Friday, March 30, 2012

12 Batty Pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre Strips by Segar (1920)

Mixed Nuts Wednesday

An obscure screwball classic every Wednesday!

Presenting a run of 12 rare beautiful pre-Popeye Thimble Theatre comic strips from 1920. The first Thimble Theatre appeared December 19, 1919. E. C. Segar created thousands of Thimble Theatre episodes before Popeye appeared in the strip ten year later (Jan 17, 1929).

For these early strips, Segar kept his drawings simple and to the point. However, the strip is a sophisticated example of the art of humorous cartooning, much like Ernie Bushmiller's Nancy. Segar worked hard, and he was just plain great as a humorous cartoonist.

It was in the 1920's that Segar honed his craft. As you can see in these delightfully daffy dailies, he had an emphasis on screwball humor from the start. His strips sometimes end on flip takes, nutty behavior is the norm, and these little comics are packed with action and ideas.

Here's a nice little press biography of Segar that appeared in The Literary Digest, May 11, 1935.

The Literary Digest - May 11, 1935

The strips in this post are from Jan 1- Jan 14, 1920 -- some of the very first episodes of Thimble Theatre! You can see some of the beloved art elements used in the Popeye strips being brought into magical creation in these rare early comics. A few notes follow.

The original concept for Thimble Theatre was to present little parodies of popular movies and plays in serialized comic strip form. The imeptus for creating the strip was to replace Ed Wheelan's Midget Movies, which the syndicate had just lost when Wheelan was hired away to create hi smore well-known comic Minute Movies.

The strip below features "Harold Hamgravy," the proto-type for the more familiar "Ham Gravy" in a parody of the "perials of Pauline" type melodrama -- you know the kind, the one where the villain ties the heroine to the train tracks and cackles gleefully. Here, Segar is being fanciful and free with the "milky way" gag. Part of the joy of Segar's comics -- and screwball comics in general -- is that they make no attempt to duplicate reality, understanding that the sky is the limit in this medium.

Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 1, 1920

Olive Oyl is present from the start, as well!
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 2, 1920

Hamgravy's shoes look like something from a Don Martin Mad one-pager!
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 3, 1920
 The screwball lion drawings in the next strip are as appealing as the animals in Hoban's Discontinued Stories. The silly labeling, such as in panel 5, is also a trope of screwball comics.
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 5, 1920

Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 6, 1920

The strip below ends on a terrific "flip" or "plop" take. The way Segar draws his speech balloons is poetry.
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 7, 1920

More funny labels and arrows.
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 8, 1920

Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 9, 1920

Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 10, 1920

Substitute Popeye for Hamgravy and the strip will seem very familiar....
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 12, 1920

A crazy invention for shooting around trees and corners. Starting with Rube Goldberg, screwball strips have a love affair with stupid inventions.
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 13, 1920

This strip ends on another great flip take.
Thimble Theatre by E.C. Segar - Jan 14, 1920
I'm celebrating my 50th birthday by posting 50 screwball comics this week. Here's the score so far:

12 Salesman Sam dailies by C.D. Small
Spooky Sundays by Bill Holman
Needlenose Noonan Sundays by Walter Hoban
Discontinued Stories by Walter Hoban
12 Thimble Theatres from 1920 by E.C. Segar
34 - TOTAL

That leaves 16 more screwball comics to go! More rare comics with logoes on the bogoes to come. Stay tuned!

This blog needs readers -- please spread the word. Let's bring screwball comics back!

Screwbally Yours,
Tall Pumey

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Needlenose Noonan and Discontinued Stories: Lost Screwball Classics (1934)

Celebrating my 50th birthday today, here's an extra special treat! 3 full color Needlenose Noonan pages by the great Walter Hoban from 1934! To my knowledge, these are the very first color paper scans of this terrific screwball comic available for public consumption on the Internet.

As far as I can tell Needlenose Noonan ran from sometime in 1933 to sometime in 1935. I have examples from 1934 and 35. Walter Hoban is best known for his long-running daily/Sunday feature, Jerry On The Job (1913-circa 1930). Check out my earlier post for a beautiful Jerry On The Job Sunday page from 1919.

I don't have a lot of time to write notes on these pages today, so I'll just post them today and in the future I'll share a few more with some notes. Here's a really bad microfilm photo I found of Hoban at a cartoonist's luncheon honoring George McManus (on Hoban's immediate left)  taken on April 28, 1928.

I will say that I love these pages. I think Hoban's art is top-notch, and his comic sensibility is wonderfully skewed. In particular, Discontinued Stories, the screwy topper strip that ran with Needlenose Noonan is a true lost gem of screwball comics. The main character dies at the end of every episode!

Cartoon characters in prison stripes running across full moon
Jack Cole's Death Patrol may have been inspired
by Walter Hoban's screwball comics
Walter Hoban's Discontinued Stories may have been an inspiration to another master of screwball comics, Jack Cole, who created The Death Patrol, a goofy short comic feature about a group of military pilots. Cole's concept was to introduce a new character and kill off an old one in every story! Check out the Jan 21 Needlenose Noonan episode below -- the eye-pleasing striped prison suits are also used in Cole's Death Patrol (for some of those great stories, see my blog on Jack Cole here).

Note the 5th panel in the first episode below of Discontinued Stories. "I'm your sister." "Oh, that's different, then." Hoban slipped  little bits of risque humor like this in his work. Just one example of what makes his comics worth re-discovering!

A special thanks to Carl Linich for introducing me to Hoban's comics! Enjoy these prime forgotten examples of screwball cartooning!

Needlenose Noonan and Discontinued Stories
by Walter Hoban Jan 7, 1934

Needlenose Noonan and Discontinued Stories
by Walter Hoban Jan 21, 1934

Needlenose Noonan and Discontinued Stories
by Walter Hoban Feb 4, 1934
I'm celebrating my 50th birthday by posting 50 screwball comics this week. Here's the score so far:

12 Salesman Sam dailies by C.D. Small
4 Spooky Sundays by Bill Holman
3 Needlenose Noonan Sundays by Walter Hoban
3 Discontinued Stories by Walter Hoban
22 - TOTAL

That leaves 28 more screwball comics to go! More rare cracked nutz to come. Stay tuned!

This blog needs readers -- please spread the word. Let's bring screwball comics back!

Screwballistically Your'n,
Old Man Paul Tumey

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Claws For Alarm - Spooky Comics by Bill Holman

Spooky, Bill Holman's topper strip fur Smokey Stover collars one of the funniest character designs ever. With his bandaged tail, chubby tom-cat face, and always ruffled coat, Spooky is one funky, fun cat.

Holman started Spooky on April 7, 1935, about one month after he lit a fuse to Smokey Stover, on March 10, 1935. Topper strips have their own aesthetic. They are usually shorter and less dense than the main strip they support. In the examples we'll share today, Holman is working purely with visuals, and FOOsaking his verbal humor which is a big part of Smokey Stover. Spooky offers us no "foo," "notary sojac," or "1506 nix nix." It does, however, offer a purely visual screwball ballet that is a wonder to behold.

The strip has two main characters: Spooky the cat and his owner, Fenwick Flooky -- the strip could be called "Spooky and Flooky." Fenwick has a passion for embroidery. You can probably guess his favorite word to embroider. Hint: it has 3 letters, begins with 'F,' and rhymes with 'boo.' You guessed it - Hoo! I mean, Poo! Wait... PHO! Aw, heck...

It's in the Spooky strips that we can peel away a layer and really appreciate Bill Holman's solid cartooning style. I've broken a strip up into a scrolling panel version here, so you can see the panels nice and large.

In this Spooky strip from Oct 4, 1936 the first panel offers us an assortment of screwy details, from the nosey portraits to the weird FOOtrest of the easy chair. Notice the pattern on the rug is actually letters. Holman often used letters and short words as pattern fill elements. While Fenwick sews, Spooky has taken an interest in a caged fowl...

Ooops! Action! Note that this panel is only of dramatic interest in comparison/contrast with the previous panel. Because this panel is about the bird getting loose, Holman has removed the portraits in the background. There is less information and what's left has more importance. Notice that Spooky's expression has changed from frustrated to hopeful.

You can really see Holman's great pen-and-ink style here. A great mixture of control and spontaneous marks. When you look at his original art, it's often a field of of layers of pen strokes, knife marks and scrapes, and white paint. Every image Holman makes is "of the moment" and this is part of why his screwball  art is so powerful. I love that shadow line under Spooky...

The expression on Spooky's face as he gleefully closes in on his prey is laugh-out-loud funny.

I've presented the next two panels, which are half-beats, as a pair. The mirror poses comment on each other and turn the "plot" around. Even the coloring is reversed. Holman still can't resist tossing in a bacground gag (he called them "wallnuts").

Denounment. Fenwick has restored his home to order. It's a carbon copy of the first panel, with one comical difference... Spooky is the caged animal now. As a last bit of screwball fun, Holman draws in a goofy ashtray in the lower right.

Here's the entire strip in its original layout:

Spooky by Bill Holman - Oct 4, 1936

And here are two more lovely examples of one of the most perfected, well-crafted screwball strips ever:

Spooky by Bill Holman - Sept 27, 1936

Spooky by Bill Holman - Oct 25, 1936
I mentioned the artistic, almost painterly method Holman used in creating his images. Here's a few close-ups of original art from a 1958 Spooky, when it had been reduced to a single tier. Look at how Holman is working with controlled chaos -- his art is the very embodiment of the essence of screwball comedy.

And here's the whole strip. Note that Holman signs his name "Scat," which he often did in his Spooky strips.

It's my 50th birthday this week and I'm posting 50 screwball comics this week! Yesterday, we had 12 C.D. Small Salesman Sam dailies. Today, we've enjoyed 4 Bill Holman Spookys. That's 34 to go! Tomorrow is the official marker of my half-century run in the great newspaper we call LAFF, and I plan share with you a terrific screwball comic that is not only really rare, but, to my knowledge, there are NO examples to be found on the Internet. Tomorrow changes that... stay tuned!

This blog needs readers -- desperately! Please spread the woid, boids!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Salesman Sam - 12 Classic Screwball Dailies from 1930

Here's the first 12 Salesman Sam strips from 1930, scanned from my own collection - a dizzy dozen of daffy, deft delights! As discussed in my first post on this classic screwball strip, C.D. Small perfected the strip's screwball elements when he took over the strip from the comic's creator George Swanson in 1927.

This duckie dozen decidedly declaims disaster and disruption are desirable. Um, put another way, this set of scans gives you a nice taste of Small's screwy greatness. 

A word about reading these. Be prepared to take your time. They aren't like modern strips. Linger over them and let them soak in. The main gag isn't as important as absorbing the many details in the background and the numerous side jokes. 

A few notes follow.

To give you a sense of this 81 year old paper I'm working with, I have only minimally touched up our first example from 1930:

Jan 2, 1930
I love the way Small draws snow. And check out the over-crowded general store interior -- classic cartooning!
Jan 3, 1930
In the next strip, below, don't miss the Dan O'Neill style moon in the night sky. And how about that take at the end? It's as though the ground just vaporized under the one character, and she drops so fast her hat and assorted items are suspended in the air for a second before also flying down. I always wonder what the next panel after one of these spectacular plop takes would look like.
Jan 4, 1930

We skip a day, to January 6, because the 5th was a Sunday and there was no daily drawn for that day.
Jan 6, 1930

This next strip is a particular favorite. I love the character design of the little rich man. Love how he rides an old-fashioned bicycle with a cat tied to the end of it. Love the snoring cat in panel 3. Also love the black out balloon in panel 3. Swanson did it first, in his version of the strip.
Jan 7, 1030
Spectacular take in last panel of the next strip. More great moon faces.
Jan 8, 1930
Jan 9, 1930

I love what Small does with cats in this strip. Check out panel one of the next strip. 
Jan 10, 1930

It's fascinating how Small breaks the space up horizontally as well as vertically. Again, that's something Swan created in the first incarnation of the strip.
Jan 11, 1930

Jan 12, 1930

 The next strip has a particularly sophisticated way of breaking the space up. The first panel has three vertical divisions. Sam was a strip about overcrowded stores, homes, and cities... and the strip itself is also over-stuffed!
Jan 13, 1930
Jan 15, 1930

The last two strips provide a mini-continuity. In a year or two, Small would develop the strip into 2-3 week arcs of continuities as Sam periodically ventured forth into the world to demolish various other professions.

It's my 50th birthday this week, so I'm gonna share 50 pieces of screwball art on this blog this week! 12 down... 38 more to go this week! Thursday's the official day of my 50th -- I'll post something extra special then!

More tomorrow!

Screwballistically Your'n,
Paul Tumey