closet-shelf bit too, but without Bob Weber’s chuckles. When all was said and done, however, Will Gould was the type of guy who used to populate Tin Pan Alley, speakeasies, betting parlors, and corners of tabloid newsrooms – he was the “type” because he was one of them – and was kind of happier kvetching than kvelling.

The “edge,” if it can be called that, contributed to the edginess of Red Barry – a lost masterpiece of hard-boiled crime and violence in comic-strip context, of action and extreme characterization, pure film noir, or as close as the comics ever got, including in the hands of Will Gould’s buddy Dashiell Hammett.

Friday, February 15, 2019

DAILY MIRROR comic strip series index — Now Available in 2019 Update

Can You Beat It?, Jack Monk, Mar 20, 1937
The DAILY MIRROR comic strip series index has now been updated until January 26, 2019 (previous version was done a year ago, on February 3, 2018) and there were some changes in the Daily Mirror’s comic strips line-up during 2018 after the previous update, so now the newspaper has even less strips...

Also new is the addition of the two old strip-like features by Jack Monk from 1936 and 1937 (“Can You Beat It?” and “Behind the Scenes...”). These two comic features are now included in the Index because of the artist’s significance and also because they have never before been referenced with any dates, even partial.

DAILY MIRROR comic strip series index 1904-2019

Sunday, February 10, 2019

A Crowded life in Comics –

The Cat Who Walked
( Otto Messmer )

A sketch that Otto drew for me. So many coincidences in my Crowded Life in Cartooning – I later visited Joe Oriolo, who managed Felix after Otto’s retirement. A high-school crush of mine, Janet Ralston, later a TV news anchor, had dated Joe’s son.

IT WAS SERENDIPITY, for a young fan of comics and cartoons, to grow up in the New York City area, as I did. I wrote sincere fan letters to cartoonists out of the region, and usually received gracious responses; and some of those letters resulted in invitations that, thanks to my indulgent parents, often led to visits.

Among the long-distance replies to fan letters, I received letters and signed artwork from the likes of Charles Schulz, Frank King, Gluyas Williams, Bill Freyse, Lank Leonard, Crockett Johnson, and Jack Kent.

But closer to home, in New York City, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Long Island, the streets and woods were full of cartoonists. Those who were not available for the world to discover in phone books – O halcyon days – like Rudolph Dirks, John Bray, and Gardner Rea, the cartoonists I did know as a young guy, were happy to make invitations. Like a happy game of telephone, cartoonists recommended me to friends and associates they knew.

Evidently I was just on the right side of Pestering to merit this networking. Indeed I tried to be polite, and I unconsciously honed my interviewing skills, wanting to do more than stare admiringly at my heroes and assorted legends.

One day my initial mentor, Al Smith of Mutt and Jeff, told me about a cartoonist who lived in nearby Fort Lee NJ, with his daughter. Maybe I didn’t know his name, but surely I knew his work – Otto Messmer of Felix the Cat.

Surely I did. I knew his work on the King Features strip, because he eventually was allowed to sign it; but his longtime work in his amazing style stretched back to the 1920s in my collection of old funny papers. And I was aware of his pioneer work in animation.

I even had examples of cartoons he signed in the ‘teens, for the New York World comic magazine Fun; and for Judge.

… which items I brought with me, you can be sure, when I visited him. Otto was as a gracious as any of the cartoonists I met, and immediately invited me to visit when I called and introduced myself. Fort Lee is at a terminus of the George Washington Bridge (and has a fascinating history itself, “America’s First Hollywood,” where many early movies such as The Perils of Pauline serials were filmed, before the studios moved to Astoria, Queens; and Long Island; and then California) and was close enough to me parents’ home that frequent visits were comfortable. And comfortable visits were frequent.

Photo of Otto Messmer at the drawing board during one of my visits. 
I HAD CAMERAS and sketchbooks in hand, but I regret never taking notes nor recording our conversations. Curse my foggy memory, but had stories of cartooning even before he met Pat Sullivan, of Felix in the early days (maybe before Sullivan himself – see what I mean?), of a train ride with Walt Disney and their wives, discussing early conceptions of Mickey Mouse…

Otto was kind, gentle, and modest – every one of the characteristics to the nth degree. It was evident there was no “shadow of turning” in him, no embellishments of what was a fabulous career. Most of that career was spent in anonymity, signing Suillivan’s name, or none, to his work for decades.

Except for some forgotten footnotes, rather momentous to the histories of comics and cartoons, I have a passel of memories of a modest genius, generous with his time and friendship. A retired cartoonist living in his daughter’s house.

Behind the kindly smiles and his self-effacing memories, there sat the man who created one of the century’s iconic animated heroes, favorite of generations of children. He spun stories of whimsy, comic adventures, and plots that were both vivid and hilarious in ways that could exist on the screen and comic pages.
Otto Messmer’s artwork – anonymous, as usual – 
during the glory days of Felix. 
I THANK GOD for the Good Neighbor Policy among cartoonists during my youth!


Friday, February 8, 2019

Sunday with Hal Foster –

Vancouver Sunday Sun
April 24, 1954

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Sunday with Arch Dale –


August 29, 1925


Saturday, February 2, 2019

New Reprint of Ruth the Betrayer –


The first 8-page installment of Ruth the Betrayer; or, the Female Spy appeared on London newsstands on February 8, 1862, price one penny. The entire text, along with the complete wood-engraved parts illustrations by W.H. Thwaites, have been carefully edited by Dagni A. Bredeson, a professor of English at Eastern Illinois University and brought back to life by Valancourt Books in a handsome affordable reprint. 

Ruth The Betrayer is one of the greatest of all penny dreadfuls, and a long one at 416 pages, or 52 penny numbers. This modern edition runs to a fat 1119 pages with an appreciative introduction by Bredeson and two near contemporary articles in the appendix:

Anonymous, “Something  About Working Men, By One Of Themselves,” The Argosy, Sept 1, 1868
James Greenwood, “Penny Awfuls,” St. Paul’s Magazine, Vol XII, 1873

The author was “Edward Ellis,” and Dagni Bredeson writes that “it has been argued” that Charles Henry Ross was the author. I should point out that it was myself doing the arguing (I was a consultant on the book) and Dagni is cautious about making the claim (and quite rightly so) since there is no absolute proof.

George Vickers published a penny dreadful on August 2, 1863 with the long title Fanny White and her Friend Jack Rawlings, a Romance of a Young Lady Thief and a Boy Burglar, including their Artful Dodges, their Struggles and Adventures; Prisons and Prison-breakings, their Ups and Downs; and their Tricks upon Travellers, Etc., Etc. by The Author Of “Charley Wag.” Following a scene where Fanny addresses a religious society with a sex talk followed by an erotic fandango, the author of Fanny White states in the text on page 153;

“Those who kindly followed the fortunes of Master Charley Wag, a hero of mine who made a very successful debut some time ago in society, and of pretty Mrs. Ruth, the female spy and betrayer, will allow, I think, that I have somewhat freely exposed religious hypocrites. In Charley’s life you had a show-up of the “shepherds.” In Ruth’s adventures you had some rather singular details respecting London nunneries.” 

“Ruth” was Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy by Edward Ellis (the author of “Charley Wag”) published by John Dicks, No. 1 appearing February 8, 1862. The Halfpenny Gazette, whose proprietors were G. W. M. Reynolds and John Dicks, ran a serial called The Felon’s Daughter; or, Pamela’s Perils: a Romance of London, from the Palace to the Prison, by G. W. Armitage on March 15, 1862 and The Daughter of Midnight; or, Mysteries of London Life, by the author of “Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy” commenced with No. 21, July 25, 1863.

When The Felon’s Daughter was published in penny parts by John Dicks the title-page of the bound volume stated that it was “by the author of “Daughter of Midnight.” Thus “Edward Ellis,” was also “G. W. Armitage,” and “George Savage.” Based on my notes and reading of Charley, Ruth and Fanny, and comparing those with over 20 texts written under the name C. H. Ross I reached the conclusion that all three were were pseudonyms used by Charles Henry Ross (creator of the celebrated Ally Sloper) and his collaborator Henry Warren.

The title of Ruth the Betrayer; or, The Female Spy, was surely intended to invoke James Malcolm Rymer’s 1843 penny blood title Ada the Betrayed; or, The Murder at the Old Smithy. It was also a parody of the homicidal heroines made famous by Sensation novelists like Mary Braddon in books like Lady Audley’s Secret. A writer in The Saturday Review in 1866 referred to these as “crime and crinoline” romances. “Edward Ellis” was able to combine humor and horror in a manner that makes the serial adventures of Ruth Trail, Death’s Head, Jack Rafferty, Eneas Earthworm, Alice Tevellyan, Charley Crockford and the Cadbury Kid a thrilling and amusing book to curl up with when the winter wind is howling at the outer door. Ruth the Betrayer is a fantastic addition to any Victorian bookshelf.

Ruth the Betrayer is available now on Amazon or from Valancourt Books