The Lucy and Sophie Cartoonist – Another Look (Updated with Part Two – A George Frink Profile)

Last year we reported the findings of Eddie Campbell and Barnacle Press’s Holmes and Thrillmer on the identity of the cartoonist behind the 1905 comic strip Lucy and Sophie Say Goodbye. They determined that Robert J. Campbell was the creator of what some consider the first queer comic strip.

Now Kevin Cooley has posted his research into the matter and has come to a different conclusion: George O. Frink.

What stands out most about Frink, though, are the taboos his work unflinchingly illustrated. The findings I will present in this two-part essay overwhelmingly indicate that he was the cartooning pioneer who created Lucy and Sophie Say Goodbye, an unprecedented 1905 comic strip about two lesbian women who were eventually carted off to an asylum.

Eddie, Holmes, and Thrillmer had considered Frink:

To Eddie and us, the association of Frink with Lucy and Sophie didn’t hold much water. The styles of art and lettering are different, Frink was already producing a full page of comics in the Chicago Tribune during the run of L&S, and they were all signed.

Kevin acknowledges the previous work:

I share the passion that inspired the folks at Barnacle Press to attempt to solve this great mystery of the early comics pages, and I appreciate their attempt to do so. Barnacle’s digitized collections of complete runs of old comic strips have been incredibly helpful to me over the years as I’ve combed through hundred-plus-year-old comics—in other words, strips that you can’t exactly pick up at your local comic shop these days! I understand why one might be tempted to think R.J. Campbell was a good candidate without knowing Frink’s story.

Read George O. Frink: A Pioneer in Queer Cartooning (part one)

Read George O. Frink: A Pioneer in Queer Cartooning (part two).

In the first part of my essay on George O. Frink, a pioneer of queer cartoons in early 20th century newspapers, we reviewed the overwhelming evidence that indicates Frink created the lesbian-led Lucy and Sophie Say Goodbye and the shockingly queer contents of that 1905 comic strip.

There is only so much we can understand, however, about Frink’s work without knowing what remains of the story of the cartoonist himself. What I have learned of George O. Frink’s life paints an incomplete picture, but a provocative one. By examining his life, we will not only be able to track its many intersections with his cartooning—but also understand how Frink’s exploration of queer life through cartooning subtly shaped the tropes and styles of comics and animation from then until the present moment.



4 thoughts on “The Lucy and Sophie Cartoonist – Another Look (Updated with Part Two – A George Frink Profile)

  1. I am so delighted that Lucy and Sophie was created by Frink! I am pleased because:

    (1) I am rather Sapphic myself, and seeing these women displaying their affection out in public does my old heart good.

    (2) I am already a Frink fan. I am fascinated by his strip “Slim Jim VS the Force”. He may not have originated it; I am not sure. It is focused on one trope — that the Police Force, of some place, is determined to arrest Slim Jim, who always easily evades them, with a laugh. It is never stated, that I have seen, just why he is wanted. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t matter. It is irrelevant. It cuts out the cumbersome plotting, and literally cuts to the chase. The contest between the opposing sides is archetypal. It is a cosmic battle, with nothing behind it, except for itself. It is as much of an unresolveable endless cartoon see-saw as Krazy and Ignatz’s brick. To see it enacted over and over, always varied but always predictable, is as satisfying as watching a waterfall, always falling but never ending. They are probably still pursuing and escaping out there somewhere, in the firmament.
    I want to also mention another Frink strip I have seen, The Goat Family (1905-06). It is about — of course — a family of goats, Mother & Father and two offspring. They seem to live for the purpose of butting people with their heads. People anywhere and everywhere, for no reason except so that they cannot escape being butted. The people’s attempts to escape, or sometimes to confront, always end in a good hard wallop. The goats’ obsession and determination is the comedy. Simple and emphatic, with pratfalls galore.

    Frink deserves a plaque somewhere.

  2. Big thanks for picking up on the piece, D.D., and so glad to hear you enjoyed the article, Katherine! I think you’ve got a solid reading on Frink’s writing of Solly/Slim Jim here, and the connection to Krazy Kat certainly checks out to me. Funny you should mention the intriguing lack of point to the Slim Jim chase scenes–I have plenty of thoughts on that coming up on Part 2 I think you’ll enjoy!

  3. “I understand why one might be tempted to think R.J. Campbell was a good candidate without knowing Frink’s story.”

    I’ve been thinking about this strange affair today and it occurs to me now that K. Cooley doesn’t understand that there are some who are well versed in the study of cartoon art who can recognize an artist’s voice, or personality, by looking at a comic, the way one recognizes a friend’s voice on the telephone. Being told a more or less persuasive story doesn’t change the situation that the Frink comic he shows, with its depth of field and crackly angles and energy, all typical of Frink, is incompatible with the balloony lines and easy-going patterns of the Lucy and Sophie compositions. There are two distinct artistic personalities at work, one of whom is Frink and the other of whom shares a multitude of qualities with Robert Campbell, who drew many pretty ladies adorning the Sunday magazine pages of the same issues of the newspaper, all of whom had a tendency to look exactly like Lucy and Sophie. “One” does not ascribe works according to artists’ complicated backstories, or at least not until the primary issue of the looks of things have been analyzed.

    Also, “one” must not overlook convenience. Since Campbell was a staff artist, and therefore in the art-room at the time the comics were being drawn, it is easier to assume that he drew them himself rather than that he sat in the vicinity of someone else drawing in his style.

    I suspect K. Cooley had his story of queer sexuality all worked out before he realized somebody else had already tackled the problem of the anonymity more than a year ago. That left him with the determination to double down and just do his best to belittle the efforts of his imagined competitors:
    “What seems to be a *gut impression* that gradually morphs into a definitive conclusion,” he says of our well-researched proposal.
    “ I am unsettled by the decision to present this *guesswork* as definitive fact…” 
    I confess to finding his arrogance, not to mention hostility, quite irritating, and again, because he can’t “see” drawings except in the ways that they may be of use to his agenda, it does not occur to him to allow the possibility that others do.

    While not everything he writes is annoying, I am left with a feeling that it is probably best not to trust any of it.

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