Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Walk on...

Mort Walker sold a load of cartoons to all the major magazines in 1949 and 1950. He was soon one of the best selling cartoonists. And he realized that if that was the most he could earn, he would have to look for another way to get rich. So he started trying out for a newspaper strip. Now, at that time that wasn't as logical a step as it might appear a couple of years later. I would have to check the exact starting date of Hank Ketcham's Dennis the Menace and Charles Schulz's Peanuts, but I get the impression that these tree artists all made the transfer from magazine cartoons to newspaper strip out of their own.

As the decade wound down, the newspaper strip business seemed to stagnate. There are these kind of periods all through the history of newspaper comics. It seems all the slots are filled, nothing new is happening and a lot of the old strips have lost their initial appeal. Although many interesting new realistic strips were started and tried out in the early to mid forties, most of the humor strips seemed to be either leftovers from the thirties or stylistically not very different from that. I guess we have those art courses to blame that taught everyone the same basic style. The generation that was 'in power' in the late forties, all came from the same background. A new generation of artists was growing, mostly made up of people who had been drafted and did some artwork in their army newspaper. Some of those artists drifted to animation, some of the most cartoony ones even reinvented animation by starting a new more stylized cartoony style exemplified by the limited animation of the UPC shorts. Although some animation historians look back at that development as 'the beginning of the end', it can't be denied that it was an exciting new look, that brought a vibrant new sense of cartooning to the fore.

But when Mort Walker, Hank Ketcham and Charles Schulz were trying out for the newspapers, they were the first of this generation who could envision themselves as doing something else than selling cartoons. When they opened that route, it became the most logical way to become a newspaper strip artist. First get a themed series in one of the magazines, then try to transform that theme into a series and Bob's your syndication representative. There may have been others who belong to that first wave (and if anyone points them out to me, I'll certainly post about it), but these three were the great visionaries and I applaud them for that.

To accompany these thoughts, I have a series of cartoons by Mort Walker from a slightly later period. He based Beetle Bailey on a series of cartoons he did for the Saturday Evening Post about a student called Spider. Or maybe he was only called Spider when the strip appeared, but anyway it was the same figure. He also sold cartoons about just about every subject to Collier's, McCalls, True and probably a few other magazines. In 1950, he took a post as editor for a couple of magazines at Dell, including 1000 Jokes. I guess he did cartoons for them as well, although strange enough my collection has no samples from 1950 or 1951. Most issues that turn up on e-bay are either later or earlier.

So here are a few samples from 1952. Apparently the newspaper strip still didn't pay enough...

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