Saturday, September 29, 2012

Energy Patterns Observed in a 1927 Screwball Salesman Sam Sunday by George Swan

Today I offer a nice paper scan of a very rare Salesman Sam Sunday by it's creator, George ("Swan") Swanson. I think this may be one of the last Sundays that Swan did before C.D. Small took over the series.

The page is a wonderful example of the streamlined, virtuoso cartooning style of George Swanson. Oddly bereft of its trademark background signs past the first two panels, this episode is all about movement and action.And simplification. The hands of Swan's characters are round blobs, feet are (Charles) Shulz-like black ovals, and the cityscape backgrounds are merely suggestive. The panels are filled with sweat drops, swirls, stars, movement lines, and sound effects. By 1927, Swan has mastered the screwball cartoon vernacular like few others.

March 27, 1927: One of the last Salesman Sam Sunday by George Swan .
C.D. Small would continue the strip for another 10 years or so.
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

In last week's Salesman Sam essay, we looked at the movement of energy in a Sam by C.D. Small. I made the point that screwball comics have wild and unpredictable (if logical) directions of movement when compared to comics of other genres. Here's how the movements map out in today's Swan comic:

It's all about conflict and comically explosive resolution. The top tier gives us two stable panels, with solid left-to-right movement. The third panel in the top tier initiates a conflicting movement.

After this, we get a tier of relatively minor explosions of random movement. The exaggerated takes shown here would be a highlight in many other artist's strips, but Swan had a much greater range for presenting visual chaos, placing him in the neighborhood of Milt Gross and Bill Holman.

The 3rd tier delivers more building conflict, which continues into the first panel of the last tier. Then, the last two panels explore the energy with the greatest velocity and number of directions of all the panels, proving a satisfying resolution.

All the Best,
Paul Tumey

Friday, September 28, 2012

A Hot Smokey Stover Fireman Sunday Page From 1939

Hey Girlies, I'm swamped today, so no time for pithy analysis -- here's a Bill Holman extravaganz, scanned from my own paper collection,  foo you to henjoy!

February 20, 1939

Remember to foo regularly,
Paul Foomey

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Egad - You Do Not Evince The Slightest Interest In What I Am Telling You: An Our Boarding House Sunday (1926)

Carrying on our glances at Gene Ahern's Our Boarding House, here's a very early Sunday, scanned from my collection. Haw, this page is so massive, m'lad, that it required no less than three passes on my 11x17 scanner to capture the breadth of its majesty.

But size isn't all that matters in comics - kaf um - and this example is satisfyingly goofy and funny, using the device of a stout Major Hoople envisioning himself as an accomplished athlete.

The second and fourth panels of this page are funny wordless flashes into the Major's imagination, both heroic and screwball.

The Major's nose is huge, reminding me of Gilbert Shelton's penchant for similar proboscises, which once again underscores the invisible thread between Ahern and Underground comics in America.

The comic beauty of the sequence lies in our peek into the Major's soliloquy of relief when his young charge is distracted from demanding the Major give him a swimming lesson -- even though Hoople's head is filled with dreams, he is keenly aware of his reality.

This is the only example I've seen with this striking, if weird, title art.

A glorious full page Sunday from Gene Ahern - August 8, 1926
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
I hope you enjoyed this lovely page. Drop me a line if you care to:

Great Ceasar's Ghost,
Paul Tumey

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Sexy Screwballism of Cecil Jensen's Elmo Comic: An Appreciation

Today we look at a selection of Elmo Sunday from 1947-48, scanned from my own paper collection.

Screwball comics peaked in the late 1930s - early 1940s. While a classic screwball comic like Bill Holman's Smokey Stover ran in the 1940s and 1950s, it was actually created in the 1930s. It's rare to find a bold new screwball concept introduced in American newspaper comics in the late 1940s. Ving Fuller's Doc Syke, started in 1945, is one of the few. Cecil Jensen's Elmo (1946-61)  is another rare instance -- at least for the first 15 months of the strip, until it radically morphed into a dull kid's strip that eventually came to be called Debbie.

Cecil Jensen (January 7, 1902 - May, 1976) is known primarily as an editorial cartoonist.  Early in his career he had a daily strip with the Chicago Daily News called Syncopating Sue (1929-32).

Syncopating Sue by Cecil Jensen August 20, 1931

Starting in October, 1946, the Chicago-based cartoonist rolled out Elmo, his new daily/Sunday comic. By 1946, flip-takes and silly signs were decades old, and most cartoonists, sadly, eschewed their use. The first 15 months of the comic are something special. Jensen dances gracefully with the challenge of making a screwball comic that fit into the breezy template that Sunday newspaper comics had become. These forgotten comics are filled with inspired moments, zany ideas, sexy gals, and screwballs galore -- all delivered in an appealing visual style.

The basic set-up of Elmo in the beginning is pretty simple: Elmo works as a marketer and later VP for a breakfast cereal company called Popnuts Scrummies (perhaps the first time screwball and advertising collide?). A young, not-so-bright pretty boy filled with energy and ambition, Elmo is single and lives in a crowded boarding house that appears to be filled with near-naked beautiful women walking around in loosely-tied bathrobes.

Elmo's father is deceased - but still hangs around the strip as a ghost. Here's his first appearance, in an episode adorned with a lovely bathrobe-clad beauty.

The contemporary world of Elmo is filled with nutty inventions (one of the hallmarks of 20th century screwball humor) and wacky characters.

Jensen gets a lot of mileage from situations involving the advertising and promotion of the breakfast cereal. Here, he works in jungle natives and culturally-clashing ideas of beauty, with yet another sultry sexpot (how did he get away with these provocative poses in a mainstream paper?).  "Then came civilization with Popnut Skrummies!"

Elmo's visual solidity fascinates me. The forms in the comic are both cartoony and invested with weight and mass. Like Bushmiller, Jensen has stripped out all extraneous detail. His brush line is both simple and filled with expression (unlike Bushmiller). But what makes Elmo mildly screwball is Jensen's slanted take -- or, in the case of my next selection, updown side view of the world:

As you can see from these examples, Jensen invented a distinctive version of screwball comics for post-war America. His props and tropes are about working hard, being clean cut, and the strategic packaging of everything in America, including sex. His comic is fun because it happens at a time when all this stuff was new and fun. It's too bad that this earlier version of Elmo didn't continue. My guess is that both Jensen and his syndicate realized a more bland, less daring comic about a cute, trouble-making little girl would sell to more papers. In 1948, he introduced Debbie, Elmo's niece into the strip and she quickly took over. You can see an in-between example of this morphing at Jeff Overtuff's blog here.

Eventually, Elmo and his screwball Popnut Scrummies/boarding house world vanished. Like Elmo, Jensen had to please the public -- and he sank into the mire of the general public's mediocre taste. Here's an example of Debbie, what Elmo became:

In my last example of the "good" Elmo, Jensen makes a meta-reference to "screwball inventions," and delivers a parody of screwball comics that is literally over the top:

Hope you enjoyed this appreciation of a fine, forgotten comic! You can find more about Cecil Jensen and Elmo in Dan Nadel's landmark book (which I recommend to all readers of this blog), Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969.

A big box o' Popnut Skrummies to my pal, Frank Young, for turning me onto the antics of Elmo! Thanks, Frank! And while I'm at it, I'll just put in a plug for the brand new, amazing graphic novel by Frank Young and David Lasky, The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song, which became available in stores yesterday!

This 190-page hardcover fill color graphic novel was years in the making. It tells the story of the first family of country music, the Carter Family, who gave us such standards as "The Wildwood Flower," and "Can the Circle be Unbroken." Johnny Cash's loving wife and partner, June Carter Cash was a member of this family (Johnny and June appear very briefly in the book).  Young and Lasky tell a compelling story of American life in the early 20th century that is as mysterious and hauntingly elegant as morning mist shot through with sunshine. Plus, the book comes with a CD of rare Carter Family radio broadcasts! A beautiful book, a solid read, and some tunes. Highly recommended. You can order it on amazon here.

Till Next Time,
Tall Pumey

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Boob In Love - Rube Goldberg's Lovestruck Screwball Boob McNutt 1930

Presenting another terrific standout Boob McNutt Sunday page, scanned from my own paper collection and digitally restored for your amusement and edification!

Boob McNutt ran every Sunday for 16 years, from 1918 to 1934. In the early 1920s, Rube introduced Pearl, the love of Boob's life (Rube himself fell under love's sweet spell and married in 1916).

For years, Pearl and Boob tried unsuccessfully to marry. Something always seemed to happen -- usually a comic disaster of epic proportions. Finally, in 1924, Rube gave in to public demand, and the two married with little fanfare. Although the comedy carried on as always, it felt as if the strip's mainspring had loosened, and the comic lagged. Realizing this, Rube had his two lovebirds quarrel and then fly apart in divorce.

Then, in 1930, Boob once again was smitten by Pearl and proposed a second marriage to her. She said no, and a distraught Boob briefly returned to his comically inept suicide attempts of the first years of the strip (see here for a 1919 "suicide" episode). After getting involved with the Black Paw criminal gang and receiving a big reward for unintentionally capturing them, a flush Boob once again asked Pearl to re-marry him. This time, she said yes --

And here's the incredible result:

A Boob in love - August 10, 1930

A fool in love,
Paul Foomey Tumey

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Hilarious Hypocrisy of Banana Oil by Milt Gross (1925)

Today we peel our eyeballs for a potent trio of extremely rare, early Milt Gross Banana Oil dailies from 1925.

The concept of Banana Oil was to show in each episode the difference between what people say and what they actually do. The phrase, "banana oil," is slang for "bulls--t." It was, in many ways, Gross' first success, capturing the many different shades of human dishonesty in a friendly, comically brilliant way. Each episode gave us different characters and different situations.

In this respect, Gross was extending the "concept strip" form that Rube Goldberg, his artistic and spiritual mentor, primarily developed in the United States with such popular series as Foolish Questions and I'm The Guy. In fact, Rube Goldberg had several series about human hypocrisy, including Telephonies, Phoney Films, and No Matter How Thin You Slide It, It's Still Baloney.

Banana Oil ran for roughly 7 years, first as a daily ( Dec. 31, 1923- Oct.30, 1925) and then as a topper (Sept. 12, 1926-Sept. 28, 1930)* to the Sunday Nize Baby and later Count Screwloose. You can see a 1928 example of the color Banana Oil topper here.

In 1926, Milt Gross said in an interview that:

1926 Milt Gross portrait by fellow
cartoonist Herb Roth
(who mainly ghosted for H.T. Webster)
 "Banana Oil was more myself than anything else I've ever done. It contained all that I feel about life and the bunk that the world is so full of. I poured out my heart in it -- strange though that may sound." - Milt Gross, 1926

The 1926 article from Success magazine by David Balch describes Gross as "a very energetic young man possessed of a withering contempt for four-flushers."

Gross' daily set the pattern for his work to come, with a crazy kaleidoscope of ever-shifting characters and situations, all drawn with an appealing screwball energy. Here's three selected Banana Oil dailies for your henjoyment.

First up is a great example of hypocrisy through self-delusion:

May 23, 1925

Next is an example of someone who is well-aware they are being deceitful, but comically tries to cover-up. It's also a nice chance to see Gross draw pin-up girls.
July 21, 1925

Lastly, here is an example of "the public" calling BS -- in a comic that graphically anticipates the extraordinary, everything-but-the-kitchen-sink type panels of unrestrained screwball chaos, as can be seen in  his April 5, 1931 Count Screwloose Sunday (you can read that comic here)

May 7, 1925
That's all for today. I need to go count the piles of money rolling, get  my morning massage, and have Hives, my butler serve me lunch.**

Inhaling Pickle Smoke,
Paul Tumey

*Information from American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide by Allan Holtz (2012, University of Michigan Press)

**That's a lotta banana oil!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Energy Patterns In Screwball Comics: Salesman Sam

Here's a quick study of how screwball movement works in a classic Salesman Sam strip by C.D. Small.

Part of what makes a comic, a film, or a song screwball is its pattern of movement. Screwballism has a comically agitated, escalated energy. A screwball comic, by it's very nature, invites us to laugh at how worked up we often tend to get about the small details of life. A screwball protagonist in a comic is often the cause of  a chain reaction of chaotic energy release -- most iconically shown in the flip-take, which energetically resolves the build-up in the comic.A good screwball comic artist shapes the movement within the comic so that it has a characteristic signature of chaos.

To better understand this, let's first look at a non-screwball comic. Here's a 1935 Little Orphan Annie daily comic strip:

An action-packed episode of Harold Gray's Little Orphan Annie, 1935

This example has great energy and movement as Annie breaks out of her prison in the first 3 panels. She's halted in the 4th panel. If we were to trace the pattern of movement in this artwork, it would look something like this:

Movement in sequential comics is conveyed by several factors, including body language, direction of a character's gaze, grouping of figures all facing in one direction, and -- of course -- movement lines. In Harold Gray's masterful strip above, we see a fairly classic adventure comic pattern that moves the eye from left to right until the fourth panel, in which the movement is halted. This, of course, perfectly reflects the action of the story itself.

Here's a Salesman Sam comic from roughly the same period, circa 1936. Read it first for fun, just to absorb it. The joke about Salesman Sam's first name is pretty good, in a corny way.

Salesman Sam by C.D. Small reprinted in The Funnies #5 (Dell, 1937)

If you watch a screwball comedy film, the funniest moments will be when the energy of the scene is released in chaos. Consider this image from the famous ship's cabin scene in A Night At The Opera, starring The Marx brothers and made in 1935, around the same time as the comics we are discussing.

More and more people are crammed into the small space, all moving in different -- unpredictable -- directions. 

The energy escalates with the addition of manicurists, waiters, stewards, engineers, fellow travelers, etc. All driven by the Marx Brothers, who are oblivious to the chaos they are causing (or perhaps secretly aware of it and enjoying every moment -- a conspiratorial sub-joke that runs as undercurrent in the best screwball comics, films, and music). The screwball scene ends when Margaret Dumont (forever the straight man) opens the cabin door and people come tumbling out in a chaotic and destructive release of the scene's energy. You can watch the entire scene of beautifully orchestrated screwball chaos below:

Moving from film to music, here's a performance by Spike Jones that is analyzed for it's comedic movement by Spike's drummer, Joe Siracusa. In this clip, Joe explains how the scene starts off "straight." Then, there's some comedy drawn from the small movement of the opera singer's belly, emphasized by the well-placed buckle on her dress. From this, the chaotic movement and energy escalates until there's a grand release in which the set is destroyed. 

Now, let's take a look at the movement in the Screwball Sam -- unh, I mean Salesman Sam comic.  It begins just like Annie and nearly every other newspaper comic of the time, with left to right movement. By the third panel, Small uses the assemblage of figures and Sam's pose to direct the energy and the eye down to the next tier...

... and here, at the left-hand side of the lower tier, we have a swooping left to right movement. The fifth panel is where the conflict occurs, as Sam and the policeman argue face-to-face. The last panel is the chaotic, multi-directional, explosive release of the pent-up agitated energy. Where the movement and energy in the Annie strip is logical and tells a hero's story of challenge, our screwball strip has unpredictable movement and tells a story of insanity -- and that, my friends, is the signature movement of a sequential screwball comic!

Till Next Time,
Screwball Paul

Friday, September 21, 2012

Smokey Stover's Bathtub and Car: Objects of Screwball Beauty (1939)

More antics of the madcap fireman foo you! Today's BIG color scan is a beautiful example of the early Smokey Stover from late 1939, when Holman began to pack his panels as full as the suitcases of a world traveler.

I 'm not bothering to count the gags in this comic, mainly because I am struck by the superior quality of the background gags more than the quantity (which is high). I love the many screwball embellishments on Smokey's bathtub, including oars, a life preserver, a cat, an anchor, and a door! I love how Smokey's wife's hat has a dangling "Foo" sign. In panel three we get one of Holman's classic twisted drainpipes, one of the many visual obsessions in Smokey, similar to Walter Hoban's goofy trees. The last panel features the fabulous two-wheeled "fire buggy" car, which seems to defy the laws of nature.  The comic ends with a small panel feature, "Foo-losophy." This week's fool-osophy, thematically related to the Smokey comic,  is pretty wise, I think.

September 17, 1939
Ipswitch on the Amscray,
Aulpay Metumay

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Major Hoople: Olympic Legend - An Our Boarding House Sunday (1931)

Here's Major Hoople's screwball take on the Olympics in a funny 1931 Sunday, scanned from my own paper collection. Since we just recently concluded the glorious, all-amateur global competition, it seemed fitting to share this page I just ran across this morning.

Gene Ahern created his hit comic, Our Boarding House,  October 3, 1921 and created a wonderful series of daily and Sunday episodes until March 14, 1936 (dates from Allan Holtz's Encyclopedia of American Newspaper Comics). He left Our Boarding House to the hands others (it ran until 1984!), and created the more complex, and multi-level masterpieces of The Squirrel Cage and Room and Board.

His W.C. Fields type character, Major Hoople, is given to bouts of outlandish boasting, as we see in today's wonderful comic. The drawings of the bloated, late-middle aged layabout participating in field and track events are priceless. The drawings here remind me of Justin Green, a wonderful cartoonist I recommend to anyone who likes this sort of stuff.

March 1, 1931 - from the collection of Paul Tumey
Going for the gold (in ping pong),
Paul Tumey

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Rube Goldberg's Amazing Boob McNutt's Ark - The Man-Eating Biffsniffle

Here's another astonishing Boob McNutt screwball Sunday comic by the great Rube Goldberg. Last week, we looked at a 1919 Boob McNutt Sunday. This week, we jump forward in time, to 1931, to present to you an episode from the remarkable "Boob's Ark" story sequence.

"Boobs Ark" is one of the last great undiscovered continuities of 20th century American newspaper comics. Lasting roughly 18 months, from 1931 to 1932, Rube delivered the longest story of his career, filled with invention and dozens of fantastic whimsical creatures.The storyline picks up when Boob McNutt, our accident-prone and unlucky good guy tries to marry his sweetheart Pearl on an airplane (flying was all the rage in 1931). Naturally, a storm ensues, and Pearl falls off (safely), leaving Boob to fly wildly across Africa until he crashes on an uncharted desert island. There, he finds an assortment of amazing creatures.

With the help of Professors Germ and Microbe, he builds a huge ark and attempts to transport the magical menagerie back to the United States, where he will become rich and famous. Of course, nothing in Boob's life goes as planned.

The wonderful thing about the Boob's Ark story is that virtually every week Rube introduced a new creature of his own invention. In this early episode, set on the desert island, we meet the Man-eating Biffsniffle, a sort of Swiss Army pocketknife of evolutionary design who is so cute and friendly-looking the "man-eating" moniker is surely in fun. With a hammer for a tail, and a whisk broom on his head, the Biffsniffle also sports an electric snout that can be used to light cigars:

Boob and the scientists manage to capture on film the Biffsniffle shrinking and growing, something that happens once every 50 years. Boob holds the film up in triumph...

And unfortunately, the Biffsniffle's electric snout ignites the film and, well...

In almost every episode, Rube manages to invent a splendid new creature and then contrives to have Boob destroy the rare animal, perhaps as a way to not have to draw the same creatures over and over. Rube, the nation's amiable critic, had a fanciful, childlike side to him, as well -- and it served him well in the amazing Boob's Ark story.

Here's the whole page -- enjoy!

A page from the astonishing and lengthy "Boob's Ark" continuity (June 14, 1931)

That is all,
The BrownWhite-Bearded Tumey

Monday, September 17, 2012

A Guffaw-Inducing Milt Gross Sunday Featuring J.R., the Speckled Wonder

Here's a Milt Gross screwball special. I laugh out loud every time I read this Dave's Delicatessen. The timing is perfect on this sequence, and the drawings are extraordinarily funny, even for Gross. I love his shadowy panels of J.R. on the trail of something supposedly amiss at "the art museum." The comic centers around the antics of bloodhound extraordinaire, J.R. I don't know what that stands for, or when J.R. first appears in the Milt Gross Universe, but I can say that he's one of Gross' funniest characters.

The topper features the henpecked pixelated penguins, Otto and Blotto, who are always trying, in Laurel and Hardy fashion, to sneak away from the wives for a quick tip of the elbow (or fin, in this case) at the local bar.

As an extra added bonus, we also get a That's My Pop! panel, which is based on a man's son always catching him in some ignoble action, and proudly proclaiming to the world in thickly brushed letters, "That's MY Pop!"

Your Honorary Screwballist,
Paul Tumey

Saturday, September 15, 2012

$alesman $am in a Krazy Krime Story (1925)

Here's a wonderfully wacky $alesman $am screwball crime saga from 1925 by the criminally under-appreciated George Swanson.

In his five-year stint on $am, George Swanson (who signed his work "Swan"), developed several mini-continuities. Often, these mini-stories were broad satires of popular genre forms such as westerns, love stories, crime dramas, etc. In the brief 1925 sequence below, Swanson unfolds an adventure for Sam in which he tangles with cutthroat thieves. In true screwball fashion, Swanson is more concerned with gags than suspense, and so he continually breaks the story-form in order to inject his jokes. Sometimes, it's the disruption of the crime story that is the best gag of all, somewhat like Al Capp's Fearless Fosdick and Art Huhta's Dinky Dinkerton, both of which came along about 15 years later. There's a conspiratorial awareness by both Swanson and the reader that the typical crime story has been satisfyingly stretched. The drawings are lively, the pace is breakneck, the background details are legion -- all-in-all, a classic screwball sequence!

March 19, 1925
 The hunt is on -- but first, a silly joke!
March 20, 1925

In the middle of the chase, Sam plays out a vaudeville gag routine...
March 21, 1925

How NOT to shadow a suspect:
March 23, 1925

March 24, 1925
Our brave, capable hero is in fine form:
March 26, 1925
 As if the crime drama wasn't enough, Swanson introduces a new character:
March 27, 192
March 28, 1925
 As a result of the adventure, Sam has been promoted to partner. Love that crowd scene.
March 30, 1925

That is all,
Prosaic Paul Tumey