Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Comic Strips by Ludwig Bemelmans

Ludwig Bemelmans is now known for his MADELINE series of kids' books. That's a good thing. They are good books. But he wrote and illustrated many books and had gallery shows and wrote and drew articles.

(Above: Bemelmans' studio in 1922, drawn by himself.)

Here are a few visuals I nicked from the terrific bio BEMELMANS: THE LIFE AND ART OF MADELINE'S CREATOR. It was written by his grandson, John Bemelmans Marchiano, with much insight and many, many drawings and paintings by his grandfather. It's copyright Mr. Marciano and published by Viking Press in 1999.

Born in Austria, his home was at his father's hotel in Gmunden. All was quiet until he was six years old. His father suddenly ran off with another woman. Ludwig and his pregnant mother left for Regensberg, Germany. His mother "held me close and wept almost the entire journey from Gmunden to Regensberg."

Ludwig grew up in Germany. He did not fit in. He only spoke French at first. After failing the same grade over and over, he was sent to a boarding school. He was not a good student, but the Rothenberg boarding school tended to pass all of their paying students. The family then tried to get him to learn the hotel business from his uncle. Ludwig went, and "showed little promise." He was sent to several of the uncle's hotels, but each time it was the same: Ludwig Bemelmans was not able to do the job. The family gave him an ultimatum: either go into a correctional institution to go to America.

Christmas Eve 1914 he arrived in NYC. He eventually found a home at the Ritz-Carlton. After a two years in the US Army during the Great War, he had worked his way up to assistant manager.

Here's John Bemelmans Marchiano:

"During his years at the Ritz, Bemelmans' desire to draw intensified, and the hotel provided many excellent models—kitchen workers and waiters, as well as clientele. Bemelmans dreamed of becoming a cartoonist, a career that he thought would allow him to draw and also earn a good living.

An esteemed guest, who lived at the hotel, was a famous cartoonist. He was known for his generosity in tipping and for never looking at a bill. The entire staff from the maîtres d'hôtel to the chambermaids considered him a "gentleman par excellence." Spurred on by a waiter with whom I worked as a bus boy, I decided to become a cartoonist. By 1926, after years of work and countless disappointments, it seemed as if I had achieved my goal. I sat up in the cupola of the old World building with a group of funnymen: Webster, Milt Gross, Ernie Bushmiller, and Haenigsen. Walter Berndt, who drew "Smitty" in the Daily News, helped me a great deal. There was constant laughter in that cupola.

Unfortunately, there were so many complaints about my strip, which was called "Count Bric a Brac," that after six months, during which no syndicate had picked it up, I was fired. It was a bitter time, for I had to go back to the Ritz; and the old cashiers and the maîtres d'hôtel said, "Ah, Monsieur Bemelmans, who felt himself too good for this dirty trade, is back again. Tiens, tiens [Well, well]."

The comic strips, COUNT BRIC-A-BRAC, which ran a full page in magazine section of the New York World in 1926, and SILLY WILLY, which also ran for a year in Young America magazine, were not successes. He did do advertising work and sold gag cartoons to, among others, the Saturday Evening Post. MADELINE would come along a little later. 

If you are at all interested in Bemelmans' life and art, I recommend this book highly. 

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