Sunday, November 24, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Opper-Level Memories.

By Rick Marschall

Two special drawings of Mr. Hooligan – the 1907 sketch was done for cartoonist Gus Mager’s ailing sister; he arranged to have cartoonists in the Hearst bullpen send sketches in separate postcards to her. 

A couple of weeks ago I shared my affection – hagiography, really – for Frederick Burr Opper. Still my favorite cartoonist, whose work in old books attracted my interest before I could read; creator of Happy Hooligan, Maud the Mule, Alphonse and Gaston, and more than 10,000 cartoons and strips throughout his career. Political cartoonist, book illustrator; strip pioneer; and the cartoonist who codified conventions like speech balloons in progressive panels.

As I chip away at my full-length biography of Opper and his work, I will share a few more treasures here. (And in an early issue of the revived NEMO Magazine.) No need for much narrative, since I confessed my fealty already. His work did, and does, and will, speak for itself.

Opper among eight other prominent cartoonists of his day, ca. 1903. 

A card from a testimonial dinner given in honor of F. Opper, Cafe Martin, New York, April 1912. Among those present, and signing their names on this part of the program, were Carl Anderson, C. S. Rigby, Gustrave Verbeek, Albert Levering, George McManus, H. A. MacGill (The Hall Room Boys), Jimmy Swinnerton, Rudolph Dirks, L.N. Glackens (Puck), Rudolph Block (editor of the New York American comic section), Gus Mager, Al Frueh, animation pioneer E. G. Luitz, Fred Nankivell, political cartoonists William H. Walker and Charles Macauley.

Fifteen years later, another testimonial dinner – this one a massive affair where Opper, Charles Dana Gibson, and political cartoonist W. A Rogers were honored. At the Hotel Astor in Manhattan. I also have an enormous “gaslight photograph” of the entire room, hundreds of guests at their tables. (And giant drawings, hanging from the balconies, by Winsor McCay and others. Oh! Whatever happened to those drawings?) Signers of this program were the three honorees, and humorist Irvin S. Cobb, Mayor Jimmy Walker, Arthur Brisbane, Sen. William Borah, and Broadway compoer Gene Buck.

When Opper retired in 1934 (due to failing eyesight; he died three years later) he was given yet another testimonial dinner. Here he draws his old hero Happy Hooligan In the background, Harold H. Knerr (The Katzenjammer Kids) look on.

… and when the evening was over, the assembled cartoonists drew their characters as a send-off to the “The Dean of American Cartoonists.” With Opper at the easel was King Features’ newest star, Alex Raymond, who commenced Secret Agent X-9, Jungle Jim, and Flash Gordon that year.

No. 59

Thursday, November 21, 2019


is on view at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum from

November 2, 2019, through May 3, 2020.

Tarpe Mills, Amazing Mystery Funnies, Vol 2, No 5, Centaur Publications Inc., May 1939


Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

Impeachment Funnies.

My portrait of Nixon as Pinocchio. A natural, right? 

By Rick Marschall.

Well, the word of the month is impeachment. Rather, the Subsection D, category 17, folder T-1, is “Phone Call.” Oh, just stick in there somewhere between Collusion, Stormy Daniels, Emolument, Tweets, and Weird Hair.

Back in my early days of cartooning, Impeachment likewise was in the air – taken further than this flavor-of-the-day is likely to go. But who knows. I am talking about the Nixon Years, of course (whoops, not “of course” – you might have thought I meant the Clinton Years).

One of a multitude of differences with the Nixon impeachment furor that, as inviting as Trump is to caricature, no president was more inviting to draw. Well, except for Theodore Roosevelt. And maybe Abraham Lincoln. But Nixon preternaturally looked shifty and guilty, possibly from his first baby picture onward. A cartoonist’s dream.

Jules Feiffer drew Nixon as Banquo’s ghost. Certainly not a MacArthur reference. This was actually from my sketchbook, drawn after the resignation. The following caricatures are all from before the impeachment.

Here is a little gallery of Nixon caricatures drawn for me in those years. If I asked a fellow cartoonist for a sketch, I never requested a Nixon. But the political cartoonists had the jones for low-hanging fruit.

So did I. When a was a college student I drew for New Guard magazine, the monthly journal of Young Americans for Freedom, the campus youth group launched by William F Buckley; and for other outlets like Battle Line of the American Conservative Union. In an early taste of 2019’s definition of freedom of the press, I was good enough for those national publications but my own school paper, The Eagle at American University, Washington DC, would not run my submissions because I was conservative. Something dies in darkness, I heard somewhere...

Movement conservatives early were disenchanted with Nixon, of course, and many of the cartoons in my old files are less than kind to him. The “Pinocchio” concept was a natural, with his nose that put Bob Hope’s to shame; yet I always was surprised more cartoons did not use it.

As the Watergate pot began to boil, other obvious concepts presented themselves. Hardly a tiny fraction of his face shows, but I think I captured Nixon well.

A few years later I was political cartoonist for a chain of papers owned by William Loeb of the Manchester (NH) Union Leader. Bill’s father had been Theodore Roosevelt’s private secretary; and Bill himself was a delightfully crusty traditional publisher – editorials on the front page; sticking it to liberals; we got along fine. His papers were the first major chain, left or right, to call for Nixon’s resignation or impeachment. The second cartoon here is from my tenure on his Connecticut Sunday Herald.
Art Wood, cartoonist, collector, and founder of the National Foundation and Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon Art (whose name was longer than the life of the institutions), of which I was to become president.

The other drawings here are by cartoonists who stuck with it longer than I did. I turned to editing and writing. As I say, cartoonists skewered Nixon virtually whenever a blank piece of paper was in front of them.

Donald Trump to the contrary notwithstanding, cartoonists are among the only people in America who are not happy that, in Nixon’s famous rant in 1962, they “don’t have Dick Nixon to kick around any more.”

Joe Papin was a staff artist on the New York Daily News, doing news portraits and editorial art. More talented than the paper allowed him to show. For a while I lived on the Jersey shore, in Rumson, and sometimes wound up on the same buses and trains, Manhattan-bound with Joe. He was as light-hearted and insouciant as his portrait of President Nixon suggests…

Jim Berry

Bill Crawford


Sunday, November 10, 2019

Our State Art Studio at Sing Sing –

Outcault and the Yellow Kid, E.W. Townsend and "Chimmie Fadden" and Kemble and His "Coons" Give the Idle Prisoners Their First Lesson in Drawing.
NY Journal, Feb 7, 1897 


Sunday, November 3, 2019

A Crowded Life in Comics –

A Lifetime of Opper-tunities.

A matted original drawing of Happy Hooligan, drawn for cartoonist (Bugville Life) and animal illustrator Paul Bransom.

By Rick Marschall.

I have written, recently here, of the early wellsprings and touchstones in a Crowded Life working and wandering in the comics vineyards. My father’s encouragement; my family’s indulgence; the blessings of friendships and mentoring from professional cartoonists when I was young – even to meeting some of the Founding Fathers of the art form.

A real Opper comic book, 1911.

Dirks, Swinnerton, Goldberg, Hershfield, Charles Payne, Frank King, and other greats were still alive when I began drawing, collecting, and “interviewing,” which developed from marking time once I was in their studios and presences. Natural curiosity led to natural questions.

But one cartooning great was not alive, and that fact was a literal regret to me, because F. Opper was the cartoonist whose work attracted me the earliest – almost before I could read – and was cartooning I copied, and cartoons that made me laugh. Opper died in 1937, 22 years before I was born, so the miss was as bad as a mile. He was born in Madison, Ohio, in 1857, and already in his teens he was professionally cartooning in New York City.

Leslie’s Weekly; then Puck for two decades; then the Hearst papers with countless comic strips and editorial cartoons for more than a subsequent 30 years. He illustrated many books for the top humorists of the day, including Bill Nye, Mark Twain, and Eugene Field. I can – and will – write more about Opper, here; and some of you know that I am in the process of writing a major biography of him.

One definition of hero-worship, not to mention foolish immaturity, can be my early attraction to his work (my father had an early anthology of old material, Cartoon Cavalcade, and I found other sources) that manifested itself in a fantasy. Before I knew that he no longer lived, I imagined calling on him. Did he live, in this dream, in a normal suburban home like the cartoonists I was meeting in the New York area? No… I imagined that Frederick Burr Opper would be seated on an elevated chair, almost a throne, at the end of a long room. Royalty? Yes – that was my conception: how I viewed him, and his deserved place.

Kids in school wondered why I always drew a tramp on chalkboards, one with a tin can for a hat; and “who is Fopper?” (I guess I never forged the period strongly enough after the “F.”) Well, that’s how it went. Among my first questions to Hershfield and Goldberg and the others were What was Opper like???

My tattered, surviving cover to a custom Happy Hooligan comic book – “All New Stories!” Opus from my twelfth year.

I even re-created – or, rather, created – a Happy Hooligan comic book, as if the strip were still running, or as if anyone cared, but it was complete with cover promo copy. Forty-eight pages, reviving Happy, Gloomy Gus, Montmorency, Maud the Mule, Alphonse and Gaston, et al. I think I was 12 when I embarked on the self-delusional enterprise. It was not to make money, of course; it was paying homage, but subconsciously honing the cartooning, character, storytelling chops.

I eventually met his granddaughter Nellie Anna, a delightful lady who counter-signed a portrait I did of Mr Hooligan. Late in life she married my old friend the Socialist political cartoonist Walt Partymiller. And I met Frederick Burr Opper III, a distinguished and reserved gent who also worked for Hearst, as a diplomatic correspondent.

Enough of that. Some of Opper’s footprints here. I hope he generates among the uninitiated some appreciation of his genius – the innocent mayhem, the native humor, the superb craftsmanship, such as flawless anatomy beneath his casual lines.

My “Opper Wall” down the staircase – the Hooligan drawing and several of the Opper Sunday-page originals in my collection.

As Hallowe’en approaches, and I write this, I wonder why I never did trick-or-treating as Happy Hooligan, fastening an old soup can to my head. I was a Kid; and I was Happy enough; but I was never Krazy. There are limits.