I’ve been absent in this space for much of the summer—apologies for that. Sometimes Life decides to get hectic and barely leaves us time for the “Must-Do”s, let alone the “Want-to-Do”s. For me, the latter part of July and the first three weeks of August were one of those times.
Now, needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway), I’m back. I’m also more excited than ever about our big King Features Syndicate retrospective, King of the Comics; it’s now at the printer and will be on sale later this year. It’s surely no surprise that in any project like this we can’t include every strip or every piece of research we touch. This forum seems an excellent place to share with you at least a handful of “extra” items we’ve unearthed in our work. Without further ado…
The Katzenjammer Kids are part of the bedrock upon which King Features was built. From the May 23, 1909 Atlanta Constitution, here’s a Katzenjammer that reminds us the early 1900s were a lot different than the early 2000s—at the start of the 20th Century this clichéd Native American dialogue and the last panel’s paddling would not have caused anyone to blink, let alone question the propriety of such depictions.
Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid predated even The Katzenjammers as a newspaper comics star. As Brian Walker discusses in our book, The Kid and his Hogan’s Alley gang were incredibly popular, spawning any number of merchandise opportunities and spin-offs including a road-show stage play that came through Ardmore, Oklahoma on New Year’s Day, 1902, as this advertisement fromThe Daily Ardmoreite makes clear:
Along with Rudy Dirks (Katzenjammer Kids) and Outcault, Frederick Opper and his Happy Hooligan were forces to be reckoned with in the pre-King-Features days. Here’s one of my favorite tidbits uncovered while putting together King of the Comics, a sign of how quickly and deeply comics took root within the American psyche. From the Sandusky, Ohio Star Journal:
While female cartoonists have been a minority since the earliest days of the artform, they have also maintained a presence in the medium and a popularity with its readers. Check out this lovely Sunday Dimples page by Grace Drayton:
And here’s an example of Walter Hoban’s Jerry on the Job:
My friends who remember those 1980s days when we were reading Nemo magazine know I became a TAD devotee at that time, and my interest in and admiration for him has yet to wane. Thomas Aloysius Dorgan was a sports reporter and a trailblazer in the development of the American argot, as well as a prolific cartoonist. I wish we could have devoted an entire chapter to his work and to him, but the book has a nice cross-section of his work to offer you. As a bonus, here’s an example of his anthropomorphic animal series, Judge Rummy’s Court:
As the 1920s unfolded, Jimmie Murphy presented his view of domestic life, as this January 2, 1926 installment of Toots & Casper illustrates:
I mentioned female cartoonists just a few paragraphs ago. One of the most renowned of their number is Nell Brinkley, whose influence extended into the world of fashion (her name was prominently featured in any number of fashion ads in papers across the U.S.). Jared Gardner’s chapter of our book offer more background on Miss Brinkley, and as proven by this January 12, 1922 feature taken from The Washington Times, she was clearly willing to do a bit of log-rolling for “The Chief”:
This focus on Marion Davies and The Bride’s Play was created because—as we’ve discussed in our LOAC Essentials: Polly and Her Pals collection and elsewhere—Davies was the long-time mistress of newspaper magnate and King Features Syndicate impresario William Randolph Hearst.
Finally, today we automatically associate the name “Chic Young” with the comic strip Blondie, but before there were a Boopadoop and a passel of Bumsteads there was Young’s earlier strip,Dumb Dora (run in many newspapers as, Dumb Dora, Not So Dumb). This 1928 sample, with Dora’s guy-pal Rod playing the stock market, foreshadows the even more extreme reactions investors experienced the next year, following Black Friday:
If I’ve done my job correctly, you’re starting to get as excited about King of the Comics as I am! If I’ve yet to win you over, keep watching this space and check out the “DVD Extras” I’ve selected from the period many consider the heyday of newspaper comics: the 1930s through the 1950s…