Sunday 23 December 2012

The Comics Celebrate Christmas, 1912

Let’s turn the clock back 100 years and see what the Sunday comics section offered around Christmas-time. The familiar characters of the day offered Yuletide-themed outings on December 21, 1912, the closest Sunday before Christmas.

The drawing style is a lot different back then. Panels could be pretty densely packed with things, certainly far more than today. Layouts vary in every panel; you won’t characters rigidly drawn in the same position through the whole cartoon. And I won’t guarantee you’ll laugh at any of these.

If George McManus is known today, it’s for the long-running strip Bringing Up Father. But before that, he created another strip called The Newlyweds. It seems to have morphed, at least in some papers, into Their Only Child, and that’s what we have here. Here, the child delibertely breaks all kinds of stuff and the wimpy father and clueless mother enable him. Interestingly, the San Francisco Call has a The Newlyweds cartoon on the same date with the same characters but a different story, though the kid destroys presents in both.

Like McManus, Jimmy Swinnerton drew several comics over his lifetime. One is Mr. Batch, which you see above. A little man with odd proportions. Frederick Opper’s best-known work is Happy Hooligan, but here’s his Howson Lott strip. The pigs appear to be high on something.

Well, here’s Happy Hooligan and Swinnerton’s Little Jimmy. Hooligan’s kind of freaky looking. And I suspect Mexicans are on a horse coming out of a garage because of Swinnerton’s residency in Arizona, where Mexican revolutionaries were an occasional sight at the time this cartoon was drawn. Arizona became a state less than a year earlier.

And what would a Sunday comic page of 100 years ago be with the Katzenjammer Kids? Other than a census report, the strip reflects how different things were then. The U.S. were still very much a land of immigrants. English was not the first language of a fair percentage of adults. Accents and dialects were commonplace in society and thus was reflected in popular entertainment. People made fun of one another and no one seems to have taken umbrage because it wasn’t done seriously.

There were a number of dialect strips (of course, there were later two versions of the Katzenjammers). Here’s a daily called Oscar and Adolf by A.D. (Armundo Dreisbach) Condo and Fred Schaefer. The strips are from December 24 and 25, 1912.

The comic section was in for a change. The war came and went, Depression set in, and soon there were action-adventure strips, soap opera strips, and many new characters created by younger artists—Dick Tracy, Blondie, Lil Abner—drawn in styles never thought of some 100 years ago.

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