Many decades before R. Crumb’s iconic Fritz the Cat graced the pages of underground comics, another feline roue was making a splash in family newspapers across the country.
If James Swinnerton didn’t invent the “funny animal” genre of cartoons, he certainly was an early proponent of it. His bears and tigers had been making jolly on the pages of the funnies since their earliest days. In 1892 Swinnerton unleashed a series of bears and tigers, standing on two feet and dressed in the styles of the day, setting off an explosion of anthropomorphic animals that we’ve yet to tire of.
Mr. Jack was an inveterate philanderer, a rake and roustabout whom could be trusted not at all when in the presence of an attractive lady, unless the lady was his wife! Jack flirts, steals kisses, occasionally crosses into what would be considered outright sexual assault, by modern definitions. And for it, he got his butt kicked regularly, whether it was by his wife or the boyfriends of the young ladies he was harassing. But Mr. Jack remained undaunted and unreconstructed throughout, often reflecting that it was worth the beatings, for those snatched moments of pleasure.
I make no excuse for my affection for Mr. Jack; I can’t hope to defend his actions, but I can just say that I find him simply hilarious. Much as getting an anvil dropped on your head is devoid of comic possibilities in the real world, Mr. Jack’s actions are never short of reprehensible, but they’re consistently funny, and the strip had a vocal and loyal constituency in it’s original run.
But his philandering ways were too much for the indignant mothers of the Gilded Age, and he was eventually spirited away from the comics to a new home in the sports section of the paper, where the coarser male-aimed comics dwelt, and eventually Mr. Jack faded away as Swinnerton concentrated on his true calling, Little Jimmy.
I’ve posted up a hodgepodge of strips from 1903-06, by no means all-inclusive. Many newspapers back then didn’t run the same comics every week, and when they did, they often weren’t found in the same place in the paper consistently. So finding these is often a hunt-and-peck process. As I find more, the gaps will be filled! But for now, enjoy the roguish ways of Mr. Jack!
By James Swinnerton