Thursday, May 03, 2018

From the Dick Buchanan Files: Gag Cartoons of the 1930s

Dick Buchanan has delved into his personal collection of magazine cartoons to come up with an exclusive look at the great cartoonists of the 1930s. There are many familiar names here: Dr. Seuss, 
Charles Addams, Marge, Jack Cole, Chon Day and others. What's of interest here is that there are certain cartoonists who were best known for other work, and here they are drawing gag cartoons. It comes as a surprise to see them, selling single panel cartoons to the old Life magazine or Judge. Cartoonists like Jack Cole who may be best known for his Plastic Man comic book or the Playboy cartoons he would create 20 years later. Or Dr. Seuss, who is best known for his children's books.

Thanks, Dick, for putting this together. Some amazing stuff here! Take it away:



1930 - 1939 

The 1930’s were tumultuous times, beginning with Prohibition, Repeal, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Dust Bowl and the beginning of World War II. But it was also an important time in the development of the gag cartoon as we know it today. 

From the 1800’s until the late 1920’s most cartoons contained a title above the cartoon and captions noting the identity of the speakers. Captions were divided into two lines -- one for the setup, with the second line delivering the humor. Most cartoons in those days were masterfully executed illustrated jokes. 

Although there were a few single caption cartoons in the early days, it was their appearance The New Yorker in 1925 changed everything. They took the lead in creating the format of the “modern” cartoon. By the end of the 1930’s the single panel cartoon had evolved into gag cartoon as we know it today. 

The 1930’s also saw the debut of the many great cartoonists who were to dominate cartoon world for many decades. Several have been included in this collection. Some had hit their stride style-wise while others were yet to develop their familiar styles. 

This was the age when cartoonists worked with brush, ink and ink wash over graphite under writing on thick ¼” illustration board. 

Here from the dusty shelves of the Clip File Library are some examples of cartoons as they were long, long ago. 

This spectacular Life cover by Dr. Seuss (Theodor Geisel) was one of his best. In addition, it contains the germ of an idea that well may have inspired my childhood favorite book, Horton Hatches the Egg. Life May 1934. 

1. GARDNER REA. Judge October 11, 1930.

"At that, sir, you hadn't oughta trumped her ace."


2. BILL HOLMAN. King of the screwball cartoonists, Holman’s Smokey Stover would debut in 1935. The New Yorker’s George Booth inserts a dog in many of his great cartoons. Holman also used this device with a mischievous cat appearing in many of his cartoons. This cat, later known as Spooky, earned his own comic strip. Life September 11, 1931.

 "Good Lord! That d--n cat again!"

3. GLUYAS WILLIAMS. One of the foremost cartoonists and illustrators, Williams' work was a fixture in the early New Yorker. He illustrated many of Robert Benchley’s hilarious books. Life September 11,1931.

4. ERNIE BUSHMILLER. Although his comic strip Fritzi Ritz had been running since 1922 (Larry Whittington  was the creator; Bushmiller took it over three years later), occasionally his work appeared in Judge. Nancy first appeared as Fritzi’s niece in 1933. The strip was retitled Nancy in 1938. Judge June 1932. 

5. GEORGE LICHTY. Lichty was best known for the long running panel cartoon Grin and Bear It. Life August 1933.
"Thash funny -- I got 'et in reverse an' we're goin' sideways!"

6. WHITNEY DARROW, Jr. Darrow’s familiar style was in it’s formative stage. Judge June 1934.

7. CHON DAY. Judge June 1934. 

8. RICHARD DECKER. Superb drawing by Decker, as always. Life March 1935. 

8. NED HILTON. Another New Yorker favorite for decades, Hilton often had several drawings in each issue. Life March 1935. 

"Abercrombie and Fitch are wondering about their little bill."

9. MARGE. Marjorie Henderson Buell creator Little Lulu began as a gag cartoonist. Life March 1935. 

10. MARGE. Little Lulu replaced Henry as the featured panel on the last pages of the magazine, the spot would later be occupied by Ted Key’s Hazel. The Saturday Evening Post February 5, 1938. 

11. GEORGE SHELLHASE. Life August 1935. 

12. DOROTHY McKAY. Life August 1935 


13. CHARLES ADDAMS. Addams rarely strayed from the pages of The New Yorker, but drawings appeared occasionally in True and Collier’s in the 1930’s and ‘40’s. Collier’s January 15,1938. 

15. JACK COLE. Cole struggled as a freelance cartoonist but struck gold when he created the memorable comic book hero Plastic Man. Judge, July 1938. 

 16. LEONARD DOVE. Collier’s January 15, 1938. 

17. SYD HOFF. Judge, 1938.

18. OTTO SOGLOW. Collier’s January 8, 1938. 

19. WILLIAM STEIG. Steig was a favorite of Cartoon Editor Gurney Williams and often appeared both Collier’s and later Look. Collier’s January 7, 1939. 

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