Obscurity of the Day: Alexander



The George Herriman cat strip trilogy is bookended by Zoo Zoo and Krazy Kat, and today’s obscurity, Alexander, occupies the middle position. The first two really have little in common with the third — they live in worlds much farther apart than the one-letter difference between cat and kat might imply.

In fact Alexander is almost identical in plot and characters to the earlier Zoo Zoo, the big difference really only in the venue. While Zoo Zoo is an obscurity of the first order, running for less than two weeks in the Los Angeles Examiner of December 1906, Alexander was the headliner strip for World Color Printing’s Sunday section in late 1909. Herriman had contributed to the WCP section on and off since 1904, but had been mostly absent from their pages since he got his gig at the Examiner.

During his three years at Hearst’s LA Examiner, a minor paper in the chain, he seems to have been trying diligently to worm his way back into the bigtime of syndication. The Hearst organization occasionally took something but for the most part he was being ignored. His latest effort, Alexander, would likely have been submitted to Hearst, but apparently drew no interest. Intent on getting some national exposure again he sent it off to World Color Printing in St. Louis. WCP, always on the verge of not having enough material to fill its weekly four pages, would have been delighted to get a new submission from Herriman. His strips for WCP in 1904-1906 (like Major Ozone, Bud Smith and others) had been some of their most popular headliners, and most had been continued by lesser hands after Herriman stopped submitting them.

Herriman was probably at least a little depressed to be going back to his old haunts at WCP. His career seemed to be going nowhere fast. What he wouldn’t have known at the time is that 1909 would end on a major up-note.

Alexander first appeared in the World Color Printing section on November 7 1909, which means he had probably submitted the material in August or earlier. However, it was in this same period that New York finally took notice, accepting and syndicating his new weekday strip, Baron Mooch. Earlier in the year they had taken the weekday strip Mary’s Home From College, but had used it sparingly. Baron Mooch, on the other hand, seems to have awakened a serious interest in the California cartoonist and he finally succeeded in staking out a regular position in the pages of the Hearst papers nationwide.

Herriman’s spiking career arc meant that Alexander would be quickly wiped from his radar. The strip ran in the World Color Printing section under his signature only until January 9 1910, a total of ten strips. While this seems like a lot of Sunday pages to be in Herriman’s original submission, perhaps WCP had placed an order for that amount earlier in the year. In any case, that was it for Herriman’s stint with his second cat star.

World Color must have cursed their bad luck at having recaptured one of their old star cartoonists only to have him spirited away again, so they responded as they had in earlier days. Believing that Herriman had the Midas touch, they continued the strip. First to take over was “Bart” (a credit that pops up in World Color sections fairly regularly in the 1900s, but who has not been definitely identified except that it is definitely not Charles Bartholomew, and it is most likely not Donald Bartholomew), who drew the strip from February 6 to March 6 1910, and then WCP stalwart Clarence Rigby took over, continuing the strip from March 13 1910 until April 2 1911.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the lovely samples above. The Mobile Register evidently bought the strips in black and white format, which affords us a good look at Herriman’s linework.

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.

Herriman Saturday

Tuesday, September 24 1907 — Attendance at the Ringling circus was 16,000 and a fine time was had by all. Among the odder acts not pictured above was a horse that kicked a football. Didn’t know a horse’s legs moved in that fashion, but then I guess that’s what made it noteworthy.

Wednesday, September 25 1907 — Gans is just days away from his match with Memsic, and Jim Jeffries’ entourage pays a visit to watch an early weigh-in.

Some explanation of Herriman’s vignettes above; at the far left the fellow trying to get gum out of a machine is having trouble because this was one of a whole roomful of gambling machines that had been set up at the training camp. Designed to extract some silver from visitors, the machines helped pay the boxer’s expenses.

Next to that we have Young Peter Jackson, a boxer of no special note if the Boxrec website tells the whole story. The original Peter Jackson, on the other hand, is considered one of the early greats. As we’ve probably mentioned before in these posts, boxers in that day often took on the names of former greats as a marketing gimmick.

The reference to Bubbles on the upper right I can’t explain further; undoubtedly the incident was explained in the accompanying article, but my photocopy only saved a small portion of it.

Obscurity of the Day: Jokes That Really Happen



After Wednesday’s obscurity post got flack for not being obscure enough, I feel the need to tip the scales way back in my favor. Jokes That Really Happen ran for only two episodes on August 26 and September 2 1900. The images above come from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, though we assume that the feature also ran in the New York World. We can’t say that with absolute certainty since Ken Barker’s World index does not include them, but I’m assuming that’s because there is no cartoonist to credit (his World index was organized by cartoonist names). Since this very short series is actually a photo-comic based on real films of the day, I defer to Cole Johnson, who is not only a newspaper comics maven but also a renowned expert on silent films:

The first American motion picture companies were established in the late 1890’s. The film scenes shown in the Pulitzer Funny Side comic section in 1900 were produced by the American Biograph and Mutoscope Co., later to become the MGM of the nickelodeon era with the entrance of D.W.Griffith eight years later. It’s name was later shortened to simply the American Biograph Co. Poor management choices (like firing Griffith) led to the company’s demise in 1916. The films here were still intended to be seen in a mutoscope machine, as shown being watched by one of Paul West’s Roly Poly characters in the masthead of the first episode. Projecting film upon a screen had yet to become the dominant film venue.

The actual titles of these primitive masterpieces (despite the names given) are:

How The Young Man Got Stuck at Ocean Beach (released May 1900): A cop uses glue to nab some serial “spooners” by shmutzing up a bench. Another Victorian trespass against having a little fun.

A Farmer Who Could Not Let Go (released May 1900): Back then it was thought that mild jolts of electricity shooting through your body was good for your health. Small battery-run sets were sold for home use. One would hold two conductors wired to the battery as someone you trusted would control the dose given. This film shows a large fairground sized electricity machine. As in many, many cartoons of the era, the victim is given a blast so powerful, he gets paralyzed like a statue, prone for any larcenous mischief. I wonder though, wouldn’t the thief become spontaneously frozen as well, the farmer’s body acting a conduit for the juice? And how much did the electricity set-up cost to set up and run, just to abandon once they rolled a random hayseed? One really shouldn’t waste too many brain beams on it, I guess.

The Burglar-Proof Bed (released July 1900) A home invasion is thwarted when a Murphy bed turns into a stone fortress. A tiny cannon blows away the thug, and we get a salute from the goofy bed-owner and the American flag pops up! This guy’s been waiting for this for years!

All of these short films are quite similar to the comic strips of the era. Brief, mindless, cause-and-effect affairs with stereotypes and quick blasts of violence. I’m a-wondering if these were the first instances of photos as a comic strip?

I wonder the same thing, Cole. Are these truly the first fumettis, or photo-comics, to appear in American newspapers, or for that matter, published anywhere????

Obscurity of the Day: Desperate Desmond


Most everything I wanted to say about this feature, and more, has already been said over on Don Markstein’s Toonopedia, so I think I’ll just take the easy way out and direct you over to that page for information on Desperate Desmond.

I’ll stick around only long enough to disagree with a few bookkeeping details; according to my info the strip started on March 11 1910, not March 10, and ended October 15 1912, not June 13. I also wondered if Desmond really did continue by that name in the Dauntless Durham strip, but since I’m unable at the moment to locate the reprint book of that strip I’ll demur. As regards syndication of the strip, the Hearst company National News Association was in charge.

Obscurity of the Day: Pin-Up Girls






In an era when millions of young men were forced by world events to leave home, the country came together not only to fight the war but also to keep up the morale of these newly minted soldiers. During the war years pin-up girls, previously considered just a bit sordid, were embraced as patriotic. Hollywood churned out actress pin-up photos by the millions, and even the newspaper comics got into the act.

Russell Patterson had a great career going in illustration, and he took this opportunity to do his first open-ended newspaper series (at least for a US newspaper — early in his career he reportedly did a french language strip in Canada). Patterson had previously confined his newspaper work to closed-end series for Sunday magazine covers, a sample of which can be found here.

Patterson’s Pin-Up Girls, a daily and Sunday panel series distributed by King Features, arrived close on the heels to another essentially identical series from the same syndicate, Cuties by E. Simms Campbell. Campbell’s feature debuted in 1940, and Patterson’s began sometime in January 1942 (exact begin and end dates unknown, can anyone help?).

Campbell’s series was proving quite popular, but Patterson’s did not catch on. Whereas Campbell seemed to have hit just the right note with his babes, Patterson’s cartoons seemed just a bit old-fashioned. His sophisticated drawing technique emphasized style over cheesecake, and newspaper editors wisely preferred the Campbell version. Campbell’s girls, beautiful as they were, seemed like they might just be within reach of fantasizing GIs, while Patterson’s were vaguely haughty and out of their league.

Pin-Up Girls continued through the war in a small list of papers, ending sometime in March 1946. The Sunday version was discontinued earlier but I don’t know when.

Pay particular attention to the top sample above. Can anyone explain to me how in the world that cartoon made it into the papers? Sure looks to me like that girl got a whole lot more than an autograph from the mystery star!

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.

Herriman Saturday


Sunday, September 22 1907 — For the Sunday magazine section Herriman supplies bookend illustrations to a feature editorial, one presumably produced out of New York. The editorial is discussing what was apparently a common practice at the time of employing young boys as industrial chimney sweeps. According to the editorial machinery was available to clean industrial smoke stacks, but it was cheaper to employ small boys to climb up inside and clean them by hand. The first illustration, “Simple Arithmetic”, echoes the editorial writer’s point that the children of rich businessmen lead idyllic lives as a result of the money saved by ruining the lives of other boys.

The editorial goes on to admonish businessmen to sacrifice a small part of their profits to end this practice. Character, the writer says, is based on looking at the big picture, not merely at the bottom line of an income statement.

Obscurity of the Day: The Excuse Club



We just visited with Harry “I like big heads and I cannot lie” Lewis last week and here he is again. The Excuse Club was his very first foray into comic strips.

Lewis actually took this feature over from Charles Wellington, who turned it over to him after doing a few installments from February 24 to March 11 1909 in the New York Evening Journal. Lewis then took over and continued the series until February 5 1910, a very impressive one year run when you consider that the strip really only has one rather weak gag formula.

These strips afford me a good opportunity to point out that in the old days the evening papers had a lot of latitude about their subject matter. These PM papers were designed to entertain men on their way home from a day of work. The papers sold on the strength of the day’s sports scores, racy and shocking headlines, and a line-up of comics definitely not designed for the tykes who read the Sunday funnies. Notice in the above samples that Lewis is not just obliquely hinting at marital infidelity, he’s laying it right on the line. Those sorts of shenanigans generally wouldn’t fly in the Sunday funnies, but were perfectly fine in the evening paper. This sort of risque material petered out in the teens and twenties due to a lethal combination of two forces. First was the onset of the mass syndication of daily comics. Sophisticated New Yorkers could chuckle over a racy strip like The Excuse Club, but the rubes out in Sioux City, Tulsa and Sheboygan didn’t take kindly to such fare. Strips that didn’t offer universal appeal weren’t worth syndicating, so they died off. Second was the coming of the car culture — people who bought evening papers to read on the bus/train/trolley ride home were getting cars in the teens and twenties, and they no longer had the luxury of reading a paper on the way home. With the evening papers dying out, adult-oriented comic strips had no convenient market to capture anymore.