Thursday, July 31, 2008

Many a Brave...

Thursday newpaper story day.

Still very busy at work, so I will have to keep it down to one week of Jeanie this week. I hope to make it up to you this weekend.

I have to thank John K. for linking to my blog, which led to an alltime high in visitors and downloads. I hope I will be able to keeo up the quality of my posts. I have more than enough stuff lying around. How about Irv spector's Coogie? Or some ultra rare stuff by Mel Casson, Mel Lazerus and Mel, er, Al Capp? I will also be on the lookout of comic strip features started by magazine cartoonists such as Dave Gerard and Herb Gardner. Not to mention the huge backlog of material I am gathering from the early career of Dik Browne (although I am still looking for samples of Hi and Lois from 1954 to 1956) or the missing funny sf strip Warren Tuffs did inbetween Casey Ruggles and Lance. And that's just if I limit myself to the funny material. I am also a huge student and collector of the more serious strips of the 1950's. There's all sorts of stuff I'd like to show you from comic book artists who turned to newspaper strips and the other way around. Jerry Robinson deserves a whole week to himself and I'd love to give some attention to Ray Bailey, the early comic book work of Dan Barry, Mike Sekowsky, Frank Gaiacoia, Gene Colan, George Roussos and Mort Meskin. But we'll get there when we get there. I am in this for the long run.

If I can keep it up. Some of the regular visitors here are Dutch cartoonists I met on a closed comic artist chat group over here, where I am a regular because I have been known to write comic strips now and again. But my main job is as a television writer. I am currently working on the adaptation of a dutch newspaper strip called S1ngle. There will be twelve episodes in the first season (a normal number for Dutch television stations, who have to do everything on a budget) which will be shot from september. We are currently finalizing the first six episodes, so as you can imagine that leaves me very little time.

I am not quite sure how to ad a link to youtube, but here is the promo we made for the network to show to the press. It starts with a special illustration from the strip, which I intend to show you later, as soon as I have translated a couple of my favorite episodes. The artwork alone will be sure to impress you.

The YouTube address is:

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Late arrival.

Wednesday ad Day

As I said, Hank Ketcham did a lot of advertising work. I don't think he worked through an agency and he certainly didn't do a lot of comic strip ads, such as the ones I have been showing you from Johnstone and Cushing. His ads were usually more of the illustrative sort. I have many more samples, but will have to scan those in first. But here are some samples of the sort of work Ketcham was doing.

The first one is a simple illustrative ad. There is usually no gag involved, although his drawings often are funny and cartoony enough to give a light touch to the message. These ads were usually signed with K.

The second type were cartoon ads, where Ketcham was asked to provide a funny cartoon to accompany a series of ads. Sometimes other cartoonists were used in the same series, such as the Wheaties series, which I will show as soon as I have a couple of samples ready. The cartoon I am showing here, is from another series which seems to have been done by Ketcham exclusively. I have seen two samples of it and I am showing you one which I found in two different magazines. This sample is from the newspaper section This Week, a cultural section which usually featured a couple of cartoons apart from illustrated stories and light articles.

The third ad is from 1954 and uses Dennis. This is clearly after Dennis became popular and the need for Ketcham to do ad work for hire had disappeared. But using your character in an ad series was something most popular strips did at the time. Given the date, it would not be unlikely that the art is by one of Ketcham's assistants, although it does look like his own work rather than the slightly different and totally separate Sundays from the late fifties onwards, when Al Wiseman had found his own interpretation of Ketcham's style. Like the first ad, this one appeared in the Saturday Evening Post.

Finally, here's a color Ketcham cartoon that he signed for an autograph collector in the late forties. This cartoon also appears in the Fantagraphics Where's Dennis Collection, but here you see the full thing with self portraits of Ketcham, his wife and a very familiar looking kid.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Anyone for Dennis?

Tuesday strip day.

After stating yesterday that Ketcham may have been drawing the Sunday Dennis the Menace in 1954, I went and checked my acts. Most sources say Ketcham turned over the writing and drawing of the Sunday page to Al Wiseman en Fred Toole in 1953. Which makes yesterday's Sunday about Mr. Ketcham al the more curious.

Here we have my only sample of the Sunday from 1952, when Ketcham was almost certainly all doing it himself. The strip itselfs seems like nothing more than a string of Dennis gags. The drawing is as artful as Ketcham ever was. This is Ketcham in his early years. He would restyle his character not long after. Still, some of his major achievements in cartooning are visible here. His use of silhouettes of course. Not only the straightforward silhouettes in the first and seventh panel, but also the way he silhouettes the desk in the third panel for effect. This sort of shameless simplification is the trademark of Ketcham's style. Look at the folds on the bed or the babysitter's clothes. How could you not draw them like that after having seen Ketcham's simple and flowing lines? The variety in his use of panel shapes and sizes. His use of walls and doorp[osts to seperate and draw the attention of the reader. He had not yet discovered the trick of leaving lines open instead of clsing everything up. When he started doing that he enabled himself to let his lines flow from one into the other without having to bother with such realistic stuff as closed pant legs of backs of shirts. I will talk some more about those in a later post.

For those of you who are used to my normal deluge of scans I am adding two more early B.C. Sundays. The first one is from 1958, the first year of the strip, and already Hart was wrestling with his relationship with the Gods.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Ketcham if you can!

Monday cartoon day.

I have been showing a lot of cartoons by Mort Walker which he did before starting Beetle Bailey between 1948 and 1952. In that same period there were two other important cartoonists, both if which I think are great. One was Virgil Partch, who was a large influence on a whole generation of cartoonists. The other was someone who worked together with Partch at Disney in the early forties. After the war, he took to magazine cartooning and soon he was a master of the genre. Like Mort Walker, he stopped doing cartoons in the early fifties when he started his own newspaper feature. The feature was Dennis the Menace. The cartoonist Hank Ketcham.

Like Walker, Ketcham managed to place cartoons in all of the major magazines of the day. Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, True. Where the Post was Walker's main outlet and True belonged to Partch, Ketcham sold most of his stuff to Collier's, a man's weekend magazine which could be read by the little woman too. Before landing at Collier's he sold cartoons all over the place, appearing in monthly cartoon magazines such as Judge and 1000 Jokes, as well as others. He also did a lot of advertising, especially in the later years. He never joined up with a company, so my guess is he was sought after because of his style.

Last year Fantagraphics published the first real collection of Ketcham's wonderful cartoon pieces. They had already published three volumes of The Complete Dennis the Menace (with more to come) but Where's Dennis is a welcome addition. Ketcham's cartoons are almost always laugh out loud funny, often better than the more popular Dennis. It is well known that Ketcham relied on gag writers for his dailey panel about Dennis' shananigans, but I am not sure if he used those for his cartoons. Some of the worst Dennis cartoons are nothing more than illustrated gaglines, but most of the cartoons seem to have been written with the drawing in mind. In a good cartoon, the cartoon itself is a large part of the fun. In Backstage At The Strips Mort Walker advises strip artists to 'have your character hit over the head once a week'. This is not only a reminder of the fact that slapstick and visual humor is a large part of the fun in a good strip, but also that the cartoony aspect of it is it's pure reason for being. We don't read the comics get our daily quota of funny lines and zingers, we want to see the world through the eyes of a cartoonist. The simplification of the outside world, body movement and facial reactions are what makes one stgrip stand out from the other. It is why we come back to it and it is why it has to be consistant on the one hand and keep renewing itself on the other. In his cartoons, Ketcham understood this like no other. They are each and every one of them a revelation as to how the world can be seen and simplified into a couple of lines. For some reason this tickles our funnybones. The same way an experienced stand-up comedian will tell you that shorter always is funnier.

I will be giving Ketcham's cartoons a lot of space over the next few weeks. I will even have a look to see if I can manage to get in a review of the Fantagraphics book (which, apart from the fact that is was long overdue, has it's problems). To kick it off, I will start with an early piece about Ketcham, from Lariar's 1945 edition of Best Cartoons. I don't know how long this series ran, but the earliest one I have seen is from 1943 and the latest for 1956. In the earlier editions Lariar included short descriptions of the most popular cartoonists, often accompanied by a self-portrait.

These next three cartoons are from the Summer 1945 issue of 1000 Jokes, a quarterly Dell publication featuring gags and cartoons. They are best known among collectors for having photo's or charicatures of celebrity comediens on them. We have come across it here on this blog, when I pu lished some of the written pieces Mort Walker did for them when he was the editor for one short year in 1950.

To illustrate how much that self-portrait remained unchanged, I am including a 1954 sunday page of Dennis the Menace, which has a photograph of Ketcham. According to most sources, Ketcham gave the sunday to his assistants (about which more later) in 1954, a year after the sunday was started. In the late fifties, this was running so well that he never even interfered with them. This self-referencial sunday is either one of the last one he did himself, or a very self-consious attempt to reiterate his importance after handing it over to a ghost artist (but possibly not yet a ghostwriter).

Sunday, July 27, 2008

If you try and fail, try and fail again.

Sunday leftovers.

To accompany the thursday Jeanie strips, I have a shorter run of another strip proposal Gill Fox did, right after Jeanie. This strip was done in yet another style, one that was giving him a lot of advertising work. To my eyes this os one of the most horribly cliché fifties advertising styles. Earlier advertising styles had some sort of livelyness leftover from it's forties inspirations, the same way Hank Ketcham's and Virgil Partch's styles, modern as they were, still bore the resemblance to their Disney origins. This particular style seems to have been bled to death from all it's live. I can understand it's appeal to a supreme stylist such as Fox, but to me it nothing more than a cartoon style for those people who don't like cartoons. Fortunately, the strip didn't sell. The scans are again courtesy of the Heritage Archives.

The final strip for today is another newspaper try-out... this time by Creig Flessel. This strip waas done in the early sixties. There are two strips with the same title, drawn by Frank Frazetta. Those two were written by either Al Capp or his brother (who was a succesful comic strip writer as well and did a newspaper try-out called Kermit the Hermit with Harvey Kurtzman around the same time). One can assume that this try-out by Flessel was done after Frazetta abandonned the project. It may even have been related to Flessel's stint as a 'pretty girl artist' for Al Capp, essentially taking over from Frazetta (or his succes Bob Lubbers).

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The batteries that keep on going...

Saturday is leftover day, so I am showing you the remaining Eveready ads by Flessel that I scanned in this week but wasn't able to use on wednesday. These are from 1952 and 1953. The last one, I forgot to note the date, but it seems later to me.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Right on Target.

Friday comic book day.

Today, I am going to stretch the menaing of 'comic book day' to include two more pages of Flessel's work for Boy's Life. This is another religious story for one of the early issues. I will come back to Boy's Life later, but I wanted to close of the whole Flessel appreciation week with this. Or actually, almost round it off, because I have some leftover bits and pieces tomorrow.

But for the purists among you, I will start with is little three page comic book story. It's from Target #4 and features some of Jack Cole's earliest funny work (from 1939). You can still see how he learned to draw from some sort of mail course, building his figures from balloons and circles.

Finally, there is one more Flessel cover for a 1959 issue of Boy's Life. He uses the same water paint technique that propelled Alex Ross to succes recently. But in the late fifties every one was doing it, of course. This is one of a few issues I have double (including the other Flessel cover I showed earlier). If anyone is interested in buying one of my doubles from this oversized magazine, please contact me privately at

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Jeanie manipulation.

Thurday story day.

Continuing my run of the 1952 Gill Fox/Selma Diamond strip Jeanie, taken from scans of the originals at the archives of Heritage Auctions. We're now into august 1952 and the run is pretty continuous. If you want to follow the story, I urge you to start at the previous post.

But first this.. in the interview in the first or second of the recent books reprinting Mary Perkins, Leonard Starr says he was discouraged to do a strip about a girl trying to make it as an actress, because the idea had been tried several times and failed. Jeanie obviously was one of these tries, but there had been others. To kick of the return of Jeanie, here is a tabloid Sunday of Mel Casson's It's Me, Dilly. Casson was an interesting figure in the fifties newspaper comics scene and I'll get round to him sooner or later. Sadly, he died recently as well. So maybe a little tribute to him is in order (as soons as I have my facts in order). Anyway, here he is trying a much more serious style than he later would use...

And now for our main feature...