Joseph A. Lemon, one of the anchormen of the McClure Syndicate Sunday sections, was not the most exciting cartoonist by any means. His fussily drawn entries were formulaic and unoriginal. The one strip where he almost breaks out of his box is Willie Cute. While the inspiration is obviously Buster Brown and the Katzies, Lemon’s Willie Cute somehow manages to up the ante. While not a particularly funny strip by any means, this little imp may take the cup for being the rottenest little bastard I’ve ever seen acting it up on the funny pages. Lemon had a moment of (evil) genius when he drew Willie Cute as the ultimate little fey angel, which makes his horrific pranks seem so much worse than when they’re pulled off by little toads like the Katzies. And unlike Buster Brown, drawn on the same general model, Willie never suffers any pangs of guilt at the end of his sprees. No, his only concern is figuring out bigger and meaner stunts.
It’s really no wonder that there was a movement afoot in the 1900s to ban Sunday newspaper comics when we see productions like Willie Cute. Between it, Buster Brown, the Katzies and their scores of imitators, what parent wouldn’t wonder if Junior wasn’t getting inspired by his little Sunday paper friends?
Willie Cute ran in the C.J. Hirt copyrighted version of the McClure Sunday section from April 5 1903 to June 17 1906. The strips were re-used in the section as late as 1912.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!