Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Original, Iconic Self-Operating Napkin Cartoon and Others by Rube Goldberg

Rube Goldberg Tuesday

It's Original Art Week here at the Masters of Screwball Comics! I'm sharing with you some scans of the actual original drawings by the masters, all week long! Today, we peruse a potpourri of masterful Rube Goldberg cartoons in their "pure" original art state.

As you look at these, remember that they were drawn for reproduction. Usually, pre-computer artists drew their cartoons larger than the final printed dimensions. This shrinking tightened up the art and magically caused small flaws to vanish.

A study of the 3 cartoons below shows that for much of his cartooning career, Rube preferred to work with pen nibs over brushes, and his line is eccentric. Both Rube's content and his drawing style are marvelous mixtures of science/engineering knowledge and humanistic philosophy.

Rube was uninterested in representational art, or in adopting the styles of the day. As a cartoonist, humorist, and stylist, he was a rugged individualist. Every person and object in Rube's work is a purely original cartoon caricature that no one else could have drawn. This becomes even clearer when we can study the original art itself.

Our first example, The Boob Family,  is a funny four panel comic by Rube that ends with a great flip take.

I have come to relish Rube's lettering, especially the bold, blocky style that he uses for the comic's title. Rube used this lettering for his cartoon titles, and sometimes for emphasis in a dialogue balloon. I've have even seen him use in the early Boob McNutt Sunday pages, and it looks great!

The year for this comic is unknown, but notice that there is a date penciled in the margin. If this is the publication date, then this comic is probably either from 1917, a year in which Rube made a great cartoons in the The Boob Family series. (according to Carl Linich). Also, March 7 falls on a Wednesday in this year (as well as 1923, 1928, and 1934).

Whatever the year, the above cartoon is a nice peice of sequential cartooning. Rube's hand is loose, but mind is focused, like an engineer's, with solid construction and eye flow using strategically spotted blacks. Rube went to a mining engineering college and could have easily become an engineer -- just imagine what our cities would look like if Rube Goldberg had designed them!.

The next cartoon is from a later period, and shows Rube putting in more detail while still beautifully crafting a solid cartoon composition. His multi-directional cross-hatching is masterful. The comic features one of his classic small head-big nose characters. He also was fond of drawing round glasses perched on the giant nose that blanked out the eyes, conveying a sense of the emptiness of the character's intelligence (in contrast to Harold Gray, who used the blank eyes technique to allow the reader to invest vast amounts of emotional intelligence to the characters).

Rube Goldberg daily cartoon - February 12, 1930
One of Rube's main themes was everyday hypocrisy, and he especially enjoyed showing how we grownups don't always practice what we preach. Notice how in panel one, the boy is sitting on the man's lap in the armchair. In panel two, the boy has assumed the throne of wisdom as he observes, with some confusion, the man behaving in stark contrast to his teachings. Look at how Rube stages the two contrasting compositions, almost a s a mirror image to each other, visually communicating the change in mental energy.

This cartoon also includes a drawing of one of his statue-lamps. In the best screwball tradition, Rube populated his panels with these crazy statues, often lamps or coffee tables or some such trivial household item. There's always a small pile of bald-headed goofs propping up the object, like a crazy team of awkward circus acrobats, ready to collapse at any second. In this cartoon, Rube even throws in an elephant, comically perched on top of the acrobats:

A classic Rube Goldberg contraption
Rube's absurd statues were immortalized in The Reuben Award, the annual award given to athe outstanding cartoonist of the year. The award comes from the National Cartoonist Society, which made Rube it's first president. Rube designed the award himself. Here's Al Jaffe's award (2007). Look familiar?

Mad artist Al Jaffe's Reuben Award. Jaffee, who's "Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions" series is modeled
on Rube's "Foolish Questions," once referred to Goldberg with love and admiration as a "Superjew"
Our last piece of Rube Goldberg original art is one of the iconic cartoons of the 20th century, The Self-Operating Napkin, which was the image chosen for the 1995 United States commemorative stamp:

The United States Postal Service's 1995 commemorative Rube Goldberg stamp
Rube Goldberg is, of course, best-known for his "Rube Goldberg Machines," a complex chain reaction that leads to a trivial result. In this perfectly realized cartoon, Rube's drawing was never better. At a glance, you "get" the joke of the huge, complex machine designed to accomplish the tiny task. Rube has once again spotted his blacks perfectly. The largest area of black is the man's coat, which anchors the drawing.

The iconic Rube Goldberg machine cartoon - The Self-Operating Napkin  - sold at auction for about $7,000

In 1904, just out of college, Rube took a job with the San Francisco city engineer mapping sewer pipes and water mains. Many of his cartoon inventions include silly-looking, unlikely assemblages of pipes, as in the cartoon above.

Rube worked hard to make his drawings as funny as possible. His biographer, Peter Marzio, writes that Rube would often completely pencil and ink the same comic strip as much as ten times, until he got the right "take." As you look at these originals, keep in mind they could be the third, fifth, or even tenth time Rube drew them. Though the cartoons may appear to be quickly drawn, they are actually extremely focused refinements of a humorous idea. In a handwritten letter, Rube said "a busy mind and busy hands can bring happiness." As we see in these examples of his work, he certainly walked his talk.

Lastly, I was recently fortunate enough to be able to meet and visit with the fabulous Jennifer George, grand-daughter of Rube Goldberg, and director of Rube Goldberg, Inc. Among the many highlights of the visit was a chance to actually see and hold some of Rube's original art for his cartoons. Here's a photo of a happy comics nerd:

Paul Tumey holds an original Rube Goldberg invention cartoon

More Rare Rube Goldberg Invention Cartoons on this Blog:

A Rube Goldberg Machine for Voting - Election Day Special

The Only Sanitary Way to Lick a Postage Stamp (1916)
(early invention cartoon found in Screwball Sunday Supplement Vol. 17 No. 148)

The Snoremonica: They Laughed When I Went To Bed (article on crazy invention theme of screwball comics) 

Be sure to visit our Rube Goldberg Page - filled with rare cartoons, photos, and information!

Screwballistically Yours,
Paul Tumey

A special thank you to Heritage Auction Galleries (www.ha.com) for supplying these nice, big scans!

Another big screwball flip-take to Carl Linich for his outstanding help with this post and blog!

All Rube Goldberg cartoons and images are courtesy of and copyright Rube Goldberg, Inc. 
All text is copuright 2012 Paul Tumey

Monday, July 30, 2012

Milt Gross Original Art (1931)

Milt Gross Monday

Presenting a large scan of the stunning original art to a loony 1931 Count Screwloose by Milt Gross!

Yesterday, I posted some swell scans of original art by Walter Hoban. I've decided to make every post this week a look at scans of originals I've collected -- stay tuned and spread the word!

Today's offering is a "topper" strip that ran above the larger Dave's Delicatessen. In earlier posts ( to see these, just click the Milt Gross Monday link at the top right of this web page), I've shared examples of full page versions of Count Screwloose from 1928 - 30. When Milt started his new feature, Dave's Delicatessen, he made Count Screwloose into a topper. Gross also abandoned the frame of the longer version of the strip, in which the Count escapes Nuttycrest asylum, sees "normal" folks acting crazy, and runs back to the relative safety and sanity of the laughing academy. As we see in this topper, Gross changed the Count  into a trouble-causing protagonist instead of a passive observer. The Count is joined in this mischief by his dog pal in the Napoleon hat, Iggy.

Count Screwloose by Milt Gross - circa Nov. 11, 1931 (date unconfirmed)
Meaning well, the Count (who seems to be living with the "Colonel") puts a hair-growing tonic on his pillow. Of course, the pillow becomes glued to the Colonel's head and the comic escalates from this situation into an even more absurd scenario where the Count tortures and humliates the Colonel. The Colonel feebly protests "This is outrageous," but nonetheless winds up smashing through the wall of his house with a pillow glued to his head, much to the delight of preying paparazzi photographers. In the last -- dialogue-free -- panel, the Count and Iggy are taking passport photos, suggesting they are going to leave the country to escape the Colonel's rage.

The last panel reminds me of the way Carl Barks would sometimes end his Donald Duck Walt Disney Comics and Stories 10-page distaster stories. Donald would turn an entire town into an vast omelet, or a valley filled with syrup, or some such disaster --  and in the last panel we'd see his silhouetted figure slinking off into the night, totally defeated. That is, until the next issue, when it would happen all over again.

Gross's visual layout is as well-constructed as his story. Notice how he uses the pattern of the Colonel's pajamas to make his panels more visually busy and dense as the action escalates. In the climactic next-to-last panel, the pj pattern becomes a blur scribbles as all heck breaks loose.

You can see a few non-repro blue marks in this scan, but not many. Gross appears to have very loosely penciled the strip and then boldly inked with the confidence of a master. His line is loose and spontaneous within the well-crafted vessel of his solid story structure and visual layout -- this solidity of form and looseness of execution is the essence (and beauty) of his style.

Tune in Every Monday for a New Milt Gross Comic!

That is all,
Screwball Paul

Sunday, July 29, 2012

A Gallery of Original Art from Walter Hoban's Jerry on the Job

Screwball Sunday

The occasional Sunday morning screwball epistle from Paul Tumey

I have often observed that many of the common elements of screwball comics appear to originate with Walter Hoban's Jerry on the Job. he was the first to shoehorn in funny signs and background details. He also pushed the plop take up a few notches for comic exaggeration. I've  enjoyed writing about how the criminally under-appreciated Hoban played with shifting backgrounds and language.

You can see bits and pieces of all that in this collection of Walter Hoban original art scans I have put together for you today. the large scans allow one to savor Hoban's inking, similar at times to Herriman's, but with it's own distinct "voice." It's a hatching bonanza - enjoy!

Jerry typically and densely misses the point, causing a female to plop...
Jerry On The Job by Walter Hoban - November 21, 1923 - original art

Jerry does the pneumatic flip take in this one...
Jerry On The Job by Walter Hoban - March 1, 1929 - original art

Jerry On The Job by Walter Hoban - May 17, 1929 - original art
Yes, you read correctly - there's a service called "Uncle Tom's Cab." Sigh.  Did folks really think that was funny back then? I hate to say it, but probably so. A fair amount of Hoban's material played with stereotypes of black Americans -- which could be one reason his work has fallen out of favor. Check out this virulently racist 1921 fragment written and illustrated by Hoban that I recently discovered on the reverse side of an E.C. Segar Five Fifteen comic:

Jan 18, 1921

Here's a striking panoramic daily of a medicine show -- another aspect of of our culture that has evolved since 1930.
Jerry On The Job by Walter Hoban - February 20, 1930 - original art

My last example for you today is undated, but is thought to be from 1922, perhaps Sept. 22. Check out that spectacular wipe-out in panel 3, subtly different from Hoban's similar last panel flip takes.

Hoban was a master cartoonist -- look at the terrific left-to-right movement in the first two panels, with the call of the steam engine train perfectly inserted. The energy sets up the wipe-out in panel three.

Here's hoping your Sunday isn't Jerry- rigged!

With logoes on the bogoes,
Screwbally Paulie

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Chicken Fat Cats in $alesman $am (1924)

Here today a quartet of Swan $alesman $am comics festooned with cats and fishes.

Sometimes, screwball comics contain lots more stuff than the average comic. I first discovered the joys of comics that are stuffed to the gills with Kurtzman and Elder's Mad comics. Elder called the myriad multiple gags he packed into his comics "chicken fat," referring to the little globules of melted fat floating at the top of a bowl of chicken soup -- in other words, the little bits that add a lot of flavor and savor. With my screwball comics project, it's been a continual joy and revelation to discover that other cartoonists added "chicken fat" details. It seems to start with Walter Hoban (although I am starting to think that maybe it goes back to Outcault's Yellow Kid) , develops with George Swanson, and reaches an apex with Bill Holman's Smokey Stover -- and then Kurtzman and Elder (and Wood) made chicken fat an essential ingredient in their humor comics recipe that led to Mad, one of the most suksessful humor magazines ever.

Enuff of de history lesson, Tumey -- get to da comics! Swanson drew $alesman $am as if he were packing to go on a long journey, stuffing every nook and cranny with potentially useful stuff. He seemed to particularly enjoy drawing cats and goldfish in the corners. Often there's no gags in these animals... the drawings are funny enuff.

Swanson called attention to his "chicken fat cat" practice in June, 1924 by reprinting a request from a Mrs. Ethel Smith to "draw a picture with a lot of cats in it."

George Swanson gets catty - $alesman $am June 2, 1924
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
 Whether there was actually a letter from Mrs. Smith, or Swan made it all up, the result is a wonderful daily comic with a terrifically funny picture of a lot of cats. In the daze that followed, Swan shoehorned in more cats and goldfish. See if you can spot 'em...

$alesman $am by George Swanson - June 3, 1924 - a nod to Jerry on the Job?
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
Dig also a great Rube Goldberg style ash tray in panel one of the next comic
$alesman $am by George Swanson - June 4, 1924
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

$alesman $am by George Swanson - June 6, 1924
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

There's more continuity in these "chicken fat cat" details than there is in the main story line -- I think it's safe to say that Swan has significant creative motivation in drawing these little cats and fishes.

Screwball comics seem to exist in the tension between the need to create a recognizably and comfortably familiar daily experience for the reader and the artist's chaotic impulse to render the images that bubble up from his unconscious at the moment pen touches paper. Nature abhors a vacuum and so did the masters of screwball comics.

Elder said he added something like 120 background gags to a six-page Mad story in part because Kurtzman's scripts, layout, and editorial hand were so well developed he began to fixate on the background as place where he could put in his own stuff. Elder's chicken fat was his way of satisfying his need to be the constant clown that he was in the rest of his life -- and he had a great precedent in the screwball comics he and Harvey grew up reading and appreciating. Just as I delighted in the background details in their Mad stories (which were reprinted as delicious color inserts in early 80's Mad giants), Kurtzman and Elder grew up savoring the chicken fat of George Swan, Bill Holman, and others.

But aside from all that high-falutin'comic theory, these are just some great kat kartoons -- thanks, Swan!

Just in case anyone is interested in reading my own cartoons and comics, I just posted a new webcomic on my Tumeland blog:

Yowling at the moon,
Paul Tumey

Friday, July 27, 2012

Reading Smokey Stover: Unpacking the Storage Locker

Smokey Stover Fireday

A New Smokey Stover or Bill Holman comic every Friday - visit us often!

Here's another beautiful Bill Holman 1941 full page with a Smokey on top and a Spooky on bottom. Scanned minutes ago from my own archives. Great cartooning and loads of gags! 

Most sequential comics acrete, accumulate, and build meaning from one panel to the next, until finally you have a coherent structure built in your mind. Reading one of Bill Holman's densely compressed Smokey Stover comics is the inversion of the typical sequential comics experience -- as you read, you unpack and pull apart. It's like dismantling a storage locker bought at auction -- you never know what you'll find inside, but it will be a vast array of objects, some junk and some treasure.

By the time you've finished reading just one Smokey Stover strip, you've had to unpack each box (panel) and sift and sort -- the floor is littered with visual and verbal puns, gags, surreal plays, goofy inventions, weird characters, cartoon animals, and cornball jokes. 

Reading Smokey requires an investment of energy and presence beyond the typical 1940s newspaper comics reading experience-- and often, when I am done unpacking the storage locker that is a Smokey Stover comic, I'm a little tuckered out. But then -- all these funny gags and weird little drawings are now unpacked, and my mind can play with them all day. 

 Spooky, on the other hand, generally follows the more traditional structure.

Smokey Stover is the ultimate de-construction comic -- in order to read the strip, you have to pull it apart.

A packed storage locker of screwballism - a full page Bill Holman comic from August 17, 1941
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Getting Off the Party Lion, 
Paul Foomey

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Gene Ahern's Gimmick in The Squirrel Cage (1945)

Gene Ahern Thursday

A New Comic By The Master of The Squirrel Cage Every Thursday!

By 1945, Gene Ahern's surreal screwball epic, The Squirrel Cage delivered a comic gem practically every Sunday. Today's Gene Ahern Thursday offering, a page from the approximately 7-year long Foozland continuity, was pulled at random from my archives. A word about my archives... I live in a small apartment in Seattle and after 50 years of hoard--- um, I mean accumulating, I have a slight problem. I seem to have lost the path to my front door. I had a pretty good path cleared out in the hallways that are lined floor to ceiling with old comics, magazines, newspapers, and my vintage Kleen-Ex collection. However, a few nights ago, in the middle of the night, a piled collapsed, causing a domino effect that has basically created a cave-in. I'd really like to find my front door, because I need to get to my mailbox as I know several new orders of old comic strips have come in. In fact, I am usually much too busy tracking my auctions on eBay to have the time to re-stack my piles and open up the path to my front door. Anyway, I mention this because my food supply is dwindling, and if this blog suddenly cuts off, you'll know what happened.

A photo of my well-organized bathroom

Okay -- I'm pulling your leg -- in case you haven't figured that out already. Actually, my archives are neatly organized and stored in a walk-in closet and under my bed. I have about 5,000 strips and sunday pages that require only a few square feet of my living space. Clipped comic strips are actually very easy to store and do not require much space at all. In the drawer of the desk at which I presently working are a few hundred choice George Herrimans, Ving Fuller, and Jimmy Swinnertons, plus a run of Dinky Dinkerton -- just to give you a flavor. The above digression was merely a gimmick to entertain myself and my readers. Speaking of gimmicks, today's Squirrel Cage features an entertaining gimmick, as well -- but a bird of a different feather, as it were:

The Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern - October 14, 1945

There are many great details to savor in this episode, which in some odd way seems to anticipate Chuck Jones' Roadrunner cartoons (which are also set in the surreal Herriman-like landscape). To cite just a few of my favorite details -- I love that a gimmick tastes like ham on rye. I also plan to use the line "Excuse me, I have to go take my fife lesson," at the next possible opportunity. Ahern always included some strange object with the Little Hitchhiker. In this episode, our tam-adorned mystery man has with him a large flower wreath, arranged to spell "suksess." I'm smiling and shaking my head...

And now, you must excuse me. I have to go take my fife lesson...

Yours in Screwball Suksess,
Paul Tumey

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

E.C. Segar's Nutty Pre-Popeye comic - The Five Fifteen (1921)

Mixed Nuts Wednesday

Quick trips down the spur tracks of screwball comics - every Wednesday!

Presenting a trio of original paper scans of The Five Fifteen, a rare early E.C. Segar (Popeye) daily comic strip infused with a dry screwball sensibility. Segar had a contained approach to screwball comics. He presented us with a river of nutty characters and situations while keeping a straight face, and often inviting us to step back to chuckle, rather than stepping into the dramas. R.C. Harvey, in his article on Segar in The Encyclopedia of American Comics (Goulart, 1990), calls Segar "a cartoonist of modest ability but a humorist and fantasist of considerable talent." As with Gene Ahern, we have in Segar a cartoonist who draws in a likable, competent style that in hardly reveals the imaginative craziness of the content. As Art Spiegelman said of Ahern, the humor explodes against the rigidity of the form.

Segar started up The Five Fifteen when his paper wanted him to draw a second daily to compliment Thimble Theatre. The start date of the strip is not clear. Allan Holtz, in his massive new reference tome, American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Guide (recommended!) lists the start date for The Five Fifteen as February 9, 1921. In a small lot of early Sappos I recently acquired (from Ron Goulart), there's a comic dated January 4, 1921 -- a month earlier than Holtz's start date!

Segar began rolling with The Five Fifteen using the limited concept of drawing humor from commuting, probably thinking the strip would last only a few weeks. As it happened, the strip stayed on track for 26 years, ending May 18, 1947. Within a couple of years, The Five Fifteen became Sappo the Commuter (circa 1923), and then simply Sappo. Segar merged his two strips into his Popeye Sunday pages in the 1930s, with Sappo as the unforgettable topper strip (the complete Segar run of the Sappo topper topper is available in the six Popeye volumes published by Fantagraphics). As Carl Linich has pointed out to me, the December 1934-March 1935 Sappo "growing nose" sequence (reprinted in Volume 4 of the Fantagraphics series) is one of the greatest screwball continuities ever done.

But today, we look at the humble beginnings of John Sappo. Segar was playing with screwball elements from the start. Here's a 1916 example of his first daily comic, Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers that ends with an awkwardly drawn, but ambitious Walter Hoban style plop take:

E.C. Segar's first comic strip series attempted to codify Charlie Chaplin's slapstick humor, circa 1916

In our first example of The Five Fifteen, which -- as far as I know -- could be the very first in the series, our hero is dealing with the prevalent hazards of public commuting: smoke and babies. I love dat Segar smoke drawing.

Segar's early Sappo daily - January 4, 1921
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

By November, Segar has introduced Sappo's wife, Myrtle (the name of Segar's real life wife, as well) into the strip, expanded his subject matter beyond commuting, and developed comic dynamics between his characters.

The Five Fifteen by E.C. Segar - November 30, 1921
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Our last example today (keep reading this blog, there's more Sappos to come!) is one I particularly like. It is almost a meta-comic -- when the comic and/or characters break the "fourth wall" and make reference to their awareness as symbols and lines on paper. I've always $#!@! loved cartoon cussing, and in this strip Segar playfully makes these symbols part of the overall gag -- which is a *&^%! great example of that dry screwball wit I was talking about at the start of this article.

The Five Fifteen by E.C. Segar - April 12, 1921
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

You can find more examples and information on the early comics of E.C. Segar here. Thanks to Carl Linich for his help on this post!

%*&$! Yours,
Paul Tumey

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Rube Goldberg's Baseball Cartoons (1930)

Rube Goldberg Tuesday

Join me every Tuesday for an exploration of the vast archive of terrific forgotten comics by the Father of Screwball Comics!

With the 2012 baseball season just over halfway done, here's three striking daily comics Rube Goldberg wrote and drew in 1930 on the subject of what one philosopher of the time called "America's national religion." These cartoons, over 80 years old, show that some things about baseball in America haven't changed.

The very term "screwball" originates from the game of baseball, referring to a pitch with a counter-intuitive trajectory that is is difficult to hit. None of today's Rube Goldberg baseball comics from 1930 reference the screwball pitch, but nonetheless, they themselves are great examples of screwball comics.

I suspect most readers coming to this post fresh from a Google search will be expecting to see a wacky chain-reaction invention related to baseball. Something like this inspired device for pitching a ground ball:

I'll share some links from the Rube Goldberg, Inc. website at the end of this post that will direct you to Rube's baseball cartoons with invention themes. Even though the 3 examples we have today, scanned from my own collection of paper originals and available nowhere else, are not invention oriented, they are still pretty great and show other sides of Rube's humor.

Like most early American cartoonists, Rube began his cartooning career drawing sports cartoons. Here's an example of a 1908 baseball cartoon by Rube (only the low res image is available):

This 1908 Rube Goldberg sports page baseball cartoon reporting on a 1908 game
between the Giants and the Pirates sold at auction for about $2,000. 

By the time 1930 rolled around, Rube had about 25 years of experience in writing and drawing baseball cartoons. Our first example comes from A Sad, Sad Story -- one of Rube's many rotating daily series, and is a prescient commentary on the problems caused by the over-commercialization of the game:

Rube Goldberg comments on the over-commercialization of baseball - May 23, 1930
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

The above strip also has some great comic drawings of a baseball player with baggy uniform and Rube's classic hot dog nose. Our next pitch is a neat, almost wordless sequence that works beautifully as a rare sequential cartoon in Rube's one-shot dailies:

A rare, almost wordless sequential comic by Rube Goldberg
announcing the arrival of the 1930 baseball season - April 14, 1930

Notice how, in the above comic, Rube draws each of the four scenes as freeze-frames, capturing the exact split-second the baseball touches the bearded gentleman's bald and increasingly bumpy noggin. By the way, lamp that huge funny beard -- shades of Gene Ahern's Little Hitchhiker from The Squirrel Cage!

My last scan for you today is a real humdinger. Every once in a while, Rube would draw a single image in the entire rectangular space allotted to his daily comic. Because he was drawing just one large panel instead of several smaller panels, Rube would often create a more elaborate, masterful rendering, with more detail and penwork. This strip, in addition to being a striking image, is also a wonderful comic about the enthusiasm that 1930s American boys felt for the game of baseball.

Sports, engineering, and boyhood enthusiasm meet in Rube's April 15, 1930 cartoon

You can find several more of Rube's baseball cartoons in the online archives of the Rube Goldberg, Inc. website:

The Fan Kid (1904)

Baseball Bats

Baseball Scores

Baseball Gadgets Invention

Baseball Improvements

Play ball!
Ball Tumey

Monday, July 23, 2012

Milt Gross Teaches Us How to Learn - The Screwloose Way (1930)

Milt Gross Monday

A New Milt Gross Comic Every Monday!

We don't usually associate Milt Gross, the master of screwball comics, with moral lessons and parables. As today's example shows Gross' work is actually filled with trenchant observations of humanity's craziness that could be seen as a sort of textbook on how not to live. This wisdom aspect of screwball comics is actually a fairly common element. Starting with Rube Goldberg's Lunatics I Have Met in the early 1900s, screwball comics embraced insanity in a way that actually shows the reader the logical and expected result to expect from certain choices and attitudes. I sometimes think that screwball comics at their finest are sublime depictions of people tossing and turning as they sleepwalk through life. They are delightful because they are -- in essence -- saying something about the dream state most of us are often in, whether we realize it or not.

Curiously, Milt decorates his canoe in this
comic with a swastika - a very old symbol that was
adopted by the Nazi party in 1920
Today's Milt Gross Monday comic is another in his Count Screwloose series. In this episode, Gross explores the idea of book learning versus acquired experience. As usual, he presents us with a character that takes things to the absurd extreme. The gag is yet another variation on Gross' comedy of escalation, as the self-made man, a skeptic of academia, journeys with great expense and bother to the far corners of the world to learn the exact  knowledge that was first offered to him in a classroom.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it's not possible to teach someone something simply by telling them? We often must go through our own elaborate Milt Gross style comedies to be able to see what was in front of us the whole time.

Count Screwloose by Milt Gross - Nov 2, 1930
The strip is framed with the usual Count Screwloose structure - the Count escapes from Nuttycrest, leaving his pal Iggy (a dog with a Napoleon complex) in tears at the separation. The Count then becomes our surrogate in the "sane" world as he quietly observes. At the end, overwhelmed by the nuttiness he has silently witnessed, the tiny Count (who is stranded in a distant foreign land) rides on the back of a fish back towards Nuttycrest, dreaming of reuniting with his pal, Iggy.

The art on this page reminds me very much of Sergio Aragones.

Note: I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but we skipped the last two days due to technical difficulties. We have now resumed our normally scheduled broadcast.

That is all,
Screwball Paul

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Compression of Smokey Stover Comics

Smokey Stover Fireday

A new Smokey Stover or Bill Holman comic every Friday!

Here's a Smokey Stover gem from 1937, during the second year of the strip. It's no secret that Bill Holman was a great cartoonist. What we don't realize when we read a comic like the one below that has about 25 gags in it, is that Holman was also an organizational genius.

Each Smokey Stover is a unique, magical matrix of jokes, gags, one-liners, and surrealism. Holman must have had a huge collection of such material in order to be able to generate a weekly matrix that condensed and collected so much into such a small space. It requires a certain kind of genius to be able to collect, archive, and retrieve vast amounts of scattered bits and pieces of humor. Each weekly Smokey was like a patchwork quilt, made of these scraps. Sometimes, the result was quite beautiful.

Smokey Stover by Bill Holman - November 14, 1937

Well, you know what they say: "Foos rush in where angels fear to tread."

Screwily Yours,
Paul Foomey

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Foozland 1952: 1000 Zinkas to Goofonia

There's so much we don't know yet about Gene Ahern's screwball masterpiece, The Squirrel Cage. For example, we don't know when the strip ended. We know it started June 19, 1936, and it's thought to have continued until at least 1953, but we really don't know for sure. Later examples of the strip are difficult to find, as it was carried by very few papers at the end, perhaps because many editors lacked the sense of absurd needed to fully appreciate the mysteries of Foozland. Did Ahern end the strip with any ceremony, such as the explosion of Foozland? We don't yet know.

Here's a rare example from 1952 that shows we are still in Foozland. Although Paul Bunyan is gone from the continuity (another question -- did he finally find his way out?). The strip appears to have returned full circle back to the seemingly impossible challenge of getting rid of the Little Hitchhiker.

The Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern - March 2, 1952

Nov shmoz ka pop?
Paul Tumey