Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Art of Rube Goldberg (Abrams ComicArts, 2013) New Book!

Web Exclusive! Here's a preview of the cover art for THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG comic from Abrams ComicArts in November, 2013.

I believe this blog is the first place on the Web to unveil this art! We've even beaten Amazon!

For the last few months, I've been helping out on this massive book, which is one reason my blog output (and my sleep) has decreased. Rube's granddaughter Jennifer George, editor Charles Kochman (famous as the editor of the Wimpy Kid books), and I have put together what we hope will be both an hugely entertaining and revelatory book. Rube is famous for his inventions (and the book is crammed full of these), but there's much more to his brilliant work, as this book showcases. Previous books on Rube Goldberg have tended to focus almost exclusively on his invention cartoons. Kudos to Abrams ComicArts for having the vision to publish a classy collection that encompasses the full range of Rube's life and work.

The cover of the book will be a movable, paper-engineered piece of art, created by the famed Andrew Baron. A Rube Goldberg cartoon invention will come to life! Here's the art for the front cover (the "smile" at the bottom is where you put your finger to make the cartoon animate).

The front cover art for The Art of Rube Goldberg -- due out from Abrams ComicArts in November, 2013

I'm deeply honored to be credited as co-editor of this book. I'll have an 11-page illustrated essay in the book (along with a few other short pieces). I've also compiled a bibliography, sources, and timeline. It's been a great deal of fun to immerse myself in Rube's world. Here's the back cover of the book that tells you a bit more, and features original art for a classic cartoon, "Try Our Patent Back-Scratcher" from 1921.

The back cover art for The Art of Rube Goldberg -- due out from Abrams ComicArts in November, 2013

The book is scheduled to be released in November, 2013. It will be a very large-sized hardcover book with 192 pages stuffed with art, comics, and all sorts of rare material from the family archives. 

The book will also feature an introduction by Adam Gopnick and essays by Andrew Baron, Al Jaffee, Carl Linich (my fellow screwball blogger and pal!), Peter Maresca, and Brian Walker. Best of all, Jennifer George -- Rube's granddaughter and compiler of this volume -- provides essays and personal commentaries that give great insight into the world of Rube Goldberg! 

I'll share more about the book (and some special "outtakes") in the coming months. In the meantime, if you want to learn more about Rube visit my special page on him, with comics, photos, and links.

That is All,
Screwball Paul

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Roots of Screwball Comics: Dink Shannon

Little is (yet) known about Dink Shannon, a notable, if unknown, graphic stylist of the early comics page. Shannon's work offers one of the more distinctive visual styles of the early comics with artful distortion that resonates with the work of Lyonel Feininger and the early Expressionists.

Shannon, who signed his strips “Dink” (and sometimes with a four-leaf clover), appears to have cartooned exclusively for the World Color Printing syndicate – a pre-printed Sunday section operating out of St. Louis, Missouri. 

His confident, expressionistic style suggests both formal art training and perhaps a career as an artist outside of comics, but little is yet known about him. 

The comics of Dink Shannon will be just one of the many discoveries to be found in Society Is Nix: Gleeful Anarchy at the Dawn of the American Comic Strip 1896-1915 (edited by Peter Maresca), the new release from Sunday Press due out sometime in July or August of this year. I was honored to be a contributing editor and essayist for this book, which will contain my article on the roots of screwball comics. Here's the cover of this volume, which features an image of Sammy Small by Dink:

Coming July 2013 - the NEW Sunday Press book!

From 1902 to 1909 Dink created and worked on a dozen or so series including Sammy Small (1904-1906), Mister Pest, Book Agent (1905-1906), Mooney Miggles And The Magic Cap (1906-1909), and Sallie Snooks, Stenographer (1907-1909). The trail goes cold on Dink after 1909, but surely such a gifted artist must have continued to create, in some as yet undiscovered outlet, whether it was newspaper comics, magazine illustration, or some other form of commercial art.

Sammy Small seems to be a version of the naughty little boy concept that first surfaced in American newspaper comics with The Katzenjammer Kids and James Swinnerton's Little Jimmy. Sammy seems particularly nasty -- which is our first taste of the edginess of Dink Shannon's comics, which explored the peripheries of good taste and morals of the outsider.

As a formalist in a newly emerging medium, Dink also shows a flair for organizing his panels to better reflect the passage of events. In the comic below, check out how three fourths of the lower tier functions as a self-contained unit that depicts the boxing match. Dink accomplishes this by breaking this section of the second tier into two smaller tiers -- an unusual, and intelligent use of sequential art in 1905!

Sammy Small by Dink Shannon - May 14, 1905
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

A singular idea for a comic strip is Mr. Pest, Book Agent (1905-1906) covers the tireless efforts of a man bound to sell his fine books, charmingly uttering “bound in cloth, calf, or morocco, beautifully illustrated with deckle edges and color plates” through fires, flirtations, and natural disasters. 

Mr. Pest Pest, Book Agent by Dink Shannon - May 14, 1905
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
Aside from the delightful, Charles Portis-like concept of an obsessed book salesman, Dink's strip is filled with artful, funny drawings.

Perhaps Dink's most visually experimental strip is Mooney Miggles And The Magic Cap (1906-1909), a parody of the hit comic Happy Hooligan (which premiered in 1900) by Frederick Opper. Where Happy wore a soup can on his head, Mooney has a problematic magic cap. In the first strip of the series, Goo Goo the magic dwarf (shades of the magic people in Gene Ahern's The Squirrel Cage thirty years later) gives Mooney his wish-granting cap:

Mooney Miggles and the Magic Cap by Shannon Dink - August 19, 1906(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Check out that wordless fifth panel of Mooney sinking into the earth -- I love the Cubist, deconstructionist feel in this panel! Dink's art constantly feels on the verge of falling apart and rebuilding into something else -- a dreamlike morphing that, in some ways, comes from the same place as Winsor McCay's surreal comics.

The above strip also shows that, in Mooney Miggles at least, Dink was one of the most distinctive letters ever to work in comics.

Mooney Miggles is also an early example of continuity. In the undated episode from below, Mooney has lost his cap and expends some effort to find it, only to wind up in "The Foolish House."

Mooney Miggles and the Magic Cap by Dink Shannon - date unknown
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

In the above strip, I am struck by how Shannon sets up a grid of tall, narrow panels (10 panels in the space of the usual six) and elongates his figures proportionate to the panels. 

AMong Dink's last known work is the series Sallie Snooks, Stenographer. In 1908, a stenographer was similar to what was later known as a typist, or a secretary. One of Dink's motifs seems to be the mis-adventures of the lower and working class folks. In the strip below, we can see a familiar drawing of a policeman in the fifth panel that echoes the policeman in the 7th and 8th panels, above.

Sallie Snooks, Stenographer was one of Dink Shannon's last known comics series,
and may have influenced the creation of the hit strip, Somebody's Stenog, by A.E. Hayward

Dink's work, it seems to me, is certainly interesting enough to merit further exploration. I've spent some time digging for more information on this artist and have come up with nothing. On his Stripper's Guide, Allan Holtz, shares some great Dink material here.

Bound in the finest cajun Skin, with deckled edges,
Screwball Paul

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rube Goldberg Machines Found in Bobo Baxter and Lala Palooza

Rube Goldberg first created his famous invention cartoons around 1914. They appeared sporadically in his daily newspaper comics, randomly rotating with a host of other series such as Foolish Questions, I'm The Guy, and Father Was Right. In retrospect, Rube's freewheeling approach to comics was nothing short of astonishing. Sadly, most of his output from his best years 1914-1922 remains out of print and unknown to most readers, even fans of Goldberg's.

He drew perhaps 20-30 invention cartoons a year (the exact number remains unknown, and this number is purely a guess). In the 1920s, American comic strips began to change, with a greater emphasis on adventure strips that told longer stories, as with Little Orphan Annie. With continuity on his mind, Rube  -- for the first time -- locked himself into Bobo Baxter, a single daily continuity strip in 1927. Even so, inventions were a prime theme in the strip,which lasted about a year (the strip ran from December 7, 1927 to November 24, 1928). Bobo himself was a backyard inventor who -- inspired by Charles Lindbergh's recent solo trans-Atlantic flight -- developed a flying bicycle (complete with two never-deflating helium balloons). Here's the first strip:

The first episode of Rube Goldberg's first daily continuity strip, Bobo Baxter
December 7, 1927
Even though he was telling a long story in short installments, Rube could not resist the urge to make more cartoon inventions. It is fascinating to see how Rube worked these into his continuity. Here's the seventh Bobo Baxter episode, which features his Rube Goldberg Machine called "An Easy Way to Make Up Your Mind."

Rube Goldberg integrated his invention cartoons into his daily continuity strips
Bobo Baxter, December 14, 1927
The little man in the derby at lower left is Bobo Baxter. Otherwise, there is no element of continuity in this episode -- and it become merely an excuse to show another invention cartoon. Later in the strip's run, Rube became a little smoother at working the inventions into his storyline. He created a mad inventor character and played him off his regular characters.

An early version of Professor Butts in Bobo Baxter by Rube Goldberg
After Bobo Baxter ended, Rube went back to his randomly shifting, a different strip every day approach. In 1929, however, he created a new series, The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K. for Collier's magazine. We can see the prototype of Professor Butts in the Bobo Baxter strip above. In fact, Rube even drew the Professor -- who remained unseen in the series named after him -- in a 1928 Collier's story ("It's the Little Things That Matter," which can be read at the bottom of the Rube Goldberg page on this blog)  in which he introduced the character:

Rube Goldberg's first depiction of Professor Lucifer Gorganzola Butts, A.K. in his story
"It's the Little Things That Matter" (Collier's, November 3, 1928)

You can see the lineage of the character from Bobo Baxter -- the appearance is virtually identical.

While the Collier's series ran from 1929-1931, Rube also sprinkled his daily cartoons with inventions. Even though he is known today for his crazy inventions, back in 1937, Rube was famous for his grotesque, surreal cartoons. In fact, in the 1937 Paramount film, Artists and Models, Rube makes a cameo appearance as himself. He is introduced in the following clip at the 2:19 mark by fellow cartoonist Russell Patterson (with whom he founded the National Cartoonist Society) as "the original surrealist."

In 1934, Rube created a new continuity strip, Doc Wright. Oddly, it was a non-humorous soap opera. I have the complete run, and it is devoid of any hint of crazy mechanical contraptions. Small wonder that Rube ditched the strip in less than a year.

His next continuity strip, Lala Palooza (September 14, 1936- December 4, 1937) was stuffed with humor. As with Bobo Baxter, Rube found ways to work his inventions into the strip's continuity. Lala's brother, Vincent, shifted from a lazy layabout to an industrious inventor and began to produce a new contrivance every week. Here's his "Simple Device to Foil Stick-Up Men:"

Rube Goldberg integrates an invention into a 1937 episode of his Lala Palooza daily humor-adventure comic strip

With his steady output of invention cartoons, even using them in his editorial cartoons of 1938-1960, Rube won a place for himself in the collective consciousness as an inventor of nutty machines. In fact, for most people today, his name is synonymous with "complex machine to accomplish a trivial task." A recent poll of people under 30 revealed that most of them know what a "Rube Goldberg" is, but very few indeed realized that the name belonged to an actual person -- a great cartoonist.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Rube Goldberg invention cartoon. And don't forget -- be sure to visit the official Rube Goldberg Machine Contest to see the ELEVEN FINALISTS (just announced today!) for the 2013 Online contest. While there, you can vote for your favorite -- the winner will score the coveted "People's Choice" Award!

See Also:

Yours In All Things Great and Screwball,
Paul Tumey

All text copyright 2013 Paul Tumey and may not be used without written permission

Friday, May 3, 2013

Rube Goldberg Machine Cartoon Invention: The Only Sanitary Way To Lick A Postage Stamp (1916)

How many invention cartoons did Rube Goldberg create? Thus far, no one has actually successfully cataloged the entire output of this seminal American humorist-cartoonist.

We simply don't know. Certainly hundreds. Maybe thousands. Rube himself estimated that he had created over 50,000 cartoons in his career -- a staggering number -- but he didn't specify how many of these were his Rube Goldberg machine cartoons. Incredibly, some 43 years after his death, this question remains unanswered.

In the upcoming book, The Art of Rube Goldberg (Abrams ComicArts, November 2013), you'll find an ersatz list of Rube's comic series that I assembled. This far from complete list took me months to research and document. The list in the back of the official biography, Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work by Peter Marzio (Harper and Row, 1973) turns out to be filled with errors and omissions. Marzio was working from the memory of an ailing 87-year old man and whatever records he could find in the pre-Internet era.

Even with access to today's online digital archives, the challenge of finding and documenting every published Rube Goldberg cartoon is daunting, requiring perhaps years of dedicated work. However, until we have a day-by-day record of Rube's published cartoons, we'll never be able to say much of anything about his work  with authority.

For example, Peter Marzio's book states that Rube's first A to Z diagram style invention cartoon, an Automatic Weight Reducing Machine, was published in August, 1914. Here's the cartoon as reproduced the book (sans text, unfortunately):

While I haven't found anything earlier, I also haven't made an exhaustive search through 1907-1914, which is the only way to really be sure.

I hope someday to get a sponsor to fund the creation of a catalog of Rube's cartoons -- something that I think would of great use in future cartoon history projects.

I have for you today a scan from a scrapbook I purchased in 2012 that contains numerous early Rube Goldberg cartoons clipped from newspapers and pasted onto its pages. This scan presents an early invention cartoon which carries a "Copyright 1916" slug in it. In some cases, I have been able to ascertain actual dates of my scrapbook cartoons by carefully separating them from the scrapbook pages and examining the content on the reverse side. If there's no date, there often is a news story that can be researched. Rube's cartoons were published in the sports pages during this era, so it's often pretty simple to look up a boxing match or ball game mentioned on the reverse side of the cartoons and discover the actual date of the clipping. Unfortunately, for the following invention cartoon, I could not locate any such information.

That being said, this is a pretty sweet example. You'll notice that, compared to the Professor Butts cartoons done some 15 years later, the drawing is less accomplished, and the inventions are simpler, with less "moving parts."

The Only Sanitary Way to Lick A Postage Stamp by Rube Goldberg, 1916
(Collection of Paul Tumey)

However, the basic concept is all here -- with people and animals mixed with strings, pulleys, and other devices in a mad scheme to moisten a postage stamp. Compare this cartoon with a similar invention created 15 years later, A Simple Appliance Fro Putting Postage Stamps On Envelopes (January 26, 1929 - Collier's) and you'll see the exact same general idea.

The first cartoon in The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K.
January 26, 1929 - Collier's

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Rube Goldberg invention cartoon. And don't forget -- be sure to visit the official Rube Goldberg Machine Contest to see the ELEVEN FINALISTS (just announced today!) for the 2013 Online contest. While there, you can vote for your favorite -- the winner will score the coveted "People's Choice" Award!

See Also:

Yours In All Things Great and Screwball,
Paul Tumey

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Rube Goldberg Machine Invention Cartoon: An Automatic Cigar Cutter (1930)

Rube Goldberg's pseudo-scientist alter-ego, Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K., first appeared in a 1928 Collier's short story by Rube Goldberg called "It's the Little Things That Matter." You can read that story here and here. A year later, Rube Goldberg began a 3-year cartoon series presenting the inventions of that engineer of over-complexity, Professor Butts. Rube created about sixty of these Butts masterpieces from 1929-1931.

The character was an instant success, despite the odd fact that Professor Butts never actually appeared in the series named after him, The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K. We get to know the Professor through his inventions, and through the brief bits of text about him in that appeared on the left side of the cartoon. He was forever knocking his head into things, or falling into machinery and emerging with new inspirations. (It's an interesting diversion to ask who is writing the text about the inventions, if not Butts?).

Here's his amazing solution for cutting cigars -- an invention that includes an Eskimo and a Zoovle-Pup (one of Rube's many made up animals):

An Automatic Cigar Cutter by Rube Goldberg
January 11, 1930 - Collier's

In the cartoon above, we learn that the absent-minded Professor waked through a glass door. Despite his Godot-like presence, the Professor was a hit with readers. Here's a letter from the September 28, 1929 edition of Collier's:

Few people know about this series, or the actual publication history of these invention cartoons, which have been oft-reprinted (one was the basis for the United States 1995 commemorative stamp). Fewer still know that Professor Butts was also a star character on a popular radio program.

Rube Goldberg's Professor Butts appeared on the Collier's Radio Hour
Ad from Collier's -- Oct 5, 1929 (art is NOT by Goldberg)
To help boost circulation, Collier's magazine sponsored Collier's Radio Hour -- a weekly show with content based on what was appearing in the print magazine. The show appeared in the prize prime time slot on Sunday evenings. An actor portrayed Professor Lucifer G. Butts, although Rube Goldberg did appear in at least a couple of episodes as himself. Collier's ran regular ads in their magazine, promoting the show and often positioning the Professor as a star attraction.

I've searched high and low for a recording of the radio version of Professor Butts, but have yet to find anything. If anyone out there has any audio of this, please contact me -- Paul Tumey -- at

I have, however, found a few descriptions in newspapers of the audio version of the professor that provide a good idea of the standard approach to the character. Here's one:

April 20, 1929

To Rube's credit, he refrained from actually depicting the Professor in his Collier's cartoons (except as an illustration in his 1928 short story introducing the character). By leaving the Professor's appearance to the imagination, the character assumes a far more potent wackiness that any literal depiction -- even one by the great Goldberg -- could only disappoint.

In later years, however, Rube did give form to the Professor in a few sketches, such as this one, reproduced in his 1968 book, Rube Goldberg vs. The Machine Age  (the original art was in black and white -- I've added color, here):

A later version of Professor Butts by Rube Goldberg

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Rube Goldberg invention cartoon. And don't forget -- be sure to visit the official Rube Goldberg Machine Contest to see the ELEVEN FINALISTS (just announced today!) for the 2013 Online contest. While there, you can vote for your favorite -- the winner will score the coveted "People's Choice" Award!

See Also:

Yours In All Things Great and Screwball,
Paul Tumey

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Rube Goldberg Machine Cartoon: Simplified Can Opener (1929)

Continuing our week-long extravaganza of Rube Goldberg inventions, here's his Simplified Can Opener, originally published in the July 27, 1929 issue of Collier's weekly magazine.

Of course, nothing about Rube Goldberg's inventions is simple, and this particular machine for opening a can involves a maid, an alarm clock, a net, a golf club, and a milk can -- and that's just for starters!

This design also includes waltzing mice and a dragon. One thing that's often overlooked about Rube Goldberg's invention cartoons is that he combined both living creatures and inorganic objects into new forms -- reminding us of Marshall McLuhan's famous observation that technological developments are extensions of our physiology and senses.

Simplified Can Opener by Rube Goldberg
Originally published July 27, 1929 in Collier's magazine

A manufacturing process combines people with objects to transform things into something else. Rube's machines also often involve people and, for good measure, lots of different animals. In this cartoon, Rube integrates a "pet dragon," which is a rare instance of a fantasy animal appearing in his inventions. Usually, Rube worked hard to make his inventions feel plausible, drawing not just A soup can cartoon, for example, but THE soup can cartoon. However, in his 1929-1931 series for Collier's, The Inventions of Professor Lucifer G. Butts, A.K., Rube achieved a new level of mastery which allowed him to not only include more and more objects into his inventions, but also more animals -- even mythological creatures such as fire-breathing dragons.

Looking at this piece, a tableau of domestic surrealism, rendered with straight-faced wit, it seems clear that Rube was as much a Surrealist and Dada-ist as Magritte, Dali, Duchamp, or Man Ray who also enjoyed presenting the absurd with a deadpan manner. In fact, Duchamp and Man Ray included a Rube Goldberg cartoon panel in their 1921 publication, New York DaDa. In 1936, three of Rube's invention cartoons were chosen for a landmark exhibit, "Fantastic Art, Dada, and Surrealism," displayed at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in 1936. Here's a review of the exhibit that includes an admiring mention of Goldberg's inclusion:

Rube Goldberg's invention cartoons are recognized as Surreal and Dada art
in this 1936 review of a MOMA exhibit

A modest man, Rube Goldberg never placed himself in any such context, but it seems clear that his screwball sensibility was a direct influence on a significant artistic movement, and if you ask me, it's high time we recognize this!

Be sure to check back tomorrow for another Rube Goldberg invention cartoon. And don't forget -- be sure to visit the official Rube Goldberg Machine Contest to see the ELEVEN FINALISTS (just announced today!) for the 2013 Online contest. While there, you can vote for your favorite -- the winner will score the coveted "People's Choice" Award!

See Also:

Now, Where Did I Put My Simplified Can Opener,
Paul Tumey

All text copyright 2013 Paul Tumey