Wednesday, October 06, 2010


Some of what I have to say here I've said before, but great truths bear repeating. Besides, this gives me an excuse to put up some killer drawings. All the artwork is from the period 1900-1910, my favorite decade for newspaper comics. Opper (above) did some of his best work then, and so did Herriman, Goldberg, F. W. Marriner, and Fenninger.

Some modern comics fans don't like Opper because they think his drawing style was primitive. That's an odd thing to say. Compared to what's around now (above), Opper was Michelangelo.

Besides, Opper was an important influence on artists like F. W. Marriner (above) who were indisputably killer draftsmen. How do you like Marriner's sketch of the teacher above?

  The pre-Krazy Kat Herriman (above) flourished during this time. Why Herriman ever did Krazy Kat, I'll never know. It was a come-down for him.

Above, more Herriman. What a guy!

I wish I'd copied down the name of this strip (above) and the artist. Who drew it? Was it one of the Felix artists, Sullivan or Messmer? You can see how newspaper strips influenced animated cartoons. You can also see the Opper influence.

 I love the weird, slapstick stories in the old newspaper strips. Here's one (above) of a vengeful goat who sells who sells his enemy's babies to a wandering Italian guy. The mother sees what's going on and delivers a big bear bite to the guy's side. 

Once again, you can see the Opper influence. 

I'm amazed that American newspapers were able to lure fine German artists like Lionel Fenninger (above) over here (actually Fenninger had a complicated lineage...see Norman's comment on this in the comments section). Germany had a wonderful crop of funny artists in this period, and we managed to bring a lot of them over here. 

Maybe that brain drain was catastrophic for Germany. For comparison, imagine that another country like Japan managed to lure away all our great jazz musicians at the start of the Jazz Age. Imagine that China had lured away Elvis and Chuck Berry, and all the great Rock and Roll musicians when Rock and Roll was just starting. 

Then again, Germany was in a mood to be serious in those times. If the funny artists stayed home they might have been ineffectual.

Milt Gross (above) was, of course, from the 30s. I include him here because he carried the cartoony, slapstick, anything-for-a-gag sensibility of the 1910s right into his own era, and he made it work. Don Martin had a lot of that sensibility. 

Current newspaper cartoons are too introverted, too smug, too tiny, too politically correct. I wish they were more outgoing, more...more noisy.

BTW, most of the pictures here are from Allan Holtz's superb blog, "Stripper's Guide," link in the sidebar.


kellie said...

Great selection - the Bolivar strip's rendering of bear speech is as daft as its treatment of Italian: a bear going "woof"!

Rooniman said...

All these newspaper cartoonists make me giddy with delight.

I look at them and a tidle wave of ideas flow in to my head.

Kirk said...

Like a blight on a perfect face does that Kathy strip appear amidst such fine vintage!

pappy d said...

Cool selection, Eddie!

In Weimar Germany, Fenninger would have to draw a wheelbarrow full of cartoons for a single loaf of bread.

Anonymous said...

That Cathy strip looks like any five-year old could have drawn it. Primitive is right on that part. How this stuff even manages to end up in newspapers is still a mystery for me.

I've never seen pre-Herriman Krazy Kat cartoons before, by the way. They look really nice and a lot more polished than the Krazy Kat comics I've seen from him, even though I kinda like those as well (maybe more so than you do).

Rossco said...

Hi Eddie, great post! Those Herriman drawings are spectacular! And I'm ashamed to say I didn't know Opper's work before this.. the weird dinosaur thing looks like a precursor to some of the characters in Clampett's early cartoons.

And man was Milt Gross a genius.

Do you think there's any way back for newspaper/editorial cartoons. The future looks worse than bleak with the majority of modern examples, but do you have any theories on how the cartoon can make a triumphant comeback in an internet/iphone/ipad etc. age?

Alex said...

Do you know about this site?


the pictures aren't the biggest tho

talkingtj said...

i consider myself a bit of an amateur expert on the subject of pre world war one comic strips and i believe the reason why so many modern strip makers dont like the old stuff is because they cant measure up! most of them dont even try! the wild eyed abandon and creativity of the early 20th century strips has been replaced by a shabby conformist commercial formuliac attitude.basicly, get rich quick like charles schultz did!peanuts had vision, humor,warmth clarity, kathy never did!as for herriman, always keep in mind that for him, KRAZY KAT was extremely personal, it becomes deeper when you consider that he was a black man, passing for white, and highly successful in a largely white field! the central theme of KRAZY KAT is acceptence and understanding, as well as thwarted desire, when you consider herrimans plight,KRAZY KAT grows in depth and originality, me, i just love visiting kokomo county as much as i can.

Anonymous said...

The typical approach to writing a modern comic strip is to take a well-known phenomenon (say, office work in the case of Dilbert), exaggerate it and then present the characters as straw-men who reflect the author's opinion on said phenomenon. It's also preferable to have the artwork look like it was drawn by a six-year-old.

This is true for Dilbert, Cathy, and thousands of other comic strips. Everyone seems to be afraid to think up creative concepts and characters, or draw something so that it looks skilful or interesting for a change.

But enough of that - your blog post is for praising the old comics, not bashing the new ones! Milt Gross is hands-down my favourite comic artist, and the comic strip equivalent of Bob Clampett - in my opinion, anyway.

Norman Q said...

Dear Uncle Eddie,

Lionel Feininger was born in New York City in 1871. His parents sent him to Germany for him to study to become a musician when he was 16. He stayed in Europe and he never relinquished his American citizenship. He returned to New York in 1936. He died there in 1956.

In some of his cartoons he drew himself labelled as "Uncle Feininger".

Great post.

Eddie Fitzgerald said...

Rossco: Good questions! I'm no expert, but I'll post about my opinion on this issue sometime soon.

Alex: Coconino! How could I have forgotten that!? Thanks for the reminder!

Talking, Roberto: I like Krazy Kat. I just like Herriman's earlier stuff even better. I'm glad he was black, because that puts blacks solidly into the comic tradition of this era.

Norman: Thanks a million for the correction. If I weren't so sleepy, I'd add it to the post.