Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Rube Abides: Thanksgiving 1915

In 1915, Rube Goldberg was on fire as a creator. The satirical subjects and the grotesque imagery that he poured into his ever-shifting kaleidoscopic array of daily comics from about 1915-1917 are among his best work.

Astonishingly, nay... shockingly, most of these great comics have not appeared in print or screen since their original appearances, nearly 100 years ago. How can this be?

A dream project would be to reprint the complete 1915-1917 daily comics of Rube Goldberg, in sequence. It is only then that this seminal screwball master will assume his rightful place in culture as something more than the guy who made goofy, over-complicated inventions to accomplish something trivial. Aside from that, it would be pure fun to read such a collection. I have managed to gather most of the daily comics from 1915 to 1917 in their original published form, and I can assure you that almost every day offers something delightful.

As I write this, it is the weekend of the Thanksgiving of 2013. In between cooking and attending to guests, I have found a few minutes to dig into the archives and sift out Rube's comic for Thanksgiving, 1915. It's a delicious main course, presenting a turkey-carving training school that Rube calls "The Ambidextrous Society."

November 25, 1915 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Note that the students are training to carve the turkey left-handed. Rube himself was ambidextrous. He drew with his right hand, but golfed as a lefty. In fact, he published a humorous essay in 1924 called. "Left Handed Golf Courses: Our Greatest Need."

What makes the cartoon above succeed, as far as I am concerned, is the strong composition. The carvers almost look a like machine assembly line. Look at the face and body language of each of the seven men in the strip -- each is different, unique, and funny. When you read the text in the speech balloon and the signs on the wall, it presents a dryly understated comedy that contrasts with the extreme visual-physical comedy of the drawing. This contrast provides a richer reading experience, with two styles of humor offered.

Rube had a 16 x 13 inch space to fill Monday through Saturday. This is a lot of room, practically the space allotted in newspaper fifty years later for ALL of their daily comics. While he had some series, such as "Foolish Questions," and "Father Was Right," that he would repeat sporadically, Rube also drew numerous one-shot comics. Sometimes they were a large single panel, and other times times they were broken up into a complex matrix of panels, or smaller comic strips. To add to our main course, here are two tasty Goldberg side dishes from the month of November, 1915 -- picked almost at random:

November 6, 1915 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

November 26, 1915 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Pretty swell stuff, if you ask me. And -- certainly worth a second life, especially in this golden age of comics publishing.

Speaking of comic publishing, the new book THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG, selected by Jennifer George that has just been published is doing well. I feel so honored to have been a part of that project. It's charting as a #1 bestseller on Amazon in the Comics and Manga category. Legendary mail order guru and tastemaker Bud Plant (visit his site, here) featured it in his latest email catalog and gave it a "highly recommended" note (thanks, Bud!). I've been buying books and comics from Bud Plant since the 1970s, so it's truly a thrill to be in his catalog!

Here's some other cool links related to the book:

'Art of Rube Goldberg' More Than Crazy Contraptions -- LA Times (I'm gratified to see they got the book's goal to show ALL of Rube's work, including the celebrated invention cartoons)

Design Books by Chipp Kidd -- The Wall Street Journal (I'm excited to see that two of the six books Mr. Kidd recommends have my work in them -- The Art of Rube Goldberg and Society Is Nix.)

Photos from the book party for The Art of Rube Goldberg (with Jennifer George, Al Jaffee, Brian Walker, and Andrew Baron in attendance)

Pinterest Board for The Art of Rube Goldberg (with lots of gems plucked from my archives)

A TV interview with Jennifer George (Rube Goldberg's granddaughter and the author of The Art of Rube Goldberg)

The book also received favorable short reviews in Wired and Boing Boing.

That is All (for now),
Paul Tumey

Friday, November 15, 2013

Rube Goldberg's Drawing Board, My Feet, and The New Book

It's official! The deluxe, super-sized book, THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG is available for purchase wherever fine books are sold!

After two days on the market, the book has skyrocketed to the #1 bestseller in Amazon's "Comics and Manga" section!

I personally am very proud of this volume, having put a lot of work into it. I am greatly honored to be a part of this project. The book contains three essays by me, and about 25% of the contents come from material I supplied.  I helped select much of the contents and wrote at least half the captions, some of which are little mini essays in themselves. I also created all of the back matter: a Rube comicography, bibliography, and timeline -- all of which are by far the most complete and accurate versions available.

But that's just a part of this huge project. There's also original essays about Rube and work by the legendary Al Jaffee, comics historian (and writer of the Hi and Lois comic strip ) Brian Walker, Sunday Press curator Peter Maresca, comics scholar and collector Carl Linich and  more. The best stuff are the essays by Rube's granddaughter (and the books author) Jennifer George -- you get a sense of Rube as a person more than anything else that has ever been written on him. And the whole package is thoughtfully assembled and beautifully produced by the great folks at Abrams, led by Charles Kochman.

There's a ton of comics, art, and photos in this book. In fact, there's some spectacular photography by Geoff Spear, who you may know from other fabulous books like Chipp Kidd's Peanuts: The Art of Charles M. Shulz. In one page, we see Spear's photo of Rube's drawing table. The lighting and angle of view reveal the many indentations and scars created from over 65 years of use.

My own photo of Rube's drawing table, taken in New York. You can see the arm of the futon frame in the photo.

I actually got to see this drawing table when I spent a week in New York City in August of 2012 working on this book. Jennifer George graciously put me up at her place for a few nights and this drawing board is in her living room. I asked Jennifer how long Rube used this table for, thinking that perhaps it just one of many he had. She said, "As I understand, this was the one." And indeed, you can see the very same drawing table in early photos of Rube. This historical cultural treasure was located at the foot of the futon on which I slept. On occasion, during the nights I slept there, I would stretch my legs in my sleep and my bare toes came into contact with the surface of Rube's drawing board. I remember waking up a few times with an electric jolt when I realized I was barefooting Rube Goldberg's drawing table. Sorry, Rube!

I personally am very proud of this volume, having put a lot of work into it. When I was 14 years old, I read Peter Marzio's book, Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work (Harper and Row, 1973).  Unlike most folks who associate Rube Goldberg with nutty inventions, I imprinted upon his inexhaustible fountain of creativity and lyrical smart-assness. To me, the spirit in which Rube created his comics is in direct lineage with the same spirit that inspired the Underground Comix of the 1960s and 1970s, and the self-published Newave comics of the 1980s and 1990s. Many people can trace the cultural lineage of these modern comics movements back to Will Elder, Harvey Kurtzman and the Mad gang, but rarely further back. Rube Goldberg, who started his cartooning career in 1904, is just too far back in the mists of time for most folks to see his connection to comics today - but it's there, make no mistake. After all, Harvey Kurtzman drew Rube's characters Mike and Ike on city sidewalks when he was growing up -- his first cartoons.

Smile, boys! Paul Tumey (r) with Carl Linich (l) to sift through the Jennifer George archives and extract gems for THE ART OF RUBE GOLDBERG. Oh, if I could only share with you all of the great stuff I saw!

It doesn't help that there has never been a decent book on Rube Goldberg that presented his work in all its varied richness and brilliance. When Rube was alive there were only a scant handful of books that reprinted just a tiny fraction of his comics, such as the 1909 Foolish Questions book. After his death, the emphasis has been on his invention cartoons. These cartoons are indeed brilliant and sell books -- but to just present this part of Rube's work to the public is like only showing the world Picasso's Cubist works. There's so much more to explore, appreciate, and embrace. There's never been a book that attempted to cover all aspects of Rube's career -- until now. The Art of Rube Goldberg has a healthy sampling of the inventions, but there's tons of other cartoons, photos, articles, and items that reveal the fullness of this astonishing body of highly influential work.

A few months ago, to help promote the book, I created a three-minute video using some of the great art to be found in the pages of this extraordinary compendium. For the music, I used an old Public Domain 78 recording of a song that Rube Goldberg actually wrote, "I'm The Guy." The publisher, Abrams, liked the video, but didn't want to give away so much yet about the contents, so the project was shelved. Now that the volume is officially released, and on the market, I'd like to share this video with the loyal readers of this blog. Enjoy!

That is all,
Screwball Paul

All text and proprietary photos copyright 2013 Paul Tumey.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Week of Rube Goldberg's 1918 Comics Featuring Mike and Ike

In just a few days from the time this post is being written, the brand new, deluxe art book entitled The Art of Rube Goldberg (selected by Jennifer George, Abrams ComicArts, 2013 will be available for purchase. As my friend and colleague in the book's creation, Carl Linich recently put it, "There has never been such a rich and thoroughly representative collection of Rube's work."

The book contains hundreds of rare cartoons and art by Rube Goldberg -- the majority of which have not seen the light of day since their original appearances as much as 100 years ago. There's also lots of cool photos, original art, and items selected from the Goldberg family archives.

This large, thick compendium is stuffed with work from many gifted folks, including some wonderful essays from Jennifer George, Rube's grand-daughter (and the CEO of Rube Goldberg, Inc.). There's an in-depth intro (not just a puff piece) by world-famous arty guy Adam Gopnick, and original essays created just for this book by comics legend Al Jaffee, Brian Walker, Pete Maresca (of Sunday Press), Carl Linich, and Andrew Baron (who created the book's paper engineered movable art cover).

I am quite proud of my own contributions to the book. In addition to doing some editing work on it (with Charles Kochman), and wrangling about a quarter of the book's content, I was able to buckle down and do some serious writing and comics scholarship on this bad boy. The book contains my essay exploring his Foolish Questions cartoon panel and my essay on his 1916 animated cartoon series. It also contains my 12-page survey of Rube Goldberg's comic strips of the 1920s and 1930s, "Restless Storyteller."

The book also contains my Rube Goldberg Timeline, list of his comic strips (this took 3 months of intense daily work to research, and I probably still missed some comics), and a list of his published writings. I've been studying and writing about comics for years, and this marks my first "big time" publication. Needless to say, I'm thrilled to be a part of it!

Paul Tumey beams, holding a copy of The Art of Rube Goldberg

I plan to write a column about the making of the book and some things I've learned about Rube Goldberg and comics in the next installment of Framed!, my monthly column at The Comics Journal. You can see a nice preview of several interior pages from the book, here

As jam-packed with screwball comic goodness as The Art of Rube Goldberg is, there's a lot of great material and ideas for sections that we weren't able to get in, due to space restrictions. One idea we wanted to do was to reprint a entire week of Rube Goldberg dailies. The idea was to recreate for our readers the Monday-through-Saturday context of Rube's work -- which has been largely lost. From 1909 to 1927, Rube's daily comic strip featured something new and different every day. He had a number of series, such as Mike and Ike, Foolish Questions, and The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Ladies' Club, that he rotated,  more or less randomly (although the The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Ladies' Club did actually run on Tuesdays). Today, when we think of a comic strip, we automatically think of a continuing series with continuing characters, like Nancy, Pogo, L'il Abner, Popeye, Blondie, Dilbert, Garfield, and so on. Rube Goldberg was different. From Monday through Saturday for years, he filled his rectangular space on the newspaper page with a dazzling variety and comic richness that remains unmatched. For the most part, Rube didn't create his comics around characters, but instead around ideas -- such as our confounding propensity to ask questions when the answer is right in front of us.

Because most books on Rube, The Art of Rube Goldberg included, present a selection of his comics and not the whole she-bang, the impact of Rube's kaleidoscopic komedy is lost. It's only a matter of time before a savvy publisher reprints a full year of Rube's work, and people will realize just how inventive this cartoon genius was. In the meantime, here is an "outtake" from The Art of Rube Goldberg, a full week's run from the first week in April, 1918, created from paper scans of items in my own collection. 

For much of 1918, Rube featured in his daily strips, his dubious doppelgangers, Mike and Ike. These are perhaps Rube's longest-lived characters, having been created for Rube's very first Sunday comic in 1907, The Look-a-Like Boys. Later in 1918 -- after our sample week -- Rube dabbled with the idea of continuity in 1918 (something I wasn't aware of when I wrote my essay about his continuity comics for the book -- it was only when I purchased a set of strips from 1918, after the essay was already completed and sent to the printers,  that I realized this), sending the boys to Europe to fight in the last days of World War One. Here, we have perhaps the quintessential example of the strip, with the boys running to meet their elusive maker so they can finally learn their true identities-- an early comic strip version of Waiting For Godot. Note the date: April 1, 1918.

Monday: April 1, 1918 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

On the next day, Rube offered an installment of The Weekly Meeting of the Tuesday Ladies' Club. This large, single panel cartoon ran on Tuesdays from May 1, 1917 to September 27, 1921 (I'm proud to be able to offer this date range -- it took me days of research to figger dis out!). There's a large section of this lost gem from Rube's oeuvre in The Art of Rube Goldberg, introduced by his grand-daughter, Jennifer George. The strip is one of Jennifer's favorites, and mine too. 

Rube developed his new strip from his observations of his new bride's social gatherings. By today's standards, some of the gags might be considered insulting to women, but in actuality, they are simply insulting to silly, stupid people. Nearly everything Rube created falls into that category. 

The example below is typical: a meeting in which the Ladies have invited a guest to enlighten them upon a subject. In this case, it's constitutional law. To fully appreciate this strip, it's important to realize that the United State's Women's Suffrage Movement was going full-strength  in 1918. President Wilson had proposed that American women should be allowed to vote (the measure didn't pass until 1920). So, part of the joke here is that the Ladies are preparing themselves to soon cast their first votes. 

On another note, pay attention to the various silly names of people and things: Professor Stall, Bink vs. Bink, and so on. This is one of the pleasure of reading Rube Goldberg, who had an ear for nonsense sounds like few other cartoonists.

Lastly, note that this Tuesday strip offers an entirely different layout than the Monday strip. In fact, the Tuesday offering is actually comprised of two different comics. Slackers was a panel series that Rube created regularly during this period. Often, there's a thematic connection between the comics in Rube's sub-divided properties. In this case, both strips offer perspectives on the battle for power between the sexes. 

Tuesday: April 2, 1918 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

On the following day, Rube created an episode of Father Was Right,  yet another of his randomly presented series. This series ran sporadically from 1915 to 1921. Rube had a close and admiring relationship with his father, Max Goldberg. Thus, once again, we see that Rube drew from his own life to develop his comic properties. Note also that, once again, we have an entirely different layout concept from the previous two days. Monday offers a straight-no-chaser 5-panel strip. Tuesday gives us two panel strips, with one being quite large and detailed. Today, we receive two multi-panel comic strips -- one large, one small. The small strip, I Never Thought of That, was also a stock player in Rube's inventory of semi-regular features. Even though neither of these examples in the Wednesday slot are exceptional, they do offer Rube's genuinely funny takes, in panel 5 of Father Was Right, and panel 4 of I Never Thought of That.

Wednesday: April 3, 1918 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

The following day, Thursday, Rube treats us to another Mike and Ike. This time, one tried to get the better of the other, and fails -- as usual. The gag about Mike wearing out his brain trying to figure out the situation in Russia is both a topical reference, and a nicely absurd excuse.
Thursday: April 4, 1918 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Rarely did a week go by in the first half of the twentieth century without a Rube Goldberg invention of some kind appearing in America's newspapers. In addition to the A-B-C chain reaction diagrams, Rube also worked inventions into his work in numerous ways. In his Friday offering, he provides a three panel sequence, demonstrating the use of his "Newsdealer's Cure."

Friday: April 5, 1918 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Rube rounds the week's output off with another Mike and Ike and a classic Goldbergian drawing of an absurd car crash that reminds me of the slow-motion automobile pile-up from Jacques Tati's Traffic.

Saturday: April 6, 1918 (from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Whew! In just one random week, Rube gives us nine different comics in a dizzying variety of layouts that comment on human nature, technology, war, women's rights, and identity itself. You can take similar petri dish samples of Rube Goldberg weeks from other years and get entirely different mixes of different strips and themes, but the creative brilliance is always present!

BONUS! You can read a great interview with Abrams ComicArts' Editorial Director, Charles Kochman (and the co-editor of The Art of Rube Goldberg) here.  The existence of this book is due in large part to Charles Kochman's vision and drive to make it happen.

Rube clip from Edward R. Murrow's "Person to Person" from March 1959. He is seated with his wife Irma.

Screwballingly and Enthrallingly Yours,
Paul Tumey