Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Ed Carey's Lunatic Dictionary Jaques - The Roots of Screwball (1913)

Ed Carey (1870-1928), a master of early American comic strip art, specialized in comic portrayals of idiots. Once seen, his grotesque faces and anatomy are hard to forget. 

His most well-known strip was Simon Simple (1902-1909) from the New York World.  The strip featured a gleeful pointy-hatted idiot prankster who could be Zippy The Pinhead's great grandfather. 

Ed Carey's Simon Simple, 1904
An example of Simon Simple can be found in the Crumbling Paper section of Steven Stwalley's blog

Carey’s 25 or so other strips include Brainy Bowers and Drowsy Duggan (created in 1901, and continued by many others until 1915), Professor Hypnotiser (1903-1905), Dad in Kidland (1911-1912), and today's offering, The Troubles of Dictionary Jaques (1912-1913).

Both his exaggerated cartooning style and approach to comedy have a screwball bent. His concepts are subversive, with social order breaking down and chaos ensuing.

Carey also helped define the comedy of miscommunication with The Troubles of Dictionary Jaques (1912-1913) in which a well-meaning French-speaking man employs an English dictionary to function and winds up disrupting everything around him. This character is similar to Ernie Kovacs' Eugene and Andy Kaufman's "Foreign Man." Carey's playfulness with language is another key screwball element, anticipating some of the Marx Brother routines in which Chico takes Groucho way too literally.

This sort of humor seems to be particular to America's "melting pot" heritage. Our early newspaper comics made fun of African-Americans, Jews, the Irish, Asians, Indians and Germans... so why not Frenchmen?

The following 1913 strips are all scanned from my own pile of rapidly deteriorating old newspaper comics. Despite the ragged condition of these hairy Careys, they are still quite readable and entertaining. This stuff is wonderfully wacky -- HEN-joy!

In the strip above, I love the fourth panel - "I wonder if his dictionary told him to jump around like a lunatic?"

More Ed Carey comics can be found at John Adcock's great blog, Yesterday's Papers.

~ Catch you later -- (right after I find my baseball glove),
   Paul Tumey

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