Local artist, writer, and comics scholar Kirk Taylor came by the Cartoon Library last week to donate the brand new Abrams ComicArts book “Bazooka Joe and his Gang”, for which he co-authored the introduction with Nancy Morse. Kirk had spent some time in our library in 2012 while piecing together his research for the book, and during that visit he shared with us a fascinating story about his personal connection to Wesley Morse, the unsung cartoonist who created Bazooka Joe. During Kirk’s recent visit, we chatted about his process and involvement with the project, and how he was able to use the Cartoon Library as a resource.
What is your connection to Wesley Morse?
Kirk: My great aunt Avonne Taylor passed away in 1992, and hidden away in her storage locker in California my family discovered a series of 80 illustrated love letters of, and for, her by Wesley Morse. They were on his personal stationary, with his address listed at the Hotel Des Artistes, a noted artists cooperative on 67th street in Manhattan. At the time I discovered these, nothing was published about Morse, so I held on to them for years before I understood the history. In 1996, “Tijuana Bibles: Art and Wit in America’s Forbidden Funnies” came out, with an introduction written by Art Spiegelman. In it, Spiegelman mentions that he could recognize the hand of a cartoonist named Wesley Morse as one of the artists in the old Tijuana Bibles, and that was where I first made the connection with who this man was from my great aunt’s letters. Based on the drawing style in the book, I knew it had to be him.
How did Avonne and Wesley know each other?
Kirk: Although she never talked about it with family during her life, my great aunt was a Ziegfeld Follies dancer in the 1920s, and kept exhaustive scrapbooks from those days. In 1922, during her time there, Wesley Morse was an illustrator for the Follies, long before entering the world of comics. Morse was a peer of greats like Alberto Vargas–one of the famous painters from the Ziegfeld days–and his murals were even painted on the walls of the New Amsterdam Theater lobby where the Follies were held at the time. The main photographer of the Follies was Alfred Cheney Johnston, who also had his studio in the Hotel Des Artistes, and the dancers would be coming and going all the time. It’s likely that they met there. My aunt stayed on with the Follies until 1925, and then went on to have success in film. Morse seems to have faded from employment with them in 1924, which is when he started emerging in comics.
Wow, so after you made the Tijuana Bible connection, how did you start discovering more?
Kirk: In 2007 I was able to track down Wesley Morse’s son, Talley Morse, through cartoonist Jay Lynch. Jay is also a fan of his work, and during exhaustive online searches to find more information, a comments thread on an art blog popped up in which Talley’s wife Nancy Morse mentioned that she was married to the son of the cartoonist who created Bazooka Joe, that cartoonist being Wesley Morse. Jay contacted Talley through Nancy, who was eager to talk to me about his father and my great aunt, and that is when ideas for working on a book first began. Jay Lynch, Talley and myself met up in New York and were able to visit the Topps headquarters, where the young artists on the creative staff were all excited to meet the son of the man whose cartoon character became a national icon. They all said that they looked specifically toward Morse’s work for the drawing style of the Bazooka Joe characters — he was totally celebrated at Topps.
When did the Bazooka Joe book start to come together?
Kirk: In 2009, I was put in touch with Charlie Kochman of Abrams Books, and told him about our ideas. Charlie had been interested in doing a series of books with Topps, Wacky Packages being the first one. By 2012, we were ready to work on it, and throughout the time leading up to that I was doing more and more research. I had made connections with people all over the world to learn more about Morse, including bubble gum historian Jeff Shepherd, much of whose collection of memorabilia is included in the Abrams book.
How did you come to use the Cartoon Library collection during your research?
Kirk: After working for the Follies, Wesley Morse started making comic strips for Hearst, including a feature written by slanguist H.C. Whitwer titled Switchboard Sally. The Cartoon Library has a run of the strip, so I began my research there to study his style. Being able to see these old strips was like being one step closer to the original art, and it was also informative to see how Morse’s line developed over the years as he went from working in illustration to the sequential comics format. I even think his cartoons of Sally were reminiscent of my great aunt! I was also able to connect Morse with the work of his contemporaries while at the Library. I knew that when he was living in New York in 1925 he was roommates with Chic Young [Blondie] while they were both working for King Features. At the time, Young was working on Dumb Dora, and I wanted to see if there were similarities in their style, as they were both finding their way in the comics form, still immature in the format. This research, and some of the strip collections themselves, will come into use for my next project which is underway right now with the Morse family — a comprehensive biography of Wesley Morse, which will ultimately be the most extensive one written on him. Currently, the piece in the Bazooka Joe book is the most that has ever been documented on this extremely prolific artist.
To keep up with the progress of Kirk Taylor’s upcoming book on Wesley Morse and view some of the gorgeous illustrated love letters sent to Kirk’s great aunt Avonne from the Taylor-Morse Collection, visit: http://taylormorsecollection.com/
If there is one thing that makes us swell with pride more than our own pious treatment of comic art here at the Cartoon Library, it’s seeing the meticulous process by which these pieces are repaired over at our incredible Preservation & Reformatting studio. We are lucky enough to have the expertise of the amazing conservator Harry Campbell at hand, who regularly picks up worn and torn items from us and nurses them back to health.
Recently, Harry and his staff worked on a series of old Puck magazines that needed rebinding. We took a trip over there to snap some photos, and take a look at the facility. There are few places in the world where comics get the kind of treatment that they do at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum!
Like many of the old humor periodicals we collect such as Punch and Judge, issues of Puck magazine were collected and bound into hardcover volumes. The particular collection of Puck that we focused our photos around for today was from 1879, containing the issues from Volumes 5 & 6. As you can see in the images below (click to enlarge), the spine has been damaged severely and the sections had begun to separate from the rest of the text block.
During our visit, we were able to watch Conservation Assistant Brenda Goodwin begin the careful work of deconstructing the volume in order to begin rebinding it with a new spine and casing. Below, an overview of the process through pictures:
With an x-acto knife and a steady hand, Brenda separated the textblock from the binding by slicing it out of the spine lining and endpapers.
The text block is then placed in a vertical book vice (lying press) to hold it steady, while Brenda cleans the old spine off. Because of the strength of the old glue and brittleness of the paper, a softening agent is applied to the spine in order to more easily scrape away the old adhesive. Once the spine has been cleaned and exposed, a new cloth spine lining is applied.
The loose sections from the volume, pictured earlier, are then re-sewn back into place through the new spine lining as seen below. Back in the vice, endbands chosen to match the original format as well as a hollow tube lining is then attached to the spine.
New endpapers are then attached and trimmed down, and the textblock is ready to be glued into its brand new case. The case has been made to the precise measurements of the original binding, with dyed book cloth and a fresh label to replicate the old one.
Once the adhesive has dried and the book has been pressed, voila! We’re left with a brand new version of the same old book, ready to be read without worry of further damage. Below, the finished volume, and a spread from the J.A. Wales cover of Puck V. 5, No. 129.
We are so thankful to have the help of Harry, Brenda, and the rest of the Preservation & Reformatting crew! They are always hard at work on our materials, so we look forward to posting more process updates as they continue to revitalize our collection.
With Cinco de Mayo approaching, today on the blog we’re highlighting Gus Arriola’s comic strip Gordo. Arriola was a Mexican-American cartoonist, raised by his sisters in a Spanish-speaking family in Arizona- where he laid claim to learning English by reading the Sunday comics. His widely syndicated strip Gordo which ran from 1941-1985, was considered to be the first comic to introduce Mexican culture to America.
An important note about Gordo is that–having not visited Mexico himself until the 1960s–Arriola’s first inception of the characters was through a somewhat stereotypical lens. As a young cartoonist wanting to draw something new, light, and above all, fun- Arriola relied on the visually-identifiable concepts of Mexicans that were popular in Hollywood at the time. It wasn’t until 5 or 6 years in that he realized his strip was actually the only comics representation many American’s were getting of Mexican culture, leading him to put away his gimmicks and focus instead on purely reflecting Mexican life and folklore. Below, we can see an example of one of Arriola’s less-enlightened earlier strips from Gordo. When he purged his stereotype crutch, he got rid of the painful-to-read broken English his characters were using as well. However, he did maintain a heavy usage of Spanish language words. As a result, the strip has been credited with popularizing such words and phrases as “hasta la vista”, “amigo”, “muchacho”, “pinata”, “andales” and many many more. Arriola’s Gordo received wide praise from the Mexican Government, and was stated to have done more for changing the racist attitudes of American’s toward Mexicans than any other medium in its time.
Not only is John Backderf (also known as Derf and Derf Backderf) yet another incredibly talented Ohio-native cartoonist and OSU graduate whose collection resides here at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, but he also spent his grade-school days hanging around with serial killer and classmate Jeffrey Dahmer.
Derf has written his brand new graphic novel My Friend Dahmer about this experience, and we’re lucky enough to have him coming to speak about the new book as well as give a signing at this free event:
On Tuesday, May 15th at 7pm in the Wexner Center Film and Video Theater: Ohio State grad and Cleveland-based cartoonist Derf Backderf visits to discuss his new graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer, an account of growing up in the same small Ohio town as notorious serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Best known for his strip The City, Derf is a two-time Eisner Award nominee and received a Robert F. Kennedy Journalism award in 2006. Join us following the event for a book signing in the Wexner Center Store. More information here. This event was made possible in collaboration with the Wexner Center for the Arts.
In 2008 John Backderf donated his collection to The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum, including 2,450 items consisting of original art, proofs, tearsheets, clippings, promo materials, correspondence, and much much more. Many of the originals can be found here in our Art Database.
See you on May 15th!
Check it out: Not everything we collect is old, American, or even made of paper…
This piece is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. Delightfully satirical of American culture, Yannick Bourg and Philippe Huger created this 11 full-page brightly colored molded plastic three-dimensional comicbook-in-a-box that measures 13×18 inches that is Le Grand Rêve Americain (The Great American Dream)!
My knowledge of French is incredibly rusty, so I’ll go ahead and copy the item description: “…presenting an elaborate comic strip parodying and caricaturing American culture as seen from the outside, replete with gangsters, fast cars, and above all, exaggerated sexuality, featuring among other things repeated images of rather dramatically oversized female breasts” … “The story and execution resulted from a collaboration between Philippe Huger and Yannick Bourg, who adapted their work to a new technology developed by Philippe Schléret and Véronique Hauss. The molded plastic creates literal three-dimensionality and greatly enhances the effect of the caricatures and exaggeration inherent in the comic strip.”
We have never been happier to see a wrecking ball!
As of this past week, the stairs on the north entrance of the building have been taken down. We’re changing this aspect of the building to ensure easy accessability, and make the entrance feel as welcoming as possible to the public. Below, you can see a shot of the demolition on the stairs, and a detail of what the entrance will look like in a rendering of the plans.
We’re all very excited to watch renovations progress on our beautiful new home, and will continue to post updates about it through the move!
Edwina Dumm is one of our heroes here at the Cartoon Library, and we are extremely proud to have her collection in our archives. Beyond being an Ohio native–born in Upper Sandusky, in 1893–Edwina was the first woman in America to be employed as a fulltime editorial cartonist, on our own Columbus Daily Monitor. Her work was first published on August 7th, 1915 and her first signed cartoon appeared on November 27th, 1915. Dumm was a political cartoonist before she was able to vote, since the 19th Amendment granting women that right did not pass until 1920.
When the Monitor ceased in 1917, Edwina took the opportunity to fulfill her dream of moving to New York City to be an artist. Upon her arrival, she went to see newspaper columnist George Matthew Adams who had founded his own syndication service. Dumm showed him her strip “Meanderings of Minnie.” Adams liked it immediately and offered her a contract. She changed the characters in the strip to become “Cap Stubbs and Tippie”, and it debuted in 1918. The strip was a huge success, and ran for nearly half of a century. Edwina also enjoyed success as an illustrator, creating a cover for Life magazine in January of 1930, and illustrating several books including Burges Johnson’s Sonnets from the Pekinese. In 1978, she became the first woman to receieve the Gold Key Award from the National Cartoonist Society Hall of Fame.
Edwina retired from cartooning in 1966 at the age of 73, and passed away in New York City in April of 1990. To find out more about Edwina Dumm and see further samples of her work, please visit our Edwina Dumm Digital Exhibit.
My name is Caitlin McGurk, and I love Barbara Shermund.
One of the first female cartoonists at The New Yorker, Barbara was one of the most edgy, whimsical, and cutting cartoonists of the past century– yet you have probably never heard of her. It’s as entertaining and exhilirating to go through the Barbara Shermund collection here at The Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum as it is frusrating- how have we forgotten such a brilliant pioneer of early feminist gag cartoons? A quick google search for Barbara will retrieve a few art auctions of her work, Hilda Terry’s Wikipedia page, some extremely brief single-paragraph biographies, and one lovely but short rememberance by cartoonist Michael Maslin.
Luckily, New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly’s incredible book Funny Ladies: The New Yorker’s Greatest Women Cartoonists and Their Cartoons pays homage to Shermund again and again, and sheds some light on who she was. Letters between Shermund and cartoonist friend Eldon Dedini deconstruct the mystery, and just looking at her originals here at the Cartoon Library tell their own story.
Born in San Francisco in 1899, the daughter of a sculptor and an architect, Shermund was encouraged in her talents and attended The California School of Fine Arts. At 26, she moved to New York City where she began working for The New Yorker within its first four months of existence–both writing and drawing cartoons herself in the beginning. Contributing 8 covers for the magazine and hundreds of cartoons, Shermund’s humor was esstential for the times, and she later went on to become a mainstay at Esquire.
Donnelly writes of her, “She drew mostly about the New Woman, demonstrating an understanding of the newfound independence while not being afraid to poke fun at her. Her women were alternately clueless and strong, depending on the cartoon. This was the state of women at the time–some were experimenting, coming out of the home, and speaking their mind. Meanwhile flappers among them showed disdain for an education and just wanted to have fun. What comes through in many of the cartoons is that Shermund’s women did not need men”
With a sense of humor that hits you quick but is hard to pin down throughout the entirety of her career (her work changed quite drastically once she stopped writing her own gags), this transcience seemed to pervade most aspects of her life. Although she arrived in NYC in 1925, Shermund did not have a set address until much later in her life. She was considered the most well-travelled New Yorker cartoonist of the time, constantly taking off for another city or country, or spending her time staying with friends between Manhattan and Woodstock, NY. Without ever having a formal studio space, she preferred drawing at the kitchen table.
As seen in some of the pieces I’ve included in this post, Shermund’s characters were alive and astute. They spoke their mind about sex and marriage, smoked cigarettes and made fun of everything at a time when it was not so proper or common to see young women doing so. She was among the first three women to be seriously considered and eventually accepted as a member of the boys club that was the National Cartoonist Society in 1950. In Hilda Terry’s witty letter to the NCS requesting their admittal (Terry, Shermund, and Edwina Dumm), she suggests that they change their name to the National Men’s Cartoonist Society. Assertive and ambitious while still maintaining a charmingly sly repose, these strong women truly paved the way for their successors- and seemed to have fun doing so.
There is still much to uncover about Shermund’s life, and I’d like to thank Liza Donnelly for writing such a glorious and well-researched book that includes a bit of her history. We at the Cartoon Library would love to someday have an exhibit of Shermund’s work, and if any readers have more information on her we would love for you to share it!
To see a few more of my favorites from her collection of hundreds of originals, you can search for Barbara Shermund by name in our Cartoon Image Database.
Since our founding in 1977 by Lucy Shelton Caswell, the patron saint of cartoon-care, the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum has been curated by women. It is no secret that the world of cartooning is largely a man’s world, especially 30+ years ago when the Cartoon Library was first formed. With so much of the negative news and attention surrounding the treatment, representation, and position of many women in comics- it is an extra point of pride for us as females to celebrate running the largest collection of cartoon art in the world.
In the beginning of January 2011, the indomitable Jenny Robb became the head curator after Lucy’s retirement. Jenny had come to us from the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, where she was the head curator for five years, starting in 2000. With a background in history and museum studies, Jenny is a leading authority on political and editorial cartoon art, and an endless source of knowledge and passion for the form. As Jenny carries us through the transition of expansion into Sullivant Hall, she has pushed to bring on two new curators to help guide the way and help support the growth of our collection. One being myself (Caitlin McGurk), and the other Wendy Pflug- who I am thrilled to introduce below.
Wendy came on as the Associate Curator at the Cartoon Library just this past December of 2011. In the day-to-day, Wendy is essentially responsible for managing our entire collection. To prepare for our big move, she is doing a collection survey which consists of reviewing every single collection we have received since the 1970s, and assessing how we have cataloged it and how we provide access to it. An important part of this process is devising plans for arranging unprocessed collections: is maintaining the original order important for a specific collection, or is there another arrangement that would intuitively make for the highest ease of access? Where would a researcher look first? When working with a collection of the magnitude of the Cartoon Library, being able to understand what we have, how much we have, and what needs to be done to make it available and findable is essential in prioritizing the work process, though not at all simple. She hopes to have a complete survey by 2013. On top of Wendy’s collection assessment focus, she is also working with our Japanese Subject Specialist to devise a new collection development policy for our Manga collection of 17,000 volumes.
Wendy graduated from the University of Michigan with an MLIS in Archives and Records Management in 2004, and has worked with a fascinating range of archival collections since then. These have included The History Factory in Virginia, where she was contracted to catalog and organize the archives of a pharmaceutical company–Abbott Labs–including over 5,000 pharmaceutical samples. She has also worked for the African American Jazz Preservation Society of Pittsburgh as an archivist, with the records of the UE Union, and more. With an obvious thirst for learning about and mastering such unique collections in the past, diving into a cartoon art archive was just another welcomed challenge. Wendy feels that: “Processing is a puzzle- you have all of these separate pieces, but when you figure out how to put them together you can construct someone’s entire life, or the history of a corporation. Every piece matters, and you need each one to make sense of the rest.” She describes herself as a “generalist” or a “tour guide”, using her career as a way to spend life learning and understanding the history of others and the human condition. That is the humble and inspiring attitude of a natural-born librarian, and we are all absolutely thrilled to have her on board with us!
Now to quickly introduce- myself!
I’m Caitlin McGurk, the Visiting Curator here at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. I started this dream position a little over a month ago on February 1st, and couldn’t be happier to be here. My focus is on outreach and engagment, to further cultivate and raise awareness of our collection. This spans everything from running our social networking sites and blog, to working with contemporary cartoonists to keep our collection modernized, teaching classes at the Cartoon Library, assisting in the scheduling, planning and designing of exhibits, and more. With our upcoming move to Sullivant Hall, I hope to greatly increase our public presence, and someday turn Columbus into the top destination in America for cartoonists and comic fans alike! Hey, you never know.
As an avid comics fan and cartoonist/zinester myself, when going into school for my MLIS degree I was absolutely fixated on working with the comics medium- someway, somehow! The prophecy was fulfilled, and my professional experiences as a librarian have just about all involved working with comics. These include Marvel Comics, Columbia University’s Bulliet Comics Collection, The Center for Cartoon Studies, and more. I have also written for Diamond Comics’ Bookshelf magazine for educators and librarians, self published my own works, and try to remain active in the comics community at large. Becoming a comics librarian was the best idea I have ever had.
Thanks for keeping up with our blog, and I hope you’ll check back to find updates about female comics creators and contributors for the rest of Women’s History month!