Thursday 27 October 2011

Jimmy Swinnerton and Yowp

We all, of course, know that loveable animated cartoon dog Yowp, with a vocabulary consisting of the word “Yowp” and not much more. He appeared in three Yogi Bear cartoons because, well, there wasn’t much more you could do with him.

Yowp’s first appearance was on this date in 1958.

I’m not sure who invented the word “Yowp” as an onomatopoeia, but I can say that newspaper cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton used it a few times more than 90 years ago.

Kids reading comics today likely have never heard of Al Capp or Walt Kelly, and when I was growing up, I’d never heard of Swinnerton. The first I’d read about him was in Of Mice and Magic and his work on Chuck Jones’ attempt at an animated ‘Canyon Kiddies’ which Swinnerton drew for Good Housekeeping magazine at the time. That was about 1940, and Swinnerton had been drawing comic strips for more than 40 years by then.

One Sunday page of his was called ‘Little Jimmy’ and featured a boy sent on errands by his father and inevitably gets sidetracked into some mishap. And it is here we find dogs who utter the word “Yowp!” One is Hortense in the cartoon below, dated June 1, 1919.

Swinnerton is credited with drawing the first comic strip in an American newspaper. The Eureka Times-Standard published a feature story on Swinnerton’s life on October 11, 1970:

The first newspaper comic strip titled “The Little Bears” appeared in the San Francisco Examiner in 1892. It was drawn by Jimmy Swinnerton who a few years later created “Little Jimmy” and in his later years became a highly successful painter of California desert scenes.
Jimmy Swinnerton was born in Eureka on November 13, 1873. His father published a weekly newspaper, The Humboldt Star. When he was 17 years old he went to San Francisco to attend an art school and at the same time got his first job as a newspaper artist for the Hearst-owned Examiner.
Today Jimmy Swinnerton lives with his wife Gretchen in Palm Desert, California and is looking forward to his 94th birthday next month.
Swinnerton worked for the Hearst newspapers for 75 years. He met his wife when he was in his late fifties. They were both attending a national presidential convention in Kansas City, Jimmy doing pen sketches for the Hearst Chain and Gretchen writing feature material for the King Features syndicate.
He was confined to his hotel room with a bad cold. One of the Hearst executives sent Gretchen up to his room to look after him. When she walked in the air was thick with cigar smoke, so she decided he wasn’t sick and walked out. It turned out to be the start of a romance and eventual marriage. They have been together now for more than 30 years.
First Drawing
Jimmy’s first assignment on the Examiner was to draw a picture of a little bear which he later developed into the first continuity-type comic drawings ever published. Later another of his drawings, “Commodore Noah” was the first comic strip to be syndicated, that is sold to newspapers throughout the country.
“Little Jimmy” which became a comic page regular in hundreds of newspapers first appeared in 1905.
“Swinny’s” comic strips delighted three generations of Americans reading the funnies and he remembers those early strips with a chuckle.
“They had to go in half-column cuts at the time, and there wasn’t enough room at the end of the strip to get my full name in. It came out ‘Swin.’”
He remembers another thing that happened along about that time.
“I contracted tuberculosis and three doctors gave me one month to live.”
Jimmy went around to say goodbye to all his old friends to pursue his work for “that last month” in the California desert. He has made his home in Palm Desert ever since.
That was 70 years ago. The doctors have long since passed away.
While cartooning, he took up oil water color painting as a hobby so it was only natural that moving to the desert to spend his “last days” led to his “re-discovery” as a landscape artist.
His desert scenes have brought him as much fame as cartoons.
Jimmy doesn’t cartoon or paint any more, he says his eye and his hand are no longer able to do the little things anymore, those details that make the difference in an artist’s work.
But he hasn’t quit the newspaper business yet. In the years since he has continued to serve as a talent scout and some of the “boys” he has discovered and put in business were Hubert Ripley of “Believe It or Not” fame, T. A. “Tad” Dolan [sic] and Hype Igoe.
Talking about the old time comic strip like the men who drew Happy Hooligan, Buster Brown and Mutt and Jeff, Swinnerton said:
“We always looked upon the comics as something strictly for the kids, and we wanted no harm to come to them. We decried the appearance or firearms, knives and violence in the strips. They are nothing more than dime novels.
“There seems to be a tremendous change—a trend to smut, crime and uncleanliness in the strip. I guess they think it’s being in fashion.”
Swinnerton has no explanation for the trend. He can’t ever say that it’s a result of “popular demand” by the present-day readers of the comics.
His present day favorite is “Peanuts” drawn by Charles Schulz.

Whether this is the first-ever ‘Little Bears and Tigers’ the newspaper doesn’t say. The scan of the newspaper microfilm isn’t great but I haven’t seen this on the internet, so I thought it was worth publishing.

1 comment:

  1. Swinnerton's name and his Little Jimmy did turn up in a Myron Waldman-helmed Betty Boop cartoon four years before "Canyon Kiddies" (which answered the question "What would a morbidly obese Betty Boop look like?") Like the other non-Popeye efforts between Paramount and King Features Syndicate and Jones' 1940 cartoon, it was not successful enough to warrant a sequel.