Friday, October 05, 2018

The Original Grinder

Friday Little Bit Extra.

Before Mort Walker created Beetle Bailey, he did cartoons. Between 1946 and 1952 he drew about 3500 cartoons and sold half of them. WE know that, because the Walker family kept his records and I have (confidential) copies of them. I like Mort Walker's cartoons. They are sometimes a bit dated, but always funny. Even the unsold ones. In many cases, I can't see the difference in quality.

I got in touch with the Walker family (and Mort) because I have been putting his cartoons on this blog from day one. And one day I hope to have every one of his cartoons here. From the records we can see he tried to sell his cartoons to the biggest and best paying magazines first. The Saturday Evening Post and Collier's bought a lot, others less. After that, he repackaged them and offered them to leeser paying but more inclined to bulk buying magazines such as 1000 Jokes and Gags. I have quietly collect many of those 1949-1952 monthly Gags magazines and found three to four in each issue. Still, I haven't yet got all of them. I am especially low on issues from 1950 and 1949. Last month I bought three magazine, one from 1950 I already have, one I didn't yet have and one from 1949 that was new to me. The 1949 one did not have any Mort Walker cartoons, but the May 1950 one had three. You will see them below.

I also went throough Morts ledgers, where he kept a description of every (numebered) cartoon and some notes. And after some leaving and squinting, I found all three of them. So here it is: an exclusive look into the accountancy of Mort Walker. In the order in which they appeared.

This one was in Mort's ledger as #1354: 'won't resemble either'. It was sold to Gags on January 12 1949, so it took more than a year to get published. The next number, by the way, #1355 is titles: 'who does he resemble' so there must have been some inspiration going on. It is noted as being sold to WSW, without a date. I would say that is Woman's Weekly if such a magazine exists. If not, I am open to suggestions.

The second one is noted as #1514: 'chocolate base' and was also sold January the 12th. Possibly of the same year although this one was first offered to RWR, another unknown magazine. Number 1513: 'So or (?) telling story' was first offered to NRD and finally sold on May 25th to Gags. I should go through my collection to see which one that could be.

The third one is #1509: 'you order this' and was also sold to Gags on January 12th. Number 1508 was called 'parrot + palmist (?)', and offered to AS, but probably unsold.

Although Mort's ledgers run well in 1951, he decided in 1949 that he needed to get out of the cartooning game if he wanted to earn some real money. He has always told the story that he saw he made the list of best selling cartoonists and when he proudly told his wife she told him": "Well, if that is what the best selling cartoonist earns, you should find another job." In 1950 Beetle Bailey started and four years later he sold his last cartoon.

Among the copies of Mort's papers is also the list of 'best selling artists' he mentions. It's not exactly what he remebered it was, but it supports the story at least partly.


comicstripfan said...

From Mort Walker’s “Celebrating a Life of Love and Laughter” (2000), Ger: “I only did magazine cartoons for three years. The last, 1950, was my best. A cartoonist publication took a count and said I was 1950’s top-selling cartoonist. I only made about $8,000 that year, so I decided I’d better get into a better business. I had sold to almost every magazine in publication except The New Yorker.They wouldn’t buy from me because they said [if you can believe this] I ‘drew too funny for them.’ However, they bought ideas from me and gave them to other cartoonists to draw.”

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Indeed, it is the quotes from this piece and similar from others that I want to amend to. It had always bothered me how that could hvae happened if Mort started Beetle Bailey in late 1949 (his ledger shows him drawing it in the last quarter to start in 1950) and his first cartoons started appearing in 1948 (after the stuff he did for the Missouri Showme, of course). Also, having collected (as shown on this blog) many cartoons over the last ten years, I can safely say Mort Walker was not the most selling cartoonist (many others appear more frequently) or appearing in almost every publication (he was a solid mid-tier guy, never appearing in some of the upmarket or downmarket publications). Also, he was never asked to join the Wheaties ad campain, which used all of his major collegues. Or any other advertising, by the way, which would have amended his income. So I was very happy to get copies of the ledger, which show that there was a survey in 1948 of a selection of magazines and he did get mentioned in the 1948 and 1949 edition and he did go up to second place (so maybe in 1950, he might have been the first), but it was not for 'the top-selling cartoonist' and the fact remains that the sale of Beetle occurred in the summer of 1949. So, it's an embellished, but closer to the truth then I thought. All of this information (with scans) will go into a book or article some day.

comicstripfan said...

Cartoonists, like all of us, are only human, and therefore prone to exaggeration, if not also misremembering, which, however, doesn’t take anything away from an artist’s brilliance. If a more objective account is to appear sometime in an article or book, you would certainly be qualified to write it, Ger.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

I think I am as big a fan of anyone of Mort's cartoon work. Or his comci strip work. Or the man himself, whom I had the honor to meet twice. He was a true genius. Which is why I find it important to not only correct him where he was misremembering, but also try and find how that memory could have been formed.