Friday, May 30, 2008

Foxy Grandma

Friday comic book day

I was going to treat you to a sampling of Klaus Nordling's work on The Barker today, but when I sat down to do the scanning I noticed that in the same book, there was a signed short story by Gil Fox as well. Granny Gumshoe rans for a couple of issues in National Comics, before Gill Fox took over as the artist on The Barker. You can see Nordling's influence on his style (or you will be able to when I have shown some of that), as well as some tricks he picked up from Jack Cole. The story itself is quite charming, if a bit silly. It's nice to see a forerunner of Jessica Fletcher do so well.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Professional theatrics

Thursday story day

Today I continue my run of Jeanie strips from the scattered originals at Heritage and other auction sites. These are my samples fro the rest of july 1962, a bit more spotty than the previous lot (and some of the later lots), but at least there are a couple of interesting sundays. This must the only Sunday I have ever seen that makes the last tier the one that can be dropped (instead of the first). Do you know these were sold for $20/30 per daily and $50/80 per sunday?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Capp's Corner

Wednesday ad day.

From now on I want to use the Wednesday to show you some of the marvelous comic strip ads that were made during the forties and fifties. In the days when Sunday sections were big, it paid to have comic strip ads made especially for them. These ads show who the intended audience for the sections was... anyone who read a newspaper. There were ads for coffee, wash machine detergents and cigarettes. Anything you would find in any of the big magazines of the day.

Most of these ads were produced by actual companies that specialized in them, often by big name creators using their own characters (or creating new ones for the product) or by actual professionals who were moonlighting. As time went by, some artists devoted all of their time on these ads. One famous example was Lou Fine, who had been a comic book artist in Will Eisner's studio. His 'lyrical' style was very much admired by all artists of his generation. But he left comics for advertising, probably because it paid so much better. A successful newspaper strip paid even better, but he might have felt that he would not be able to keep up the quality at the required rate. Working for one of the most famous comic advertising companies, Johnstone and Cushing, he developed a new realistic style, which was blander than his old comic book style, but again inspired many of his colleagues. In the late fifties he finally got his own newspaper strip, a tense detective strip called Peter Scratch. Some reprints have been attempted, but all of them had to work with newspaper clippings and the quality of his line work is often obscured in them. Some of his best work can be found in the newspaper section that was made by the Johnstone and Cushing team for Boy's Life, the boy scout magazine. But since most of it is unsigned and many artist tried to emulate Fine's style, it can be tricky to find a sample that typifies his work.

Other artists from his generation followed the same route. Gill Fox started out at Quality, as I already told. He went into Johnstone and Cushing as well and tried very hard to get into newspaper comics in the late fifties. In the sixties he finally landed a panel series called Side Glances that lasted him most of his career. He had to adept a totally new style for that, but that was no problem for Fox. Another artist who went the same route was Alex Kotzky. He also started at Quality, often drawing the same features as Lou Fine in a style that could hardly be distinguished from his. He also drew or inked Plastic Man stories when Jack Cole couldn't handle the workload and inked Jack Cole's gruesome horror stories in the early fifties. In the late fifties, he landed a comic advertising serial of his own, called "Duke" Handy for cigarette company Phillip Morris. From there he went to draw his own soap-opera strip Appartment 3G for the rest of his career.

I will show work by these artists later on, but I want to start with another artist who worked in newspapers and advertising, or at least his assistants did. Al Capp is the famous artist and writer of Li'l Abner. He was also one of the last artists whose name was as recognizable to the main public as his creation, due to a lot of articles and radio and television appearances. These things were more common in those days than now, with comic strip artists appearing in ads and game shows such as What's My Line? Which rarely happens these days, another example of how the general media lost it's interest in comic strips.

Al Capp also designed or drew a lot of advertising campaigns, the most famous of course the lending of his Dick Tracey parody Fearless Fossdick for the hair product Wildroot Cream Oil. But I came across another much less successful series, called Capp's Corner, for Nestlé's cocao. It features a kid character quite similar to a character he had introduced in the comic around the same time. My samples come from October 1959 to February 1960. The dates seem to suggest there might have been one every two weeks, but I would have to check my (incomplete) Sunday sections for that period to see if I that is true.

The art itself does not look like typical Capp, or even like Capp with the ladies pencilled by Frank Frazetta, as his Sundays were at that time. My guess is that they are by Bob Lubbers, who was drawing Long Sam (supposedly written by Al Capp) but soon would join Capp's regular assistants in some sort of pencilling function. I hope one of my readers can help me verify this.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Silent Laughter

Tuesday stripday.

The more I look at newspaper strips, the more interested I get in the silent aspects of humor. As someone who makes his living from verbal humor, it is great to see how pure visual humor can get a laugh. As with words, there are two ways to get a laugh. There is the overt, punchy, loud way and there is the more subtle, laid back, hidden way. Bringing the joke to the audience as opposed to letting the audience get the joke themselves. Writing humor you're always going back and forth between those two. You can't let the audience do all the work, you have to supply specifics, new ideas, funny images... but always explaining the joke, not trusting the audience to make the leap themselves hurts you as well.

What I like about a good cartoon style, is that it can be extreme without devolving into cheap theatrics. The strips I have been showing from Johnny Hart and Howie Schneider all have some wonderful slapstick images from time to time, but never of the look-at-me-I'm-funny kind. They are both helped by a great sense of timing, which shows best in their Sunday strips. In the daily strips they both tended to stay with the sort characterless verbal gags that we see in most humor strips these days. Nothing special. But the Sundays where they concentrate on the silent acting of their characters are always a treat.

This has lead me to appreciate some of the silent strips that have been a staple of newspaper comics for most of the forties and fifties. One of the best, in my opinion, was Louie. I don't know much about it's maker, but what I like about it is that same sense of timing, the almost Buster Keaton-like lack of emotion it displays and the sometimes pretty sharp humor. About half of the gags are about family life and a bit predictable. It is hard to introduce new ideas and images in a silent strip. But some of the Sundays I have seen reveal a less than pleasant view of life. Something I always admire in a gag strip.

The nice thing about Louie is, that it uses almost no slapstick or cartoon elements. It just relies on timing and playing with the audiences expectation. The first two, though published a year apart, are in fact a variation on the same joke.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Walker On The Wild Side

Monday cartoon day.

I am starting my new easy to comprehend format with three more Mort Walker cartoons from 1951. Over at strippersguide.blogspot (see my links) Allan Holtz has given us the press release for the start of the Beetle Bailey Sunday strip. This release answers my earlier question if the Checker Complete Beetle Bailey reprint series will contain Sunday pages or not. Apparently not, because the first Sunday was introduced on Sept. 14 1952 and the first Checker book will only reprint strips from September 1950 to June 1952. The press release also tells us that the Sunday strip was offered in tabloid, two and three tier format. The earliest I have if in the two tier format from October 1952. I shouldn't be breaking my format on the first day, but here it is.

The three cartoons I am showing here are all from True, a real man's monthly. In the press release it is mentioned that Mort Walker didn't stop drawing and selling cartoons when he created Beetle Bailey. His cartoons kept on appearing in True, the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's and other magazines. Only when the Sunday page was added and Beetle Bailey took off, did he drop that from his workload. He doesn't seem to have had a theme in his cartoons. Anything for a laugh seems to have been the common denominator. I don't think they are anywhere near as funny as Beetle Bailey turned out to be, but it has to be said that these cartoons often were the funniest in the whole magazine. Except maybe for the work of two other cartoonists, on whom we'll touch later.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Dutch treat

I have known the Dutch newspaper strip artist Peter de Wit for the better part of my life. We actually attended the same high school only one year apart, but we didn't meet there. He was one year above me (which makes him fifty this year) and although I was quite visible in several school activities we managed to escape each other's attention.

I met Peter when I found an early issue of the fanzine Striprofiel in the local library. Peter had set up this cheaply printed fanzine with his friend Gerard Aertsen as an extension of their hobby. According to his biography, Peter knew he wanted to be a comic strip artist when he was fourteen, so this probably was a fun way to learn more about it and meet professionals. I had always loved comic books and periodicals and had decided when I was twelve that I was going to be a writer. Finding a new fanzine, which looked unprofessional enough for me to try and join was a great find. I contacted Gerard and was invited along to one of their interviews with dutch artist Martin Lodewijk. Meeting Martin Lodewijk was a huge moment in my life... he had walls full of comic books and collections, which impressed me so much that my private room now pretty much looks like his did back then. He also introduced me to Pogo and lend me part of his collection of early sixties Mad magazines. Three years later I was writing the rough version of the American Comics chapter of the first Dutch Comic Book Encyclopedia.

I joined the monthly meetings of the Striprofiel editors and became one of their core group of writers over the next ten years, interviewing such greats such as Will Eisner, Jeff Jones and Jean Giraud when they visited Holland. Peter de Wit left Striprofiel when I joined it, to concentrate more on his career as a comic artist. For a year or so, I did meet privately with Peter at his parents farm half an hours bike ride from my house. I don't know why we struck up a friendship or why it ended after that year, but I guess we felt a connection, which we still did when we met up again a couple of years ago. Maybe it is true that you share more than a common language with those who are born close to you. We do seem to have a similar outlook on life.

Peter introduced me to B.C. and the Wizard of Id and together we tried to do something similar. He had already tried to set up a gag strip set in ancient Egypt, possibly about Cleopatra. At one point I had a whole sheet of sketches he did for that, but seems to have been lost in time. I suggested a series in ancient Greece with Odysseus as the main character. I don't know if he ever did any actual drawing for it or if it was just something I liked myself. Strange thing about my memory is that I have a better recollection of places than of the things that happened. I can still tell you how to bike from my parent's home to his... or how the inside of their farm looked. But I am fuzzy about how many times we met or what we did.

Anyway, Peter went on to immediate success while I struggled on to find my path in life ten years later. He joined the staff of the Dutch comic weekly Eppo and did a great number of successful strips for them, as well as a lot of specialty drawings. He developed a quick cartoony style, varying between his own version of the Hart/Parker school and a rounder Mort Walker inspired style. At one point he had a successful short story strip which was drawn in a variation of Don Martin's style. All 'modern' cartoon styles I like to cover in this blog.

Finally, he started a newspaper strip of his own called Sigmund, about a diminutive cantankerous psychiatric. He has been doing that the last fifteen years with enough success for him to not have to do anything else. Which is quite an achievement in a small country such as ours. When I decided that I wanted to show the work of a couple of Dutch artists on this blog, I knew he had to be the first one. I have translated and badly lettered a couple of Sigmund gags. Sigmund has his own website, where you can even see some more strips translated into English... but I like my own selection and translation better.

The last year Peter has had a lot of succes with a series of strips about his Burka Babes. A book of gags about burka wearing women sold out several printings. Religion is the last remaining taboo and hot button subject in comedy (as John Stewart and cartoonists all over the world will confirm). Those who believe are always good for a laugh.

Saturday, May 24, 2008


Tuesday Comic Strip Day.

After having tried out this blog thing for the last couple of weeks, I have decided I like it. I know which times are good to upload and which are a crime. I have installed a counter so I know how many hits I have. So now it's time to get some sort of structural order into this mess.

I see some bloggers use a theme approach to some of the days. Michael T. Gilbert has Lady Luck Fridays, Arf Forum has Wonder Woman Wednesdays, etc... since I have so much great stuff to choose from, I have decided to devote every day to specific theme.

Monday will be cartoon day. I will explore the rich world of magazine cartoons from the fifties (and sometimes forties and sixties). That will mean more cartoons from people such as Mort Walker, Johnny Hart and Brent Parker. But I have also been gearing up for a couple of surprises.This will include a look at Jack Cole's cartoon career with many unknown early samples.

Tuesday will be humor strip day. Continuing my look at rare and unjustifiably not reprinted comic strip art from the fifties and early sixties. I have a few more P.T. Bimbo Sunday (although my stash is running low), early B.C., maybe some early Wizard of Id, Brent Parker's forgotten bureaucracy strip from the seventies, a Jack Cole Betsy and Me Sunday that was not reprinted in the 'complete' edition by Fantagraphics, early Beetle Bailey, more of Willie Lumpkin (thanks to Angelo) and Stan Lee's other comic strip adventures.

Wednesday will be advertising day. My interest in the company of Johnstone and Cushing has lead me to scan and collect a lot of advertising comic art, as well as 'educational' and 'promotional' comic books, which will be fun to share.

Thursday will be adventure strip day. Up till now, I have been concentrating on cartoon strips, but my interest in the 'realistic' artists of the fifties is just as big. I will start by finishing my run of Jeanie originals, including the complete strips for August and September 1952. After that, who know where we'll go. As always, I will be concentrating on stuff that's not been reprinted.

Fridays will be comic book story day. I will start with comic book stories by the artists I have been covering up till now, but waiting in the wings are Klaus Nordling's The Barker, the funny one-pagers done for the Quality books by Jack Cole, lots of great stories from the fifties by Gene Colan and a look at the depressing war books from Atlas Comics (the later Marvel).

Saturdays and Sundays will be for mopping up and maybe trying out some new stuff. For instance, there are several Dutch newspaper strips I would like to translate and share with you. I also want to delve into such subjects as the silent strip, comic strips reportage's and magazine illustrations by comic book artists.

As you have noticed, I tend to branch out from a few interests into others. My love of Dik Browne has lead me to Gill Fox. Gill Fox has lead me to Klaus Nordling. From Klaus Nordling to Jack Cole is just a short jump. Brown and Fox both worked for Boy's Life, which also has great material by Craig Fleissel, Lou Fine, George Evans and Tom Schreurer/Sawyer (boy scout strips, biographies and other infotainment) and John Collin Murphy, Irv Novick and Bernie Krigstein (illustrations). As well as cartoons by Busino, which may mean nothing to most readers, but has a great nostalgic connection for me.

Anyone who wants me to try and find something else from that period should not hesitate to ask.

Because I wouldn't want to leave you without a nice illustration, I am uploading a advert from 1948 by an unknown artist. It could be Chick Young, the artist who drew Blondie (which at that point was it it's absolute best, as I will show one of these days). But it could also be an artist (such as Gill Fox, but there are more who would be capable of doing something like this) imitating his style. Some of the slicker aspects of this ad make me suspect the following.

It's this ad, by the way, which made me realise how much Dan deCarlo's style owes to Young... just look at the cartoony side view of the female in this strip. DeCarlo made a living from that profile alone (although he did add some attributes of his own).

Aug 19 1948:

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jeanie's turn

Here's another batch of Jeanie strips. Two rather incomplete weeks, both fortunately ending with a Sunday.

I have been reading Mary Perkins On Stage, another strip about a girl trying to make it on Broadway, in the recent reprint series from Classic Comics Press. In the commentary to volume four, someone quotes Leonard Starr saying he was reluctant to try a strip about an actress, because so many had tried and failed before him. I don't know of any other samples, but Jeanie certainly counts as one of them. Mary Perkins is one of the best written comic strips of all time. Compared to that, it is easy to see where Jeanie went wrong. The art is a bit to slick and rushed for a full blown 'serious' strip. And the story lines never really get off the ground either. Diamond and Fox can't get the strip away from it's one gag a week premise. They do try longer story lines, but the only effect is, that they weaken the humor. On the other hand, they don't abandon the gags altogether, damaging any potential for a real story. Still, I think Jeanie is worth having a look at and I am glad I can give it some attention through those Heritage scans. Anyone looking for a real story should have a look at the new Mary Perkins series. Classic Comics Press is a newcomer to the field and they have a lot to learn as a publisher. In the earlier books, they digitally altered the shape of the strips, which some people may find normal these days, but it annoys me endlessly. They do provide excellent background material with every book and they have been tweaking their format until it is now as perfect as it should be with volume four. I recommend the series to everyone and I have provided a link to Classic Comics Press in my link list.

Here's the color version. As you can see, the bottom tier was droped.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Royal performance

Time for some more P.T. Bimbo strips. Four timeless gags with excellent timing.

It took me a while to get this last joke. At first I thought the little squiggle over his head meant that it was being knocked off, but then I saw that it was probably some sort of bursting bubble to illustrate the fact that he realizes that it was the wind that knocked his head off. But still, if that's the gag here, why didn't he draw the ends of his jacket flapping in the wind as well, or add some twirling leaves? It's a great gag and the punchin gin the air is done very well, but it could have been a little bit clearer.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Jean Jeanie

According to Allan Holtz, the daily version of Jeannie started on April 28th 1952, with the sunday joining in on May 5th. On Heritage there were two sets of dailies covering this run. First there was an incomplete set of strips numbered #1 to #14. Of these, two also had a date. Number two was dated 5-3 and number three 5-5. There were also a coupleof dated strips fom the same run. After resding them, it became clear that two weeks of strips were created as a try-out, after which some sequences (notably the trip of Jeannie to the city by train) were expanded to turn them into three weeks.

Here are all of the strips I could find in their intended order.