Saturday, August 31, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

A Cartoon Archivist In Our Midst

 by Rick Marschall

Actually, a point of personal privilege, which most of these columns are, after all is said and done (or even before things are said and done).

I have worn many hats and pursued various pursuits in my vineyard toils -- writing, cartooning, editing, teaching; and in fields other than comics: cultural history; criticism; music; publishing; politics; ministry. Something has come along that actually combines several interest areas (or, I would hope to say, specialties).

I have been named Cartoon Archivist at the Theodore Roosevelt Center of Dickinson State University. The connected dots include history, cartoons, and… TR, a lifelong hero about whom I have written two books and many articles. I also serve on the Advisory Board of the Theodore Roosevelt Association, an organization I have addressed at conferences and for whom I write a weekly Facebook column on (surprise) Theodore Roosevelt and cartoons. In addition to all this, I named my only son Theodore.

I am happy with all these associations, pursued with evangelical zeal for a man I consider one of America’s natural wonders and national treasures. I have many thousands of vintage cartoons in which he is featured; and in fact for the TR Center I will engage in a “Cartoon-Off” with other scholars – displaying cartoons, explaining why we think they are significant (that is, good cartoons, not only good history!), and inviting attendees to discuss and vote. Bully!

I am not going to share contemporary cartoons here and now – but might do so in the future; and I invite readers of “A Crowded Life” in Yesterday’s Papers to forward questions, suggestions, and clippings in the Roosevelt category as in all other categories. Today I will just share a couple of TR images that are not cartoons (not supposed to be funny, that is), the “point of personal privilege,” portraits of TR that I have painted. This little corner of my life will continue as offerings for TRA auctions, and exclusively at the Western Edge Gallery in Medora, North Dakota, near Roosevelt’s cattle ranches.

So that’s it from Johnny Not-One-Note, sharing the news of an exciting opportunity. The Roosevelt Center is in the process of completing a remarkable project: gathering all possible Theodore Roosevelt materials – letters, articles, photographs, cartoons, and associated resources – all possible material from all over the world. Digitally. So, scholars will no longer have to trek to Harvard or to the Library of Congress or the Khartoum Institute, if there be such; as everyone, everywhere is digitalizing everything… the Roosevelt Center is arranging to be the go-to source of research material. And not merely as a vacuum-cleaner, but to provide annotation, background data, in fact metadata as much as possible. For this task they are assembling leading scholars, of which I am supposed to be one in the Cartoon Category.

Again, I welcome feedback and suggestions. One of the joys of this new gig is that I work from the office I currently clog; my current projects, and other future projects, will continue unabated; and that among those pursuits are the revival of Nemo magazine and the weekly strolls through this “Crowded Life” series.

No. 51

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Multi-Panel Caricature in The Scourge –

George Cruikshank

The Scourge and Satirist; or, Literary, Theatrical and Miscellaneous Magazine was a text magazine published monthly in London by J. Johnston, and the strips were steel-engraved foldouts that came with the original periodicals. The Scourge published Cruikshank's first professional works. The editor was “Mad”
  Jack Mitford.

John Bull's Three Stages; or, From Good To Bad & From Bad To Worse, George Cruikshank, March 2, 1815

A Paradice for Fools; – A Nocturnal Trip-or-The Disciple of Johanna benighted, Sept 1, 1814. This is not George Cruikshank, like the previous. The print is not signed but the publisher is noted: W. H. Jones
Nebuchadnezzar's Dream, George Cruikshank, July 1815
Napoleons trip from Elba to Paris, & from Paris to St. Helena, George Cruikshank 3-panel plate, Sept 1815. The plate was folded to fit into the bound volume.
Early sporting cartoon by Geo. Cruikshank, steel-engraving, The Scourge, Oct 1815

Monday, August 26, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Cartoonists Who Paint.
[Charles Dana Gibson 1890s]
by Rick Marschall

Well, we have reached the half-century mark! Not myself – I wish – and a couple columns until the one-year anniversary, another milestone; but 50 Crowded Life in Comics peregrinations of events I have witnessed or been party to, and characters I have met, both inky and human.

A little diversion in this encyclopedia of diversions, here. Some items from my walls, the best of friends in my daily “life.”

Many cartoonists are frustrated or aspiring painters – and vice versa, believe me – and many cartoonists paint on canvas, or they sculpt, whether as creative cobweb-clearing pursuits or because they are darn good at yet another form of expression. And we all should be aware, and take encouragement, that artists often tend gardens or master their favorite cuisines, as outlets no less soul-satisfying than painting.

As a collector I have sought pieces in the category of canvases executed by pen-and-ink cartoonists. Following is not all of the ones I have acquired, but ones currently on my walls (therefore… please forgive odd angles and perspectives; and occasional reflections).

The creator of the Gibson Girl inspired two generations of pen-and-ink artists who tried their hardest to draw like Gibson (and most who failed before finding their own styles); and a generation of American women and men who tried their hardest to look like Gibson’s characters. His depictions of the Gibson Girl and her circle, 1890s-1920s, freed young adults from Victorian trappings like bustles and facial hair (in, um, women and men, respectively).

The first framed piece is a story illustration, watercolors – rare as a Gibson mode – in the early 1890s. The second is a New Years drawing signed to a friend, 1925.

Kemble was a relatively unknown cartoonist whose drawings appeared occasionally in the New York Daily Graphic and in the fledgling Life magazine, late 1870s and early 1880s, when Mark Twain noticed his work and offered him the job of illustrating Huckleberry Finn. The “fit” was perfect, and Kemble was continually occupied until his death in the 1920s – many more books; comic strips; magazine gags; political cartoons; advertising work. Except for genre paintings, in gouache-grays, for Collier’s ca. 1901-1906, his medium was pen and ink. His work was often classified with that of A B Frost (they both illustrated Uncle Remus stories), and I do not know what this watercolor of a fox hunter was done for.

Art critic Thomas Craven called Zim a “technical cousin” of F. Opper, and so he was; a master of characters, native humor, and comic invention. Zim’s medium was pen and ink… also the lithographic crayon, ink, and brush: drawing on stone instead of paper. Many cartoons appeared in color, but were lithographs, not paintings. This drawing of a rural black fisherman is almost 35 inches high, and in mixed media of chalk or pastel, and watercolor or tempera. I have no idea if it was an elaborate “chalk-talk” piece – that is, created in front of an audience – or was ever published. I am a Zim fanatic, almost a completist, but I have never seen it in print.

There are some cartoonists whose color work has lived in our appreciative consciousness. George Herriman’s ink-and-watercolor specialty drawings come to mind. But these mostly were presentation pieces. Jimmy Swinnerton, who was active as a newspaper cartoonist from the mid 1890s to the mid 1950s, maintained a separate career as a painter. His specialty, and honor today, was in Southwest / desert / plein air themes and modes. This is a study, not a finished canvas, done (according to the note over his signature) of the Salton Sea, the man-made (and disastrously designed) lake between San Diego and Palm Springs. As a run-off of the Colorado River, it quickly became a huge, fetid lake. Jimmy did not capture the “Sea,” but the other-worldly desert environs, as throughout the Southwest, is what attracted him. (He was sent to the desert around 1905 because doctors thought he was dying of TB; he wound up outliving doctors and many cacti too). My son has fallen in love with Swin’s desert canvases, and has studies, finished canvases, and sketches.

When the revised and reformed Nemo Magazine 2.0 starts up (consider this a construction sign) I plan an article about the cartoonists of the Armory Show. That 1913 exhibition in New York was the landmark show that introduced America, in large part, to the latter-day French Impressionists, to the Cubists, to early German Expressionism; and (to Americans other than connoisseurs and investors) names like Picasso. It was a revolutionary show in extent and audacity – almost overnight, new artists and new style and modes overtook American art and criticism. What is little known is that many of the ground-breaking American painters had begun their careers (or financed them!) as cartoonists – John Sloan, George Bellows, Boardman Robinson; and among the important organizers were cartoonists like Walt Kuhn and Gus Mager. Further, there were working cartoonists, famous names from the Sunday papers, who exhibited in the Armory Show, and were grateful to be there. Rudolph Dirks was one such artist, with three canvases at the landmark event. This painting is not one of them, but the canvas – nearly seven feet long – combines Dirks’ two lives. Probably done around 1908-1912, the oil depicts woodland sprites in his exquisite Impressionist style; and, on the right, chanching upon the arborial scene (of nymphs, perhaps?) are Rudy’s two iconic young Noble Savages, Hans and Fritz, the Katzenjammer Kids.

As a collector, I classify paintings by cartoonists as Strokes of Luck when I find them.


Friday, August 16, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Derek, Son of Thane –
Hal’s Foster Son

by Rick Marschall

You probably do not know Derek, as a character or as a strip title.

But that was the name of the eponymous King Features proposal that the world knows today as Prince Valiant.

Overhead view of Foster at the drawing board in his Redding CT studio, reference at his side, drawing his Prince Valiant page typically from the bottom up. Most pages took him a full week to produce.
Creator Hal Foster was born this week in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1892. My “mind” raced back in time to several stops along the way with the elegant, distinguished master Harold Rudolf Foster. He once told me that he learned to draw fast in those northern climes because the frigid air obliged him to slip mittens on every few minutes. Good anecdote, especially from a usually reserved man.

In 1921 Hal rode a bicycle to Chicago, where he studied art and drew (and painted) for advertising agencies. It was in Kansas, I think, about a decade later, that Hal was offered  the job of illustrating Tarzan, not for books or magazine, but for serialized newspaper installments. He was less than enthused, but the Depression’s grip was colder than Canada’s wintry blasts; and – paraphrasing the Bible’s account of Esau selling his birthright in Genesis 25 – he said he sold his soul for a mess of pottage. “But pottage tasted pretty good at that moment.”

Advertising painting by Harold R Foster, 1931.
Hal was not the first cartoonist to tackle the strip, which was a substantial hit especially when his Sunday pages attracted attention. Eventually he wrote his own jungle (and non-jungle, for instance Egypt) tales. I once owned – in fact I technically still own – a multi-page typescript account How I Came to Create the Tarzan Stories not by Foster but by Edgar Rice Burroughs. The founder of ERBdom and a keeper of the Burroughs flame, Camille Cazdessus, agreed to trade a Sunday Foster Tarzan for that manuscript. I sent it to him but, for decades, he has not honored the trade nor returned the manuscript. Tracked down in Illinois, no longer Louisiana, he admitted to still having it; and asked that I provide the postage for its return – an infantile and perhaps desperate condition, I thought. But I agreed… and still have not received either element of the transaction. A Crowded Life of Rogues, unavoidable.

Foster put the strip, and himself, on the map along the way. King Features, that vacuum-cleaner of talent, lured Hal with the promise to own his own creation (he received only a salary, no percentage or royalties, from Tarzan) and editorial freedom. Proud of his heritage and a student of history – and an admirer of the storytelling illustrator Howard Pyle – he staked a claim for a Medieval epic.

Its original title was Derek, Son of Thane, as attested here in this King Features promotion from 1936 (long buried in my archives). Myself, I will not attest to the fact that King ever published the strip under that title (although I have seen a reprint page, not a contemporary tearsheet with a Derek title-bar) nor that Foster’s second choice was Prince Arn.

A paragraph from an inside page of the “King Pins” brochure, announcing the new strip by the pride of Topeka.
The full-page Sunday (first a tabloid page) commanded attention, and had immediate impact, a prestige feature for American newspapers. In its early years Hal infused fantastic elements – Merlin was a regular character – and was exacting with visual references like furniture, castles, weapons, and clothing. He bent or condensed history, however, over approximately 600 years.

All that really mattered to readers, about a timeline, was every next Sunday.

The first fan letter that ever produced a response when I was young was Hal Foster’s polite, elegant explanation to me that he could not respond with an original Sunday page. I was making a scrapbook of Val Sundays (with my own running captions beside his!), and told him so. In later years we were Connecticut neighbors – he in Redding; I in Bethel – and was surprised to learn that Wayne Boring, whose work on Superman I considered stiff and klunky, did backgrounds on Val.

A letter from Hal Foster to a 12-year-old fan, 1961…
Around 1971, age and arthritis caught up with Hal and his lovely wife Helen, and they moved to Florida. I still have letters and Christmas cards from them, a long run. My wife and I visited them in their retirement in Spring Hill FL. On one of those visits I asked Hal what he thought – how he would assess – the work of his successor on Tarzan. In probably the most critical but diplomatic statement this gentleman could make, he thought and said, “It always interested me how Hogarth managed to draw all the muscles on top of the skin.”

In my old Nemo magazine I recruited two old European friends to address Hal Foster. Fred Schreiber dusted off an old interview with Hal; and Prof Giulio Cesare Cuccolini analyzed the influence of Howard Pyle. For the German publisher Carlsen I helped produce (with my friend the historian and publisher Andreas Knigge) The Big Hal Foster Book (never yet appearing in the US).

The cover of the book treatment of Foster’s career and Prince Valiant’s place in history. With Andreas Knigge; Carlsen Verlag, Hamburg, Germany.
Hal passed off the production of Prince Valiant to his Fairfield County neighbor John Cullen Murphy. Jack was predisposed – culturally, racially, politically – to be the simultaneous heir to Foster and the good Prince himself. Other artists auditioned, but there was no real competition. At first Foster provided the scripts and penciled layouts; and he finally surrendered all aspects. Murphy, and eventually other family members including his writer son Cullen, valiantly sustained the epic. In recent years other hands have continued.

When Foster died, my friend Bill Crouch proved that he was more than a Pogo fanatic. He and his brother Miller, when younger – I am not sure how much younger; but that might be another column. Or not – used to dress in licensed Prince Valiant pajamas and have mock sword fights. He felt a proprietary interest in Val, and somehow got Helen to share Hal’s King Features’ contract when she was a fresh widow. It turns out that Foster still owned the strip – and its rights and royalties – a rare situation that the syndicate somehow neglected to reference in their Good-byes; and that Helen actually did not realize. How long thereafter she received the surprising royalty checks, or what settlement was reached, I have forgotten.

A detail from “King Pins,” a King Features Syndicate mailer, in 1936. Hal Foster is #9.
Movies (including a 1950s epic with Robert Wagner in pageboy coiff), many reprint books, board games, costumes and, um, pajamas, flourished through the years. At times the strip was more popular overseas, for instance in Germany, than in the US. For me, I remember the first reply from a cartoonist; a warm friendship and visits; a few projects together; and material for a book of my own, the memories of a Crowded Life in Comics.

Also, Prince Valiant is where I first read and learned the meaning of the word Synopsis. 


Sunday, August 11, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –


by Rick Marshall

Searching for illustrations for the imminent revival of Nemo Magazine, I have been ransacking my bookshelves. After a crowded life in comic collecting, occasionally I come across books I forget I own, or inscriptions I forgot inhabit their inside front covers or flyleaves.

Some of these were dedicated to previous collectors. Some are sketches or lines to me, and I will share some of them here.


has a place in comic-strip history as being in the right place at the right time, more than almost any other cartoonist. He drew for Puck and the New York World in 1884, one of the most contested years of presidential campaigns. When newspaper photoengraving was introduced at the time, McDougall drew front-page cartoons that, by common  consent, helped decide the election. A decade later, he drew some of the first color cartoons in American newspapers. Through the years he drew for Pulitzer, Hearst, the Philadelphia North American and various pioneer syndicates. No less a figure than H L Mencken was an admirer, and a chapter of McDougall’s autobiography appeared in the very first number of Mencken’s American Mercury. In book form it was published by Knopf, and contains valuable material for cartoon historians.

My copy is an “association,” with McDougall’s self-caricature and the signature of the book’s first owner, screwball cartoonist Nate Collier. McDougall committed suicide in 1938.


On a trip to California some years ago I strolled through cartooning’s family album, of sorts. I met and interviewed and discussed possible projects with Mary Jane Outcault, Robert Winsor McCay, and R F Outcault III. Mary Jane was a delightful 96, having been born around the time of the Yellow Kid, in 1896. She married the nephew of Gemeral “Black Jack” Pershing, who led American forces in World War I; her memories were vivid, and salty, about her father, the Yellow Kid, and Buster Brown (and Buster’s girl friend… Mary Jane).

Bob McCay’s great-grandfather was Little Nemo’s father, and he shared family history gleaned from his mother Janet Trinker.

R F Outcault III was the grandson of the Father of the Comics, but did not inherit drawing talent. So he signed, without a sketch, an ancient copy of Buster Brown’s Resolutions.(And I secured another signed copy for Tom Heintjes; we were planning Nemo Magazine at the time.) By the way, Dick maintained that he could not draw, but he attended weekly painting classes… with Ferd Johnson (Moon Mullins) at the next easel!


was a respected illustrator and cartoonist. He was on the staff of Harper’s Weekly and the House of Harper in the 1870s, and after the turn of the century he drew daily political cartoons for the New York Herald into the 1920s. His 1922 autobiography A World Worth While is worthwhile mainly for a plethora of recollections about illustrators, cartoonists, and political figures – information that might otherwise be lost to history.

His first “splash” was as a reporter-illustrator in the Wild West. His account of the colorful figure known as “The Voyageur” attracted attention, and it is that figure Rogers drew on the endpaper of his autobiography. Another “association,” as booksellers call it – the inscription is to writer and editor James Leicester Ford (whose own Forty-Odd Years in the Literary Shop also contains a lot of historical minutia); and is co-inscribed by Clinton Brainerd, president of Harper and Brothers.


I knew Joe Dennett, onetime assistant on Mutt and Jeff, and resident of the next town from me in New Jersey as a kid. After working for Al Smith he joined the Harvey Studios and drew Sad Sack characters and stories. He put me in touch with George Baker, the Sack’s creator who produced wonderful covers for the line for years. Like Bill Mauldin (subject of another column) this iconic vet drew his iconic army schlump in many books and albums through the years.


God bless ol’Jim Ivey, whose Wash Tubbs reprint project (with Gordon Campbell and Tony deLuna) introduced many fans to that great strip by the great talent Roy Crane. … and provided pages for the affable and willing Crane to draw sketches. Here is one of the drawings in my copy of the book. Oboy!


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Sunday with Jesse Marsh

Walt Disney's Pollyanna

Star Weekly, Sept 17, 1960