Occasionally while perusing the collection, I’ll come across something that feels strangely familiar but isn’t anything I’ve ever heard of before. Such was the case with A. A. Wallgren’s “The Muddledups” original comic strips, which form part of The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection. Upon first glance at the strips in the art cases, based on the style alone I immediately thought they had to be 1970s, potentially tied to underground comix.
See for yourself. It was to my great surprise to discover that this strip was actually from the 1930s.
A native of Philadelphia, PA, Wallgren’s biggest claim to fame was the cartooning he did for the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) in The Stars and Stripes during World War I. In R.C. Harvey’s write-up on Wallgren in the March-April 1999 issue of Comic Art Professional Society (CAPS), he states that A.A. Wallgren was to WWI what Bill Mauldin was to WWII. And yet, like so many other unsung greats, his accomplishments seem lost to history.
A cartooning prodigy, by 18 Wallgren was creating sports cartoons for a number of newspapers in the city, and already had two running comic strips Inbad the Sailor and Ruff and Ready, with the addition of his fantastical Sammy and Sue and Slobbery Slam in 1915, a spinoff of a Bud Counihan strip.
After joining the Marine Corps in 1917, his talents led to his work as a sign painter for military vehicles and facilities throughout France, and he was eventually recruited to work for The Stars and Stripes. Legend has it that Wallgren was notoriously ill-suited to military life, and especially to all responsibilities requiring deadlines and punctuality- even for his cartooning work. On multiple occasions he was under military discipline for drunkenness, or smuggling cognac into the barracks, and arriving late or not at all for particular posts. However, it’s clear that the AEF venerated him for his cartooning work, whether they had to hold him captive at the drawing table until he finished his latest cartoon (a true anecdote retold by one of his contemporaries) or had to track him down at bistros throughout Paris to beg him to draw. His most popular military cartoon character was for the American Legion magazine, the Saluting Demon, a meek soldier who instinctively saluted everything and anything that walked by, be it a horse or inanimate object.
After Wallgren’s time overseas, he returned home to the States where he did cartoons for Life, and created The Muddledups as well as Hoosegow Herman for his hometown newspapers.
The story ends when Wallgren was offered a daily and Sunday strip by the editor of the New York Morning World, but immediately turned it down. His logic in this decision, as explained to the prestigious editor, was that he didn’t want the two of them to grow to hate each other, as he was certain they would as soon as Wallgren patently would. He felt instead that they should maintain a liking for one another by not working together at all, quoted saying: “Right now, I like you, and you like me. I’m going on thirty, and at my age, I can’t afford to make enemies. Let’s stay friends. No comic strip, and no deadlines.”
Although we only highlighted The Muddledups in this particular post, be sure to keep up with the blog as we do have much more material by Wallgren that we’ll certainly be highlighting in the future. We think that Wallgren’s Muddledups strip is particularly perfect for highlighting his mastery of character design, backgrounds and layout. The squatness of his characters, their costuming and the wonderfully expressive faces they make are some of the liveliest of their time.