In late March Dean and I completed two days of intensive research at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum (hereafter referred to as “BICL&M”). If “joyous” is too strong a word to apply to a BICL&M visit, it’s only a slight exaggeration. I liken time spent in the Caswell Reading Room to a visit to Ali Baba’s Treasure Cave; BICL&M Assistant Curator Marilyn Scott said Dean and I are like “kids in a candy store.” However we characterize it, we always finish a visit to Ohio State with our heads bursting from new discoveries, fresh connections between Cartoonist X and Cartoonist Y, or from Strip A to Strip B, beautiful artwork and photographs we’ve been privileged to see, and rare, sometimes funny artifacts we’ve held in our pulpy li’l palms.
We didn’t shoot a lot of BICL&M images for this space, since we provided a pretty extensive tour following our last visit, in November 2014. You can find those blog entries in our archives for that month, or by clicking the link here and scrolling from bottom-to-top. What we will share with you about our most recent visit is that:
- We “ooh”ed and “aah”ed at a generous sampling of E.C. Segar’s Looping the Loop strip, done while he was employed at the venerable Chicago American. Interesting to see character types in this feature that Segar would evolve into Thimble Theatre mainstays like Olive Oyl and Oscar.
- Dean located still more rare Caniffish delights that will make our next Steve Canyon volume a feast for the eyes!
- I gleaned fresh information about the latter days of the Al Capp/Ham Fisher Feud (and I’ll immodestly say those interested in the often-vicious battle between those two cartoonists will not want to miss our soon-to-be-released Li’l Abner Volume 8, where my text feature discusses aspects of the Feud that have been the focus of no other article on the subject).
- We looked at proofs and promotional pieces and read newspaper stories related to strips ranging from Red Barry to Spider-Man.
- We found some splendid Carmine Infantino character studies, done as an assignment for the Council for Public Schools, Inc.
And yes, letters, we perused letters — all sorts of personal and business correspondence, on any number of subjects. Let me share with you three of my favorites, which I liked so much I had Dean snap photos of me holding them. First up, in reference to a show of comic strip art displayed at France’s famous Louvre Museum, this note from “Grace de Monaco,” AKA Princess Grace, AKA Grace Kelly. If you haven’t seen High Noon, Dial M for Murder, or Rear Window, for shame! Stream or grab those DVDs and feast your eyes on superb filmmaking at your earliest opportunity!
And here are letters from two of my favorite comedians, Ernie Kovacs and Victor Borge. (The title of this post is a wink at “The Kapusta Kid in Space,” a puppet show that was a regular feature on Ernie’s NBC-TV morning show from the 1950s.) I’m still poking around, researching to be one hundred percent sure, but I believe Ernie’s letter is written to Robert Lescher, who at the time was an editor, but achieved stature within the literary world as an agent for talents like Isaac Bashevis Singer and poet Robert Frost. Borge’s letter is written directly to Irving Phillips. Both missives are in regards to Phillips’s excellent pantomime single-panel comic strip, The Strange World of Mr. Mum. Notice that both Kovacs and Borge talk about a desire to work with Phillips, since both hold his comic strip in such high regard — talk about heady praise!
Just in case you’ve never had the pleasure of sampling Irving Phillips’s cockeyed and thoroughly unique view of the world, here’s a quick sample of Mr. Mum to make you smile:
As always, Dean and I extend our warmest and most sincere thanks to Susan Liberator, Marilyn Scott, Curator and Associate Professor Jenny Robb, and the entire staff at BICL&M. They do important work preserving so much of the wonderful and variegated history of comics, and without fail they go above and beyond to make our visits pleasant, productive, and always, always memorable.