Tag Archives: Survey of the Drawn Story I essay

Survey 1 Comic Strip Essays: Melanie Gillman on “Polly and Her Pals”

Note: This is the sixth in a series of essays written (and, in this case, drawn) by the current Class of 2012 for Survey of the Drawn Story I, CCS’s comics history class. They are posted here in approximate chronological order of when their chosen subjects—comic strips—were either first published, or in their heyday.

These were class assignments, and should be enjoyed in that context; these are not necessarily indicative of the work the individual artists/writers would do in paid professional venues. This is work assigned in class with a tight deadline, completed while juggling many other class assignments. That said, it is all of high caliber, or we would not be sharing it with you here. Enjoy!

Students have the option to either write an essay, or to draw their essay in comics form. This is the first of the comics-format essays we’re presenting; enjoy! There are more to come. Survey I instructor Stephen Bissette has added the author info and “further reading” notes after this comics-format essay.

NOTE: To enlarge these comics pages for easier reading, just click on the image itself to open larger scans in another window.

________________________________________________


[The above is ©2010 Melanie Gillman, all rights reserved; it is posted with permission.]

________________________________________

About the author/student:

  • Melanie Gillman‘s blog/website Contriveathon is here, and it’s full of art, writing, comics, links, and more; explore and enjoy!

  • Melanie also has shared her comics online at Sub-Scribe (here’s the link)
  • and at ColoredChalk.com (here’s that link), among others.

  • (PS: You can also visit Melanie on Facebook, if she chooses to ‘friend’ you, natch.)
  • _______

    Further reading & resources:

  • Cliff Sterrett‘s The Complete Color Polly and Her Pals, Vol. 1 (1991)
  • and The Complete Color Polly and Her Pals, Vol. 2 (1991), though long out of print, can still be found on amazon.com and via other online venues.

  • You can presently pre-order the forthcoming Polly and Her Pals: Complete Sunday Comics 1925-1927 at amazon.com, too (here’s that link).

  • We also recommend you check out Barnacle Press‘s gallery of Cliff Sterrett‘s Polly and Her Pals comic strips (various, from 1914-1936, incomplete) which are free and visible online right now via this link. Enjoy!

  • A number of Polly and Her Pals collections are in the Schulz Library‘s permanent collection.

    Advertisements

    Survey 1 Comic Strip Essays: Andy Warner on Lyonel Feininger’s “The Kin-Der-Kids” & “Wee Willie Winkie’s World”

    Note: This is the second in a series of essays written by the current Class of 2012 for Survey of the Drawn Story I, CCS’s comics history class. They are posted here in approximate chronological order of when their chosen subjects—comic strips—were either first published, or in their heyday.

    These were class assignments, and should be enjoyed in that context; these are not necessarily indicative of the work the individual artists/writers would do in paid professional venues. This is work assigned in class with a tight deadline, completed while juggling many other class assignments. That said, it is all of high caliber, or we would not be sharing it with you here. Enjoy!

    Unless otherwise noted, any image captions or comments in brackets [like this] were added by the Survey I instructor, Stephen Bissette, to enhance this public post, as were the author info and “further reading” notes after the essay and author’s footnotes. All illustrations in this particular post were added by the instructor.

    ________________________________________________

    Lyonel Feininger: Lost Expressionist Master of the Sunday Comics Page
    by Andy Warner
    (CCS, Class of 2012)

    The brightest stars shine briefest. The light of Lyonel Feininger’s brilliant comics may have winked out due to a contractual dispute, but still now, over a century after they were produced, they seem too wonderful, too weird, to have existed even for the single year he was active in the medium. Although Feininger made a name for himself in painting and printmaking (he designed the cover for the Bauhaus 1919 manifesto, was associated with several expressionist groups in Germany, and even had the distinction of being labeled “degenerate artist” by the Third Reich), the tall, gangly German-American artist’s cartoon output was limited to two strips he created in 1906 for The Chicago Sunday Tribune: The Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World. Even a cursory glance at these large-format Sunday pages is a visceral experience. Feininger was making comics like no one else in his era. Before Egon Schiele met Gustav Klimt, just as Picasso and Braque were developing what would become cubism, Feininger’s comics exploded in glorious color from the pages of the Tribune. His figures move at odd angles, all limbs, hands and caricatured faces. The environment, while expressly the focus of Wee Willie’s World has an incredible vitality in both strips. Waves crash and smash, lightning tears jagged lines through the sky, clouds loom impossibly large and city alleyways tilt insanely. In no small feat, the worlds that Feininger creates make Windsor McCay’s Little Nemo dreamscapes seem almost static by comparison.

    The Kin-Der-Kids is the more developed of the two strips. Like other comics of the era, it begins with an introduction to the cast of characters. Right off the bat, Feininger impresses upon his readers that this will be no ordinary cartoon. As could be expected by the title, the action revolves around the adventures of the three Kin-Der brothers, Daniel Webster, Pie-Mouth, and Strenuous Teddy. The character designs revel in their own weirdness. Daniel Webster, ostensibly the leader of the group and thus the focus of the readers’ sympathies, is a pale to the point of jaundiced, prematurely balding bookworm with a vast forehead, deeply creased with worry lines. He is dressed in funereal black and throughout the course of the strip, rarely removes his nose from whatever book he can find. Pie-Mouth is a grotesquely fat child blessed with a perpetually gaping maw that he stuffs constantly with whatever grub he can lay his greedy hands on. Strenuous Teddy is a preternaturally strong redhead who can usually be relied upon to get the Kids out of a tight spot. The supporting characters are no less strange. Daniel Webster’s dog, Sherlock Bones, is a gaunt little blue Dachshund with all the sadness of the world in his eyes. Rounding out the crew is Little Japansky, a clockwork water baby found at the bottom of the ocean. A technological marvel presumed lost by a marauding Japanese submarine, he’s the tireless mechanical workhorse that powers the leaky bathtub the Kin-Der-Kids go adventuring in. Their nemesis is Aunt Jim-Jam, a severely attired matron who’s not above engaging in a footrace through the streets of London in order to administer the boys their hated dose of castor oil. Unrelenting as a hell hound, she’s accompanied in this quest by the ludicrously dressed Cousin Gussie, and a disturbingly featured, small yellow man with thinning hair named Buggins. Last, but certainly not least bizarre, is Mysterious Pete, a supernatural being of unexplained origin clad in chaps and a cowboy had who rides around on a cloud with his trusty hound and guns down waterspouts with a six-shooter.

    After this brief introduction, The Kin-Der-Kids begins in media res with the boys already sailing past Ellis Island in a bathtub. How did they get there? Where did Japansky come from? Where are they even going, and why in a bath tub? Nothing is explained. In the second strip, Mysterious Pete shows up with instructions for their “trip,” but the reader is not privy to them. By the third strip, the Kids are harpooning whales. Feininger seems wholly uninterested in giving his readers any kind of grounding whatsoever. This works to the advantage of the strip, giving the unfolding action a crazed, madcap intensity right from the get-go. Feininger took advantage of the week-to-week format of the newspaper strip to work in a fashion that was still unusual at the time, a sustained serial narrative. The Kids brave a storm, Pie-Mouth’s eating binges and an enormous fish before the action shifts to Mysterious Pete alerting Aunt Jim-Jam to their whereabouts. Castor oil in tow, Aunt Jim-Jam and Cousin Gussie borrow a hot air balloon and the hunt is on. The rest of the strip’s brief run consists of the Kids escaping first to England, and then to Russia. The three have a spate of encounters with the locals in each country. They play rugby, race submarines and have competitions of strength with the British. In Russia, they’re taken captive by bomb wielding troops who, still stung by the Russo-Japanese war the previous year, believe Japansky to be a spy. Without fail, Aunt Jim-Jam, traveling by balloon, boat or insane flying machine, eventually shows up to terrorize the boys. After a final gag involving Pie-Mouth getting a sore tooth, the strip ends as abruptly as it began. The Kids are mid-adventure, stranded in Russia with Aunt Jim-Jam’s arrival imminent. No explanation is given for termination, and no denouement allowed.

    Wee Willie Winkie’s World, Feininger’s second strip for The Chicago Tribune, is no less strange. Bearing an obvious debt to McCay’s Little Nemo, the strip follows the titular character, a young boy, through a strange world of imagination. Unlike Nemo, however, Wee Willie Winkie expressly takes place in the real world (although on two occasions it recounts the protagonist’s dreams). The magical and strange environment, around which the whole of the action and story revolves, is entirely a product of Willie Winkie’s daydreams and confused perception. Everything surrounding him is anthropomorphized. Trees swaying in the wind become dancers; stone houses acquire character, wants and needs. Occasionally the fantasy is broken, Willie Winkie nears an object he thought to be an elephant and sees it to be only a tree trunk, but just as often, his vision of the world is presented as fact. Thunder clouds are massive giants the size of the sky, striding across the countryside. Water pumps are sleepy old gentlemen, sputtering gouts of liquid when their ponytails are pulled.

    While the art style of Wee Willie Winkie’s World is quite similar to that of The Kin-Der-Kids, the format could not be more different. The hallmark feverish action of The Kin-Der-Kids is replaced by a calm meditative pace, following Willie Winkie as he sleepily contemplates his surroundings. The story in The Kin-Der-Kids is told exclusively through dialogue and visual action, and the strip is marked by a complete lack of third person narration. Wee Willie Winkie’s World, by contrast, is composed entirely of it. Indeed, the prose is separated entirely from the art, and set below the panel frames. This gives the impression of a children’s book, a mood Feininger further reinforces by using type, rather than the hand drawn text of The Kin-Der-Kids. There is no real story to speak of in Wee Willie Winkie’s World. The only thread of narrative that exists is spent on following Willie Winkie as he ambles through his world. The focus is squarely on the environment.

    In terms of character design, Willie Winkie bears some superficial resemblance to Daniel Webster. He possesses an unusually furrowed brow and is clad in a similar outfit. The black of Daniel Webster’s clothes, however, is replaced by a childish blue and Willie Winkie’s features are open and engaged. Where Daniel Webster is always facing inwards and down, forever lost in his books, Willie Winkie is only interested in the world around him. Aside from Willie Winkie, the only other real character in Wee Willie Winkie’s World is Feininger himself. The reader is meant to interpret the narration as a story, originally told to Feininger by Willie Winkie, retold to them through the comic. He appears only once in the strip, almost hidden in the corner of a panel, having accompanied his creation on a trip to an outcropping of seaside cliffs. He is a tall, thin figure, dwarfing Willie Winkie’s small frame as he sketches a panorama the boy points out to him.

    Wee Willie Winkie’s World, above all, demonstrates the total mastery Feininger possessed in the art of caricature. The artist had spent the 17 years previous working as an increasingly celebrated caricaturist for German and American magazines, including Harper’s Round Table, Humoristische Blätter, and Ulk. In Wee Willie Winkie’s World, this skill is used to great effect. An astonishing variety of faces burst from every possible place, from dour locomotives to shivering and nervous poplar trees. Other stylistic influences abound. Wee Willie Winkie’s World is structured along symmetrical grids, with big soaring panels. In their gutters, most frequently to break up the narration along the bottom, but also occasionally between the panels themselves, Feininger inserts beautiful and bizarre ornamentations. These take the form of trees, leaves, medusa-like heads, grinning jesters and heavenly bodies. Their place in the composition of the page is obviously influenced by Art Nouveau, but Feininger replaces the flowing curves of that style with his trademark chunky angles and geometric forms. A red eyed mouse frolicking in the gutter of a strip otherwise concerned with Willie Winkie’s take on a windmill is strongly reminiscent of Japanese woodblock prints. In one strip, the ornamentations even bear a striking resemblance to Mondrian and De Stijl. As that movement had yet to be born, however, it can be assumed that these exercises in color and line are Feininger’s own experimentations.

    Although he’d worked in illustration and caricature for years, Feininger came to comics through a chance opportunity, and left them much the same way. He was born in 1871 in New York City to German speaking parents. He possessed a childhood fascination for steamboats and locomotives that would leave its mark on both his comics and fine art, and showed an early aptitude for drawing. While he wouldn’t create comics until the age of 35, he was influenced in his childhood by American cartoonists and the margins of the letters he wrote as a young man to his friend and fellow artist, Alfred Vance Churchill are filled with expressive and expertly rendered cartoon sketches. Feininger left America for Germany in 1888 to attend art school, and adopted the land of his parents as his own. For the next decade and a half, he sold caricatures to humor magazines, often chafing against the demands of his editors.

    Meanwhile, back in America, newspaper comics were experiencing a golden age. In 1905, when Windsor McCay was tapped to demonstrate the artistic potential of Sunday comics with Little Nemo in the pages of The New York Herald, other newspapers took note. Amongst them was James Keeley, editor of The Chicago Tribune. Deciding not to be outdone and wanting to appeal to Chicago’s large German population, Keeley traveled to Berlin in February of 1906 to procure the services of a bevy of German cartoonists for his full color Sunday pages. Feininger met Keeley, and, seduced by the promise of a steady income of 24,000 marks for his services, agreed to produce the two weekly strips for the Tribune. Problems began almost immediately. The vibrancy and joy of the Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World disguised a troubled relationship between Feininger and the editorial staff. The Tribune had wanted a strip to compete with the Katzenjammer Kids’ repetitive joke-a-week format, but The Kin-Der-Kids’ fever dream of a sustained narrative immediately derailed their plans. Circulation dropped, the cartoonists were blamed and The Kin-Der-Kids was axed, with Wee Willie Winkie’s World replacing it. This did little to staunch the bleeding, and by winter of that year, Feininger was gone from the pages of the Chicago Tribune, and gone from comics forever. The exact circumstances surrounding his departure remain somewhat mysterious. Some sources cite a personal dispute between Feininger and the Tribune’s editors, others point to the burden of producing detailed weeklies as proving too much for the artist, while others place the blame on Feininger’s unwillingness to move back to America. Regardless of the details of his dismissal, Feininger’s greatest fame lay ahead of him. Although he achieved his highest heights in other artistic mediums, it is truly a pity that his comic output is so small. In the single year he was active, he established a more unique style and world than those that many cartoonists spend lifetimes creating.

    Sources:
    Thompson, Kim. The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2007.

    “Lyonel Feininger.” Oregon State University Cartoon Library & Museum Website. 6 Oct. 2010

    Markstein, Don. “Lyonel Feininger.” Don Markstein’s Toonopedia. 6 Oct. 2010

    “Alfred Vance Churchill Papers Regarding Lyonel Feininger, 1888-1944.” Smithsonian Archives of American Art. 6 Oct. 2010.

    “Lyonel Feininger on Artnet.” artnet. 6 Oct. 2010

    [The above essay is ©2010 Andy Warner, all rights reserved; it is posted with permission.]

    ________________________________________

    About the author/student:

  • Andy Warner has a few online outposts. Here is his website;
  • here is a sampler of Andy’s comics work;
  • and here is Andy’s blog. Give them all a look-see.

  • Further reading & resources:

  • The Lyonel Feininger Digital Album is highly recommended, comprised of images from the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, which was acquired by The Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library from Bill Blackbeard in 1997. Click this link!

  • You can purchase your own copy of The Comic Strip Art of Lyonel Feininger: The Kin-Der-Kids and Wee Willie Winkie’s World at amazon.com; here’s the current availability.

  • Survey 1 Comic Strip Essays: Katie Moody on Winsor McCay’s “Dream of the Rarebit Fiend”

    Note: This is the first in a series of essays written by the current Class of 2012 for Survey of the Drawn Story I, CCS’s comics history class. They are posted here in approximate chronological order of when their chosen subjects—comic strips—were either first published, or in their heyday.

    These were class assignments, and should be enjoyed in that context; these are not necessarily indicative of the work the individual artists/writers would do in paid professional venues. This is work assigned in class with a tight deadline, completed while juggling many other class assignments. That said, it is all of high caliber, or we would not be sharing it with you here. Enjoy!

    Unless otherwise noted, any image captions or comments in brackets [like this] were added by the Survey I instructor, Stephen Bissette, to enhance this public post, as were the author info and “further reading” notes after the essay and author’s footnotes. All illustrations in this particular post were added by the instructor.

    [Winsor McCay, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: This March 8, 1905 installment of Rarebit Fiend inspired McCay’s 1921 animated film The Pet, the first-ever ‘giant monster attacking a city’ motion picture ever made. Thus, McCay and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend was arguably the wellspring for immortals like King Kong and Godzilla!]

    ________________________________________________

    Strip Analysis: Winsor McCay’s Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend
    by Katie Moody
    (CCS, Class of 2012)

    The first sixty strips of Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, as collected by Frederick A. Stokes in 1905 and recollected by Dover Publications in 1973 [cover pictured at left], are a hallucinatory window into the 1905 adult’s subconscious. As a pioneer of the nascent storytelling medium that modern readers would recognize as comics, Winsor McCay in particular represents a bridge between static, classic illustration and the more flexible, faster-paced nature of comics storytelling, a change itself enabled by advances in printing technology. His sophisticated themes, visual tropes, and other stylistic bids for sequential art’s legitimacy—all readily apparent in this mere seven percent of the strip’s run—remain relevant to comics enthusiasts today.

    Following at least ten earlier newspaper strips from McCay—with his more lighthearted Little Sammy Sneeze and Hungry Henrietta among them—Dream of the Rarebit Fiend stands out as a series of grand experiments. Its target audience is adult readers; the laws of reality and reason apply only to the final panel, the themes are more mature, the protagonist (almost always an adult) changes with each installment, and the entire blossoming field of psychoanalysis (Freud’s seminal* Interpretation of Dreams was published only five years prior) is McCay’s playground. Deep-rooted desires, primal fears, and social anxieties—the latter represented by dreamt inept encounters with peers who deliver, with straight matter-of-factness, what readers would immediately recognize as gleeful absurdities—frequently imperil the rarebit-fueled sleeper, and these fever-dream themes are so universal and relatable that many of the scenarios, metaphors, and visuals are still compelling over a century later.

    McCay’s accomplished Dream illustrations—with his characteristic strict perspective, lush detail, and trendy Art Nouveau influences in line weights—are obvious attempts to appeal to turn-of-the-century sensibilities. McCay was a woodcut illustrator first, and so upon switching professional gears to creating newspaper strips he must have been well aware of engaging in a popular art form—almost by definition ubiquitous, embraced by the public, and dismissed by critics. While he was pragmatic enough to find such profitable venues for his creative experiments as print and (especially with his animation milestone Gertie the Dinosaur) vaudeville, the work itself has a level of craft and technical integrity that is inarguable to modern eyes.

    Now that McCay’s later strip Little Nemo in Slumberland is universally recognized as an early comics masterpiece, and Dream of the Rarebit Fiend is an obvious precursor to Nemo in both subject and content, it is clear that McCay took the entire rarebit endeavor seriously in spite of all the wild experimentation. Even the angles and placement of the dialogue text are toyed with, as seen in strips forty-three to forty-five (on pages 45-47); A word balloon twists up along the wake of its tossed speaker [above, right], angry and indignant retorts swirl around the chaos of a physical altercation [left], and even the “OH OH OH OH” of a sideways-flattened commuter is placed on end [below]. The reading experience was McCay’s to toy with, manipulate, and consciously attempt to control; perhaps his testing and invention in the medium was further bolstered by the use of a pseudonym, “Silas” (employed for contract reasons).

    So why does this strip have such longevity and an immediacy that enchants new readers to this day?

    In spite of the 1905 collection’s claims to the contrary, Rarebit itself is unnecessary, as any other foodstuff could stand in for the arbitrary nightmare fuel if sufficiently spicy or exotic. In this strip, rarebit simply symbolizes excess and a source of regret; it is a seed that has a vivid and unsettling blossom of insight, though the shuddering dreamer rarely cares to give their experience further exploration. The modern equivalent of rarebit is another ubiquitous “cheese pie” that is often paired with beer—a combination still blamed for occasional agitating misadventures in dreamland.

    Since it’s not the specific source of the dreaming that has endured, it must be the dreaming itself. The few topical references of McCay’s time that made it into this collection’s strips—Roosevelt, the newly constructed Flatiron Building in New York, jabs at Mormons (whose church had only officially abandoned polygamy, the strip’s topic, in 1890)—are curious artifacts of its original time-specific context, but the episodic and continuity-free nature of each exuberant installment allow the strip to remain welcoming to new readers. The entertaining exaggerations and alarming scenarios, the fast and furious rush of strange plots and characters’ resonant emotional responses, and the operatic lushness of McCay’s panels all but beg further reading. Dream of the Rarebit Fiend is a page-turner if ever there was one, with more eventful developments in its eight to nine panels than in an entire issue of most modern “event” tie-in pamphlets.

    Given the fast-paced and effusive assault of content that McCay packed into each episode of Dream, the alacrity of this new medium must have been intoxicating to him. Far before Hollywood became the special-effects powerhouse that we (and Michael Bay) know so well today, Winsor McCay was using pen, paper, and gray matter to convey the most fantastical stories scenarios that he could conceive. Though he would later explore the logical conclusion between comics and film with his forays into early animation, his visual storytelling needed no more than the printed page itself in order to convey a compelling experience to his audience. That McCay’s chosen medium would still be struggling for serious legitimacy a century later, in spite of the mature themes and visual metaphors employed by him and countless other creators over the intervening years, is due to no fault of his own.

    Footnotes:
    * (Cough.)

    Source:
    Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend; McCay, Winsor. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, NY. 1973.

    [The above essay is ©2010 Katie Moody, all rights reserved; it is posted with permission.]

    [A page of Winsor McCay Rarebit Fiend original art, from the collection of Dr. Ulrich Merkl (see below).]
    ________________________________________

    About the author/student:

  • Katie Moody comes to CCS with professional credentials in the field, which you can see here;
  • at present, she does not offer an online blog or site for her work, but once she does, we’ll add that link.

    Further reading & resources:

    * CCS faculty member Stephen Bissette interviewed German art and comics scholar/archivist Ulrich Merkl about Dr. Merkl’s definitive Dream of the Rarebit Fiend collected edition, which we have in the Schulz Library rare books collection (donated by Bissette and Dr. Merkl).

  • Read “Dream of the Dream of the Rarebit Fiend: An Interview with Ulrich Merkl (with Three Addendums),” at the original Myrant blog site (archived at this link), July 23, 2007.
  • In his 2007 Myrant overview of the year’s best books, Bissette wrote:

    “Ulrich Merkl’s ravishing, absolutely definitive Dream of the Rarebit Fiend collection is jam-packed with much, much more than “just” the most complete collection of Winsor McCay’s seminal comic strip available anywhere on Earth. It’s also a comprehensive overview of McCay’s life, career and the context of the times in which one of our greatest cartoonists created this still-amazing strip, which essentially poured the foundation for the whole of 20th Century comics (and, as Merkl demonstrates, much of its art, cinema and visionary works).”

  • Joshua Glenn of The Boston Globe has archived this lively narrated online slideshow, based on Dr. Merkl’s book, demonstrating the influence of McCay’s work on many famous films (covered in further detail in Markl’s book, of course).