CSotD: California, here I come!

As you are reading this, I am en route to the AAEC Convention in San Francisco, which I will report on in the coming days. While you wait, and while I fly, here is what you’d have read in a California paper had you picked one up a century ago today. 1923 was a pretty good era in cartooning.

It was a pretty good era in a lot of movies, too, though talkies were still a few years away. Marion Davies was a major star, though best remembered today for her boyfriend William Randolph Hearst’s insistence on making her a great dramatist rather than a light comedienne, this being an example. Elinor Glyn also wrote the article that was made into Clara Bow’s breakout hit “It,” which you should find if you haven’t already seen it.

This one looks kinda promising. The term “pretentious” appears to have taken on a new meaning in the last 100 years.

Radio had also moved from something assembled by electronic nerds to a mainstream medium of entertainment. No more parts or kits: You could buy sets fully assembled and ready to go!

As for cartoons, they weren’t confined to the comics page and had a role in the sports sections of major newspapers.

As for editorial cartoons, they mattered enough that this Spanish-language paper ran them, even if it had to purchase them from Anglo cartoonists like Douglas Rodger.

There were hopes that the League of Nations, founded after the Great War, would prevent another, but Harold Wahl appears to have had his doubts.

Dorman Smith apparently felt the president should focus on domestic problems, agriculture still being a major part of the economy.

Ding Darling also came to the relief of farmers this week, noting the impact on them of a large wheat crop and low wheat prices, and the government’s inability to use tariffs and credits to offset the problem.

Ding had more than one arrow in his quiver and this slice-of-life cartoon ran in papers that week. He was a giant in editorial cartooning but is more remembered today as a conservationist who designed the first duck stamps and has a wildlife refuge and some other wild places named for him.

Skeezix was still a toddler in those days, having been found on Walt Wallet’s doorstep two years earlier and, like other Gasoline Alley characters, set to grow up with the strip.

Freckles was another growing child in a major strip. He eventually became a teenager more realistic and less girl-crazy than Archie Andrews; more of a Wally Cleaver type.

Speaking of girl-crazy, Toots and Casper was a major hit, one of several strips in which a goofy looking man was married to a gorgeous young woman. If that represented some wish-fulfilment on the part of cartoonists, it appealed to readers as well, and I’d note that you don’t have to be 100 years old to remember it, if you’ve seen TV sitcoms like The Life of Riley, Make Room for Daddy or King of Queens.

Hey, we can’t all be as handsome as Ralph Kramden.

Doings of the Duffs was another strip that appeared everywhere, though I’d guess that, while this episode of the strip may be 100 years old, the gag is somewhat older.

Well, classic jokes in classic strips, right?

Petey offers a fresher gag, but while it made me laugh, it also reminded me of Guy de Maupassant’s The Necklace, which everyone over 60 years old read in seventh grade but I don’t suppose anyone does today.

There’s much more call for diversity in junior high literature today, though there was a whole other type of diversity on the comics page a century ago. Not the sort currently wanted.

The Katzenjammer Kids are still around, though in reruns and toned down considerably, but this is actually the Captain and the Kids, drawn by the original artist for a different syndicate, a story well-known enough that, instead, I’ll steer you to these thoughts from a for-real German person who has a perspective on the pair that you may not have read before.

No need to comment about that cook, beyond “What the hell were we thinking?” with emphasis on the “we.” But that’s how it was.

JR Williams offered a much gentler type of humor in Out Our Way, with slice-of-life gags that offered a peek inside the household of perhaps a generation before, with excursions to the workplace and out West. It was only about a year old in 1923, but quickly became very popular and was soon a fixture in papers around the nation.

Clare Briggs joined in the slice-of-life trend with When a Fellow Needs a Friend, sometimes spelled “Feller,” though this particular piece features an older “fellow/feller” than the usual kids depicted.

Our Boarding House was another of the many single-panels that appeared about this time, though it was less slice-of-life than the others, with more ridiculous exchanges and more absurd characters. It also had continuing story arcs, which were more often seen in four-panel strips.

For instance, this obsession with Buster’s attempt to lose weight followed in the next day’s Sunday multi-panel version:

Finally, another well-known contributor to comics, Gluyas Williams, offered this slice-of-life example of how nothing has changed a whole lot in the past century.

But now I have to pack up and head out. Watch for the update tomorrow.

7 thoughts on “CSotD: California, here I come!

  1. Popular memory of the 1920s is of the boom times. However, farmers were struggling economically for the entire decade. After WWI ended, grain prices fell as demand eased, and Europe began producing more grain again. Technology made increasing yields easier, and more land came under cultivation. Prices dropped. So, what did farmers have to do? They put more land under cultivation. It was a Red Queen’s Race.

    Then in the American Midwest, Mother Nature decided to be a real bitch about it, and BOOM, drought and the Dust Bowl.

  2. The “ugly guy, hot wife” may be THE most common sitcom trope.
    Even Marge Simpson was reworked to be more of a bombshell than her original appearance.

    And yes, words very much change over time. From my own experience “gay” certainly doesn’t mean the same thing today as it did 100 years ago…

  3. “No need to comment about that cook, beyond ‘What the hell were we thinking?’ with emphasis on the ‘we.’ But that’s how it was.”

    A couple years ago I was reading on article on Cracked about the old Captain Marvel character Steamboat, and the sentiment was “Steamboat was drawn so racistly you’d be forgiven for assuming he wasn’t even meant to be human.”

    Pretty much EVERY black character looked like that in those days, they didn’t even try to portray them as anything else. It’s pretty damn ridiculous, especially when all the white characters look perfectly normal…

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