Wednesday, February 25 1908 — Battling Nelson goes out to sea on a day off from training, but the big news is that a certain duck character is named here for the first time, almost two years before he enters the pantheon of Herriman comic strip series.
Harris Harper Brown was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 26, 1884, according to his World War I and II draft cards. Information on his childhood and art training has not been found. Apparently he was the second child of Henry and Elizabeth who were recorded in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census; the first child was his sister, Jennie. The family lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on Sharwood Street.
Brown’s parents were counted in the 1900 census but he was not. They were farmers in Bristol, Pennsylvania. The local newspaper, The Bucks County Gazette, reported on several events involving Brown. On September 14, 1905, he and Mrs. Stackhouse had organized a lawn party on his father’s property. On November 30, 1905, “a freedom party was given to Harris H. Brown at his uncle’s residence, by Mrs. Frank P. Warrington, Mrs. William K. Stackhouse and Mrs. Henry C. Brown.” Another party honoring his twenty-first birthday was reported on December 8, 1905. The Gazette noted the start of his cartooning career, at the Philadelphia Record, on November 30, 1906:
The 1910 census recorded Brown in Philadelphia, boarding at 733 North 20th Street. He was an artist doing newspaper work. His parents were still farming in Bristol. He copyrighted Adventures of Willie Green, Book No. 1 on March 26, 1915, according to the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 1, Group 2: Pamphlets, Leaflets, etc. 1915, New Series, Volume 12, Number 4. He signed his World War I draft card on September 12, 1918. His occupation was farm laborer; his description was medium height and build with gray eyes and red hair. He has not been found in the 1920 census; his father, a widower, was retired and staying with the Stackhouse family.
In 1930, Brown was married and lived in Morrisville, Pennsylvania at 456 Stockham Avenue. According to the census, his wife, Alice, was 17 years his junior; they had a five-year-old daughter. He worked as an insurance agent. He signed his World War II draft card on April 27, 1942. He lived at 615 North Pennsylvania Avenue, in Morrisville, and worked for the Prudential Insurance Company in Princeton, New Jersey. His description on the card was “5 ft 10 in, 170 lbs, blue eyes, sandy hair.”
Brown passed away on November 11, 1962 in Trenton, New Jersey. The Trenton Evening Timesreported his death the following day.
Harris H. Brown died last night at his home, 26 South Westfield Avenue, following a short illness.
Mr. Harris was a retired Prudential Insurance Company agent, and also was retired as a guide at the State Museum.
He was well known as a cartoonist, having created the “Willie Green” comics, and was a cartoonist with the former Philadelphia Record for 30 years. He also had done commercial art work.
Born in Philadelphia, he resided in Trenton for the past 25 years, and previously made his home in the Emilie-Fallsington [Pennsylvania] area for many years. He was a graduate of Williamson College [a vocational school], Media, Pa.
Surviving are his wife, Mrs. Alice Kellett Brown; two daughters, Mrs. Nancianne B. Parrella and Mrs. Sally Jane Bergner, both of Trenton, and five grandchildren.
Funeral services will be held Friday at 11 a.m. in the First Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Dr. Andrew Sebben, pastor, will officiate. Burial will be in Fountain Lawn Memorial Park.
Unlike most of its competitors in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Record chose not to engage in a circulation race for its Sunday edition based on how many pages of color it could produce. In fact until the 1920s the paper, which did have very respectable circulation figures, had a relatively staid Sunday edition, often enlivened with only a black and white magazine section designed to appeal to relatively sophisticated tastes.
However, although the Record wasn’t awash in color, they did make a nod to running Sunday comics. For over twenty years they featured a half-page homegrown strip in black and white titled Willie Green. This wasn’t by any means the only strip they ran, but when it did run it was always clearly the star of the show. Most of the other strips tended to be daily size.
Willie Green, a strip about a mischievous boy, debuted on September 2 1906, penned by a local teenaged cartoonist named Harris H. Brown. The strip, initially drawn in a very crisp style that you can see in this old blogpost, seems to have been a real hit with Record readers. The strip ran weekly for the next five years, then began to run every second week, alternating with Cousin Sammy Green (a country cousin of Willie) penned by John F. Hart, from December 3 1911 to May 12 1912.
Willie Green disappeared at that point, and other minor strips ran in its place. Eventually even these pretty much petered out. Then as the new year of 1914 rang in, the Record added a Sunday color comic section, courtesy of Hearst’s new Newspaper Feature Service syndicate. In addition to the color section, Willie Green came back. This time the strip ran from January 4 1914 to September 3 1916 (today’s samples are from this interval). It was during this run that a pair of reprint books were issued through the Frank M. Acton Company. Both are quite rare.
Once again Harris Brown took flight, but again he returned. On November 18 1917 the strip is resurrected yet again, only to stop on July 14 1918. This time Brown was gone for quite awhile, but either the pull of cartooning for the Record was too great, or his luck at other ventures was too bad, because on May 22 1921 he’s back. But not for long. This run ended after a bare six months, on November 13. It was in this period, however, that Brown self-published another Willie Green reprint book; perhaps the 1921 run was intended purely as a bit of promotion.
Willie Green then pops up in the darnedest place, as a feature of World Color Printing’s weekly children’s activity page. I believe these are reprints of earlier material. One has to wonder if Harris Brown or the Philadelphia Record sold them the rights. Anyway, whatever the arrangement was, it didn’t last, as Willie Green ran only three times on that page.
The last hurrah for Willie Green came near the end of the 20s, when it made its last gasp as a feature of the Record Junior magazine section for kids. This final run was from January 8 to August 12 1928.
Why Brown did this feature in fits and starts is a mystery to me. But maybe we’ll learn some clues tomorrow when Alex Jay contributes an Ink-Slinger Profile of Harris Brown.
Sometimes destiny plays a cruel trick on us. Take the example of Wally Wallgren. If ever there was a fellow who was unfit and undesirous of any connection to the military, it was Wally. He was, to put it charitably, a free-spirit. He did not recognize authority, he was lazy, he was unable to keep a schedule, and he was a compulsive smartass. The one thing he seemed to take really seriously and to pursue with gusto (besides cartooning) was drinking. Let’s just say that Wally sure as hell wasn’t officer material.
So naturally fate ensured that Wally’s entire adult life ended up entwined with the military. When he wasn’t in uniform, he was cartooning about military life. And here’s where it all started, in 1911, with Inbad the Sailor. Why Wally chose a sailor for this series I cannot fathom. It’s not really germane to the idea, other than providing a pretext for an ever-changing setting. And this was long before the military should have even been on his radar (he was drafted for World War I). But he did, so I get to tell you that this is Wally Wallgren’s very first military-themed strip, a portent of the next 30+ years of Wally’s life.
Inbad the Sailor, a strip about a tender-hearted tar who gets the snot beat out of him all over the world for trying to do good deeds, ran in the Philadelphia North American from January 1 to June 18 1911.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!
Tomorrow: an Ink-Slinger Profile of Wally Wallgren by Alex Jay
The kiwi is a flightless bird, so it seems sort of amazing that a strip about one had a very long migration, all the way from Australia to the U.S.
Ken Montone, new to Australia from the U.S., and Brian Kirby, fresh from Great Britain via Singapore and India, both came to the country as art directors at McCann-Erickson Advertising. The two found enough free time to come up with a minimalist comic strip about birds, then called Birdwirds, and sold it to the Sydney Sun-Herald as a Sunday feature in early 1965.
Not long after, both Kirby and Montone left Australia, taking their strip with them. They then sold it in England to the London Daily Sketch.
Then Montone returned to the U.S. and sold the strip to the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. According to Montone the strip was initially tried out in the syndicate’s flagship papers, and then was generally syndicated starting on February 12 1968. In the U.S. the title was changed to Kiwi; Montone says this was because the original title was considered “somewhat naughty”. (I hate to admit ignorance of anything naughty, but I confess I don’t see what’s off-color about the title Birdwirds).
Things were tough, though, for the two creators. Kirby tried to immigrate to the U.S., but was unsuccessful. The two creators ended up collaborating long distance, with Kirby living offshore in Barbados. In 1970 the partnership carried on by mail and long-distance calls proved too much, and Kirby dropped out as co-creator of the strip. As Montone tells it, it was the beginning of the end. “By this time, the strip was suffering from a myriad of problems and the circulation showed it. In 1971, CT/NYNS and I parted company”.
And thus the Kiwi with by far the longest flight on record became extinct.
Thanks to Ken Montone, who supplied many details about his strip.
PS — The co-creator’s name is definitely Montone, not Monotone — my samples from the San Francisco Examiner seem to have been typeset by either a practical joker or a comic strip critic.
Tuesday, February 25 1908 — The game of water polo comes to Los Angeles courtesy of a fellow named Les Henry, who believes that the game could well become as popular as football to fans who like rough and tumble sports. Henry is organizing a league made up of teams from the local athletic clubs.
Water polo wasn’t much more than an infant sport at this time; the rules were still being standardized in the late 19th century. The sport got a big boost when it was featured in the first modern Olympics in 1900.
Arthur Yeager Hambleton was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 24, 1876, according to his World War I draft card at Ancestry.com. According to a family tree at Ancestry.com, his parents were Richard Emory Hugg-Hambleton (1845–1898) and Ella Frances Yeager (1849–1933). He has not been found in the 1880 U.S. Federal Census.
In the 1900 census, he was married to Alice, whose mother, Mary Sisselberger, a widow, was head of the household, which included his sister-in-law, Mary. They lived in Baltimore at 1506 Mount Royal Avenue. He was an artist. The Sun (Baltimore, Maryland) reported on January 2, 1902, “A chalk talk was given in the boys’ room during the afternoon by Mr. A.Y. Hambleton, a sketch artist.” The Morning Herald (Baltimore, Maryland), November 21, 1903, noted, “An entertainment will be provided by Knight’s orchestra and Mr. A.Y. Hambleton, chalk talker.” He contributed cartoons to the Sunday Sun in 1906 and signed them “Hamb.”
In the next census, he remained in Baltimore at another address, 2710 Fanview Avenue. He had his own business as an artist. In the 1930 census, Baltimore remained his hometown where he lived at 3110 Reisterstown Road. He was a newspaper artist.
Hambleton passed away in 1957, in Maryland. An obituary has not been found. The funeral service for his wife was reported in The Sun, May 17, 1970, and it said he had died 13 years earlier.
The Sun, November 14, 1949, reported the couple’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. In addition to being a commercial artist, Hambleton gave guitar and ukulele lessons for ten years.
If the excruciatingly awful rhymes perpetrated in the samples above haven’t turned your gray matter into a bubbling ooze pooling around your ankles, let me tell you that this is some mighty rare stuff you’re looking at. The Theatrical Alphabet is a series Cole Johnson found in the Baltimore Herald, an obscure newspaper of 1900-1906 that might be totally forgotten had not H.L. Mencken alit there for a few years.
Cole says of this item:
Here’s a local strip from the Baltimore Herald. I’ve seen “Hamb”‘s work before. This is a very primitive section, with a mix of real artists and cro-magnons, such as Morrison, T. Barnes, Fenderson (unsigned), W.M. Goodes, C. Toles, Sissel, J.C. Mayer, Mark Dintenfass, Fithian (dated “99”), all one-shots but for this item, in April and May, 1901. The insides feature “M. Quad’s Page”, and the saga of “Mr. Bowser” , illustrated by McDougall, longtime staples of the McClure syndicate. In September, this paper picked up the McClure comic section. Did McClure syndicate cartoons before the section was introduced?
Whether this section of the first half of 1901 in the Herald was indeed some sort of proto-McClure section I don’t know. McClure’s ‘official’ comics section debuted on 4/28/1901 and had continuing series from the start. I do, however, think I can ID “Hamb” — I think this is A.Y. Hambleton, who later did a little work for the Philadelphia North American.
Update: Acting on a tip from alert reader Fram, I have determined that the poem “The Theatrical Alphabet” is indeed considered part of the H.L. Mencken canon by S.T. Joshi, who is an authority on the subject. The poem, properly attributed to the Sunday comic section of the Baltimore Herald, is included in Joshi’s book of Mencken verse, Collected Poems. I had wondered if the poem might have been previously published elsewhere and then later re-used by Hambleton, but it appears that the Sunday comics were the original publishing locale of the poem. However, though I am a definite Mencken fan, I still stick by my opinion that the poem is awful. But pretty cool that one of the most erudite writers of the 20th century actually penned a comic strip!