I’ve Got Blisters on me Fingers!

Another post just to prove that I’m still here, along with a little eye-candy to keep you from going through withdrawal.

I just finished the cross-indexes for the book, all 600 pages of ’em. That’s in manuscript form, of course, and will be shrunk tremendously in print. They’d better be since the publisher has capped the book’s page count at 800. How we’re going to fit everything in I haven’t a clue. Editor doesn’t seem panicked, though, so I’ll try to stave off complete mental breakdown for the time being.

Thanks so much for all the interesting suggestions for the book title. Although it’s really nice of many of you to suggest that my name be part of the title, and of course it strokes my ego no end, I definitely won’t go in that direction. The book is and has always been conceived as a community effort, and putting my name in the title would, I think, be a betrayal of that philosophy. I’m conflicted enough as it is about claiming authorship, I don’t need any more angst!

I guess I’m a bit of a prig about titles. I’ve always had a distaste for those of the form:

[Cutsie Title]:[Actual Subject of the Book]

for instance,

Banner Yet Waving: The Evolution of Flagpoles
Tick-Tock-Tick-Clunk: A Manual of Clock Repairing
“Boo”, He Typed: Careers in Ghost Writing
Bunyan’s Bunions: Diagnosis and Treatment of Foot Problems in Lumberjacks

It just seems so darn hacky. So cutsie titles are right out.

Today I begin the last leg of getting the book ready. Good thing since my due date is the end of the month. I want to make one final pass through my list of reprint books, updating it with material I missed on previous go-rounds. For instance, I somehow missed many of the Spec Productions books, and some from the voluminous Pacific Comics Club series. If you folks know of any good websites that contain complete listings of reprint books for particular titles, that would be very helpful to me at the moment; also websites for reprint book publishers that don’t show up on Amazon.

Oh, about the images up top. The first is a rare ad for the comic strip Ol’ Hot, a very cool strip that was syndicated to black papers in the 1920s to 1940s. The second is also a rarity, a promo for the fashion comic strip Modish Mitzi. The Ol’ Hot ad came from Cole Johnson — thanks Cole!

He’s Not Dead, He’s Restin’!

Getting to be crunch time on getting The Guide to U.S. Newspaper Comic Strips and Cartoon Panels ready for the publisher. I’m hip-deep in putting together the cross-indexes, a job I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. So despite the quote above, I’m doing anything but restin’. Just to tide you over here’s the final Sunday episode of Barney Baxter, published January 22 1950.

As long as I’ve got you here, what do you think of the title The Universal Guide to American Newspaper Comic Strips and Cartoon Panels? You’ll recall that the book will not use the term “Stripper’s Guide” over worries that libraries will find it … um … troubling. The generic working title sure doesn’t have any identity or pizzazz, so I was thinking maybe “Universal Guide” might be a nudge in the right direction. Any other great titles you could suggest would be helpful. My brain has turned to mush over the past month getting the book ready, and my Imagin-O-Meter is pegged on zero.

Obscurity of the Day: Bumper to Bumper

As we’ve discussed before here on the blog, the New York Daily News frequently included extra features in their Sunday sections of the late 1940s to mid-60s that were never syndicated. The reason for these fillers is a little murky since there were additional Sunday features available from the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. Perhaps because most of those other features were continuities they preferred to have gag material that could be inserted purely on a space-available basis.

One of those unsyndicated gag features was Bumper to Bumper from the versatile pen of Gill Fox. According to the artist, he produced 20-30 installments per year of this series about a garageman from 1952-1963. Perhaps I just haven’t seen the right issues of the Daily News comics section (which unfortunately has not been indexed in full) but I certainly have not seen anywhere near that many actually appearing there; in fact the only printed examples I’ve found are a pair from 1961-62. Does the Daily News still have a huge drawer full of these strips still unused, or have I had the bad luck to find the wrong sections of the Daily News?

Obscurity of the Day: Eph Jackson

The highly regarded Saturday Evening Post cartoonist Herbert Johnson was for a short time the art director of the Sunday comics section of the Philadelphia North American (specifically 1906-09 as per Rick Marschall). During that period Johnson only applied his considerable talent to a Sunday comics feature once. His somewhat crude but energetically drawn Eph Jackson, also known as Uncle Eph Jackson, had a short run from December 3 1905 to February 11 1906. The stereotyping, both of blacks and rural whites, tempers our appreciation today for this otherwise delightful feature.

Thanks again to Cole Johnson who provided the scan.

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:

Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.

Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey’s career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.

Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Obscurity of the Day: The Beelzebub Boys and Uncle Tom

The Beelzebub Boys and Uncle Tom ran from June 22 to August 10 1902 in the Philadelphia North American. A quick glance reveals it to be yet another Katzies wanna-be, but look at that first example above. This sort of playing with the form was a rarity in the early days, and this one is masterfully done — a minor classic. Also notice that the cartoonist played with the form in a subtle way, too. All the lettering in the word balloons is slightly bulged out, as if these were actual balloons hanging in the air. Delightful!

What a shame that the cartoonist who produced this excellent, and occasionally extraordinary, series chose to hide his identity behind the pseudonym “Bow Wow”. Could it be Art Bowen perhaps?

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Bringing Up Baby

Here’s a rather bizarre item from the crumbly depths of Cole Johnson’s collection. Bringing Up Baby illustrates odd behavioral tics of babies, supposedly submitted by readers. The panels seem to read like the start of an advice column, where someone tells momma how to deal with the problem — except there’s no column; this is it. Is a baby who can’t roll off his back supposed to be funny? Heck, I’d be thinking rickets. As if having a baby that looks like Nikita Krushchev isn’t bad enough…

The feature was, I guess, self-syndicated by this R.G. Miller fellow who appears on the copyright slug. And apparently Miller needed to farm out the art to a “professional” who very wisely goes only by his initials, “J.W.”, when he bothers to sign at all.

Believe it or not, this feature did actually appear in a few papers and not just in a farm weekly owned by some doting relative of Mr. Miller. My running dates, January 30 1922 to August 12 1922, are based on the run in the San Francisco Chronicle.

News of Yore 1950: Rube Rides Again

New Goldberg Machines Tie In With News

By Jane McMaster (E&P 7/22/50)

One day nearly half a century ago, mining engineering students at the University of California
had the privilege of viewing the operation of a barodik—a complicated machine for weighing the earth. And looking on glumly was Student Reuben Lucius Goldberg of San Francisco, who didn’t take as he should to test tubes, density of air, chemical combustion. He was in private revolt against the marvelous apparatus. “I kept thinking, “hell, I don’t care how much the earth weighs,'” he recalls.

But some years later, Rube Goldberg was cashing in on hypothetical barodiks and his own personal observation that most people seem to do things the hard way. As syndicated cartoonist with the New York Evening Mail and later the Journal, he drew machines that would perform in amazingly complicated ways such simple feats as cleaning a straw hat or pulling a cork out of a bottle. The mythical inventor was Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts.

Joined ‘Sun’
His machine production, despite the popularity, came to a virtual standstill—except in ads—about 15 years ago and Mr. Goldberg had meanwhile moved into other fields: he was comic strip cartoonist of the highly popular “Boob McNutt” before 1934 when he quit cartooning for magazine writing. In 1938 he became editorial cartoonist—the more serious part of the trade—for the New York Sun and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1948.

But the name “Rube Goldberg” has remained synonymous with funny looking gadgets. And on July 15, the cartoon burlesquer of the machine age was back. Hearst Newspapers in New York, Chicago .and Los Angeles began a new weekly feature: “Rube Goldberg Views the News for His Latest Invention.” Readers saw a revolving disc with a mechanical arm able to set off a rocket which hit a dice box. And a pulley arrangement managed to fix it so a poor old taxpayer lost his shirt.

It was Rube Goldberg, all right, with a wild type of humor based on incongruity (and, he insists, cold logic). But it wasn’t a mere revival of an old favorite. Professor L. G. Butts was out, and peopling the six-column cartoon instead were leaders in the news. (From piano-playing Truman to Joe DiMaggio). The feature, through Goldberg ropes and levers and pulleys, tied the news together in a way to make readers’ eyes pop.

The new weekly feature resulted from, among other things, the sale of the New York Sun to the New York World Telegram early this year. At that time Mr. Goldberg accepted a three-a-week political cartooning post with the New York Journal-American and King Features (down from his five-a-week for the Sun and BELL). It was agreed then that he’d get up a feature too. Its format was later suggested by William R. Hearst, Jr., Journal-American publisher, when Mr. Goldberg objected to a straight revival of his old-timer. The new element of basing it on current news topics and non-partisan politics puts it in the class of something created— not a mere repeater, the cartoonist points out.

That tenet of the 67-year-old cartoonist seems to go all the way back to his childhood. A brother was the accepted comedian in the family circle but “while they were laughing at so-called funny jokes and songs, I was finding a face I thought was funny in its own right. I wanted to create something original instead of just retelling. . . .”

Later, a one-man rebellion against the commonplace brought cheers from newspaper readers. Working late once at the Mail to fill his entire allotted page (“You don’t have the stage now you had then,” he says) he encountered an associate who asked, “You still here?” Rube replied without hesitation: “No, I’m up in a balloon shoeing a horse.”

He converted the incident into a panel, titled “Foolish Question” to help fill up the lower half of the page (his sports cartoon took up half the page). “The public happened to be ready for that,” says Mr. Goldberg, who firmly believes “You must come along at a time when the trend is in your direction.” (Another of the “Foolish Question” series: “Did you hurt yourself?” put to a man who had just fallen out of the Flatiron Bldg.).

Mr. Goldberg has kindly crinkles around his eyes; two sons who use a different last name so they won’t be trading on their father’s fame; and great enthusiasm for the new feature. While humor within bounds is possible for editorial cartooning, he’ll have range for a broader type in the “inventions.”

And on a second level, some may find his zany correlation of the news representative of the state of the union. “People are sort of balled up in their minds,” observes Mr. Goldberg. “We don’t know what it’s all about but we know we’re in it up to our necks.” Another trend may be in Mr. Goldberg’s direction.

Obscurity of the Day: Deems

The Al Smith Service was a small syndicate that produced material for weekly papers. Smith, better known for his many years of work on Mutt & Jeff, ran the company as a sideline. He got into the syndicate business in 1951 and managed to keep it going after practically all the other weekly syndicates had long ago bit the dust.

Syndicates that produced material for weekly newspapers were never a particularly lucrative business. Small papers paid small rates, often under $10 per week for a whole menu of features. Worse yet, the weeklies had a well-deserved reputation for not even paying those small bills, so syndicate owners were just as busy in collections as producing material.

Al Smith offered an entire weekly page of material, including upwards of a half-dozen comic strips. At rates of $5-10 per client you can imagine how even with a large subscriber base the contributors were paid a pittance. Smith, however, managed to put together a stable of excellent cartoonists that made the offerings of other weekly services look pretty dismal.

One of those fine features was Deems by Tom Okamoto, a Japanese-American cartoonist who went by the name Tom Oka on this strip. Okamoto was an animator with Disney before World War II, then was put into a relocation camp for the duration. I don’t know if he continued in animation after the war, but I presume he did (animation buffs, a little help?).

Okamoto opted to do the strip in pantomime, a genre that most cartoonists consider the hardest type of feature to produce on an ongoing basis. Okamoto, though, seemed to have a wonderful knack for it. His pantomime gags rarely seem stale or trite, and he came across with a lot of real winners (I particularly like the last sample above where he adds a delightful twist to the old ‘painted into a corner’ gag).

How hard is pantomime? Jim Ivey once told me that he had a long-standing order from a well-known cartoonist responsible for such a feature. He begged Jim to gather every pantomime strips he could find, no matter what feature or what subject, and send everything to him with bills for whatever he felt was fair. The cartoonist was that desperate for pantomime gags that he could mine for his feature.

Anyhow, back to Deems. The strip was a charter member of Al Smith’s syndicated weekly page in 1951 (and after all these years I’m still trying to determine the exact start date of the offering). Deems was such a standout that Smith also tried to sell it as a daily, something he very rarely tried. The daily offering went on until 1955, but I’ve only found one paper that ran it daily, the Pasadena Independent, and then apparently only for a short stretch in 1952.

Deems was a part of the Al Smith weekly offering until 1980, a run of thirty years. Quite a few of Smith’s strips were in re-runs by the 1970s, and I don’t know if Okamoto’s strip was one of those. However, if Okamoto did actually produce the strip for daily frequency from 1951-55, the backlog for the weekly would have been enough to keep it going with new material even if Okamoto never put pen to Bristol board again after that year.

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:

Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.

Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey’s career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.

Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.