Saturday, June 29, 2013

 

Herriman Saturday

Thursday, April 16 1908 -- The first full-blooded Indian to pitch in the major leagues (back in 1903) is in town today, now working for Portland's PCL squad. Ed 'Big Chief' Pinnance beats the Angels 4 to 3 in an impressive outing.

Looking into Pinnance's record, we see one of those head-scratching baseball mysteries. This year with Portland he would end the season with a superb 2.36 ERA. And in 1903, his only year in the majors, he pitched just seven innings for the Philadelphia Athletics, generating a perfectly respectable 2.57 ERA. So why did he end up with just the proverbial 'cup of coffee' at Philadelphia, and why was his year in the PCL league his only year in the upper minors? His career, if you can call it that, was mostly spent in bush leagues so obscure that statistics are unavailable to gauge his performances. Strange...

The 13th guest is back in Herriman's cartoons after a couple day's layoff, and in the interim seems to have managed to fall off a tall building.

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Sadly: I would hazard a guess that his career was cut short because he was a man of color in a white man's game
 
Sadly, you are almost certainly correct. I never even thought about that -- duh!

--Allan
 
I'm not at all convinced that's the case. For one thing, the Philadelphia A's at this same time had an outstanding Native American, Charles "Chief" Bender, who also made his debut in 1903. Remember that in those days, you had neither five-man rotations, nor set-up men and closers. There were comparatively few spots on the roster, and the A's in 1903 had Bender, Plank and Rube Waddell who started about 110 of the 154 games, with the rest scattered among a handful of other pitchers. It's probably a case where he couldn't break into an established roster, and look at some of his subsequent minor-league years. He may have had a good game in the cartoon reported by Herriman, but his won-loss record in the minors, to the extent it exists, seems to imply either wildness or bad luck.
 
Hi Eric --
Baseball debate -- now we're talkin'!

I looked at his minor league stats. The only year they have a computed ERA, he was great. His win-loss in the other years could well be chalked up to playing for bad teams. For instance, check out the batting averages on that Bay City team or Portland 1909. Yikes, they were a real bunch of whiffers! I'd venture to say that without ERAs we can't really judge those seasons properly.

Best, Allan
 
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Friday, June 28, 2013

 

Sci-Friday starring Adam Chase

Adam Chase (c) renewed 2013 by Russ Morgan. All rights reserved.

Adam Chase strip #27, originally published December 4 1966. For background on the strip and creator, refer to this post.

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

 

Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Al Capp - A Life to the Contrary


Al Capp: A Life to the Contrary 
by Michael Schumacher and Denis Kitchen

305 pages, indexed. Bloomsbury. ISBN 978-1-60819-623-4



Michael Schumaker and Denis Kitchen have produced a work of great merit in  "Al Capp -- A Life to the Contrary". Capp is a tough subject for a biographer because he was, to put it baldly, a bit of a louse in some ways. The authors discuss all of Capp's myriad shortcomings, but manage to do so in an even-handed way that allows the reader to form their own conclusions about the man.

Of course, whatever you feel about Capp, you've got to admit that he was a genius, and that his greatest creation, Li'l Abner, was one of the best written and drawn comic strips of all time. As such, getting a look into the mind of the man is fascinating. Anybody coming to this website knows at least the broad strokes of Al Capp's story, and this biography does a superb job of filling in all the blank spots that we've always wondered about. The authors have uncovered a treasure trove of source materials in what I know has been a very long research journey, and have used them judiciously. This is not one of those long-winded biographies that seeks to dump every little mote of knowledge they have. At 263 pages, I think we get pretty much everything we need to know about Capp's life without all the ephemera and minutiae that research of this scope inevitably uncovers.

Naturally I have a few very minor quibbles. First, Capp's brother Bence, who I've heard very little about before, is discussed at length, at least in terms of his tempestuous relationship with Al. That is welcome new information. However, I would have also liked to learn more about Capp's other brother, Elliot, an interesting guy who had a long and varied career in comics. However, the book is not about him and I certainly can't fault the authors for giving him slight coverage.

Another matter are the supposedly "X-rated" panels in Li'l Abner. I've seen all this evidence before, and my opinion hasn't changed on this go 'round. I say anyone who sees a schlong in a Schmoo, or a twat in a tree trunk, is an example of arrested development, a mental pre-pubescent for whom folding the Land o' Lakes indian girl so that she seems to have naked breasts is the summit of erotic sophistication. Ham Fisher and Dr. Wertham, the guys who are famed for poring through the strip finding such things, fit that description. It may even be that Al Capp really did intentionally put some of those things in the strip in the rather juvenile delight of getting away with something.  However, I say it takes a truly puerile mind to track down such occurrences in Li'l Abner. Although the authors are required to report on all this silliness, I can't believe they actually buy into it. They claim, for instance, that a vaguely phallic shaped hamhock is 'a blatant example of sexual innuendo.' I mean, for cryin' out loud fellas, that's what a hamhock looks like. How would you like Capp to draw it? This is the sort of silliness that could be taken seriously in the ass-clenched, button-down, call the chicken breast white meat 1950s, but today it all looks a little, no make that a lot, infantile.

Beyond simple differences of opinion, I have to report on a couple of boners, one from the authors, one probably from Capp himself. First is that the Li'l Abner comic strip, according to every reference, including co-author Denis Kitchen's own reprint book, began on August 13 1934. My jaw really dropped when I found it moved back a week, to August 8 in this book. Huh?

The second boner is most likely Capp's in retelling a story, and it gave me a laugh, so I pass it along. In 1942, Capp was threatened by Margaret Mitchell's husband with a lawsuit over a parody of Gone With The Wind in Li'l Abner. In response to that threat, we are told, Capp suggested that they ought to stick to reading Rex Morgan MD. Unfortunately the famed author and her hubby didn't have that option, because Rex Morgan MD did not exist until six years later!

A Life to the Contrary is one of the better cartoonist biographies I've read. It is almost as entertaining as Capp's comic strip itself, not to mention as revealing as Daisy Mae's outfit.I heartily recommend it.

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I read this a few weeks ago. What a swine of a human being. I felt like washing my hands of the thing after reading it -- just glad that I got it from the library and didn't have to pay for it. Capp was a grumpy, bitter, hateful guy who despised his assistants, his children, his wife and ultimately his readers. His many affairs and the tendency to expose himself to college girls -- and presumably, if successful, who did a lot more than that -- was enough for me. I was also a bit disappointed in some of his contemporaries reactions -- seems like it was just a matter of boys will be boys and whaddya gonna do? And any words or writings from Capp read like some kind of historical fiction. He changed stories, names and dates so often I'd almost bet he couldn't even remember what was the truth. And some of it, I think, are simply public-relation-type fabrications, anyway. I wonder if he was that good of an actor in front of his children. I maybe believed about a quarter of whatever Capp said or wrote and, in the end, believed very little. Other than the swine part, though.
 
Thanks for reminding me I have to get this as holiay literature. And indeed, I wish some had done a book on Elliot Capp when he was still alive. Now there was a terrific comic strip writer.
 
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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

 

The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: A Wrap-Up

I hope you enjoyed the last month of posts about the Chicago Tribune Comic Book and its creators. I know that Alex and I enjoyed doing the research to bring the series to you. If you really, REALLY enjoyed the comic book features themselves, you might drop a line to the good folks at IDW Publishing expressing that interest. I talked to editor Dean Mullaney about doing a book of these features, and he felt they were a mite esoteric to warrant a book. He's probably right. But if there was an upwelling of fan interest, well, you just never know.

I really enjoyed getting the feedback on this series as I learned a lot from you folks as well. Given the level of knowledge out there in the readership, it has long ago stopped surprising me that you folks took me behind the woodshed on a few points.

First there was the question about the identity of the Bucks McKale creator. Used to be that the smart money was on Vin Sullivan,  until Alex Jay practically pulled a rabbit out of his hat, finding a cartoonist named E.B. Sullivan who was known to sign his work as Sullie. Although we don't know for sure if either of these gents is the creator, at least the puzzle is now on the web, where perhaps others will continue to weight in with evidence.

The bigger bombshell, and it only came to light very recently so that the posts do not reflect it, is that the Chicago Tribune Comic Book lasted longer than I believed. Y'see, I had this crazy idea that the research about the Comic Book features was best done with the microfilm of the Chicago Tribune. Foolish, foolish me. Turns out that while the Tribune itself gave up on the comic book format itself in April 1943, and the former comic book features petered out in their regular comics section over the next six months, the Tribune's clients weren't quite so cavalier.

Only a few papers other than the Trib are known to have run the comic book. The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Post did, and I would bet that the Detroit Free Press did, although I don't have any samples from that paper. It never occurred to me to spend any time with these papers in regard to researching the comic book, and that was a mistake.

The Los Angeles Times comic strips are indexed on Dave Strickler's website. If I'd bothered to just pay attention to what is there in black and white, it appears that the Times ran the comic book section intact for three months longer than the Tribune, cancelling it and all the features on July 4 1943. That means that while for many of the comic book features I still have later end dates, for the ones that the Trib dropped shortly after the end of the comic book section itself, like Bucks McKale, the Times is a source for additional episodes.The other difference in the Times is that they did not run Lew Loyal except on one isolated occasion. It appears that in the LA Times comic book, Brenda Starr stuck around much longer than in the Chicago Tribune version, and Lew Loyal was not needed.

Boston Post Comic Book, courtesy Cliff Erickson

I only realized this because of a message from reader Cliff Erickson -- and Cliff had bigger news than that. He told me that he also had later dates on Tribune Comic Book strips from the Boston Post as well. Turns out that the Post, while they apparently had given up on the comic book format per se, kept the comic book features in their own separate section, not printed on a space-available basis in the regular comics section like the Tribune, to the bitter end.

As you may have noticed, many of the Chicago Tribune comic book strips ended in that paper at the end of October. Here's a tally of Chicago Tribune end dates:

Bucks McKale - 4/11
Fighting with Daniel Boone - 5/9
Speed Berry - 8/29
Mr. Ex/The Whizzer - 9/26
Hy Score - 10/31
Lew Loyal - 10/31
Rocky the Stone-Age Kid - 10/31
Streamer Kelly - 10/31
Vesta West - 10/31
Gertie O'Grady - 11/14

Cliff told me that of his four scattered dates of the Boston Post comic book section, his latest was October 3, and that the section still ran Bucks McKale, Speed Berry and The Whizzer, all of which had been gone for varying times from the Tribune. Like the LA Times, the Post did not run Lew Loyal, but rather used Brenda Starr as their headline strip.

It seems obvious then that the Chicago Tribune, while having given up on the comic book section itself, was meeting the demand (or contract requirements) of a few client newspapers for it. Based on the last episodes that run in the Tribune itself, it seems likely that October 31 might very well have been the final edition of the comic book section offered to clients. Or maybe November 14, or maybe even later. The only way we could know for sure is to; first, determine when the Boston Post last ran its comic book section, and second, cross-reference the last episodes printed between the Tribune and the Post, And third, hope that no other paper was still running the doggone thing!

Although I have spot-indexed the Boston Post of the 1940s, I have nothing in my notes indicating that I saw these comic book sections. That may be because they weren't microfilmed, or it might be because I had no interest in them since I thought I was already in possession of definitive information from the Tribune. For now the research path is cut off as I don't see myself getting back to Boston anytime soon to check that information. Any Boston folks reading this who would like to try their hands at some research work?

By the way, Cliff Erickson tells me that the sort-of-superhero that took over the Mr. Ex strip, The Whizzer, appeared to be printed on a consistent basis in the Post. Here is the last episode he has, from October 3, Thanks again Cliff!!



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Hi Allan -- Love the blog and we be happy to do some Boston research ....could you let me know how to get in touch with you? Thanks.

Brad Sultan
 
Hi Brad --
Very glad of the offer to help! You can email me at stripper at rtsco.com.
 
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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

 

Ink-Slinger Profiles: Paul McCarthy



The following profile of Paul McCarthy is based on circumstantial information. The best available information, although sparse, on McCarthy is Mark Arnold’s The Best of the Harveyville Fun Times! (2006). And that touches just his professional career, while his death, sometime in the early 1960s, was the only personal reference.

A search of the 1940 U.S. Federal Census recorded a “Paul J. McCarthy” whose trade was “Commercial Art” in the “Motion Picture” industry. It appears he worked in animation. The George Washington Hotel in Manhattan, New York City, was his residence. The census said he was single, had two years of college, and, in 1935, lived in Crawfordsville, Indiana.

McCarthy was listed as an artist in the Crawfordsville City Directory for 1930 and and commercial artist for 1934. However he has not been found in the 1930 census, although I did find his parents and siblings. The address was the same in the directories and census, 810 South Washington Street. There was a “Paul McCarthy”, listed in the 1937 Danville (Illinois) City Directory, who was a commercial artist at “1 W Harrison” and resided at the YMCA.

Going further back to the 1920 census, McCarthy was the third of five children born to Daniel, a barber, and O. Isabell. They lived at 810 Washington Street.

Ten years earlier, McCarthy was the youngest of four children. His family lived in Crawfordsville at 214 Walnut Street. The Montgomery County, Indiana, Birth Index, at Ancestry.com, said his full name was Paul Joseph McCarthy, born January 26, 1910.

How long McCarthy worked in animation is not known. He produced Gertie O’Grady for the Chicago Tribune Comic Book; the strip ran from June 30, 1940 to November 14, 1943. Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said his next published work was for comic books, most notably for the Harvey Comics title, Sad Sack, from 1950 to 1963. Arnold said:

Paul McCarthy’s artwork graced the pages of the early Sad Sack books for a number of years before his untimely death in the early 60’s. He began working on “Sad Sack” in the early 50’s inking panels that were pencilled by Fred Rhoads. These early stories were the ones that linked gag strips originally drawn by George Baker. What Paul did was to make the transformation in these stories from Baker to Rhoads a little less glaring.

Eventually McCarthy graduated to writing, penciling and inking his own five-page stories….


Unfortunately, little more is known about the artist….Fred Rhoads remembered working with him, but not much else since he passed away so many years ago.


Searching the Social Security Death Index did not produce a “Paul McCarthy” who died in the early 1960s. A military record for him has not been found. Lastly, there was a listing for McCarthy, as a commercial artist, in the 1959 Somerville (New Jersey) City Directory. He was married to Sarah and resided at 602 North Vosseller Avenue, which was in the New York City metropolitan area.

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Monday, June 24, 2013

 

The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: Gertie O'Grady


 One of the longest running features in the Chicago Tribune Comic Book insert of 1940-43 was Gertie O'Grady. The strip debuted on June 30 1940, shortly after the comic book itself, and managed to outlive the comic book section by a short while, ending November 14 1943.

Gertie O'Grady concerns a middle-aged Irish woman, whose role in life is never really spelled out in any great detail. She seemed to be a maid in early episodes, then a boardinghouse proprietor, but through most of the series she had no clear career. Her comedic foils started off on the zany end, with a mad professor and a giant ape, but later switched to a poor Irish immigrant girl named Fortune, and then she finally hooked up permanently with Uncle Shanty, an Irishman of the old school. The Irish humor in the strip was stereotypical, of course, but 180 degrees away from the coarse, racist Irish humor you would have seen in strips thirty years earlier. In Gertie O'Grady, the Irish are treated as loveable in their picturesque, idiosyncratic ways.

Cartoonist Paul McCarthy was at the helm of the Sunday-only strip. I know little about him other than that apparently he later went on to be one of the artists behind the extremely successful Sad Sack line of comic books.


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Sunday, June 23, 2013

 

Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics


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There are, I think, few groups more reactionary than the readers of the comics. If you took a meat-axe and went after the comics in the re-runs/family category, you'd have a mass uprising on your hands.

In all honesty, I'm with Jim, here. I'd dearly love to see a massive turnover in comics. Of the ones listed here, I think only Blondie is still doing well. Mark you, it is possible to revive a strip -- I think the new Dick Tracy team is doing well.
 
Mother Goose & Grimm is in the hands of assistants now? I did not know that... but I can believe it!
 
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