Saturday, August 18, 2007
This week's images come from the LA Examiner of September 24, 25, 27 and 28, 1906. We start out this time with another savage political cartoon excoriating the Republicans for being in thrall to the Southern Pacific. Ya know, I just never realized Herriman had it in him to be so mean. I guess his gentle soul could be stirred to fire when necessary.
Next we have a delightful baseball cartoon -- this one even includes a strip! Unfortunately we're missing part of the cartoon because some bozo cut it out of the paper prior to microfilming. Thanks buddy! A little research on the subject matter reveals that Oakland is/was noted for their Greek community, so that's the reason the fellow's wearing a foustanella. I would have bet money I'd never get the chance to use that word in my lifetime.
The strip running down the right side concerns Clifford "Gavvy" Cravath, a star player on the Los Angeles Angels baseball team of the Pacific Coast League. Cravath was a home run hitter of the dead ball era, and even held the title for most home runs in a season briefly until Ruth came along and blew all the old records out of the water. Cravath was a big fellow who pretty much had to hit home runs because he was slow on the basepaths. This garnered him another nickname, "Wooden Shoes" Cravath, which Herriman exploits for this sequence. You can read a very entertaining bio of Cravath by clicking here. Some of the text on this cartoon is hard to read; you'll find a transcript at the end of this post.
The third cartoon, a caricature of visiting theatre bigwig Al Hayman, is one of those dreary jobs that newspaper cartoonists got stuck with back in those days. Caricatures of visiting celebrities and local businessmen were good for community goodwill, but a time-consuming bore for the cartoonist. Herriman apparently didn't know that such caricatures were supposed to be of the complimentary type -- this one cuts a little close! Or maybe Herriman just wanted to make sure his editor would think twice before giving him another caricature assignment.
Our final cartoon commemorates a pretty amazing event in boxing history. "Philadelphia" Jack O'Brien (note the Pennsylvania Dutch getup), a nationally ranked light heavyweight fighter has just agreed to fight twenty rounds against a pair of boxers, Fred Cooley and Jim "Injun Joe" Trimble. It would take O'Brien just three rounds to KO Cooley, and another nine to do the same to Trimble. For a good bio of O'Brien click here. We'll be seeing more from Herriman on this spectacle.
Here's the text of cartoon #2:
Caption: Yep, the Grecian archipeligo is with us once again.
Black suited guy: And winter coming on, too.
Man talking to cop: Yaah, widout any pants on.
Cop: Wal see Comstock about it.
Strip on right, panel 1:
The tocsin the tocsin
Has the comet struck?
Nightshirt guy: The worst on record
Caption: Mr. Cravath can be traced through the metropolis. Yes.
Cop: Foiled (illegible) !! It is Wooden Shoes Cravath
Cravath: They tell me J.O'B's in town (Jack O'Brien, see above commentary)
Man in cellar: Woddy ye mean by mashin me on de coco, hray?
Nightshirt guy: Heavins the second shock
Lower left cartoon:
Balloons: Nice!, Very Very Nice
Tags on players: Fresno, Oakland, Seattle
Safe marked Portland has pennant inside.
Labels: Herriman's LA Examiner Cartoons
The PCL at this point in time dominated West Coast baseball, but with the NL expansion, in the late 50s, the PCL was forced to move a bunch of its teams, and many of the "classic" teams have wandered around since.
The LA team was the "Los Angeles Angels," no relation to the current team; they're now known as the Portland Beavers. Seattle was the "Seattle Indians," which are now the Tuscon Sidewinders (soon to be Reno). The Portland Beavers of 1906 are now the Colorado Springs Sky Sox. The Oakland Oaks are now the Albquerque Isotopes (!). There was a team that played in Fresno and Sacramento (the Solons, probably because of the state capital) in the PCL around this time. Oddly, Herriman has left out the San Francisco team, the Seals, one of the perennial PCL powerhouses.
Apparently, the league contracted from 6 to 4 teams right after this cartoon was published; the Sacramento team failed, and the Seattle team shifted over to a smaller league.
The LA Angels (sometimes referred to as the Seraphs) won the pennant in 1903, 1905, 1907 and 1908. 1906 was the first year Portland was known as the Beavers.
Thanks for the link to the Comstock bio - I'd say you're right about that reference. I've done a lot of reading on this era, but somehow this interesting personality has flown below my radar.
And I gotta get me an Albuquerque Isotopes jersey!
Friday, August 17, 2007
Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Nick Cardy - Comic Strips
Nick Cardy: Comics Strips
by Sean Menard and Nick Cardy
Frecklebean Press, 2007
No ISBN listed
I know Nick Cardy mostly from his comic book work of the 1970s (those dark days before I discovered newspaper comic strips), and though I recognized at the time that he was an excellent artist, there was something indefinable about his style that I found offputting. It just didn't hold any appeal for me.
So I ordered this book with some reservations, but I was very curious to know about Cardy's earlier comic strip work. I knew he had few credits - a six month run on Tarzan and a short while ghosting Casey Ruggles, and I wanted to know if there was more that had escaped my research. I also understood from the description that the book included an extended interview with the artist, and I'm always up for getting some behind the veil information on syndicates and comic strip production.
First the good news. Cardy's work on the comic strips presented here is wonderful stuff, far superior, I think, to his comic book work. At his best (unfortunately on strips that were never published!) he seems to be influenced by Hogarth and later Raymond and it is slick stuff indeed.
The bad news is that you better really like the art, because nothing else about the book has much merit.
Let's start with the Tarzan reprint section which it says is Cardy's complete run. First of all the quality of the source material is wildly uneven. Some of it looks to have come from beautiful proofs, other strips are muddy enough that they must have come from microfilm. Tarzan is not a particularly rare strip so I really think the people responsible could have looked a little harder for good source material. Second is that we get the end of one story and the beginning of a second. This makes for a pretty uninvolving, if not downright confusing, read. I understand that the idea was just to print Cardy's Tarzan strips, but the author should have either reproduced the stories from beginning to end or at least provided synopses of the portions not reprinted.
The book also reprints two Cardy strips that were never successfully syndicated, Major North and Adam Pierce (three weeks of the former, four of the latter). Cardy's art is fantastic on both, but, hoo boy, were the syndicates right to turn down these stinkers. The writer of Major North had no feel at all for comic strip pacing and plotting so the story is an absolute unreadable mess. Adam Pierce, on the other hand, flows just fine, but the strip is about scientists and the writer had no grasp at all of anything scientific - a sixth grader with a D average could correct the embarrassing basic scientific gaffes made in this strip.
A third tryout strip, this one a pantomime titled Mr. Figg, is presented here from bad photocopies (the original art was long ago lost). Cardy says elsewhere in the book that he is no writer, and these strips assure us that he's correct in his estimation.
Six weeks of Cardy ghosting on Casey Ruggles follows, containing two separate story fragments with a six month gap between the fragments. Again, nice art but were we not meant to read this material?
The book is filled out with 16 pages of a "Lady Luck Gallery", a batch of miscellaneous Cardy pages thrown together. Why not a complete story? Didn't want to buck the trend I guess.
Okay, so the strips aren't really worth reading. How about that interview, though? Well, the interviewer obviously has very little interest in newspaper comic strips, so the discussion constantly veers off into Cardy's comic book work (which, I assume, was probably well-covered in a previous book, The Art of Nick Cardy). About the only really interesting tidbit we learn about Cardy's strip work is that he apparently pencilled the ultra-rare Batman strip in 1971-72, the one that was produced by Ledger Syndicate after their contract dispute with DC Comics. Could you tell us about that, Nick? Well, probably, but the interviewer couldn't care less. He'd much rather discuss Black Canary's fishnet stockings.
So if you're a big fan of Cardy's art this is a book you'll want. Everyone else might be better off to take a pass.
I can't say enough about the new complete Rarebit Feind, though. Have you seen it yet? And the article about dream strips by Alfredo Castelli is wonderful as well.
Just received that monstrous book a few days ago and haven't jumped in yet. Not exactly something you can snuggle up with, is it?
does anybody know whether the publisher has any plans of ever having the complete run on paper?
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Chester Gould - A Daughter's Biography
Chester Gould - A Daughter's Biography of the Creator of Dick Tracy
by Jean Gould O'Connell
McFarland & Company, 2007
$45.00, 225 pages with index
I come to a biography like this with trepidation. Biographies by the progeny of the famous are often not worth the paper they're printed on. There's no guarantee that the author can write worth a darn, and often these books are badly researched or tell stories that are of interest only within the family.
Jean Gould O'Connell's book is very well-written, so no worries there. The research tends to be a little shaky in the early chapters (she has the U.S. entering World War I in 1915, and has young Chet reading Mutt & Jeff in the local paper in 1906) but improves once she gets further along. And there are plenty of interesting stories told in the book, though there is also a dose of material that could have been trimmed, like the blow by blow account of the renovations done to the Gould's home.
The author uses as her source material not only her own memories but some extensive taped interviews she did with her dad in 1983, two years before his death. The elder Gould had a lot to say about his early trials of the 1920s trying to get syndicated, which, for me at least, was the most interesting section of the book, a fascinating read.
I'm no Chester Gould scholar, so I'm not a good judge of how much new information is being brought to the table here. Certainly I learned a lot. One particular bit that I found particularly interesting was about Gould's infamous villain's graveyard -- turns out that the man wasn't nearly the creepy weirdo I took him for based on those often reprinted publicity photos.
I soured on Dick Tracy a bit recently when I read the reprints of the first years of the strip. I found the early Tracy stories to be sloppily plotted in the extreme, so much so that I'm amazed Gould's strip survived long enough for him to hone his storytelling skills. This bio, while not admitting that the early Tracy was pretty awful, does explain how Gould plotted stories, and it explains his strip's early awkwardness.
There's a lot of meaty stuff in here and I don't want to give too much away, so I'll just mention that there was also unexpected material on how Gould felt about his successors on the strip, and about the way the Chicago Tribune treated Gould and his legacy.
The big disappointment considering the high price of the book is the lack of any color material. There are plenty of family photos and some rare pieces of Gould pre-Tracy art, so I can't fault the quantity of illustrations, but at $45 I expected an extensive use of color.
Seems to me that the price tag puts this book out of range of casual fans, the ones who would most enjoy it. Serious Gould fans, I'm guessing, have probably already heard a lot of these stories. I hadn't, and I really enjoyed the book. But I doubt that many casual readers will shell out $45 on a thin book without any color material to justify the price.
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
The Stripper's Guide Dictionary Part 1: Sunday Strips
Today I'm going to cover Sunday strip sizes, with maybe a detour or two here and there.
Let's start out with a quick look at the size of Sunday comics pages over the years:
Obviously there's been quite a size reduction over the years, so keep that in mind. When we get into formats remember that the actual sizes of the printed strips, even when they are the same format, will vary considerably over time. Note also that newspapers haven't gotten much shorter since the 40s -- the big loss has been in the width.
The first important bit of terminology is for the two standard sizes of Sunday comics:
On the left we see a FULL PAGE, usually shortened to just FULL. On the right is a TABLOID PAGE, usually shortened to TAB. These happen to be from the 40s, but the two standard formats are still used today. Keep in mind, though, that the actual size of the paper has changed over the years, and to make matters even a bit more confusing, some newspaper publishers vary a little bit bigger or smaller. The Baltimore Sun tabloid, seen above, is actually a little chintzy for a tab in the width.
There is actually a third standard size, but it came and went pretty fast. Here we see it, with comparison to the other two standards:
The one on the right is what we call COMIC BOOK FORMAT. It is so named because not only is it about the size of a comic book, it's actually bound like one (okay, not exactly - the binding on these was often glued rather than stapled). This format appeared about 1978, and after an initial rush by publishers to try the new format it pretty quickly fell out of favor. You'll rarely see these after about 1985 or so. My guess is that some printing company came up with the format and had some pretty sharp salesman talking publishers into believing they could lure kids by offering a comic book as part of the Sunday newspaper. This same gimmick was tried back in the 40s by several newspapers, and it didn't pan out then either.
Okay, that covers paper sizes. That's the simple part. Now we have to get into Sunday strip formats. Let's go back to our first sample:
These are all full page papers. On the left side we see a strip that covers the whole Sunday page. This format is known simply as a FULL, short for full page. The full is the most gloriously huge of Sunday comic strip formats. For the most part it had fallen out of favor with publishers by the mid- to late-1930s, bringing an end to the most wonderful age for Sunday comics. The reasons behind the change are many, and I'm going to keep this article simple, so we won't get into the whys and hows until some other time. Suffice to say that fulls from the 40s and beyond are few and far between.
In the middle paper we have two strips, each taking up a half page each, and each would be called a HALF. Pretty simple, wot? If you were selling this page you'd say that it has a Penny half and a Mr. & Mrs. half. Much the same as full pagers, half pagers have gotten less and less common over the years, though they do still pop up in current papers once in a while.
Before we get into even smaller formats, let's check in with those tabloid papers:
Here's a couple samples from the 1950s. The one on the left features a Steve Canyon in FULL TAB format. Notice that we mention the size of the page for tabs, but not for full size pages. Likewise on the right we have a pair of HALF TAB strips. When buying or selling it is important to note when a strip or a section is printed in the tabloid size. A full is worth more than a full tab, and the same for a half versus a half tab.
I noted on the Steve Canyon that it might be TRIMMED. Because there's a small ad at the bottom of the page, the newspaper may have trimmed a little off the bottoms of the panels to make it fit comfortably on the page. This practice is not all that unusual, and the loss is usually minimal (perhaps about 1/8" at the bottom of each panel in this case). Generally speaking it is nothing to get bent out of shape about, but there are some folks out there who positively freak out over a slight trim. Speaking of trimming, though, here's another form it can take:
On the right we have a full tab Li'l Abner page. On the left we have a version where the title panel has been dropped in order to put in an ad. You still get the complete comic strip so again, not that big a deal. Comic strip syndicates often had Sunday strips formatted specifically so that publishers could engage in such monkey business.
To go a little further on ways strips get trimmed, we have to introduce the TOPPER STRIP. The topper is a small extra strip that gets tacked on with a main strip. Here we have Kitty Higgins accompanying Moon Mullins and Snookums with Bringing Up Father. Topper strips got their start with the Hearst syndicates in the 1920s, and the practice was adopted by most other syndicates by the late 20s and early 30s. The idea was that the newspaper could elect to drop the topper in favor of an ad, or, if the topper was large enough, a whole extra 'main' strip. Toppers had their heyday in the 1930s, and some main strips continued to supply them into the 1960s, and in a few cases even the 70s.
The term topper can be misleading since sometimes they appear underneath the main strip. However, this is the name that the cartoonists used in the 1920s and it stuck in the business. Some collectors today, those without a sense of the history of the term, call them companion strips, or even call them bottomers (ugh!) when they appear at the bottom. I'm a traditionalist, though, and I prefer to call them all toppers.
Okay, so I had to go through all that so that you could recognize what happened to this next tab page:
Here we have Moon Mullins with poor little Kitty Higgins given the ol' heave-ho in favor of an ad. When we lose this much from a tab page we call it a 2/3 tab. When you see this term you should assume that either a topper strip is missing, or a large title panel has been dropped. Unfortunately many sellers like to call the above a full tab. Obviously it ain't.
Above on the left you see one of the worst strip formats there is. These are all THIRD TABS. When trying to complete a run of a strip you may spend years trying to winnow out all of these crummy little strips which, naturally, newspaper editors think are just the cat's pajamas because they can shoehorn a crapload of these into a section. Crap is right...
On the right we see a pair of half-tabs that include topper strips. You can see how easy it is for newspapers to turn these into thirds tabs by deep-sixing the toppers.
Before we finish our little survey with the current state of the art in mangling strips, let's take a peek into one of those comic book format sections:
We see Nancy printed as a COMIC BOOK FULL, and to her right a pair of COMIC BOOK HALFS. Although the comic book format is obscenely small, it does have one saving grace. The comic book half is often a miniaturized (full page) half, which for most strips from the 50s on is their best and most complete format. So if you're looking to get a run of your favorite strip in half page format, don't overlook the comic book half as a serviceable filler until you can find an upgrade.
The comic books even had a third page format. About them the less said the better.
Okay, time to look at some current comic sections. In the past twenty years syndicates and newspapers have found new and ever more horrific ways to shoehorn more strips into less space. We'll try and build up to some of the worst so that the shock isn't too great.
Above is a page with three different formats. We have a half (papers are contractually obligated to run Opus as a half, though some fudge by using the half tab version -- finks), a third and a quarter. Those among you with a bit of facility for math have already figured out that we have a problem here: 1/2 + 1/3 + 1/4 doesn't come up to a nice even integer. That's because syndicates have been shrinking their Sunday features so that newspapers can jam even more strips on a page. The old designations, though still used both by collectors and in the business, are today just comparative sizes -- they really don't have a whole heckuva lot of real world meaning. Here's another example:
This is back in the 90s, but we were already able to fit five quarters comfortably on a page. Sigh.
Speaking of quarters, for many strips today the quarter has actually taken over as the most complete format available even though it's smaller than the third.
Here we have an interesting juxtaposition of formats in one paper. On the right side we have two halfs, rarely seen these days. Notice that they had no trouble fitting a quarter between them, though. So the right page is pretty decent, but the left, yuck! We start off with a third, then everything goes downhill. We have four strips printed in their third tab formats (some call them SIXTHS when they run in full size papers, but the format used is in fact the third tab). Plus we get one of the most popular new ways to shoehorn in an extra strip, called the VERTICAL. There's actually two sizes of vertical available (the other runs down the entire page) but I haven't heard what the terminology is for the two formats. My take is who cares - verticals are awful and I don't even save the horrid things when I clip Sundays. The vertical takes advantage of the fact that many quarter page strips now run a large title panel that can easily be dropped (you can see one in use on Zits a few pictures up from here).
Okay, here's one last crime against comic strips:
I don't know what those ones at the top are called in the business. I call them squares, or to be more exact, I call them recycle, 'cause that's where they go when I'm clipping.
Okay, so that brings you up to speed on the basics of Sunday comic strip terminology. There is more to it, of course. There's the big question of just how exactly a comic strip can be supplied in all these various formats. The short answer is that the poor cartoonists have to practically have an engineering degree to design their strips to work in all these various configurations. But we'll save that meaty subject for another day.
Patrick McDonnell's "Mutts" used to do these neat title-panels that was a tribute/knock-off of various artworks and paintings through out the time. He even did a title panel that was based on the cover of the only "King Aroo" paperback book ever made.
Sadly, it looks like he doesn't do that anymore. (I guess he ran out of artworks to use)
Last I knew McConnell was still doing them, but so few papers run those great title panels he could very well have stopped awhile ago and I wouldn't know about it.
And as for Non Sequitur, yup, don't save 'em. Not only an ugly format, but Wiley is just handing newspapers an excuse to further mutilate their Sunday comics. Someone else will have to store Wiley's work for posterity, won't be me.
Here's this week's example:
My face is a bit red-- i've always thought that 'trimmed' referred to the strips that had been clipped right down to the panel borders-- i had no idea that it referred to internal changes.
Is there a term for strips where the borders have been clipped? (can you tell that getting strips like this is a pet peeve for me?)
thanks again-- tim
And Lee, I'm not sure how you can run a quarter in the size of a sixth (third tab). The proportions don't translate. I'm probably just misunderstanding you, but any chance you could scan in a sample? Have they found yet another way to mangle things?
Couldn't agree more. That old canard about WWII paper shortages being the ruination of Sunday comics is pure bunk. By 1942 the comic section was already featuring halfs and even thirds regularly -- finding toppers from that late is one of my hardest jobs as an indexer.
Advertising was the real culprit -- the Puck and ChiTrib sections leading the way. Also the desire to proclaim that your newspaper had 24 strips (at third page) whereas your pathetic rival had just 8 (at full page).
Yes, I have fulls of Toots & Casper in my collection from those years. One of these days I'll have to pull one where I have the same date in full and half to see exactly how they went about it. Presumably drop panels, like later on, but I don't know for certain.
Monday, August 13, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: When I Was Short
Here's a delightful feature that somehow managed to avoid catching on. I guess in those days of Calvin & Hobbes it was pretty tough going for a competing kid strip. When I Was Short featured a kid named Mason with narration by him as an adult. The gags were delightful, and the art was outstanding.
Putting on my amateur editor cap, I'd say the feature didn't make it because although it was very well written and drawn, the characters were all pretty generic. The kid was just a typical kid, the parents just typical parents. Readers might have enjoyed the strip, but there was really no big hook in which they could get fully invested.
The writer, Michael Fry, has been syndicated since the early 80s with a number of different strips and panels. Though a far better writer than artist, he's had success in both jobs. Fry is now the writer of Over The Hedge, another successful venture that recently spawned a popular animated film. The superb art was by Guy Vasilovich, whose career has mostly been in the animation industry. You'll find an extensive list of credits for him over on imdb.
When I Was Short started in December 1989 and ended on December 22 1991. The last few months of the strip were obviously done with the knowledge that the feature had been cancelled. In an apparent cost- or time-saving move the strip's lettering was all typeset. First time I've seen that one...
His other comic, Committed, did became an animated series, though, courtesy of Nelvana in Canada.
You're right, I forgot about Tumbleweeds. He switched over to typeset way back in the 90s. I never really understood why that strip had such a precipitous decline in popularity back in the mid-80s or so. Seems like one day he was in a ton of papers, the next day the strip was rarely seen.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Labels: Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics