“Louie” Thrives at 5; So Does His Creator
By Erwin Knoll (E&P, 5/15/52)
George McManus, who looks like a walking edition of his hero, Jiggs, claims that all cartoonists tend to resemble their creations, and vice versa. Harry Hanan and “Louie” are a case in point.
Though the bespectacled cartoonist bears little physical resemblance to his bemoustached pantomime hero, Mr. Hanan and “Louie” are definitely soulmates. Their philosophies, economic status -and weight-keep pace with each other.
When “Louie” made his bow in U. S. papers five years ago this week, he was a slight young man who eked out a precarious livelihood as a burglar, panhandler or pickpocket. His creator was a staff artist on the The People in austere post-war England, whose income was equally precarious, if slightly more legitimate. Since that time things have been looking up for Harry Hanan and, consequently, they’ve been looking up for “Louie” too. The cartoonist and his family are settled in a model suburban home in Westfield, N. J. (they came to the U. S. in November, 1948) and, equipped with a car, a television set, etc., lead model suburban lives. Mr. Hanan has gained 12 pounds.
In that time “Louie” has abandoned his life of crime, though he still cuts corners from time to time. Readers of the daily and Sunday strips now usually find their hero in the role of henpecked family man, ignored restaurant patron or cheated customer. And, though exact figures are not available, he seems to have gained at least 12 pounds.
Mr. Hanan, once described as a “solemn, helpless-looking” man, shares these qualities with “Louie.” Yet both manage to wreak occasional revenge, real or fancied, on a hostile, confusing world. Mr. Hanan admits to a long-standing ambition to snip the feathers off women’s hats. The 35-year old cartoonist went to art school in his native Liverpool, and got his first job doing layouts and illustrated articles for the Liverpool Evening Express at $16 a week. Occasionally he received a $2 bonus for doing a daily cartoon.
After six years of Army service in World War II, Mr. Hanan joined the staff of The People, London’s four million circulation weekly, as editorial cartoonist. He started “Louie” because he found that drawing one weekly editorial cartoon didn’t quite take up all his time. It was in The People that H. R. Wishengrad, head of Press Features, saw “Louie” and decided to syndicate it in the U. S. The strip defied two old taboos of the syndicate business: against pantomime strips and against British imports. “Louie” caught on, and both taboos have since been scrapped.
Today Mr. Hanan’s strip appears in almost 100 U. S. papers, and in more than 100 publications abroad. Some newspapers use it on their editorial pages-a unique distinction for a comic strip. “Louie” has rated high in readership surveys in Oakland, Calif., New York City, and Stockholm, Sweden, among others.
“Even when we’re settled, ‘Louie’ and I tend to be shiftless,” Mr. Hanan says. “People seem to like that.”