Obscurity of the Day: Louie and Franz

We tend to think of Gus Mager as the king of the monks in the oughts and teens, but he did plenty of series featuring other animals, and even (gasp!) humans on occasion.

Here’s one of his least memorable efforts, Louie and Franz. This pair of German-accented bears (they are bears, right? It can be hard to tell with Mager) had nothing special going for them. The two buttinskis get comeuppance for sticking their noses in touchy situations. Not much ha-ha there. It’s amazing what slight effort was expected in a strip in those days if you were using dialect dialogue. At this late date we can only assume that since this sort of base humor proliferated on the comics pages that it was in fact entertaining its audience. Today even if we make allowances for it and don’t take offense it is often impossible to detect even the barest bit of humor.

Louie and Franz ran in Hearst’s New York Evening Journal from December 23 1904 to January 3 1905. It appeared just four times.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan!

Strange Life and Death of a Multimedia Superstar

by Cole Johnson

In the halcyon days of silent comedy, among the funnier stars were the animal comedians. Among others, there was Brownie the dog, Max, Moritz and Pep, the monkey trio, Snookie the chimp, Billy Whiskers the goat, Cameo the cat, even Sally the horse. One of the most famous was an Orangutan given the monicker “Joe Martin”. He was heavily promoted by Universal pictures as the “smartest animal in the world”, and as being the “closest an ape can be to being human”. They embarked upon a series of slapstick shorts in 1919, with titles like The Jazz Monkey and A Monkey Prohibitionist. They became so popular, a sub-series with a female, “Mrs. Joe Martin” were made.

In 1920, a comic strip was inaugurated starring the simian star. Here’s the announcement for it, with a brief bio of the artist, Forest A. McGinn. The newspaper it appeared in, Farm Bureau News, ran only this blurb and the first episode!

Farm Bureau News, March 12 1920

Farm Bureau News, March 19 1920

My brother Mark Johnson searched through a great deal of newspapers on microfilm before he found another that carried the Joe Martin strip. These next three are from The Vernal Express (Utah), which began running it a year later (2-25-21). Here are episodes #2 (3-4-21), #3 (3-11-21), and #4 (4-8-21), after which they abandoned it. I have no idea what syndicate this is. Both the Washington and Utah papers both regularly took Western Newspaper Union and Autocaster stuff, but this could very well be some free promo stuff sent to newspapers by Universal. [I concur with that guess — Allan]

The rest of the Joe Martin story isn’t very pleasant. Far from being the wonderful animal he was painted as, Joe was actually quite unpleasant to work with, going through unpredictably aggressive periods of behavior. A couple of episodes in which he got loose and went on destructive rampages even made it to the newspapers. Once, he broke into a house and destroyed it, in an hours-long bender in which the police had to intervene. Fellow Universal comedy star Diana Serra Carey in her memoir, Whatever Happened To Baby Peggy? tells of the horrible end of Joe Martin. The ape had gone berserk again, and had taken a vicious bite on the arm of trainer A.D. Steckler’s wife. In a blind rage, he brained Joe, tied the unconscious ape to a prop dentist’s chair set up for a comedy to be filmed, and pulled out every tooth of his head. Someone at the studio did the most humane thing, and put a bullet in the monkey’s head to end its suffering. A January 1924 news article tells of how Joe Martin was getting too hard to control, and was sold to the Al G. Barnes circus. The last Joe Martin comedies were released that month. Here’s a clipping from the 10-24-26 Arizona Daily Star (Tucson.) It’s another monkey, using the franchised Joe Martin name. Today there doesn’t seem to be any Joe Martin comedies that have survived. However, he can still be seen briefly in Seven Years Bad Luck (RC 21) , a Max Linder feature.

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Jim Ivey’s new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from Lulu.com for $19.95 plus shipping, or you can order direct from Ivey for $25 postpaid. Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. The book is 128 pages, coil-bound. Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

Also still available, Jim Ivey’s career retrospective Cartoons I Liked, available on Lulu.com or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Herriman Saturday

Saturday, September 14 1907 — Joe Gans returns to LA triumphant after his victory against Britt, now Memsic will get his chance.

Sunday, September 15 1907 — Hen Berry, owner of the Angels, was presented recently with a large, gaudy opal tiepin by an admirer. The tiepin was presented as a good-luck charm, and the Angels did indeed promptly go on a bit of a tear. Berry took this as a sign that he would redouble his luck if the rest of his garb were as loud and obnoxious as the bauble now holding down his tie. So he bought himself a complete new wardrobe heavy on eye-blistering colors and miasmic patterns.

The story is of enough interest to merit a gigantic page-width Sunday cartoon and a long story from sportwriter C.E. Van Loan. Ah, the good old days when ‘juiced’ haberdashery was the biggest scandal reported in the sports section.

Obscurity of the Day: Just The Type

Bob Dunn, who had the uncredited job of assisting/ghosting for Jimmy Hatlo on They’ll Do It Every Time, got to take credit on this very similarly themed Sunday strip called Just The Type. Never a syndication success, King Features may well have let him do the feature just to keep him happy while working on the Hatlo cash cow feature.

Just The Type ran in the New York Journal-American and darn few other papers from May 5 1946 to November 24 1963, a very respectable run. When Hatlo died in 1963, though, Dunn’s workload presumably got that much heavier and Just The Type was dropped. Dunn finally got an official byline on They’ll Do It Every Time starting in 1966.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the lovely scans from syndicate proofs.

News of Yore 1950: Aussie Syndication Examined

Outside Comics Display Is Envied ‘Down Under’

By Jane McMaster (E&P 7/1/50)

“I am impressed with the way influential New York papers are displayed with the color comics on the outside,” observed A. D. Gorfain, owner of Press Feature Service, Sydney, Australia. “These huge papers—and what they display is the comic strips!

“When we get to that stage in Australia, I will think we have really arrived.”

The 38-year-old syndicate head was the man behind “Streetcar Named Desire” in Australia. He distributes London Express features, which included the Desire dialogue.

Australian representative for General Features and Press Features, New York, he owns his country’s second largest feature dispensary. It’s first, he adds, in the number of features produced.

All told, his syndicate produces nine features — not so many by American standards. It’s different in other ways too:

1. Its 11 artists are staff, not work-at-home, artists. (Most of them are under 22 years old.)

2. Nine of the 11 work on children’s puzzle and brain-stimulator features. The syndicate has created 800 original puzzles for children in four and a half years.

3. The syndicate distributes no columns. “Columns written in Australia are usually not syndicated,” Mr. Gorfain comments. (A popular column there is a round up of short local human interest items, which ends with a gag. This type column is often front-paged.)

4. The country is considered “blanketed” with a feature when it runs in a capital city paper in each of the six states.

5. Mr. Gorfain’s syndicate produces comic books arid children’s books (for publishing by other firms) as well as newspaper features.

There are some “likes” too. Press Feature Service frequently serializes important non-fiction. However, serials of inspirational books are not a fad.

Perhaps the greatest kinship, Mr. Gorfain indicates, is in taste in comic strips. Australians like both gag and adventure strips — possibly in equal proportion—and have a sense of humor more American than British, he believes. One of his Sunday comics,”Holly,” drawn by 19-year-old June Shoesmith could be a sister to Harry Haenigsen’s “Penny.”

“American comics are very popular in Australia,” Mr. Gorfain comments. “And as a syndicate we rather like that. It keeps us on our toes.”

Mr. Gorfain at one time booked films for Metro Goldwyn Mayer but after serving five years in the Royal Australian Air Force decided there was opportunity in the feature field. His trip here was via England and Canada where he placed with syndicates both the children’s features and a “Cross-quiz” — a crossword puzzle with every clue a question.

He has secured rights to produce a comic strip based on the work of Peter Cheyney—a leading British writer of crime thrillers.

Some of the well-illustrated papers in Australia, carry 12 daily comics, and big Sunday color comic sections.

Obscurity of the Day: Be Scientific with Ol’ Doc Dabble

In the 1930s it seemed like every Artie, Inky and Chalkie was pressed into service to duplicate the success of Robert Ripley’s huge hit, Believe It or Not. When the inevitable time came for the Associated Press to add yet another ‘me-too’ feature to their comics page offerings, though, bless their hearts for taking the road less travelled.

Be Scientific, as the feature was initially called, started out as pretty much a straight clone of the Ripley feature. The only differences were that the daily panel (there was no Sunday for any AP feature until much later) concentrated on one subject per day instead of the scattershot approach favored by Ripley, and the accent was on science factoids rather than on oddities.

Harold Detje, the creator of the feature, soon tired of his clone act and introduced a pair of characters to his panel, Doc Dabble and his sidekick, McSniffle. The panel got a new name, Be Scientific with Ol’ Doc Dabble, and the factoid of the day was now the subject of the day’s gag. Some gags worked well, some didn’t, but at least Detje was doing something different than the rest of the pack. The new format also showcased Detje’s cartooning skills rather than his technical drawing, which wasn’t exactly making for a graphically interesting panel.

The AP had a set number of features, and Be Scientific replaced Al Burtis’ cartoon panel when he was reassigned to producing a strip, The Dillys. Be Scientific debuted on June 6 1932 and ran until June 15 1935, when it was in turn replaced by Oaky Doaks.

According to my admittedly quite fallible memory, Detje dropped the feature to become syndicate editor for the AP. I’m pretty sure I read that somewhere, but I can’t come up with the source at the moment.

Obscurity of the Day: Now, What D’Ye Think Of That?

Looking at this strip you’re probably thinking that it’s the sort of oddball thing that probably lasted a couple of weeks. Most emphatically not so! While I get no impression that it was a particular favorite of newspaper readers, Hearst’s New York papers ran Now, What D’Ye Think Of That? over a span of five years, a very impressive run in that formative era of the 1900s.

The creator of the strip signed himself as Childe Harold. If that name sounds vaguely familiar to you, thank a literature teacher. The original Childe Harold was a fictional character created by Lord Byron. He wrote an epic-length poem titled Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, the story of a world-weary young man and his travels. The term ‘Childe’ originated in medieval England to denote a young man who was in training to become a knight. Later on the term became more general, referring to either a youngster or one who is naive, or young at heart.

Byron’s poem inspired various 19th century artists to take on ‘Childe’ as part of their nom de plume. Best remembered of the group is Childe Hassam, a painter of great renown. Childe Harold seems to have taken on the name to celebrate his unsophisticated drawing style and to evoke the old-timey setting of his strips . His real name was Edward Salisbury Field.

Now, What D’Ye Think Of That ran in four discrete series in three Hearst papers:

  • New York Journal May 14 – September 17 1903
  • New York American March 24 1904 – February 12 1906
  • New York Evening Journal April 19 1904 – November 29 1904
  • New York Evening Journal March 19 1907 – August 12 1907

The strip told its gags in rhyme, and obviously Harold was much more interested in producing poetry than in getting a big laugh from the reader. I suspect that Childe Harold considered himself quite the ‘artiste’, though he never produced a serious book of poetry as far as I know. He did, however, write and illustrate several volumes of light verse under his pen-name, and a number of other works under his real name, most notably the bestseller A Six-Cylinder Courtship.

Muche thankes to Cole Johnson for the scans.

Strip Teasers: Capsule Book Reviews

The Brinkley Girls — The Best of Nell Brinkley’s Cartoons from 1913-1940
Edited by Trina Robbins
Fantagraphics 2009, 136 pages, oversize hardcover, $29.99
ISBN 978-1-560-97970-8

Nell Brinkley was an icon for several generations of women, and Robbins’ estimate that she was the most copied artist of her era could very well be true. What Brinkley lacked in formal capability (her anatomy was often pretty questionable) she more than made up for with her dense, florid, uniquely feminine style. Women were utterly captivated by her romance illustrations (she rarely did anything outside that genre) and she had an intensely loyal following among not only readers but other women illustrators. In fact, if you were a female illustrator or cartoonist in the 1910s or 20s and didn’t draw at least a little like Brinkley you were considered a bit of an oddball.

That this gorgeously produced, oversized book contains her best work is debatable because it concentrates almost exclusively on her color covers for the Hearst Sunday newspaper magazine section. This work is certainly her most impressive so I guess “best” is not necessarily misapplied. However, it would have been nice to devote at least a short section to Brinkley’s black and white cartoons, which certainly are the bulk of her published work, and what she’s remembered for. I suppose Robbins didn’t want to waste her 9.5″ by 13″ coated-stock pages on work that could run in a less prestigious format. Fair enough.

The reproduction of the old color pages, always a dicey proposition, is handled here very well. The art has been beautifully restored, a task that must have been pure torture given the density of Brinkley’s drawings and that sophisticated color work. My hat’s off to whoever did that fabulous job.

My only problem with the book, and I may be starting to sound like a broken record on the subject, is that I would have liked to have more editorial matter. I realize that this is a coffee table book, and the art is necessarily the star, but Robbins knows her subject and I would have appreciated hearing more from her than the capsule bio provided. Another item that would have been welcome is a complete list of Brinkley’s magazine cover features and their running dates. Some of Brinkley’s series are reprinted her in their complete runs, while others are missing pages and yet others are individual samples. A real Brinkley fan would want to know what they need to be on the lookout for to complete their collections.

The Flash Press — Sporting Male Weeklies in 1840s New York
By Cohen, Gilfoyle and Horowitz
University of Chicago Press, 2008, 278 pages, softcover, $20
ISBN 978-0-226-11234-3

This book is an accounting of a very strange episode in the journalism history of the 19th century. For a few short years in the early 1840s a small group of entrepreneurs created a whole new sort of newspaper. The “flash press”, as they were known at the time, were a group of newspapers that chronicled the sexual underworld. These papers discussed and reviewed, often in startling frank terms, the world of bordellos, prostitutes, pimps, and johns. They overlaid a thin, VERY thin, veneer of moral objection that kept their operations from being shut down, at least for awhile, but their clear purpose was to keep potential customers up to date on the happenings in the skin trade.

Now my readings in journalism history are normally limited to the age of the newspaper comic strip, but how could I resist a book about such a subject? I was expecting a rollicking account of these amazing Victorian relics, but I hadn’t reckoned on the authors’ scholarly approach. The first half of the book consists of dry, pedantic essays about the newspapers and early Victorian sexual politics. The authors absolutely refuse to have any fun with their subject, quite an achievement really given the subject matter, and I had to force myself to keep reading.

The second half of the book is considerably more lively, featuring excerpts from the newspapers themselves, including many racy woodcut cartoons. I was so worn down from the essays by then that I didn’t enjoy the material as much as I should have. If you are sufficiently interested in the subject to buy the book, I suggest you read part two and then, if your thirst for knowledge about the papers remains high, tackle the essays only then. The front matter does in fact provide important history, context and background, but the information goes down much easier once you’ve had the chance to get some firsthand experience with these utterly crazy newspapers.

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Jim Ivey’s new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from Lulu.com for $19.95 plus shipping, or you can order direct from Ivey for $25 postpaid. Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. The book is 128 pages, coil-bound. Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

Also still available, Jim Ivey’s career retrospective Cartoons I Liked, available on Lulu.com or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.