Sunday, October 28, 2012

Screwball Sunday Supplement - Hairbreadth Harry, Petty Patty, Squirrel Cage, Dave's Deli, and Goldberg

Welcome to the fourth Screwball Sunday Supplement. This issue features two consecutive examples from 1913 of the early screwball masterpiece, Hairbreadth Harry, by C.W. Kahles, in which all the water is drained from an ocean and much silliness ensues. The strip's title, "Hairbreadth Harry" comes from the fact that the hero always escapes from mortal danger by a hair's breadth, a cliche even in 1913. 

We also see a rare example of Rube Goldberg's comic strip advertisement for Pepsi Cola, a late Squirrel Cage, and a terrific example of the forgotten romantic screwball comic Petting Patty by Jefferson Machamer.  All this, plus a mind-blowing Milt Gross!

As I am fond of clucking, HEN-joy it!

Paul Tumey

Monday, October 22, 2012

Screwball Sunday Supplement Vol. 3 No. 33 - The Squirrel Cage, Swinnerton's Hilarious SAMs, & Count Screwloose


Welcome to the third issue of our Screwball Sunday Supplement. This issue is packed with comics that ALL have produced guffaws and laffs amongst me self and me pals. 

We kick off with a superb Milt Gross Count Tooloose that could well be the prototype for Tex Avery's classic Droopy cartoon, "Dumb-Hounded." We also get a Milt Gross Banana Oil topper. This was a very popular strip in itself back in the day, with folks saying "banana oil!" instead of "bullshit!"

In the interior spread, we get the extra-special treat of 4 Squirrel Cages, all from the 1946 detour from Foozland into Goonia. This is Gene Ahern at his most inspired, most trippy, most sublimely screwball.

On the the back page, we find two truly funny rescued 1905 Jimmy Swinnerton gems from the Platinum Age of American newspaper comics that I hope you will take the time to read, as I think they are something special, racial stereotypes aside. 

Swinnerton's SAM strips echo Gross' Banana Oil and Count Screwloose comics in that they both provide a surrogate observer into the strip in the form of the Count, and Sam. Where black American Sam laughs at pomposity, Jewish American Screwloose is aghast at hypocrisy. Sam may have the more light-hearted  response, but in all fairness, he "mp-mp-mps" in an earlier and more innocent era, before the horrors of the 20th century transpired.

Just as Sam and The Count are doorways into their comic strip worlds, Ahern's Paul Bunyan-as-bewitched-gnome is a surrogate figure for us in The Squirrel Cage, through which we can comfortably explore the weird worlds of Foozland and environs. Ahern fractally inserts a multitude of additional doorways into his strip, going ever deeper into the labyrinth, until it's impossible to tell the dream from the dreamer -- do we dream of the snarky citizens of Goonia, or do they dream of us?

Ump, Ump ~
Paul Tumey

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Screwball Goes to the Dogs - Doc Syke, Milt Gross, Swinnerton, and Smokey! (Vol.1 No. K9)

Welcome to the second Screwball Sunday Comics Supplement! In this issue, we have literally gone to the dogs. Here's your chance to bone up on some forgotten screwball classics. With one exception, these are all scans from my own paper collection, and the first time these appear on the Internet. This faux newsprint supplement is designed by me, Paul Tumey.

In this survey of cartoon screwball dogs, we note the prevalence of black-spotted orange dogs. In every example, we also see dogs interacting with us fellow humans. One of the surprising aspects of screwball comics is how they often reveal the underlying truths of life. In this weeks' Sunday supplement, we see cartoonists turning over and over to the theme of dogs and people as constant companions.

Please let me know how you like this. Your comments and emails are so important to me!

And, if you have the chance to plug this blog, it would help spread the word about these worthy comics.

The day this post went up, Google celebrated Winsor McCay's 107th birthday with an astonishingly good point-and click interactive comic.

Screwily Yours,
Nuthouse Tumey

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Screwball Sunday Supplement V17 No 148 - Ahern,Goldberg,Gross, Bradford,Holman,Capp

A big thank you to Dan Nadel and the folks at the The Comics Journal for the link - your support is greatly appreciated and very helpful. 

ANNOUNCING a change in direction. Instead of a daily posting, we have shifted to a weekly Sunday posting for the fall of 2012, to be called "Screwball Sunday." This will mimic a Sunday newspaper comics section, but will be assembled by me and be composed entirely of noteworthy screwball comics from all eras, with notes by me (of course). The first issue is above.

I will also occasionally write and post illustrated essays on screwball comics as well, as time and inspiration allow.

To be clear, the pages above are all designed by me, Paul Tumey - they are not scans of any existing paper document (although they contain plenty of scans from my paper collection that you will only find on this blog).

Tune in every Sunday for a NEW collection of startling, saliva-spewing screwballistic delights.

Please remember to help promote this blog if you can. A link, a mention, or just a comment -- it all helps. Let's spread the word, Alphonse. I think Alphonse is a purrfectly good word to spread, although butter is margarinely butter.

Hope you henjoy! Drop me a line or a comment and let me know what you think.

My friend and fellow comics scholar Frank Young has co-authored with David Lasky an outstanding graphic novel, The Carter Family: Don't Forget This Song (from Abrams ComicArts). The book will be reviewed in the October 14 issue of Time Magazine, along with Chris Ware's landmark work, Building Stories.

I've read both of these books and highly recommend them.

Click here to read Frank and David's absorbing post detailing the enormous craft that went into a single page of their book. 


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

H.M. Bateman and The Speed of Life: Four Cartoons from 1923

Here are four pages of the brilliant English cartoonist H.M. Bateman's cartoons from 1923, scanned from a scrapbook I recently acquired. I believe these are all from the pages of Life, a black and white humor magazine that preceded the more famous photo-based Life Magazine.

ANNOUNCEMENT! We're changing direction at the Masters of Screwball Comics blog. Instead of a daily posting, we'll shift to a weekly Sunday posting for the fall of 2012, to be called "Screwball Sunday." This will mimic a Sunday newspaper comics section, but will be assembled by me and be composed entirely of noteworthy screwball comics from all eras, with notes by me (of course). I will occasionally write and post illustrated essays on screwball comics as well. Tune in this Sunday for our first SCREWBALL SUNDAY

As I wrote in an earlier posting on H. M. Bateman (1882-1970), it may be too much of a stretch to classify him as purely screwball, but there's no doubt his work influenced screwball cartoonists. Consider how the the panel I've excerpted above compares to this scene from Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder's classic "Restaurant!" story from Mad #16 (1954)

While Elder has created a dense tapestry of sight gags, the basic energy is the same as Bateman's panel. Both cartoonists are saying something about the acceleration of modern life.

There is so much to savor in Bateman's work. Like Milt Gross, each drawing is funny on it's own, but also contributes to a glorious escalation of comedic chaos. Bateman himself said that his cartooning was "going mad on paper."

The four pages in this article are chosen because they all depict people struggling madly to get somewhere, something that was relatively new in 1923. Bateman, who was born in 1882, saw the rise of the automobile. In this cartoon, he chronicles the plight of the pedestrian plagued by motorized vehicles at every turn.

From Life, circa 1923 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

The gag is that our nimble pedestrian is run over by an "out of date vehicle." This cartoon says there's no avoiding change, and if you try, you will suffer. Here's another Bateman, beautifully composed and rendered,  that depicts another battle between a pedestrian and a car-clogged street:

From Life, circa 1923 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)
I love the manic, focused -- one might say mad -- look in the pedestrian's face. It requires madness to triumph in a world that turns a man out for a walk into a pedestrian.

Finally, here's an entire group of individuals who have completely adapted to the increased velocity of life. We begin with a group of seven people, all interacting civilly and having a pleasant time. As with William Golding's Lord of the Flies, the trappings of civility are shed when the group must combat each other to survive -- but in the case of the cartoon, they are only competing for a ride on the crowded subway.

They emerge from the underworld, disheveled but willing to embrace civilization once again. The astonishing  third tier of the subway battle mirrors the energy of a subway train itself, screeching, jolting, careening, speeding through the darkness.

This was the world of London, New York, Boston, or any other major city in 1923. 

Today, it seems the speed of life continues to accelerate -- but instead of fighting for our survival like fleeing or fighting animals, we seem to be in a narcotic haze of Internet, TV, sugar, caffeine, alcohol, drugs, memes, constantly looming disaster -- in short, many of us in the big city are subdued, bored, and possibly even depressed. Here's a photo I took while waiting for a subway train in New York City a few weeks ago.

And here's a shot I sneaked on the train -- looked how bored and tuned out the people are:

Maybe it was like this for people in 1923. Or 1823. Our time certainly has no claim to being the only era of numbing stress in humanity's history.

Today's last H.M. Bateman cartoon once again revolves around transportation. It depicts the ever increasing happiness of a traveler with some priceless drawings and a beautiful opera of escalation. As our Englishman gets further and further away Canada, he becomes happier and happier.

Our traveler has died from happiness! It seems in 1923, Bateman was acutely aware of how technology seemed to aid the human ego in its need to constantly be somewhere else, distracted, and gratified. 

File:HM Bateman08.jpg
H. M. Bateman in 1931
In The Man Who Was H. M. Bateman (Webb and Bower, Great Britain, 1982), Anthony Anderson observes: 

"Bateman by no means rejected all progress: he thought scientific advance exciting, and, for example, considered the first Moon landing the most wonderful feat of his lifetime - he never stopped talking about it. It was the ugly, leveling, concrete and tarmac side of progress that he hated, and it upset him so much that it was without doubt one of the major factors in his decision to quite England." (p. 202)

Bateman moved to the island of Malta in his later years, where he enjoyed a quite life as a painter. His work was a major influence on Harvey Kurtzman, who in turn influenced scores of important cartoonists and humorists.

Yours in Screwballism,
P.C. Tumey

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Say, Are You Looking at A Computer? Rube Goldberg's Foolish Questions

Q: What's this, a blog?

A: No, it's a clam playing poker.

Presenting a look at Rube Goldberg's hit panel, Foolish Questions. Readers like me, who grew up reading Mad, will read these cartoons and see a connection between Foolish Questions and Al Jaffe's Snappy Answers to Stupid Questions. Al has given Rube credit for the original idea, and has even admired Rube, famously calling him  a "superJew."

The basic premise of Rube's influential cartoon panel can be gleaned in a second - a boob asks a question that shows s/he isn't really awake. Just as a Zen master might rap a sleepy student, Rube's characters answer in surreal, sarcastic phrases. Both sides of the formula are funny, and Rube's endless gallery of screwball grotesques make it all work brilliantly.

circa 1909-10
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Rube credited fellow Evening Mail staffer, the columnist Franklin P. Adams, with the inspiration:

"Did it ever occur to you what funny questions people ask?" observed Adams one afternoon. "You meet a fellow who's been out of town and say to him, 'Hello, you back again?' On an August day, with the thermometer at 100 even, a man is pushing a lawn mower around the front yard and oozing like a sponge, when some nut comes along and asks, 'Cutting the grass?' "
(from Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work by Peter Marzio, Harper and Row, 1973, p. 45)

The first Foolish Question was numbered Number 1, and appeared October 23, 1908. Number 2 followed the day. Rube had a hit from the start. Earlier that year, he had emigrated across country from San Francisco after working as a sports cartoonist for about four years. With little experience, no job offer, and the ambition of youth, Rube faced down numerous rejections and landed a job with the sports editor at the new York Evening Mail, beginning a 14-year association that would prove mutually beneficial in a huge way, starting with the runaway success of Foolish Questions.

circa 1909-10
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Between October 1908 and February 1910, the amazingly productive Rube Goldberg wrote and drew over 450 Foolish Question cartoons. Each cartoon featured new characters, a rich cast of extreme figures that are too short, too tall, too fat, too thin. Some with bulging eyes, others with black specks, and still others with inky black round sunglasses. Some hairless, some astonishingly hirsute. Writing in early 1909, Goldberg's fellow Evening Mail staffer, the cartoonist-illustrator Homer Davenport, said, "...funniest of all are the questions and answers of these bald-headed and hump-backed and knock-kneed people."

Here's a scan of a page from a recently acquired scrapbook that offers four Foolish Questions, all circa 1909-10.

Rube Goldberg's Foolish Questions displayed on a 100-year old scrapbook page circa 1909-10
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
The anonymous scrapbooker from a century ago  had a good idea, grouping the panels. Within a year of its creation, Foolish Questions was appearing in newspapers across America, usually in groups of 2 or 3. Foolish Questions gets a 3-to-1 ratio compared to other cartoons in this 1909 edition of a Wisconsin paper.

The Janesville Daily Gazette, May 26, 1909
Included in this set is a panel that is not likely to be reproduced in a collection, interestingly called Foolish, Foolish Questions:

A political conservative, Rube nonetheless was a humanist who believed in every individual's potential for good -- and the racism in his cartoons is no more extreme than what is easily found in most cartoons of the time.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Rube's cartoons were so honored. Several imitations sprang up in 1909 and 1910. The McClure Syndicate created Those Ridiculous Questions on January 24, 1909 (the strip ran to Oct 31 of that year). This color Sunday feature sprang up some six months prior to Goldberg's own Sunday version, which started up in July, 1909!

By the way, my primary source for the dates in this article is American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide, Allan Holtz, 2012.

Up to June 20, first strip was written and drawn by the amazing Raymond Ewer, who would later do some amazing work on Slim Jim. An argument can be made here for Rube Goldberg's influence on Ewer, who would go on to create the Goldbergian strip, Things As They Ought To Be. Here's the second strip in  Ewer's Goldberg rip-off series, with his typical elegant pen-work:

Those Ridiculous Questions by Raymond Ewer - January 31, 1909
The second episode in a series designed to imitate Goldberg's hit Foolish Questions
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

The second artist to create Those Ridiculous Questions for McClure was from the less gifted William F. Marriner, who worked on the strip from September 26 to October 31, 1909. Here's one from my own collection, from called Those Ridiculous Questions, which suffers from a common weirdness of comics of the time (but not in Rube's work) where the speech balloons, when read left to right, are out of sequence.

Those Ridiculous Questions by William F. Marriner- Oct 3, 1909
Oct 3, 1909 - from collection of Paul Tumey
In the comic above, you can see the writer really reaching to match Rube's surreal-sarcastic replies. It's interesting too, that this artist has made fledgling steps towards developing s single character as his particular fount of stoopid questions. Rube never did this -- the concept of his Foolish Questions panel was to show every conceivable type of person asking a dumb question-- underscoring the universality of human idiocy.

The newspaper syndicates must have really loved Goldberg's idea. In February, 1909 a second rip-off, brazenly entitled Foolish Foolish Questions that ran from Feb 14, 1909 to October 3,1909.

A not so "Sterling" rip-off of Rube Goldberg's Foolish Questions- February 21, 1909

Foolish Foolish Questions, drawn by "Sterling" (a house pen-name) and others, was distributed by World Color Printing, which interestingly published Rube's very first Sunday comic, a version of Mike and Ike called The Look-A-Like Boys (1907-1908). I wonder how Rube felt at being ripped-off by an outfit to which he had so recently belonged. Rube never seemed to let failure, rejection, or rip-offs slow him down.

Several months after McClure and World Color Printing launched their versions of the Foolish Questions concept, Rube Goldberg finally got his own version into the Sunday funnies. Starting July 25, 1909, the Chicago Tribune syndicated a 6-block of Foolish Questions for the color Sunday supplements of their subscriber papers. Sometimes the Sunday comic ran as Don't Some People Ask the Biggest Fool Questions?, a title lacking Rube's cadence and wit, and very likely written by a syndicate editor to fill the space.
Foolish Questions ran as a syndicated Sunday comic - July 25, 1909

In 1909, a classy cloth hardcover collection of Foolish Questions appeared, Rube's first book, and one of the very first cartoon collections published in America. Published by Maynard, Small, an Co., the volume is stuffed with reprints of selected favorites and sells for anywhere from $50 to $600 today. Occasionally inscribed copies can be found. The book was dedicated to Franklin P. Adams, the source of the original inspiration.

In 1909-circa 1912, Rube Goldberg also penned a new line of color Foolish Questions postcards. Judging by how often these 100-year old items turn up on eBay, a huge number must have been purchased.

Unscrupulous publishers ripped off the postcard series as well, quite clumsily:

At some point in the nineteen-teens, a Foolish Questions games came out, emblazoned with Rube Goldberg's jaunty, proud signature on the red cover:

The original Foolish Questions game - circa 1912-19
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
Rube drew a figure on the games cover appropriately asked "What's this, a game?" The backside of a different figure asking the same question adorns the back of the cards. The game consists of a deck of cards, each with a different Foolish Question panel on the front. The cartoons were selected reprints, with the questions removed. The game involves correctly guessing the question, perhaps an influence on the game show, Jeopardy. In the example I've scanned above, the question is "Playing with your blocks, Elsie?" Here's the full version of the original cartoon, scanned from my paper collection:

circa 1909-10
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

In 1924, the Foolish Questions game was revived in a second edition, with fresh graphics, including a new Rube Goldberg designed cover, with a typically screwball answer:

In the summer of 1913, Rube took his first trip to Europe. The Evening Mail paid for the trip, and Rube faithfully mailed back a new cartoon series he called Boobs Abroad (after Mark Twain's European travelogue, Innocents Abroad). As we can see, in this example scanned from my paper collection, Rube integrated Foolish Questions as a panel within the cartoon series, and linked it thematically. 

Rube cleverly links his Foolish Questions series with his Boobs Abroad series - 1913
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Rube continued to write and draw Foolish Questions until 1934. The series peaked in 1910, and he had a second big hit with I'm the Guy, followed by an astonishing series of inspired cartoon series and panels. Foolish Questions remains a notable standout among Goldberg's many inspired creations. As Homer Davenport admiringly wrote in 1909:

"What a simple creation is a parody, and what a world of reality is there in Goldberg's Foolish Questions series!"

Say, is this the end?
-Paul Tumey

Paul Tumey holding original art for an early Rube Goldberg Foolish Questions
while visiting Jennifer George, Rube's granddaughter
and Director of Rube Goldberg, Inc.

An appeal on behalf of these fine forgotten cartoons:
If you enjoy this blog and have a way to help win readership, please do so. A link, a mention, a rave review, or even just a comment -- it all helps. Here's the stats from the last week of posts.

Monday, October 1, 2012

For Your Ice Only: A Cool 1926 Milt Gross Nize Baby Color Sunday Comic

From my own paper collection, I offer for today's Milt Gross Monday a deliciously screwball 1926 Nize Baby that totally cracked me up (cough cough).

Before the days of electrical refrigeration, people had small, thickly insulated cabinets in their home that stored slowly melting blocks of ice. This is how our grandparents and their parents kept food cool and fresh in America. My Southern mother still called her refrigerator an "ice-box," as do I -- to the amusement of some. Back in the day, you had to replace the ice as it melted -- it must have been quite a strenuous and messy task. Milt Gross, in today's comic, uses what was then a common chore as the basis for one of his terrific 12-panel operas of escalation, as Pop Feitelbaum tries in vain to get "de ice in de ice-box."

I think the comics of Milt Gross are superb in all periods of his career, but my favorite is the 1920s Sunday pages, which I think offer some of his wildest and funniest drawings. Today's 1926 comic is a great example:

The Iceman Cometh in Milt Gross' Oct 24, 1926 Nize Baby
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)
It's interesting to me to note that the energy patterns in this comic are strikingly similar to the 1927 full page Salesman Sam Sunday by George Swanson that I posted yesterday. Tiers one and three are build-ups of conflict and energy, while tiers two and four are comedic explosions of the situation. Or, you could see this as a times-two repeat of a pattern -- a build-up and release, and then a bigger build-up and a larger explosive release. Instead of the physics-defying flip-take in Salesman Sam, here we get Pop's rage as he spanks his older son, Isidore.

Despite this pattern, visually the climax of the page is the wonderful 4th panel of Pop's circular skittering fall with the block of ice. Screwball comics are unpredictable in their movements, which is part of the delight of reading them.

We've seen in previous postings that Milt Gross liked to sometimes include his own version of a Rube Goldberg machine. The last panel once again shows Milt Gross' debt to to Rube Goldberg as he makes reference to Goldberg's popular comic panel, Foolish Questions.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at Rube Goldberg's Foolish Questions panel. Join me then! And be sure to stop by every Monday for a new Milt Gross comic!

Keeping my ice peeled,
Paul Tumey