Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Welcom to Bimbolala

Three more P.T. Bimbo sundays from the first year. Let me tell you why I think these are great.

Great sarcastic characters. You don't see a lot of these anymore. All men these days are in touch with their feelings.

Great cartooning. Who but a cartoonist could come up with a gag like this. Who but a cartoonist would know this is funny?

Silent gags with great timing. I won't say it's a lost art, but comic strips these days depend far too much on dialogue and not enough on characters behaving in their own way to certain situations. The good ones do it, like Mutts. It may be why all the good cartoonists write their own stuff - except maybe for those who have their wrtiters submit their material in sketch form.

Monday, April 28, 2008

More Walker

After returning from his stint in the army in the late forties, Mort Walker, like many soldiers went to college on the G.I. Bill. He attended a university in Missouri, where he quickly joined the university paper as the main illustrator, doing covers, cartoons and who knows what. From that he started a career as a magazine cartoonist. One of his first clients was a big one, The Saturday Evening post. Another of his early clients is less well known now. Varsity was a magazine from Parents Enterprises, the people who succesfully put out Parents magazine. It was aimed at the huge college crowd and tried to make use of the popularity of all the different colege magazines. Almost every college had one and most of them featured work by a lot of would be humorists and cartoonist, many of which later went on to a professional career. Varsity aimed at the some audience by featuring articles on sports and clothing and other stuff the young college students would like, as well as the best of the nation's coledge magazine cartoons. The magazine was partially run by Al Capp's brother Elliot Caplin, who later went on to become one of the dricing forces behind the great soap opera strips of the fifties and sixties. Caplin also ran the comics company Toby Press, but I am not quite sure if there was a connection between that company and Parent's Magazine.

Anyway, Caplin brought his love of comcis and cartoons to Varsity Magazine. He hired his friend Harvey Kurtzman to do short features, many of which foreshadowed the sort of humor Al Feldstein would stress when he took over Mad magazine from Kurtzman. He also picked up as much of Mort Walker's work as he could, even letting him do a cover.

Over the next few weeks I will show all of the Mort Walker Varsity material I have, which is probably everything. I still miss some of the earlier issues, but I don't think Mort Walker was in any of those. He started out reselling his Missouru University cartoons, but he ended up doing special features for them, most of which starred a student character quite imilar to his Spider character, Spider himself was saved for the Saturday Evening Post and would get his own newspaper strip - transforming into Beetle bailey, when Spider was recruted to go into the army six months into the strips run.

I will start here with the cartoons featuring the student character and do the seperate cartoons later. I also have early cartoons by Mort Walker from Saterday Evening Post, COllier's and True, three of the big magazines of those days.

The opening illustration is an early fan drawing of Beetle Bailey I pulled from some auction somewhere.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Send in the clowns

These P.T. Bimbo strips are from three years earlier as the previous ones and I like the fact that schneider seems to use even more silent gags. Great slapstick stuff - he could have been an animator. These are two tiers of a three tier version, which would have had an extra panel or gag in the top tier.

I seem to have left these a bit to big, so for proper viewing I suggest you download them after clicking on the image.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The circus is back in town.

Just when you thought you had seen them all, he's back with some more of Bimbo's Circus.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Old Bailey

My statement that the new Checker book may only reprint the first year of Beetle Bailey may be wrong. I looked up the announcement on their website and it reads: "From the very first Beetle Bailey strips on a college campus through Beetle's enlistment in the U.S. Army, this volume contains the first two years of Mort Walker's famous strips, encompassing September 1950 through June 1952. Enjoy two separate casts of quirky characters, the first based on Mort Walker's fraternity brothers at the University of Missouri and the second on his Korean era stint in the Army. These are the strips that won him the Ruben Award in 1953. Beetle Bailey went on to become the third most widely distributed comic strip of all time. Introduction with comments by Mort Walker himself! 200 pages, 10 3/8" x 8 3/8" landscape, hardcover. B/W & color illustrations throughout." The cover depicted there, is also different from the one on Amazon. This one looks a little bit better, so let's hope it is a later version rather than an earlier one.

The announcement itself is a step down from a previous press release: "Checker Book Publishing Group brings the latest collection of old comic strips to remind us that some of the stalest funnies of today actually used to be really good. The book will feature the Beetle Bailey daily and Sunday comic strips, syndicated by King Features, which were published between when the comic strip first appeared in September of 1950 and December 1952." Notice that in this case it is specified that the sundays are included (as they are on the cover of the Scandinavian version, which I noticed on second glance). The sample pages they show on their website (http://www.checkerbpg.com/books/bb1_01.php) include an introduction with color illustrations - but no sundays."

Anyway, here are some more randomly scanned Beetle Bailey sundays from the first two decades. Along with an early drawing for a fan by Mort Walker I found on e-bay.

A two-tier sample from june 22, 1958.

An almost perfect three tier sunday from nov. 6, 1964.

A bit more bland and definitively dated sample from june 5, 1965.

A late but still impressive sample from jan 23, 1968.

Sunday, April 20, 2008


Last month Checker announced that they would be publishing The Complete Beetle Bailey. This great series is going to be edited by comic strip historian and Beetle expert Chris Walker, who also happens to be the son of it's creator. In the first volume, now available for pre-order from the Previews catalog and Amazon will cover the first two (!) years of this important gag strip. Beetle Bailey was one of the first 'new' gag strips that dominated the sixties and to which this blog is dedicated (for now). Together with Peanuts and Dennis the Menace it changed the landscape of American newspaper comics. Some say for the worst, but as I have stated earlier in this blog, the slow decent into nothingness didn't occur until the paper shortages in the early seventies cause newspapers and syndicates to start shrinking their strips, favoring gag strips over story strips and generaly accepting less instead of more. None of this is true for the great gag strips of the fifties and early sixties, as we can probably see from this collection.

I say probablyt, because I have seen very little of these first two years. From the rare reprint books that were done about this strip, I know of a couple of samples (and I will share some of them, as well as the cartoons they came from, with you in the next week). Beetle Bailey started life as a strip about college life and didn't get turned into an army strip until it's hero (Spider) was called in for duty at the start of the Korean war. I don't think he ever left training or America, but stayed here to frustrate his superiors and make us laugh for many years.

Like Hank Ketcham, Mort Walker had been selling cartoons for a living, before turning to newspaper strips to try and make a bit more. In his biography Mort Walker says that he became one of the biggest selling cartoonists in a short period after starting in 1948 at his college magazine. I will be showing some of those cartoons later on. They were the first of a whole wave of port-war cartoonists who developed a newspaper gag series, just like political cartooning was the way to get noticed in the nineties.

The Complete Beetle Bailey is based on a recent Scandinavian reprint series. Checker is a reletively young company, who have made a niche for themselves by (re)publishing classics from newspaper and regular comics. One of their most recent books was the relatively small B.C. book Growingold. There too, they had help from the family of the artist. But still, the way they represent this book for the American artist will be a test of their skills as publishers. Will they be able to get it into the shops and make it into the cash cow of their company the way the Peanuts Collection has become for Fantagraphics? I hope so, because I will certainly but this series until deep into the run.

Already I do see a couple of faults. From the publicity material I can't make out if this book is going to contain sunday pages or not. I hope it will, because the sunday pages often were where these cartoonists did their best work. I can understand why the Dennis the Menace reprint wouldn't have any sundays, because the panel format doesn't suit itself to the three tier format of the sundays. But the size of the Beetle Bailey reprint does accomadate sunday pages. To have them in between the dailies, where they stylisticly belong (as in the excellent Peanujt books) would be far better than to have them collected seperately. Although a seperate book would make a larger size a possibillity, which wouldn't be bad for the first 15 years of the strip.

Secondly, I am not very pleased with the changes they have made to the cover lay-out from the Scandinavian original. They have streamlined and modernized the look of the book (possibly to bring it in line with the BC book). I think it would have been far better to stick to the retro look of the original. This streamlined version looks more retro eighties than anything else.

Lastly, their decision to split the Scandinavian books in two, combined with the high price tag seems like the wrong strategy to me. Fantagraphics have proved that thick collectable editions (Peanuts) work better than small ones aimed just at the comic book market (Pogo). Book stores are not interested in flimsy books that will be destroyed by kids manhandling it. Furthermore, the Scandinavian edition (which can be seen at the start of this post) gives an accurate impression of the contents, showing both Beetle in his army outfit and an image from his college years. The image used for the cover of the Checker book probably is not from the year presented in the book. I am afraid all these decisions will make the book less desirable for the bookshops which would make it the hit it derserves to be. If you are going to do a complet reprint of the strip it should be a definite version. Still, I hope that everyone who is even the slightest intersted will buy this book to ensure the appearance of further parts. Otherwise I will have to learn Swedish or Finnish or whatever it is they speak up there...

In the next couple of weeks I am going to share a couple of cartoons and sunday strips from Mort Walker's early years. I will also try and see if I can provide a link to Amazon. I order from Previews myself, because postage on heavy books to Europe can be a bitch, but I believe there is a way I can do this, that give me a little kickback from Amazon with no cost to you, so why not? To start things off, here's my earliest Beetle sunday handy... a two tier version.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

December Mail

Tuesday Comic Strip Day.

As promised, the last of the december 1960 strips of Stan Lee and Dan deCarlo's Willie Lumpkin.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Bimbo Encore

What do you call the guy who announces all the acts in a circus? Well, he's another of the regular characters.

More to come in the next few weeks, as I have quite a lot of these. I also added another dog strip to the first post.

More Mailman

Here's another Bud Blake rarity. In the early fifties he did a lot of covers for the sunday feature section called Pictorial Review. This was a usually 16 page tabloid newspaper insert, which seems to have been packaged by King Features. At least, it has a lot of King Feature columns and specialty items. most of which are illustrated by King Feature staff artists. the earliest copies I have seen are from the thirties, but it may have been around even longer. It has a lot of beautiful stuff for cartoon collectors, although the regular line-up gets a bit predictable after a while. Among the special things that can be found in there, is a regular column about social life in ~Washington with weekly illustrations by Otto Soglow. This ran all through the forties and early fifties. Many cartoonists provided the covers for this entertainment section, but among the most interesting for cartoonists are those done by previous comic book artist (and designer of the cover of the first issue of Detective Comics) Greig Fleisel. There are many spellings of his name, so I just picked the first one I came across.

Blake's covers in the early sixties are lovely too, from what I have seen of them. Unfortunately, sections from this period come up for sale very rarely. But apparently, Blake also did some inside work, as can be seen by this streched-out one page gag from the March 13, 1955 issue.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

December mail

In these strips we see Willie's yuppie friend Harvey (I wouldn't be surprised if he works in advertising) and the new regulars - Willie's boss the Postmaster and his new trainee. Immediately the strip comes alive.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Hi And Lois' Mailman

Tuesday Comic Strip Day.

One of the things that seemed to have kept Willie Lumpkin from becoming the success it should have been, is Stan Lee reliance on gags that were just centered around postman Willie. The rest of the town was just that... the rest of the town. There were old ladies and commuters going to work and kids and neighbours... but none of them got any room to develop their own character. There have been strips that take it slow in the first year, to give the audience a chance to get to know the main character. But Willie was depended on his interaction with his small home town - yet none of them stayed longer than one or two gags. It was only near the end of the year that a secondary cast began to emerge. There was a 'young professional' who talked to Willie about his married life. Maybe a bit to close to Hi and Lois in style and subject matter, but it went beyond the simple gag-a-day. Even better were Willie's manager and co-workers at the post office. Now here we started seeing some fresh ideas, such as Willie acting as a mentor to a younger postal worker. But I guess that by then the fate of the strip was already sealed. It was to little, too late. Over the next couple of days, I'll be posting the strips for December 1960 - the second to last month of it's 14 month run. You'll be seeing to good and the bad side of this strip...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

More P.T.

I wish there was more that I could say about P.T. Bimbo than the little I know in the previous post. I have never read an interview with Schneider about thos strip, which seems like a labour of love. The initials P.T. of the main character of course come from the famous American circus manager P.T. Barnum, about whom the internet has a whole lot of interesting and true and half true facts and quotes. I don't know if he was a litle guy, such as Scheiner's P.T., but I guess not. The sarcastic and angry little guy was a common feature in many strips... including the current Dutch psychiatrist newspaper strip character Sigmund, by long time Johnny Hart fan Peter de Wit. I will post about him and Sigmund later.

Here are a few more sundays featuring two of my favorite characters - the sweepers. In fact, I have the original art to the last one. Although the one before that is a better version of the same joke.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Circus People

All in all the seventies were not an exciting time for newspaper strips. Papers were disappearing, paper was getting more expensive, newspaper strips were shrinking and downsizing and there was very little room for experimentation. Most people blame the gag-a-day strips for the downfall of the great American newspaper strip tradition. In their view it was those strips that pushed out the story-strips, thereby taking away the necessity for the reader to come back every day. Many of these new gag strips were drawn simpler as well, making it easier for the newspapers to put more and more of them on the same page.

I have never felt comfortable with that view, because there were so many great gag-a-day strips made in the late fifties and early sixties. Cartoonists who had been perfecting their skills in advertising agencies or the weeklies, were given a chance to use their graphic skills on the larger canvas of the newspaper strip. It is those often forgotten strips I intend to give my attention in this blog. The real crunch, I feel, came in the seventies, when things settled down and the winners were seperated from the losers and for a whole decade it seemed that nothing new was added, either in form or in actual strips. The only thing we got was spin-offs in the form of more strips from the assistants of succesful series. Some of them quite good, but graphicly not very exciting.

One of the 'spin-offs' I really like, is P.T. Bimbo, a strip about the sarcastic undersized manager of a group of circus performers. The artist was Howie Schneider, who already had a succesful strip with Eek & Meek. But while Eek and Meek was more about the gags than the characters, P.T. Bimbo had one of the most well-balanced casts of any strip I have ever seen. There was P.T. Bimbo himself, his much too human dog, the trapeze artists, the sad clown, the cleaners who wanted to be performers themselves, the living cannonball and many more, each with their own personality. For the sunday gags, Schneider often relied on very well drawn slapstick. This strip, in my opinion, is a cartoonist's dream - chockful of very wel designed cartoon action with a fresh sarcastic sensibility. very remeniscent of B.C. in fact, as was the style.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Tiger again...

After a busy week, I'll be able to post a little more this weekend.

Here's another early Tiger by Bud Blake.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Bud System

Here are the last of my Bud Blake cartoons. I pulled them from Newspaperarchives, a site that lets you search and download from millions of American newspaper pages from microfiche. You do have to subscribe, so I am waiting for a reasonably workfree period to go back and get as many as possible. Not all newspapers are covered on that site, but it seems that all of Bud Blakes series are there, all eleven years of it. And they survive the microphoto process pretty well, unlike many other strips I have found there.