Obscurity of the Day: Goops

You wouldn’t think that a feature whose main characters were drawn with a compass would make a big impression on readers, but Gelett Burgess’ Goops enjoyed a surprising run of popularity in the early part of the previous century.

Gelett Burgess was primarily a writer and poet. His best known work is the poem The Purple Cow:

I never saw a purple cow
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one!

In 1900 he published the book Goops and How to Be Them, in which he described the behavior of naughty children and accompanied each little poem with a cartoon of a globe-headed kid in the act of displaying their signature behavior problem. The concept caught on and the books became popular gifts from parents to their little monsters, er, children. Whether Burgess’ Goop poems ever inspired these rugrats to straighten up and fly right seems doubtful, but the books themselves would at least serve as good paddling instruments if all else failed.

At least four follow-up volumes were published between 1903 and 1916, and in that period Burgess branched out to produce a daily newspaper panel featuring his creations. The first Goops series was distributed by Associated Newspapers and the best documented dates I can offer are March 3 1913 through September 14 1915.

After a long fallow period, Burgess resurrected his orb-faced brats in a second series that was distributed by the Chicago Tribune. This series ran from September 3 1923 to April 24 1926 as a daily panel, and as a Sunday comic strip from February 17 to May 18 1924.

I hasten to add that all the information about newspaper appearances of the Goops that appears above is likely incomplete. I have found examples of Goops panels showing up in some of the darnedest places, often just running once or twice in newspapers as early as the oughts and as late as the 1940s. My tendency with most of these stray appearances is to chalk them up as reprints, old stock, specials distributed by a publisher on the occasion of a new book, and so on. But something gnaws at me that I’m still not getting the full picture of the Goop newspaper history. Perhaps there is some dedicated Goop-ologist out there who can fill me in.

PS — I am not the type of Goop-headed individual who goes around Googling my own name. I am, however, gripped by an intense fascination with the links you folks use to get here to the Stripper’s Guide blog, and check my ‘referrals’ list on a regular basis. I see this not as ego massage but as market research, er, yeah, market research, that’s it. To my constant dismay, a truly amazing number of my visitors arrive here hoping to find a very different kind of stripper … but I digress. One of the referrals I just saw was from Wikipedia. Many kind (and discerning) folks have linked to this blog from various subjects there, so that was nothing out of the ordinary. What was unusual was the Wiki page from which this particular questing soul had arrived. It turns out, believe it or not, that there is a Wikipedia biography of li’l ole me! Really, I’m not kidding, you can go and look. And I swear on a stack of New York Evening Graphics that I didn’t write it. So I’m walking around a little puffed up at the moment, realizing that I now stack up with such luminaries like Alexander the Great, George Washington, the guy who talked fast on toy commercials and the key grip on She Gods of Shark Reef.

In observance of this great honor, I hereby promise to henceforth wear a tie whenever I write a blog post. If I ever make the Encyclopedia Brittanica I’ll consider wearing pants, too.

Obscurity of the Day: The Man With an Elephant on his Hands

Here’s one of my favorite comic strip titles, The Man With an Elephant on his Hands. Sounds like something Damon Runyan might have written about a loveable gangster who steals an elephant from a circus and then tries to unload it. However, this strip is actually doing an homage (which sounds a lot nicer than a rip-off) to a song of the same name. The song was originally featured in the 1891 musical play Wang, a comedy about a Siamese monarch. The play was revived in 1904, and apparently inspired cartoonist Everrett E. Lowry to do this strip. Yes, that really is how he spelled his first name.

Lowry produced a lot of features for the McClure Syndicate. This one only ran from January 15 to March 19 1905, and came and went while he was producing no less that three other features for McClure. I don’t think it’s too hard to imagine that the short run of this strip came as a result of a ‘cease and desist’ letter.

Lowry produced like mad for McClure during this period, but he was active much longer, and he really spread the wealth. His features appeared at one time or another with no less than seven different syndicates.

Tip of the hat to Cole Johnson for the scan. Thanks Cole!

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, October 1 1907 — Joe Gans, lightweight champion, has decided to retire and hand off his crown to the last man he fought, George Memsic. As alluded to in Herriman’s cartoon, the title came with strings attached — Memsic had to promise to take on all comers, including black fighters. Gans’ retirement would ultimately turn into a mere leave of absence. Even at the time it was recognized as an attempt to stir up interest and bigger purses rather than any real desire to put the gloves away for good.

Wednesday, October 2 1907 — Usually my LA Examiner photocopies cut off much of the articles associated with Herriman’s cartoons, but here’s a rare case where the whole article was preserved, so enjoy C.E. Van Loan’s article describing the Angels’ prospects for the final weeks of the baseball season. And yes, this florid prose is pretty representative of how most newspaper sportswriters of the day plied their trade.