I know it may puncture the vision you have in your head of the Barnacle Bros, but we’re not actually gentlemen in waistcoats and waxed moustaches. In fact, we have our roots in the punk rock scene, playing in bands together since high school, and your dear author is a burly, heavily tattooed fellow who plays guitar in a horror-punk band. Shocking, I know! (To date, I have only one comic-related tattoo: a portrait of Popeye taken from his first appearance in Thimble Theater.)
That being the case, I was delighted to find this brief article from 1904, heralding a revival of tattooing, especially among sailors and the Japanese, those “people of infinite patience”. If only the author could have lived to see the explosion of tattoos among the general public!
A well-drawn, lively strip with a clever premise, William F. Marriner’s Wags, the Dog That Adopted a Man has a lot going for it! It tells the story of an unassuming fellow who’s shadowed relentlessly by a little dog with a can tied to its tail. This causes the fellow endless trouble, as the dog manages to disrupt every social setting to which he’s introduced. The strips alternate between a “What? That’s not my dog who’s wrecking the place” schtick and the gentleman’s (ofttimes cruel!) attempts to divest himself of this unwanted pet.
A.D. Condo, beloved around these parts for his sublime strips The Outbursts of Everett True and Mr. Skygack From Mars, was a prolific cartoonist in the first decade of the 20th century! He cranked out an extraordinary number of small features and one-offs, and they’re of uniformly high quality. In this archive, you’ll find fun stuff like The Country Man’s Vacation in Town, Pity the Poor Farmer, Dainty Daisy Tries Physical Culture, and my favorites: Enslaved by a Pirate is a wonderfully illustrated serial, and Bump Talks is a crazy little feature sending up phrenology! Fun, fun, fun.
Not so much a comic strip as a few sketches of a pretty flapper slightly related to text of a missive sent to a friend, our newest addition is a bit of an oddball. This one seems to have had a bit of an identity crisis early on, as the the title goes through several variations before settling on From Sue to Lou; the earliest strips we have go by Penelope’s Postals, as seen above, despite the fact that the letters are clearly intended for Lou as written by her friend Sue and at no point does a Penelope enter the picture. Sue’s messages often paint her as a dimwit and put her squarely as the butt of the joke, though I imagine her to have an irreverent, self-effacing sense of humor; I’m sure she is fully aware of the punchline she’s sending. And while the text and pictures may not always directly relate, I picture her writing these letters in her head as she carries on whatever actions we might see her performing in the strip, putting a funny spin on the day’s events for her pal back home. Perhaps I’m reading too much into these.
More newspaper headlines with that most Important Mr. Peewee, this time by Ferd Long in a strip that was most often titled “A Few More Lemons at a Cent Apiece“. This run, however, eschews the narrative-driven comic strip format, focusing solely on the fantastic and misleading headlines. It’s a shame, really; Mr. Peewee was an interesting little character, but here he’s relegated to reaction shots. If the newspapers acted as the Greek Chorus to Peewee’s pitfalls in his strip, here the tables have turned and it’s Peewee who’s relegated to standing to the rear of the stage and pointing out the jokes. Still, the headlines were always a fun part of the last feature, and they still are here.
Here we have another daily strip from the very dawn of newspaper comics. It ran alongside The Importance of Mr. Peewee, though with a more irregular schedule, giving it a place in the first handful of comic dailies. Unlike the somewhat obscure premise of Peewee, Billy Bowwow‘s themes and gags are universal: a would-be paramour, an anthropomorphized King Charles Spaniel, attempts to court a pretty pug. Each strip is capped off with some violence done to our poor protagonist, reminding me of Mr. Jack. But where Mr. Jack, the indefatigable rake, usually has it coming to him, Billy seems to get the short end of the stick merely by possessing the temerity to pursue his love’s object. Poor fella!
Here we have a bona fide historical event for you! By most accounts, The Importance of Mr. Peewee is reckoned to be the first daily comic strip in history, and I’ve gotta say that I haven’t come across anything to dispute the claim in my combing of newspaper archives. The strip itself is probably not going to knock your socks off; it’s efficiently rendered, and the gags are OK, but the central premise is a tad obtuse to modern eyes.
Mr. Peewee is a diminutive fellow with outsized pretensions, making wild boasts about his titular importance. Meanwhile, sensational newspaper headlines act as a Greek Chorus, providing commentary on Peewee’s pretense and comeuppance. These headlines are really the stars of the strip; they’re very funny in a Mad Magazine sort of way, with an attention-grabbing lead which is shown to be overblown by the subhead, which is often inserted into the middle of the headline like so: BOILERMAKER EATS (supper with) HIS MOTHER! It’s a fun and clever indictment of the “Yellow Journalism” era of newspaper sensationalism, and it’s worth reading the strips just for the headlines.
I love these comic pages. Pages of humorous drawings, doggerel, and illustrated captions, they hearken back to the heyday of humor weeklies like Puck, Punch, and Life. I get the feeling that newspapers ran them as a bulwark against the encroaching dawn of the comic strip, a format that many felt was vulgar and classless. These comic pages, on the other hand, were familiar and possessed of some kind of patina of respectability, owing to their provenance in magazine publishing. There was clearly a popular demand for comics in newspapers, but editors were loathe to sully their pages with mere strips; these pages, one imagines they hoped, would satiate this public that didn’t know what was good for it.
Well, we know how that turned out! And while my first love will always be the comic strip as it would come to be, I really get a kick out of these old pages from a transitional time. I hope you will enjoy them, too!