Strip Teasers: Chic Young’s Blondie: The Courtship and Wedding — Complete Daily Comics 1930-33

2010, IDW Publishing, edited by Dean Mullaney
Hardcover, 278 pages, 11.5″ x 9.25″, $49.99
ISBN 978-1600107405

This is one of those reprint books that has been overdue for, oh, about fifty years or so. Chic Young’s Blondie, which became staggeringly popular after a rough patch at the start, has long been one of the world’s favorite newspaper strips. And the mythology of those early years, years in which the strip ran in very few papers, has long been whispered about not only among serious comics fans but by casual readers as well. We’ve all heard that Dagwood came from an ultra-rich family, of his infamous hunger strike to win Blondie, and of him turning his back on the Bumstead millions in favor of an air-headed flapper named Blondie Boopadoop.

Yet never during all these years have we seen more than just a fleeting taste of those years, a week’s worth of strips reprinted here or there. Rumor had it that the Young estate bore some ill-will to the publication of these early strips, though it seems hard to imagine why. Or perhaps they were holding out for a lucrative publishing deal. Not being on the inside, I don’t know what kept these strips out of sight all those years.

But finally Dean Mullaney and IDW have issued the complete story (well, sans Sundays, which oddly follow a different continuity and are therefore sort of beside the point). After facing all the stumbling blocks to the publication, including simply finding all these ridiculously rare strips, the obvious question is whether it was all worth it.  In my opinion, a very mildly qualified ‘yes’! On the down side, these early years of Blondie are rather repetitive — Dagwood is blocked over and over from marrying Blondie in plot lines that can become monotonous in their similarity. Evidently Young, knowing how few papers were running the feature, and that he was being picked up and canceled with regularity, had a tendency to dog it a little in the originality of his stories. However, the same can be said of many humor strips, and if you put this book aside occasionally and come back to it fresh a week or two later, the repetitiveness is far less noticeable.

On the plus side, the stories really are pretty darn funny. There’s a lot of slapstick, a lot of airhead flapper humor, and no shortage of punch lines that can still elicit a smile or a guffaw nearly four score years later. And of course there’s the allure of Blondie herself, deliciously illustrated by Young as a supremely delectable dish. Blondie still has the ‘hot mom’ thing goin’ on today, but in 1930 she was more like Frank Godwin’s Connie, a waif-like vision dressed in translucent chiffons and figure-hugging satins. And speaking of the artwork, we mustn’t forget that the great Alex Raymond was honing his cartooning chops assisting during this period. Though undetectable most of the time, it’s great fun to discover Raymond’s sensibilities popping up occasionally. Nowhere is he more evident than in a sequence with uber-hunk Gil, a car mechanic who threatens to steal Blondie’s heart forever in one of the odder stories (Dagwood disappears for several months, signaling that perhaps Young had cold feet over the durability of his Dagwood character). 

As is usual with Mullaney-edited reprint volumes, the reproduction is excellent, the strips printed reasonably large (reduced only about 15% from their original printed 6-column size) and the restoration sensitive and thorough. Add to that an interesting Brian Walker intro illustrated with some rare ephemera of the strip, and you have quite an attractive package. Hopefully a second volume will appear so that we can see just how the scatterbrained, head-over heels in love pair adapt to married life and the loss of the Bumstead fortune.

Obscurity of the Day: Cat Tales

J. Carver Pusey, marginally famous for his 1930s Sunday and daily comic strip Benny, still has a small coterie of fans who admire his deft cartooning style and knack for pantomime. Benny was a strip about a little mute vagabond who wore an oversize coat. Before Benny, though, Pusey had a long run with another pantomime strip about a put-upon cat. The earlier strip was titled Cat Tales.

Cat Tales is a bit of an enigma, as is just about everything about the publicity-shunning Pusey and his creations. It started out in or before 1917 as a seldom seen offering of the Associated Newspaper co-op syndicate. Being with Associated means that the strip was almost certainly done for one of its member papers, but Pusey is only known to have worked at the New York World and supposedly the Philadelphia Inquirer (I say supposedly because I’ve never seen any evidence of his working there myself), neither of which were members. Cat Tales does show up at the Associated-member Philadelphia Bulletin, but not with enough regularity that I’m ready to place him in their bullpen.

 Anyhow, the strip goes back at least to September 1917, the earliest I’ve seen, and perhaps farther. Although the strip was undeniably clever and attractive, Associated Newspapers co-op members sure didn’t seem to think much of it. It is seen rarely in those days and continues that way well into the 1920s. It’s so seldom seen that it would not surprise me at all to find that the strip went through periods, perhaps long ones, when production was ceased.
Sometime in the 1920s, though, Cat Tales switched to the nascent United Feature Syndicate, and thereafter isn’t quite as stealthy about its mere existence. However, the daily strip was dropped sometime in 1929 shortly after Benny began its syndication through Press Publishing, the syndicate of the New York World. With the aid of a more energetic syndicate, Benny became a modest success. Between the success of Benny, and a short stint of Pusey writing for the Marx Brothers, evidently the always barely above water Cat Tales was considered expendable.

That’s not the end of the story though. Sometime in 1930 (or perhaps even in 1929) the Benny strip gained a Sunday color adjunct, and Cat Tales was revived as the topper strip for it. This second (or maybe third or fourth?) chance for Cat Tales lasted until December 1932 or early 1933 when it was phased out of the topper spot in favor of a new Benny companion strip, Opportunity Knox.

News of Yore 1929: Denys Wortman Profiled

All N.Y. Poses For Wortman’s Cartoons

Straphangers in the Subway and Flappers at Soda Fountains Are Unsuspecting
Models for New York World Artist Who Blends Comedy With Grim
Reality in “Metropolitan Movies” for N.Y. World

by John F. Roche (E&P, 3/23/29)

The pen-and-ink creatures that inhabit comic strips and cartoons are usually grotesque caricatures of genus homo or more restrained sketches representing no one in particular. But people who live and breathe, or rather, their likenesses imprisoned in ink and crayon, perform on the back page of the New York World each morning in Denys Wortman’s “Metropolitan Movies.” Rotund matrons, leggy flappers, wide-trousered shipping clerks and tired old men and women with the stamp of tragedy on their faces act out in this cartoon the comedy and hardness of daily life in Manhattan’s wilderness of steel and stone.

Each character in “Metropolitan Movies” has his or her counterpart somewhere in the five boroughs Of New York; and the streets and buildings which fill its stage are recognizable to most readers familiar with the city. Wortman sketches them as he walks or rides about town in the course of his daily activities.

It would be impossible for him to work any other way, he told the writer, because the actual drawing of the cartoon is more important to him than the caption which it is to illustrate. He is intensely interested in the technique of making pictures and, consequently, works much detail into his cartoons. His method of using ink and crayon, he thinks, makes it possible to obtain such complete reproductions of persons and objects. His completed drawings give almost the effect of half-tones.

“Drawing for newspaper reproduction in the style I use, with so much detail and grades of shading, presents quite a problem,” Wortman said. “Combinations of heavy shadows and fine lines are so liable to smudge in newspaper work. But by making the dark spot support the more delicate lines, I think I obtain a result which insures clean reproduction.” Wortman makes rough ‘note’ sketches of anybody or anything that strikes his fancy in his daily peregrinations about the city. The subway, he claims, is a gratifyingly fruitful source for human types. In sketching persons in the underground trains, he tries to cover his activity as much as possible behind a newspaper so his subject will not take notice and become embarrassed.

“Not only am I afraid the person I’m sketching will be embarrassed,” the artist confided, “but I become terrifically embarrassed myself, if I’m caught by my subject. I get very fidgety when I work that way.”

Sketching objects presents its difficulties, too, Wortman said.

“Department stores are particularly difficult places in which to make ‘notes.’ If the floor managers see you, they always request that your stop. I don’t blame them either. They don’t know what you’re up to. Their competitors often send artists to sketch their styles, and they have to be very careful.”

Despite the difficulties he meets, Wortman insists on actual models for his cartoons. He often uses photographs from which to copy buildings or even complete street scenes. In drawing buildings or other structures, though, he departs from his rule of including great detail because he thinks it would complicate the drawing too much for good reproduction. He draws as much as possible of the structure true to form, however, and never invents objects, such as lamp posts, hydrants, houses, wagons or any of the familiar trappings of metropolitan life.

“It’s very easy to overlook many small characteristics of familiar things,” he explained, “and, consequently, you’re liable to draw something that will not be a good representation of what it’s supposed to be. There are specialists for every little item you draw, and if you’re going in for detail, they’re almost certain to pick you up on errors.

“People are, somehow, very peculiar about picking faults in seemingly unimportant matters. For instance, I drew a picture for ‘Metropolitan Movies,’ not long ago, of three musicians riding home in the subway after a dance. I had made ‘notes’ of the actual musicians in the drawing about one or two o’clock in the morning. I had also included the background of the subway car in the sketch. Nevertheless I received a note from a reader telling me the sign in the car window, showing the destination of the train, was wrong. He said express trains didn’t go to the station named on the sign.

“But that time the reader was wrong, for I had made the sketch after one a.m. when no expresses were running, and the sign in the drawing was an exact copy of that in the local on which I had ridden.”

Another incident which shows how closely cartoons are sometimes scrutinized arose out of a Memorial Day drawing Wortman made. It showed a soldier’s grave with a mother standing by it. On the headstone, the artist had lettered the name of a boy he knew who had given his life in the World War. After the cartoon appeared Wortman received several letters from persons related to the boy either directly or indirectly. Some of the letters came from middle western cities.

Although the surface of New York life glitters with a thin frosting of comedy, there is a thick layer of heartache underneath, some of which comes to the surface in an occasional poignant drawing of Wortman’s. For, like O. Henry, sometimes he deviates from the highway of merriment into the byways of the “seamy side” which most people try to avoid. And he finds that these serious efforts create greater response among readers than his more humorous creations.

“The ‘tear jerkers,’ as they are called, always draw the most comment,” he said. “They seem to appeal to the average person more strongly than comedy.”

A particularly appealing picture of life in the crowded districts of the metropolis was drawn by Wortman several months ago. It showed a mother and two children in a dingy, poverty-stricken room in an attitude of apprehensive listening. The mother was looking significantly at the children. She was saying, “I hear him coming up the stairs slowly, so don’t ask him if he got a job.”

Wortman possesses an understanding of human nature and its many-sided characters more readily associated with authors and philosophers than with cartoonists. It shows itself in his pictures of the less opulent middle class life.

One of these drawings shows an old man and his wife sitting by the window of their tiny flat, presumably watching their daughter on the street below with her beau. One of them says, “He’s a real sport, alright. He’s taking her in a taxi.”

Wortman thinks the contrast between the laughable and the realistic helps to keep his cartoons interesting.

“If I drew all sob stuff,” he said, “the public would soon get tired of it, and if I kept up the comedy continuously they would merely take it as a matter of course.”

Wortman is primarily an artist, having studied at the Chase School in New York under Kenneth Hays Miller, to whom he says he owes much for his aid in art studies. The Chase is now defunct, but during its period of existence it sired some of the country’s best known artists, among them George Bellows, Rockwell Kent, Edward Hopper and Guy Debois, all of whom attended the school at the same time as Wortman.

Before attending art school Wortman had studied at Rutgers University and Stevens Institute of Technology and was well on the road to becoming an engineer when he decided he would rather paint and set aside his compass and plumb line to take up the brush and palette. He still retains a keen liking for mathematics, though, and is greatly interested in new engineering developments.

Taking up painting seriously, Wortman devoted all his time to it and about 10 years ago had produced enough paintings to hold a one-man show at the Daniel Galleries in New York. Later he had exhibits in showings at the Montross and MacBeth Galleries. He has not shown any of his work recently, but dominating one wall of his high-ceiling studio in Greenwich Village, is a large painting which, when completed, he thinks he might enter into an exhibition.

In his spare time he paints portraits or decorates furniture in vivid colors.

Until he was 30 years old, Wortman had never done any commercial art work. His first work in this line was illustrating magazine stories, but after several years he became dissatisfied with this occupation and turned to newspaper work. His first newspaper job was on the old New York Tribune about seven years ago. He remained there for nine months and then went back to free-lancing until he finally joined the World to take over the “Metropolitan Movies” assignment, after Gene Carr, the former creator of the cartoon, resigned. He has been with the World for about five years.

[Allan’s note: Metropolitan Movies was syndicated outside of New York as Everyday Movies]

Happy Thanksgiving, and Obscurity of the Day: Granny Goodthing

Hope you’re all having a good Thanksgiving. Me, I’ve got a rotten cold so bah humbug (or whatever the equivalent saying is for this holiday).

Cole Johnson, who actually thinks ahead to prepare for holiday posts, unlike me, sends this cornucopia of Granny Goodthing episodes, headlined with a funny Thanksgiving slapstick. Granny Goodthing was the brainchild of one of my favorite turn of the century cartoonists, Foster M. Follett. Follett arguably did his best work for the New York World, but he made the rounds like most of the better cartoonists of the day. Granny Goodthing he did for the Otis F. Wood-copyrighted version of the McClure Syndicate Sunday section. The series ran from November 14 1909 to May 14 1911, a nice long run for a delightful strip.

The premise was that a fat dad and his fat kid are treated rather shabbily by the cold cruel world and only darling granny ever gives them succor. Ah, the piteous plight of the porcine. Well, tough, says I. At least they weren’t stuck sipping chicken soup and using up veritable forests of Puffs Plus on Turkey Day.

Obscurity of the Day: He Just Imagined It – That’s All

This fantasy strip by a fellow who went by the name Artigue is a pretty fair imitator to Winsor McCay’s Dream of the Rarebit Fiend series. Unlike McCay’s series, though, Artigue doesn’t use the conceit of an upset stomach to get the fun started, he just lets his characters’ minds run away with them.

He Just Imagined It – That’s All ran in the Boston Herald for just a few months, from December 30 1906 to March 10 1907, but continued in the W.E. Haskell-syndicated version of the Herald‘s Sunday section until the end of the line for the whole shebang on August 30 1908. I guess the Herald felt a little self-conscious about having a poor man’s McCay running in their own paper, but figured it was fine for out in the sticks.

We’ve met Artigue on one other occasion way back in 2006, with Chris and Christena’s Courtship.

News of Yore 1928: Cartoonists Rev Up for Election Season

Political Cartoonists Now “Warming Up”

Heavy Work Ahead for G.O.P. Elephant and Democratic Donkey Created by Tom Nast as Boon to His Craft — Famed Cartoonists Describe Their Jobs

by John F. Roche (E&P 5/26/1928)

With the approaching conventions of the two leading political parties of the United States not far distant, those well known symbolic beasts, the elephant and the donkey, are being groomed to do battle on the editorial pages of partisan newspapers. Having served faithfully since the day long past, when they were created by Tom Nast, these political beasts are still used to a great extent by editorial cartoonists as a weapon of ridicule.

Rollin Kirby, editorial cartoonist of the New York World and winner of the 1921 and 1924 Pulitzer prizes for cartoons, thinks the animals and all other symbols of editorial page cartooning are vitally necessary in conveying the idea of the cartoon to the public.

“The public recognize the old symbols that have been used in editorial page cartoons for years. The symbols make it easier for them to understand the cartoon. I don’t like to vary from the standardized symbols. See that bomb?” he pointed to the cartoon he had just finished, showing a huge, round bomb exploding, “That’s the ancient, accepted form of a cartoon bomb. No one has thrown a bomb like that at anyone in years, but the public recognize it more quickly than they would a drawing of the new lead pipe bomb.”

Mr. Kirby has been drawing editorial cartoons for 20 years, 15 of them on the World. The other five years were divided between the New York Mail and the Evening Sun. He doesn’t think there’s anything magic about drawing cartoons.

“It’s just a regular job,” he confessed, “It’s the same as being a doctor or a hydraulic engineer, I don’t want to seem upstage, but there really isn’t anything different about cartooning. It’s merely a good manufacturing job.”

He thinks the editorial writer has more leeway than the cartoonist.

“The editorial writer,” he claims, “can do much more with words than we can do with lines and symbols.”

An extremely opposite view of editorial cartooning is held by John Cassel, who draws for McClure Syndicate, although he questions the effect of political cartoons in influencing voters.

“The effect of the political cartoons is more to strengthen the attitude of a person toward his own party,” Mr. Cassel says, “I don’t think it would cause a man to change his party affiliations, unless that man already had a great incentive to do so.”

Mr. Cassels’s method of working differs from most other cartoonists in  that he does not depend very much on the usual symbols. He tries to  tie his cartoon to some event of everyday life familiar to the great majority of people.

Explaining his working methods, he says, “I skim through the news for an idea, I rarely go through the news thoroughly at first. Fussing around with it confuses me. The first flash of an idea gives me something to start on. Then I try to find a situation of human interest upon which I can build the idea. I try to avoid using symbols whenever possible. After I finish the cartoon I settle down and read the papers through.”

The New York Evening World is the only daily newspaper by which Mr. Cassel has been employed. He drew cartoons for that paper for 12 years, leaving it last year because his political convictions clashed with the World’s policy of supporting Governor Smith of New York for the presidency. He based his action on a contract he had signed with the World two years ago stating that he should be at liberty to sever his
connection with the paper in the event that Smith should become a candidate for the Democratic nomination. When Governor Smith’s hat went in the ring, Mr. Cassel’s convictions were respected and the contract was terminated.

Commenting on his connection with the World, Mr. Cassel said, “I always got along exceptionally well with the editors of the World. They allowed me to work in my own way, and never interfered with me. For 12 years our views were in common, and when they ceased to be in common I didn’t want the job any longer. Sometimes I’m surprised that I lasted 12 years with my strong political convictions.”

Now that he is with a syndicate, Mr. Cassel says he is not called upon so much to draw partisan cartoons, his work must be more generalized.

“I have to handle politics from a news angle, now, when I touch on them at all. Most of my editorial page cartoons now are on general news subjects.”

Discussing the influence of present day political cartoons with those of Thomas Nast, Mr, Cassel said, “The influence of Tom Nast’s cartoons on the public was undoubtedly greater than that of modern cartoons. The political cartoon was new at that time, and people took more interest in it.”

During the photo-engravers strike in 1921 newspapers were left without any means of reproducing photographs or cartoons. It looked as though the Evening World would have to go without a cartoon on its editorial page, until Mr. Cassel conceived the idea of constructing a cartoon  from the odds and ends of the type racks. He laid aside his crayon and drawing board and stood in the composing room showing a compositor what symbols to use in making the cartoon. He was not allowed to touch the type himself, but the compositors co-operated with him enthusiastically, and in this way he made five cartoons.

The cartoons that enliven the editorial page of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle are drawn by Nelson Harding, winner of the 1927 Pulitzer Prize, as well as that for 1926. In his studio on top of the Eagle building he surveys a vast expanse of Brooklyn’s downtown business section and strives to draw cartoons from the woman’s point of view.

“Political cartoons are drawn too much from the man’s point of view,” he claims. “Women have the vote now and we should try to make our cartoons interesting to them. I doubt whether they fully understand the cartoons symbols, the elephant , the donkey and the Tammany tiger. If they are interested in politics, they probably get the significance of the cartoons, but if politics don’t mean anything to them I don’t suppose they pay much attention to them.”

Mr. Harding finds the symbols very useful in ridiculing  the opposing party, if one works for a partisan paper.

“A cartoon is a great offensive weapon,” he told his interviewer. “If you want to direct some good-natured satire against the opposing political party, the animal symbols come in handy. For instance, in satirizing the Republican party I draw a picture of an elephant in trouble. A worried elephant always appears amusing in a picture.”

Mr. Harding thinks that even partisan political cartoons should never be used in a way that might give offense to anyone. In spite of his feelings on the subject, he says that cartoons are bound to irritate someone if they are even slightly partisan. He often receives letters from individuals and organizations complaining about certain cartoons he has drawn, though they are in strict accord with the policy of the Eagle and are not meant to offend anybody in the least.

About 50 per cent of the value of an editorial page cartoon hangs on the caption, Mr. Harding believes.

“A one-word caption is ideal,” he holds. “The picture should be able to tell the story itself, but the caption should strengthen it so that there isn’t any doubt about its getting across. Familiar titles of books or plays are valuable for use in captions. I build most of my cartoons on a caption.”

In the use of symbols, particularly in originating symbols for one’s own work, Mr. Harding thinks that the symbol should be closely associated to the subject it represents.

“If I were drawing a cartoon about a tariff cut,” he explained, “I should naturally use a cutting implement of some sort as a symbol.”

He is also numbered among those who think that an editorial page cartoon is most effective when it is directed in favor of some campaign with a general appeal. The series of cartoons he drew for the Eagle’s campaign against ambulance chasing in Brooklyn were very successful, he believes.

He has been cartooning for the Eagle for 20 years with, as he says, “no time off for good behavior.” In addition to his daily cartoon he writes a few sticks of editorial comment which appear on the front page of the Eagle every day.

Among those who draw for the syndicates is Quin Hall, whose editorial page cartoon, drawn for King Features, appears in nearly 100 of the smaller American dailies. Partisan political cartoons are out of his field, and he explained the job of drawing syndicate cartoons in this manner.

“Human interest is the big factor in editorial cartoons that must appear in a number of papers. Partisan opinions can’t be expressed. Cartoons of general interest on political subjects can be used of course, but you can’t take sides. It’s a lot like the case of the girl  whose mother  permitted  her to go swimming but told her to hang her clothes on a hickory limb and don’t go near the water.”

Mr. Hall believes in injecting humor into cartoons whenever it is possible to do so. He will use a political situation for a cartoon, if it is possible to make it amusing and create a laugh for the person who sees it.

On the question of partisan cartoons in partisan papers, Mr. Hall agrees with those who say that the cartoon does more to influence a voter in favor of his own party than it does to turn voters to the opposing party.

He also thinks that the animal symbols are very valuable.

“These symbols,” he said, “have been built up through generations and even the youngsters are acquainted with them. They are a godsend to cartoonists. The Republican and Democratic parties will always be identified with the elephant and donkey in cartoons. They can’t break away from it.”

Mr. Hall has been with the King Feature Syndicate three years. Prior to that he was with the Chicago Daily News, Oklahoma City Times and Kansas City Post.

Obscurity of the Day: Easy Edgar

The word ‘easy’ here in Easy Edgar is used in the sense of vulnerability, as in an easy target. Poor little Edgar, dressed by his mama in what for all the world looks to be a tutu, is trying to impress (no mean feat when you’re wearing a tutu) only to have the rug pulled out from under him.

This series ran for only five episodes in the Philadelphia North American between November 23 1902 and May 3 1903. Jean Mohr, the cartoonist, used her space for her Sallie Slick strip much more often.

Still no definitve word on whether Jean Mohr was a man or a woman.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan!