Showing posts with label early comic strips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label early comic strips. Show all posts

Monday, May 15, 2017


While perusing samples of Gus Mager's strip "Hawkshaw the Detective" I stumbled on this example (above) of Hawkshaw done in the style of Rudolph Dirks, the "Katzenjammer Kids" artist. What the Heck!??? Was it Mager influenced by Dirks or was it an active collaboration? 

Either way the merging of the two styles was a match made in Heaven. Here's (above) the same page shown smaller.  The layout is arguably as beautiful as anything either man accomplished on his own.

Here's another example, and this time I'll guess that it's pure Gus Mager with Dirks serving only as an influence.

According to Stripper's Guide, Dirks asked Mager to do the gag strip above Katzenjammer so we know the two men knew each other.

Here's (above) Cliff Sterrett doing Mager. I wonder how that came about?

Sunday, February 21, 2016


One of my favorite funny newspaper strips...rivalling Al Capp's "Fearless Fosdick" or Feinenger's "The "Kinder Kids"...was the collected strips done by George Herriman in the years between 1904 and 1916.  I have to say "collected" because Herriman worked on many strips in these years and no single title dominates.

Some of my favorites were his sports cartoons (above). They were laid out like irregular sketchbook pages at the top of the sports page.

His editors must have liked him because on days when sports were slow he was allowed to put up little autobiographical pieces like the one above. Here the ex-mayor of a town called Independence shows Herriman the local sights.

Sometimes (above) he made fun of amateur theater.

Herriman did some color pages in this period and he sometimes tried to fit in to the formal comics format. In my opinion these pages were much inferior to his black and white "sketchbook-style" strips.

I wish I knew more about the the drawing instruments Herriman used. Evidently the brush didn't suit him. He preferred to use the kind of hard, scratchy dip pen that deters most modern artists. If you haven't used these yet, you might want to give them a try. They're hard to control but everything looks funnier when done with a pen of that type.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Indisputably in my opinion, the golden age of newspaper comics occurred in the two decades before WWI. It was an era before formulas became locked in,  when the field attracted first-rate artists like the one above (click to enlarge).  Hmmm...well maybe some formulas were locked in.  Editors couldn't get enough of Katzenjammer Kids-type stories where kids torment adults. 

Arists that weren't first rate made up for it by being downright weird (above).  Here the fruits and vegetables have a picnic, which is disrupted by a cow who eats them. 

Editorial cartoons were terrific in this period. How do you like this one (above) by Herriman? No wonder he was a favorite of Hearst.

Some of these pre-war cartoons were incredibly violent.  Here (above) a woman is threatened by a mugger and she sticks him with a pin.... in the stomach! Ouch! Good drawings, though. 

I love visual stories like this (above).  The storyteller was a continuing character, but the strips structure was loose enough to permit almost anything.  There was room for imagination. In later years regular characters in predictable situations dominated, and artists were expected to use the same setting, day after day after dreary day.

This is a sore point with me. I wish current editors wouldn't put so much emphasis on regular characters in rigidly defined situations.  Aren't you glad that Mad allowed the young Don Martin to draw whatever took his fancy, regular characters or not? Aren't you glad that he wasn't shoe-horned into a sitcom format?

I have a lot of tolerance for racial and ethnic humor when it's funny and not mean-spirited, but even I cringe at strips like the one above.  I include it here because it's so well drawn. 

More strips like these can be seen at Allan Holtz's "Stripper's Guide:"

Saturday, March 31, 2007


Here, so far as I can tell, is the origin of the modern comic strip. Caveat: take this with a grain of salt; I'm no expert on the subject and I might have over-simplified things.

Well, you could argue that it all began with Daumier (example above). Sure there was Hogarth, Cruikshank and others but Daumier was different. His lithographs weren't just beautiful and funny, they retained the fluid feel of the original sketches. Not only that but Daumier was a famous easel painter and that bought a lot of credibility for his cartoons. Cartooning was considered a low-class activity in Daumier's time and his fine art reputation did a lot to make it acceptable to the middle class.

Success always breeds imitators and Daumier's imitator was a guy named Cham (example above). Cham got his foot in the door by offering simplified Daumier-style drawings in a series for the same price that Daumier got for just one picture. Cham might have been a weasel but he did help to popularize the idea that cartoons should tell a story using multiple pictures.

Cham was so successful that he inspired a German named Rodolphe Topffler to try his hand. Topffler used Cham's serial panel technique but drew the characters in what he called the "outline method," a technique that didn't require Daumier's painterly tones and shadows. I don't know if Topffler was an aristocrat but he seemed to want the public to think that he was. His outline method was executed in a deliberately crude style so that it would appear that he just dashed them out for his own amusement and had no thought of making money with them.

Back in France, Dore saw what Topffler was doing and approved, only he thought the outline method worked better if the characters were a bit more realistic and were carefully inked. Dore wasn't very fond of the serial picture method. He preferred big, Jack Davis-type crowd scenes like the one above.

Back in Germany Wilhelm Busch (example above) combined the best ideas of all the artists I just mentioned: Daumier's belief that cartoons could be fine art, Cham's multiple panel idea, Topffler's outline technique and Dore's clean-up theories. Busch was the first artist to make a good living exclusively by doing funny panel cartoons. People say he was the first truly modern master of the comic strip. After him comes the great German-American newspaper artists like Dirks, the creator of "The Katzenjammer Kids." You know the rest.
A few questions remain. Where were the English while all this was going on? Why did the creative torch pass to the United States? Who invented the modern version of the word balloon?