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First and Last – Mutt and Jeff, Part 1: Chronicles

In 1905 twenty-year-old Harry Conway (Bud) Fisher left Chicago for San Francisco where he got a job working for de Young’s Chronicle newspaper. It seems his theatrical portraits began appearing in the paper in November of 1905, with his sports cartooning splash coming on November 15, 1905.

His caricature of Bob Fitzsimmons, an aging, freckled, knock-kneed boxer, must have made an impression as he soon became the paper’s regular sports cartoonist while still contributing theatrical portraits. He also occasionally illustrated news stories in a comical style.

As can be seen even this early Fisher had a preference for prodigious proboscises.
A standout feature he would use on his forthcoming Mutt.

So Fisher was keeping busy. But he wanted more of the paper’s real estate. It has been said that as early as 1905 he pushing for a daily comic strip, something his editors were not willing to take on.

Two years later he did add another position to his resume – editorial cartoonist. In October and November of 1907 he was de Young’s highly visible advocate for Dr. Taylor as new San Francisco mayor.


above: Fisher uses Opper characters on Hearst's mayoral candidate Dan Ryan

Handling the extra workload may have shown the editors that Fisher could keep up with a daily comic. Ten days after the election, on November 15, 1907 Mr. A. Mutt Starts in to Play the Races appears.

Five days earlier a proto-Mutt had appeared in Fisher’s Sunday sports cartoon.

The above Sunday sports cartoon was maybe an inch short of a half page. And while the first A. Mutt was “only” five columns wide, the second would span all seven columns across the top of the page.

That would be the standard for the strip for the rest of The Chronicle’s daily run, and when we say daily we don’t mean five or six days a week. The almost instantly popular strip ran seven days a week, with the Sunday strip in the same daily format. Early on there was one exception – on November 21 there was no strip, though A. Mutt made an appearance as a panel explaining the lack of a strip.

As mentioned Bud Fisher’s strip was very popular, and when a newspaper feature is popular in a town where William Randolph Hearst owns a paper, if that feature isn’t in the Hearst paper it soon will be. Before a month had passed Bud Fisher had signed with Hearst’s San Francisco Examiner. Fisher’s last A. Mutt for the Chronicle appeared on Tuesday December 10, 1907.

But there was a change made to this last strip.
As Bud Fisher tells it he snuck into the type room after the strip had passed through the chain of command and under the pretense of making a correction he added a copyright notice.

When it ran in print on the 10th “H. C. Fisher” became the legal copyright owner of the comic strip.

Then, the very next day, Bud doubled down on the copyright issue by convincing the San Francisco Examiner editor to run a typeset copyright notice under that paper’s debut of the strip on Wednesday December 11, 1907 (surely without Wm. R. Hearst’s approval or knowledge).

But that’s a story for Part Two, because The Chronicle wasn’t done with A. Mutt.

Concurrent with Fisher’s Mutt appearing in The Examiner on December 11, NotFisher‘s Mutt appeared in The Chronicle on December 11, not missing a day.

Surprisingly not an uncommon occurrence in the early days of comic strip. Most famously The Yellow Kid and Buster Brown had two versions going at the same time prior to this, and The Katzenjammer Kids did the same later. (Outstanding here is both versions here carried the A. Mutt title.)

The the first couple post-Fisher strips in the San Francisco Chronicle were unsigned. With the third strip, December 13, 1907, the cartoonist “signs” the strip with (what later can be identified as) a flower.

It wouldn’t be until the end of the month when a name began accompanying the flower in the strip.

Westover. Russ Westover, later of Tillie the Toiler fame, had been bouncing around San Francisco Bay Area newspapers since 1904, in 1907 he was at The Chronicle. Sharp-eyed Chronicle readers would have noticed the flower sig in connection with Westover from earlier Chronicle art elsewhere in the paper as Russ had also taken over the theatrical caricatures previously done by Bud.

 

So now Westover had a starring roll as Chronicle cartoonist doing occasional theatrical art, along with becoming The Chronicle’s sports cartoonist, and doing the A. Mutt comic strip seven days a week. The Chronicle, despite threats from Hearst to cease and desist, would continue to print A. Mutt strips, like this one from March 27, 1908 where he is stuck taking care of the young’un.

March 27, 1908 would be a momentous date in Mutt and Jeff history
(but not here, rather in the crosstown version).

Finally there came a time for De Young’s Chronicle to put up or shut it down in the face of a Hearst lawsuit, and The Chronicle choked. Suddenly, with no foreshadowing, Mutt took ill and croaked.

After 176 days The Chronicle’s Mr. A. Mutt comic strip ended on June 7, 1908.
Though he would make a cameo appearance two days later:

Russ Westover would leave The Chronicle later in 1908 and eventually head east.

 

Next up – Mutt (and Jeff), the Examiner/Hearst years.

 

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