Saturday 8 December 2012

An Inkwell Debuts and Other 1918 Cartoons

While Felix the Cat was, arguably, the most popular cartoon star of the silent film age (he’s certainly my favourite), the animation industry was bustling before the Felix “Master Tom” prototype appeared on screens in 1919. Take, for example, May 1918. Paramount was releasing the Bray-Pictographs, Fox had Mutt and Jeff half-reelers, a company called Sterling was releasing 500-foot animated comedies, Universal had an animated weekly with cartoons by Hy Mayer and Educational was distributing the Katzenjammer Kids, made by Hearst’s International Film Service and drawn by Greg LaCava, and Happy Hooligan. In addition of these regularly scheduled releases, Winsor McCay’s “The Sinking of the Luisitania” was being shown in theatres.

Bray-Pictograph No. 123 featured a pen drawing called “Out of the Inkwell” by one Max Fleischer. It was previewed in New York City on the week of June 2nd and given a full release on June 10th. The Pictographs had animation done on a rotational basis—Earl Hurd made a cartoon one week, Wallace Carlson the next, then the Bray Studio the next (E. Dean Parmalee also made animated technical cartoons for the Pictograph).

The Moving Picture World, a weekly trade paper out of New York City, brought readers the developments in the short subject world (shorts vastly outnumbered features) and even summaries of some of these early cartoons. So let’s delve through issues of May and June 1918. Unfortunately, there are no drawings accompanying these stories. Again, this will likely make dry reading to people who haven’t seen the cartoons, but it gives you an idea of what was being produced. I’ve omitted some articles about release rights and schedules. The summaries are all rah-rah pieces, so don’t expect biting commentary.

The Katzenjammer series is somewhat baffling. Donald Crafton’s book Before Mickey states that International Film Service’s first Katzenjammer cartoon was released in January 1917, but the World talks about a “first” release in May 1918. Perhaps the distributor changed.

Sterling’s titles listed in the period included “Slick and Tricky,” “Doctor Bunny’s Zoo,” “The Old Forty-Niner,” “Mr. Coon,” “Mose Is Cured,” “Zippy’s Insurance,” “Zippy’s Pets” and “The Unknown.” None are reviewed.

May 4, 1918
Katzenjammers in Camouflage Comedy.
The first of the International Film Service "Katzenjammer Kids" cartoons, released this week through the Educational Films Corporation of America, is said to be an unqualified success as a laugh provoker.
The title is "Vanity and Vengeance" and the action deals with a dog in a fox's skin, a cat in a muff, and the Katzenjammer family in church.
Unfortunately the fox's skin, which the Kids annexed to camouflage their dog, happened to be Mamma Katzenjammer's neckpiece, and the muff in which they hid the cat was Mamma's muff, and Mamma, being late for church and not as discerning as usual, placed the neckpiece and the muff in their customary positions without noticing the presence of the household pets. Apparently this particular dog and cat were not in the habit of attending church and a discordant note was in the atmosphere. The dog had been eyeing the cat with a not too friendly gaze, and when she lifted her voice in song it was too much to expect any self-respecting dog to stand, and a fight ensued. The congregation looked upon the dog as a wild animal and stampeded for the doors, windows and other means of egress, climbing over benches, on the roof, and even to the steeple's top, in their fright. The climax shows the Kids hiding under a seat, the organist playing a hymn and the Captain exercising his authority in time with the music.

Bairnsfather's Cartoons Make a Hit.
The most lucrative one-reel subjects ever put on the British market have been Captain Bruce Bairnsfather's film cartoons.
With an eye for the humorous amid the bloody strife on the Western front the artist created a couple of delightful characters—Ole Bill and Alf. These two have created more genuine amusement than any other characters evolved from the titanic struggle. As drawings the artist's work first appeared in The Bystander, and created a record for popularity.
The appearance of the film cartoons was the signal for an unprecedented rush of business. One London contract alone was for $16,000, and the provincial bookings were proportionately good. Where Great Britain did so well there is abundant opportunity in the United States to do better. The Cartoon Film Company, Ltd., 76 and 78 Wardour street, London, England, are prepared to sell the exclusive United States rights.

Raemaeker's Cartoons Offered to Americans
IT may not be amiss to say that Louis Raemaeker's cartoons first opened the eyes of the British public to the full reality and horror of the war. Before the war he was a landscape painter and an illustrator of books, but henceforth he will be known only for his cartoons.
The work of this distinguished Dutch cartoonist received a tremendous impetus when filmed, and the exhibition of the cartoons throughout Great Britain has been extraordinarily successful. The exclusive rights for the film cartoons throughout the United States and Canada are now offered by the Cartoon Film Company, Ltd., 76 and 78 Wardour street, London. England. These wonderful cartoons prove that there are few if any living artists with Raemaeker's power of depicting the very soul of an episode, and be combines with this a keen wit, so that the cartoons are often the most biting satire imaginable. It is a significant fact that the great cartoonist of the war is a neutral, and the American and Canadian public will see that these cartoons form a historical document, the value of which can hardly be over-estimated. British exhibitors did exceedingly good business with the films, and on this side there is opportunity for even larger business. Film presentation of Raemaeker's cartoons will be of immense assistance in fortifying public opinion in a vigorous prosecution of the war.

Fox Film Corporation.
THE FREIGHT INVESTIGATION (Mutt and Jeff Comedies, Fox Company), April 7.—There is no audience outside of a melancholia ward that will not peal with laughter at this cartoon of Mutt and Jeff trying to score with the Government by investigating the congestion on the docks.

May 11, 1918
Educational Films Corporation.
THE TWINS (Educational).—One of the "Original Katzenjammer Kids" cartoons in which these mischievous youngsters make a gorilla drunk and dress him to impersonate a female cousin who is coming to visit. Old man Katzenjammer, in full dress for the occasion, makes love to the creature, which fails to remove its head gear, and is only made wise to the trick when the animal strikes him a blow over the head. Quite amusing.
DOING HIS BIT (Educational).—One of the "Happy Hooligan" cartoons, which is exceptionally funny. Hooligan, after a series of uncomfortable happenings, finally is placed on guard at a German post. He makes his escape by painting his Shadow in black on the wall, so that the officer in command, and who is flirting with a German girl, is satisfied at a glance that Hooligan is still there. Finally he succeeds in dropping a bomb on the Kaiser.

May 18, 1918
"Mutt and Jeff" at the Front
Capt. Bruce Bairnsfather is to have something: of a rival on the western front, says the London Kinematograph. Bud Fisher, the famous cartoonist, who invented our amusing friends of the film — Mutt and Jeff—has enlisted in the United States army and will be stationed "somewhere in France." Mr. Fisher is reported to have reached an understanding with army superiors, whereby he will be permitted to send his cartoons regularly from the front, and we may look forward with confidence to seeing on the screen comedies with such amusing possibilities as “How Mutt and Jeff Beat the Kaiser." Mr. Fisher has completed arrangements with William Fox whereby the Fox Film Corporation will take over the distribution of these animated cartoons, but the production will be under the same direction as it has been for the past two years. I can imagine Mutt and Jeff getting fun even out of the big offensive.

McCay's Vivid Illustration of German Atrocity Presents Cartoon Tragedy of Uncommon Merits.
Reviewed by Margaret I. MacDonald.

IN this latest animated cartoon which was exhibited at the Strand theater, New York City, during the week of April 25, Windsor McCay [sic] has surpassed in tragic realism anything of the kind that has vet been attempted. In fact we believe that "The Sinking of the Lusitania" is the first tragic subject that has been presented by means of animated "drawing. Its sole purpose, apart from artistic effort, is evidently to instill patriotism in the hearts of spectators and further hatred, if possible, for the German perpetrators of frightfulness. It is tremendously realistic, even the fantastic coils of smoke writhing about the doomed vessel reflecting the terror and agitation of the moment. It tells its story clearly, recalling effectively those first bitter moments of America's sorrow and resentment toward the common enemy.
The cartoon represents 25,000 drawings on separate sheets of celluloid, which it is said to have taken McCay two years to complete. It took eight days to photograph the drawings one at a time. Each detail from the sighting of the Lusitania by the German submarine to the actual sinking of the ship is shown. The lowering of the life boats, the tilting of the vessel bow first, the leaping into the sea of the terrified victims, and all the other pitiable sights that the situation presented are vividly shown in the picture.

May 25, 1918
A Hit in the Cartoon World
Paramount-Bray's 119th Release of Pictograph Has Unusually Amusing Animated Drawing.

MOST of our readers know something about the Bobby Bumps animated cartoons, which appear from time to time on the end of the Paramount-Bray Pictograph. These funny little comedies, in which Bobby and his dog Fido are the central figures, are made by Earl Hurd, and are among the cleanest and most pleasing cartoons for children's programs, as well as being delightful to the adult audience. The particular number to which we refer at this writing appears in the 119th issue of the Pictograph, and is entitled "Bobby Bumps Caught in the Jam."
The trouble starts when Fido tries to catch the cat off her guard so that he can steal her saucer of milk at dinner time, and with the aid of a tiny mouse accomplishes his object. The plan, which the mouse and Fido work out between them, involves the luring of the cat from the saucer by the mouse while Fido takes a few laps and the duplicating of Fido for the mouse while the latter satisfies her thirst. This plan repeated in connection with a jar of jam at a later date fails to arrive at a successful culmination, for while the cook is on the trail of Bobby Fido gets his head caught in the jar, a fact that ends disastrously for all concerned. This is one of the funniest yet.

Fox Names Two Final May Fisher Cartoons
THE next two Bud Fisher animated cartoons that William Fox will release will be "Superintendents" and "Tonsorial Artists," in both of which Mutt and Jeff pen-and-ink their way to triumph as janitors and then as barbers.
"Superintendents," released May 19, shows the trials of Mutt and Jeff in trying to quiet a noisy pianola pumped incessantly by a woman of generous proportions, but with a small ear for music. She has one roll that she plays half the day to the annoyance of all the other tenants, Mutt and Jeff, in their capacity as joint-janitors, go upstairs to stop this. Mutt comes down quickly via the dumbwaiter shaft. Jeff proves more diplomatic, and the means he uses to win victory are said to provoke many laughs.
"Tonsorial Artists" will be the last Mutt and Jeff issue in May, and treats of the tribulations that the partners have when they buy a barber shop in a district "where the only residents are inmates of the old sailors' home. There whiskers are an institution in themselves. The men have no use for barbers, and Mutt and Jeff decoy them to the shop by installing a blonde manicurist. While the latter does a rushing business the barber chair sill remains empty, but a great idea results in its being filled.

June 1, 1918
Three "Mutt and Jeffs" Released During June
ANNOUNCEMENT from the Fox Film Corporation offices is that three Mutt and Jeff animated cartoons will be released during June. The releases are "The Tale of a Pig," "Hospital Orderlies" and "Life Savers."
In "The Tale of a Pig" Mutt and Jeff, moved by the spirit of patriotism, start a pig farm. Mutt sends Jeff for a flock of pigs, and he starts back with one big hog with a curly tail. He meets with several accidents and is finally brought home by a man in a flivver. When he opens the door of the machine, out comes a group of little pigs, all with curly tails. A farmer, in a joshing- spirit, tells Mutt and Jeff that curly tailed pigs are not good, so Jeff gets a box of starch and a flatiron and irons out the tail of each pig. Then he hangs all the pigs on a clothesline. What these little pigs do after their tails are starched out forms a climax which is described as being a riot.
Mutt and Jeff as hospital orderlies are intrusted with the care of a crazy patient. The physician, when leaving the hospital, instructs them to give the patient a soothing hypodermic injection. Instead they load him up with pep, with the result that some wild times follow. The patient mistakes everything for a pill, and promptly swallows it. This mistake, however, comes in handy and through a novel way relieves Jeff of his embarrassment in trying to quiet a bunch of squalling infants in the baby ward.
Mutt and Jeff in "Life Savers" tell a story of sad sea waves.

"The Black Mit" a Katzenjammer Comedy.
"Wrestling" with the intricacies of an income tax report is not ordinarily the occasion for much mirth, but in a current release of the Educational Films Corporation of America of an International Film Service black and white cartoon comedy, featuring the Katzenjammer Kids laughter from audiences is greeting Captain Katzenjammer's efforts to figure how much he owes Uncle Sam and the manner in which the Kids "help" him.
“The Black Mit” is the name of the comedy and in it these famous little comedians, through the aid of divers animals, black hands and bombs, succeed in putting the captain through some very lively paces and end, as usual, by securing their just reward.

"Fisherless Cartoon" Will Compel Laughter and "A Neighbor's Keyhole" Is Funny. Reviewed by Hanford C. Judson.
THE now Fisherless cartoon, released by the Fox Film Corporation, is one of the best Mutt and Jeff comics in some time. We see Lieutenant Fisher at work on a picture with Jeff still unfinished. The telephone rings and the soldier is called to arms, leaving poor Jeff with only a leg to stand on. Mutt rises to the occasion and supplies the missing member and then orders poor Jeff to draw the thousands of pictures needed to complete the story which Mutt has written. The "grinds" on the motion picture business are fresh and good. They are such as will be readily understood by everybody, and the picture, written by Mutt and finished, even to the photography by Jeff, is a sure winner.

A FISHERLESS CARTOON (Fox), May 5.—One of the best Mutt and Jeff comedies in some time, Lieut. Fisher being called in arms has to leave Jeff with only one leg, so Mutt not only supplies him with the missing member, but writes a scenario and has Jeff working till it is on the screen, They finally try to sell it to the Rialto, and, discouraged with its reception, send a S O S to Fisher for help.

June 8, 1918
Bud Fisher Puts Over Novelty in a Cartoon
The greatest success that has attended the release of any of Bud Fisher's animated Mutt and Jeff cartoons thus far, according to a statement by an official of the Fox Film Corporation, through whose changes they are now being distributed, it that scored by "A Fisherless Cartoon," issued a fortnight ago. The picture is "a cartoon within a cartoon" and recites in clever pen-and-ink drawings the efforts of the genial Mutt and Jeff to make a cartoon without the aid of their creator, Bud Fisher.
The statement says that the contract department at the Fox headquarters has received many letters and telegrams from exhibitors complimenting the Fox offices on the novelty and the originality of the subject and appreciating the extra footage that the film carries.
The picture, it is explained, runs about 650 feet — 150 feet longer than the usual Mutt and Jeff. It had drawn extraordinary attention from the public and the exhibitor because it is believed to be the first that has shown the difficulties with which an artist making animated cartoons has to contend.
The artist's troubles are dealt with in humorous vein, of course, but the seriousness of the problem is there, nevertheless. Few persons realize that it requires thousands of individual sketches for the material from which an animated cartoon is derived.
“Not the least of the several good twists in ‘A Fisherless Cartoon,’” the statement continues, “is the effect that is obtained when the cartoon that Mutt and Jeff have drawn is shown on the screen—all within the cartoon.
“When Mr. Fox took over the releasing of the Bud Fisher's work, he promised that the pictures would be funnier than ever. That is a promise that has been kept faithfully—and the cartoons for June are the most enjoyable group we have had for any month. We are particularly gratified to find, upon examination of our contracts, that the cartoons are being booked equally by the large downtown theater and the small neighborhood house.”

Cartoons and Ditmars Subject on Same Reel
THE title of the latest Katzenjammer Kid animated cartoon offering of the International Film Service, released by Educational Films Corporation is "Fishermen's Luck," and, as the name implies, the theme is "fish."
The Captain and the Professor are supposed to do the fishing and while the Professor makes a very successful "catch," the Captain, thanks to the Kids, only catches a cold. With the aid of a trained Suck to steal his bait, a dead whale with a live cat and a bulldog inserted as its respiratory organs, and a stovepipe camouflage as a periscope, the rejuvenated sea monster makes the captain's life a miserable one. But he who laughs last has the of the argument, and the Captain's tormentors are far from the laughing when the Captain invokes the aid of an octopus to administer punishment to Kids.

Educational Films Corporation.
FISHERMAN'S LUCK (Educational).—.Katzenjammer number in which the elder Katzenjammer goes fishing. He watches his neighbor having the most wonderful luck while he not only catches nothing but loses his bait. Needless to say the youngsters are on the job, using a duck to steal the bait. An imitation fish containing the Katzenjammer cat and dog which Pa finally succeeds in landing with difficulty proves to be the last straw and earn the youngsters the usual spanking.
UP IN THE AIR (Educational).—One of the Katzenjammer comic cartoons in which the youngsters take advantage of Pa Katzenjammer having the toothache to play a practical joke. They together impersonate the dentist camouflaged by a linen duster, and give him gas which inflates him to such an extent that he serve the youngsters as a balloon to which they attach themselves for a ride through the air. Taken for a hostile aeroplane the outfit is bombarded and finally landed. Very funny.

Fox Film Corporation.
OCCULTISM (Mutt and Jeff Cartoon), May 12.—Jeff learns how to send his astral body out. Mutt finds the body and has the undertakers come. Jeff's astral body floats around the weeping Mutt and has fun with him, then scares him to death by coming to. It's a good picture.
SUPERINTENDENTS (Mutt and Jeff Cartoon), May 19.—Mutt is in charge of an apartment house and goes upstairs to talk with the woman who will play music and wants the other tenants to chase themselves. He has an awful time and comes down all battered. Jeff goes up and comes down outside to the sidewalk. To be kicked out peeves him and he takes off his coat. When he comes down this time it is by the stairs, and he carries the piano with the woman tied to it. Plenty of action; good stuff.

June 22, 1918
Progress in Animated Drawing
Max Fleischer of Bray Studios Gives Startling Demonstration of Pen Plus Screen.

ONE of the most remarkable evidences of what the animated drawing has to offer in the way of realism is demonstrated in a simple bit of pen work by Max Fleischer in the Paramount-Bray Pictograph No. 123 [released June 10, 1918]. This work is entitled, "Out of the Inkwell," and is nothing more than a pen drawing of a clown performing some funny stunts; but the animation of said drawing is so remarkable that the movements of the figure are as smooth and easy as those of the human body. In a fade-out which finishes the cartoon the clown continues to wave his farewell until only the tips of his fingers are visible.
We would judge that one of the secrets of the realism of this work is a matter of a greater number of drawings to the foot of film than usual. After witnessing such an exhibition of artistic ingenuity it is hard to predict just what splendid future is in store for the animated drawing. Considerable has been accomplished already in an educational way with the animated drawing, and who knows to what instructional uses it may yet be put.

"Swat the Fly" Uninterrupted Scream.
In the current Katzenjammer Kids cartoon comedy, "Swat the Fly," a fly annoys the Captain's wife, and a colony of bees attack the Captain. The subtitle of "Swat the Fly" is "The Birth of a Nuisance." Yes, Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" is kidded just a little bit. The novelty of the bee attack is in the fact that the Kids collect millions of them by means of a vacuum cleaner and discharge them in "gas attacks" on the unhappy parents. In the pre-release at the New York Rivoli, "Swat the Fly" was one uninterrupted scream. It has been one of the funniest cartoon comedies released.

June 29, 1918
"Throwing The Bull" and "Wild Babies" Share Reel

A COMBINATION of amusing zoological fact and cartoon comedy is effected in the latest fifteen-minute picture issued by the Educational Films Corporation of America. This reel comprises an International black and white comedy entitled "Throwing the Bull" and a Ditmar's "Living Book of Nature" offering entitled "Wild Babies."
In the cartoon comedy, Happy Hooligan is the principal comedian, and the story centers around a cow yielding condensed milk. Happy as the custodian is inveigled from his job by the wiles of a Spanish girl, and the cow is stolen for the purpose of fortifying the depleted ranks of a number of fighting bulls against which a company of matadors is to battle. Many things happen to the cow and to Happy in his endeavors to effect its return to the more peaceful pursuit.

Fox Film Corporation.
THE TONSORIAL ARTISTS (Mutt and Jeff Cartoon), May 26.—The adventures of the two pen made picture comedians in making a barbershop near nothing but an old sailors' home have some very laughable situations. It is noticed more at length on another page of this issue.
HOSPITAL, ORDERLIES (Mutt and Jeff Cartoon), June 9.—Mutt and Jeff are left in charge of a ward by the doctor, and their troubles begin. It has much good comic matter, and will make laughter. For longer notice see another page of this issue.

I like the way how the article implies that Bud Fisher is somewhere on the front line in France with his light board and drawing animated cartoons.

If any of the cartoons mentioned here are hiding around on-line, I can't find them. So here's a different Mutt and Jeff from the 1920s.

1 comment:

  1. This Mutt and Jeff was originally called "Hell Froze Over", produced in 1926 by Associated Animators, Dick Heumer was one of them. It's transferred a trifle slow, should run at about 20 to 22 frames per second. Mark Kausler