Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Remembering Raeburn Van Buren

John Adcock & Stephen L. Harris

COMIC vs ADVENTURE. In 1946, speaking (and sketching) at a Rotary Club luncheon, Raeburn Van Buren, author of the comic strip Abbie an’ Slats, “termed the name ‘comic’ a misnomer as applied to the newspaper comics and said they are really ‘adventure’ strips which can do much to mold public sentiment regarding admirable character traits.” I always thought Abbie an’ Slats was an adventure, often a comic adventure, but it was also a soap opera, based on melodrama, and a great human comedy.

[1] Early Sunday page, 1938.
KANSAS CITY. Raeburn Lamar Van Buren was born in Pueblo, Colorado, in 1891 and grew up in the West Bottoms of Kansas City.
“The Van Burens lived in the West Bottoms, one of the poorer districts of KC. It was near the slaughterhouses and when the wind was just right the stench was horrific. My grandmother told me that everyone would complain that Mr. Armour had just taken his shoes off. Van’s father, my great grandfather with the name of George Lincoln Van Buren, was an inventor and ran a store of some kind.
[2] West Bottoms from the railroad yards, c.1899.
KC was a wide open town in those days, the cowboys came in with the herds and the foremen stayed at the Blossom House where my other grandmother was the hotel stenographer. She once took dictation from the real Virginian who was sending a letter back to the Judge at Medicine Bow. This was written up in the Star or the Times.

One of Van’s best boyhood friends in KC was Charles ‘Casey’ Stengel. Once my grandmother was in the hospital having her appendix out, I think, and Casey, always the clown, had her laughing so badly they had to throw him out. When he managed the Yankees, every now and then my eldest sister got to go to the Stadium and sit in the dugout during a game. I never had that chance. Darn!… I anyway, was a New York Giant fan.”
Stephen L. Harris
[3] Raeburn Van Buren at the Kansas City Star.
KANSAS CITY STAR. The Lamars — source of Van Buren’s middle name — came from Georgia, and settled in southern Indiana in 1800, where Van Buren’s mother was born. He began his career as a sketch artist on the Kansas City Star newspaper. Van Buren told a reporter that “For the next three and a half years I did an average of 20 drawings a week for the Star, ranging from sports and political cartoons to pictures of fires, accidents, murders, and courtroom trials, for the princely stipend of $15 a week.”
“Van basically learned his craft as a sketch artist on the KC Star under the guidance of Harry Wood, the Star’s art editor. Wood and his family went to the same church as Van’s family and during the Christmas rush hired Van as a temp to draw advertisements, so Van quit school, thinking he had a full-time job. When the rush was over he was let go. When Ralph Stout the managing editor asked where the kid was, Wood brought him back on the staff and paid his salary out of his own, Wood’s, pocket. When Van came to New York City he did take a course at the Art Students League.

Van is my great uncle. My grandfather was Andrew Scott Harris, who came to the US from Glasgow, recruited to play soccer. Uncle Rae, we called him, grew up in the Kansas City slums. His sister, Vea Van Buren, quite an artist in her own right — she was a designer of children’s clothes in New York and won some kind of award for design that was quite prestigious — married Arnold Hofmann, a wannabe writer, also from KC who, with Van, worked on the legendary KC Star (Hemingway, Russel Crouse, et al.) and then went to New York City where he became the foreign editor of the old New York Herald. Arnold’s younger brother also worked on the Star and then became a reporter for the upstart New York Daily News in the 1920s.

Hemingway was on the KC Star at the same time as my grandfather, Arnold Hofmann. There were many blackguards and rascals back then including Lionel Moise, who some say Hemingway patterned his macho lifestyle after. He even wrote a monograph about Moise.

Another character was Courtney Ryley Cooper, Van’s closest friend. Cooper was a friend of Buffalo Bill, ran a circus, wrote dozens of books, had two short stories accepted by the Saturday Evening Post on the same day and claimed that he could write 16,000 publishable words a day. His beat on the Star was called the Shortstop Run, the same beat Hemingway landed a few years later.”
Stephen L. Harris 
[4] Neysa McMein, before the war.
NEW YORK. Van Buren moved to New York in 1913, encouraged by a cartoon sale to Life magazine, and shared a Bohemian apartment with actor William Powell, artist Thomas Hart Benton and caricaturist Ralph Barton, all from Missouri. Ralph Barton was celebrated for his Jazz Age caricature, delineated for The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Judge, Life, and Puck.
“When he was rooming with William Powell, Ralph Barton, a great character who chronicled the Jazz Age (when his wife the actress Carlotta Monterey, left him to marry the playwright Eugene O’Neill, he opened Gray’s Anatomy to the heart, stuck a lit cigarette in his mouth and then shot himself in the temple — his suicide ran two columns on the front page of the New York Times) and Thomas Hart Benton. Benton was stabbed in the stomach by one of his models and Benton, naked, a towel wrapped around the wound, chased her down the hall!

Benton did a portrait of Van and gave it to him, but it was too modern for my uncle so he gave it back and Benton overpainted the canvas.

When Van was living in New York with Benton, Barton and Powell, their studio apartment was in the Lincoln Arcade where the Lincoln Center now stands. It was a pretty rundown place and you could hear the rats rattling along in the rafters. Most of the residents were “old ladies with parrots,” Van once told me.

In the apartment right above Van’s lived Neysa McMein. She was from Illinois and also a struggling artist. She later became famous for illustrating covers for McCall’s Magazine. She hung out with many of the Algonquin Round Table clan — Alexander Woollcott, Franklin Pierce Adams (aka F.P.A.) and Robert Sherwood, among others — and brought Van into their circle where he spent time learning to play poker. All the men pursued Neysa with a passion and when she wanted Van she’d stamp her foot on the floor and he’d scamper up the fire escape to her apartment. She also posed for him. She later moved to a much more upscale apartment building, called the Shropshire, and there she had one of New York’s most sophisticated salons.”
Stephen L. Harris
[5] Raeburn Van Buren in uniform.
[6] ‘Discipline,’ cover drawing by Pvt. R. Van Buren, Co. E, 107th Inf., Wadsworth Gas Attack and The Rio Grande Rattler, February 9, 1918.    
GAS ATTACK. Van Buren served as a private in the 107th Regiment, New York’s ‘Silk Stocking Regiment,’ which was incorporated into the 27th New York ‘Empire’ Division, which was attached to the British Fourth Army. He was one of the art editors and illustrators of Gas Attack, a WWI trench magazine, started in 1916 as The Rio Grande Rattler, then retitled Wadsworth Gas Attack and The Rio Grande Rattler, and finally Gas Attack and The Gas Attack. The New York Times compared Van Buren’s drawings in WWI to the great British artist Bruce Bairnsfather.

[7] “Must go now!” – from a letter home to mother, 1918.
“I wrote a book, “Duty, Honor, Privilege: New York's Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line — based on my long chats with Van at his Great Neck studio and a huge batch of letters he wrote from the Western Front. He and I were pretty close.
 [8] “Dear, dear Mother” – a letter home, August 28, 1918.
[9] ‘A Little Close Order Work,’ cover drawing for Gas Attack of the New York Division, April 20, 1918.
[10] ‘Army Habits We Must Forget,’ comic strip in The Gas Attack, special and final issue ‘!home again!’, March 1919.
When Van came back from the war, he gave up the Bohemian life of the Big Apple, married his hometown sweetheart, Fern Ringo, and moved out to the suburbs, to Great Neck. There his father built him a snug studio in the garage. That’s where he worked for the next 50, 60 years. The studio was narrow, the walls lined with artwork (not just his), his bayonet from the war and two pistols. He had a cot in it where he took naps. He had to draw 365 strips a year, including the many-paneled Sunday pages. He had to get ahead of the game so he could take time off in the summer to fish in the Ozarks and time off in the winter to head for Florida. In the Ozarks, the family property had a famous cave where the Jesse James movie was filmed, starring Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda (released in 1939). If you ever see the movie you’ll see the cave and the river flowing by. Stephen L. Harris
[11] Gas Attack, half-page, 1918.
[12] Gas Attack, 1918.

ILLUSTRATOR. Before and after World War I, Raeburn Van Buren contributed over 700 illustrations to magazines like Green Book, Screenland, Photoplay, Rotarian, Life, Collier’s, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, Liberty, Esquire and The Saturday Evening Post. One of his specialties was the glamor girl, who adorned the front of numerous Sunday newspaper supplements, and continued to appear in the Abbie an’ Slats comic strip to its end. In 1932 Van Buren illustrated Fifty Years of New York Steam Service, in color, for the New York Steam Corporation.

[13] The Dude.
GOSSIP COLUMN. In 1936 Van Buren was an object of notice of the New York gossip columnist O.O. McIntyre, who called him the “Dude of the illustrators,” and (falsely) claimed that Van Buren started his career as “a circus tumbler.” Rae Van Buren, he wrote, “is considered a fashion plate among illustrators, even topping at times James Montgomery Flagg and the extravagantly shirted Russell Patterson. Like most nifty dressers, his ensembles are studies in color contrasts. Someday the hue is an autumnal leaf brown and the vest a sedate shade of ash gray relived by touches of salmon pink.” Patterson was renowned for his “glamor girls” and Van Buren shared his passion for pinups.

[14] Illustration for ‘Star of the North’ by Frank Williams, in Photoplay magazine, February 1916.
“Slats and Van are one and the same. Red-haired and freckled. The red comes from the Dutch side of the family. Charlie Dobbs was patterned after my father. Crabtree Corners was modeled after Pineville, Missouri, where Van always went to fish and where his father (my great grandfather) had built a resort of log cabins — “Crag o’ Lea” he called it.’ Stephen L. Harris

[15] Abbie an’ Slats original art.
ABBIE AN’ SLATS. Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant made its debut in February 1937, and that year saw the beginning of the Golden Age of comic books. Abbie an’ Slats began on Monday, July 12, 1937, distributed by United Feature Syndicate. Bathless Groggins, the unwashed old man of the southern town of Crabtree Corners, eventually took over as star of the Sunday strip. Van Buren was 46 years old when he took on the job. Abbie an’ Slats was carried by over 400 newspapers until its demise on January 30, 1971. In 1958 the artist was named “Cartoonist of the Year” by the Quaker City Lodge of the B’nai B’rith in ceremonies at Philadelphia, Pa. Previous winners were Al Capp, Milton Caniff, and George Wunder.

[16] May 5, 1956.
Al CAPP. Abbie an’ Slats began in 1937, ghostwritten by Al Capp (Alfred Gerald Caplin). One of Capp’s obituarists called him the “grey eminence” behind the strip, which sounds a bit sinister. Capp wrote the strip until 1945 and turned the scripts over to his brother Elliot Caplin. Allen Saunders noted that the majority of authors of comic strip continuity labored behind the scenes. Royalties were shared equally.
“Many times Van had to go to some hotel where Capp was holed up with a woman and get him to write the continuity. When he didn’t, Van did.” Stephen L. Harris
[17] December 6, 1958.
ELLIOT CAPLIN. Elliot Caplin was born at New Haven, Connecticut on December 25, 1913. In addition to Abbie an’ Slats he wrote continuities for the strips Dr. Bobbs, Big Ben Bolt, Long Sam (illustrated by Bob Lubbers), and Heart of Juliet Jones.

[18] November 8, 1958.
“When Burne Hogarth quit the Tarzan strip Van was asked to draw it. He bowed out, but took over the Tarzan strip as art director, hired Bob Lubbers to draw it and his own son, Richard Van Buren, to write the continuity. Bob Lubbers, who grew up near Great Neck, used to come to Van’s studio as a teenager and show him drawing’s he made while in high school. Every once in a while my cousin would put me into the Tarzan strip… Cool.
[19] May 5, 1955.
I recall Van telling me he was furious with Al Capp because he took Lubbers away from the Tarzan strip. Van had him replaced by John Celardo, who then drew Tarzan for about ten years.” Stephen L. Harris
[20] April 21, 1956.
RETIREMENT. Raeburn L. Van Buren retired Abbie an’ Slats in 1971 and died at the age of 96 years and 11 months, following a fall at his home in Manhasset, New York, Long Island, on December 29, 1987. Van Buren was posthumously honored by the National Cartoonist Society in 1989 with an election to its Hall of Fame.

[21] September 27, 1958.
[22] Kellogg’s All-Bran cereal advertisement, 1940.

READ MORE about Stephen L. Harris’ book Duty, Honor, Privilege: New York’s Silk Stocking Regiment and the Breaking of the Hindenburg Line — HERE.

Gas Attack issues are available in several digital collections — HERE, HERE and HERE.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Coming Soon: Ulrich Merkl’s ‘Dinomania’

by Ulrich Merkl

IN 1934 Winsor McCay (of Little Nemo in Slumberland fame) hit a nail right on the head — a nail that we didn’t know existed! So, I tried to give you THREE books in one — titled:

★FIRST★ The discovery and reconstruction of Winsor McCay’s last masterpiece, Dino, a comic strip about the adventures of a giant dinosaur exploring New York City and the East Coast. Left unfinished on McCay’s desk at his death in July 1934, at 64 years of age, these pictures were never published before. 

[1] 1933 ‘Technocracy,’ the original art for a Winsor McCay editorial drawing.
Follow me on an exciting, years-long journey reassembling these six Sunday pages, based on original artwork and assorted images later used by Winsor McCay’s son Robert in a Little Nemo revival.

[2] 1908 – Carnegie’s Diplodocus, Paris, contemporary photograph.

★SECOND★ The chapter on the history of dinosaurs in comic strips and animated cartoons clearly demonstrates that Winsor McCay was the principal pioneer behind the ‘living dinosaur’ theme in popular culture. He drew the first convincing comic-strip dinosaur in 1905 (in his Dream of the Rarebit Fiend series), the first collapse of a mounted dinosaur skeleton in 1906 (in Little Sammy Sneeze), and the first animated dinosaur ever to appear on a movie screen in 1914 (Gertie the Dinosaur). By sustaining the flow of brilliant comic strips and editorial cartoons over the years, he made sure that dinosaurs were here to stay.

[3] 1921The Pet, Winsor McCay animated cartoon still.

And in 1921, with his animated cartoon The Pet, he single-handedly founded the entire ‘giant monster attacks metropolis’ genre, predating Willis O’Brien’s movie spectacle of a brontosaurus attacking London in the climax of The Lost World (1925), or a giant ape in New York City in King Kong (1933), or films like Godzilla (1954) and Jurassic Park (1993).

[4] 1933King Kong.

★THIRD★ Finally, my book reveals how King Kong, one of the most influential films of all time, owes many iconic scenes to comic strips by Winsor McCay, including that memorable image in screen history, the giant gorilla fighting a duel to the death with a group of war planes atop the Empire State Building. Indeed, McCay’s comic strips did much to anchor the now familiar theme of havoc wrought in the streets of Manhattan in the collective human consciousness.

[5] 1905A drunken New York Giant in an early Dream of the Rarebit Fiend strip.
[6] 1919 — Air travel by dinosaur with the ‘N.Y., Chicago & Frisco Express,’ McCay editorial drawing.

“…Rediscovered original art, drawn by Winsor McCay, lettered by his son Robert…”
[7] 1933 Dino, comic strip art by Winsor McCay.
[8] 1933 Dino, to be continued.
“…Winsor McCay single-handedly founded the entire ‘giant monster attacks metropolis’ genre…”

[9] 2014, preliminary cover design.

Fantagraphics Books, Inc. in Seattle, Washington, expects to publish my book — Dinomania; The lost art of Winsor McCay, the secret origins of King Kong, and the urge to destroy New York — in June 2015. Read more details HERE

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On Webster’s Wall – The Thrill That Comes Once In A Lifetime

“Take all that stuff off the walls and get rid of it —”
T.H. WEBSTER drew this large one-panel cartoon for the New York Tribune daily newspaper of 2 October 1937, in his series The Thrill That Comes Once In A Lifetime, and thought up the joke, captioned ‘The new art editor decides to clean house,’ staged in an editor’s-office with walls filled with original artworks, 17 of the visible drawings are signed and drawn by different American fellow artists. Webster, ‘Webby’ for friends, was 52 at the time. Did Webster enjoy himself composing this wall? Did he personally know these originals? Or the artists? Were there any New York Tribune colleagues among them? The eldest of the 17 shown here was born in 1851, the youngest in 1884. How many of them were not among the living anymore? Who was the eldest? And who was the youngest? Were all these sub-signatures ‘signed’ by Webster himself, you think?

(1865-1934, Dan Smith)
The Story of Superstitions
(1851-1928, Arthur Burdett Frost)
Our Cat Eats Rat Poison
3. F. Opper
(1857-1937, Frederick Burr Opper)
Happy Hooligan
(1875-1974, James Guilford Swinnerton)
Little Jimmy, Little Bears And Tykes
5. Frueh
(1880-1968, Alfred Joseph Frueh)
theatrical caricature
(1880-1944, George Joseph Herriman)
Krazy Kat
7. ZIM
(1862-1935, Eugene Zimmerman)
This & That About Caricature
8. Davenport
(1867-1912, Homer Calvin Davenport)
Cartoons by Homer C. Davenport
9. J.N. DiNg
(1876-1962, Jay Norwood Darling)
Tillie Clapsaddle
10. C.G. BUSH
(1842-1909, Charles Green Bush)
The Political Cartoon
11. TAD
(1877-1929, Thomas Aloysius Dorgan)
Tad’s Favorite Indoor Sports
(1870-1949, John Tinney McCutcheon)
Bird Center cartoons
(1875-1930, Clare Aloysius Briggs)
When a Feller Needs a Friend
14. Herbert Johnson
(1878-1946, Herbert Johnson) 
Cartoons by Herbert Johnson
15. T.S. Sullivant
(1854-1926, Thomas Starling Sullivant)
Fables for the Times
16. Art Young
(1866-1943, Henry Arthur Young)
Journey through Hell
17. F. Fox
(1884-1964, Fontaine Fox)
Toonerville Folks
(1885-1952, Harold Tucker Webster)
The Timid Soul

Rob Stolzer, Brian Walker, Richard Marschall, Ulrich Merkl and Alex Jay 


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Golden Harp: Ragnar le Viking

by John Adcock

Ragnar le Viking was an epic Hal Foster-inspired tale of the adventures of a Viking prince, on sea and land, with fantastic scenes from Norse mythology. Ragnar was drawn by Portuguese artist Eduardo Teixeira Coelho (under his pseudonym ‘Martin Sièvre’) and written by Frenchman Jean Ollivier. 

1955 [2] La harpe d’Or, in Vaillant 521.

The first serial, La harpe d’Or, was published in the French comic magazine Vaillant (beginning in No. 515) in 1955. The last six stories — one serial, and five complete episodes — appeared in 1969 with Vaillant’s title changed to Pif Gadget.

1955 [3] La frontière de l’Enfer, in Vaillant 561.

Eduardo Teixeira Coelho was born January 4, 1919, in Angra do Heroismo (Azores), Portugal. He signed his comics with ‘ETC,’ ‘ETCoelho’ or ‘Martin Sièvre.’ For unknown reasons older French articles about him garbled his name as ‘Etcheveri,’ which was only corrected in more recent texts. Starting in 1943, he was one of the most frequent contributors to the biweekly Portuguese magazine O Mosquito, creating the series Sigurd o Herói and O Caminho do Oriente. Other Portuguese artists like António Cardoso Lopes Júnior (b.1907), Jayme Cortez (b.1926) or José Ruy (b.1930), together with noted Spanish names such as Emilio Freixas (b.1899) or Jesús Blasco (b.1919), were a few of the other author-artists present. 

1958 [4] La fille du roi Igvar, in Vaillant 721.

O Mosquito ran from 1936 to 1953, beginning at a time when in France, Belgium, Spain and Italy la bande dessinée historique — the comic strip set in historical times — was emerging. Hal Foster’s Prince Valiant appeared in O Mosquito in 1946 which had a tremendous influence on Coelho’s style of drawing. Also working as a book illustrator in 1953 he illustrated an adaptation of Don Quixote published in Portugal. He did four episodes of Falcão Negro for O Mosquito, a magazine that came to a rather abrupt end. Portuguese magazine Cavaleiro Andante reprinted some of his strips.

1959 [5] Les enfants Bersek, in Vaillant 738.

In late 1954 Coelho left Portugal first for Spain, then France, England, France again and finally Italy. In late 1954 and early 1955, after he went abroad, five comic book series for children were still published in Portugal, in varying formats. For decades those would remain the last stories he did for Portugal. In France Coelho took employment with Vaillant (later Pif Gadget) where he illustrated the series Ragnar le Viking, Davy Crockett, Yves le Loup, Erik le Rouge, Robin des Bois and Le Furet (the ferret). Most of his work was done in collaboration with comic strip scenarists Jean Ollivier and Roger Lécureux (both born in 1925). In 1964 he illustrated Cartouche for Jeunesse et Vacances.

1955 [6] La frontière de l’Enfer, in Vaillant 565.

Yellow Kid Award. Over his long career Coelho published comics in Spain, Germany, and Italy. In Great Britain much of his work was published by the Amalgamated Press since the mid-1950s. In 1973 the talented ‘ETC’ received the Yellow Kid award for Best Foreign Artist at the Lucca festival in Italy. He passed away on May 31, 2005, in Florence, Italy.

1960 [7] Le jarl Sigurg, in Vaillant 772.

Eduardo Teixeira Coelho’s UK Comics List
Bowmen of King Harry 
(in Comet 380-393, 29 Oct 1955 to 28 Jan 1956)
The Story of Sleeping Beauty 
(in Playhour 82-87, 5 May to 9 June 1956)
Robin Hood and the Spectre of Doomsday Keep 
(in Thriller Comics Library 134, June 1956)
Robin Hood and the Sheriff’s Ruby Ring 
(in Thriller Comics Library 158, Jan 1957)
Robin Hood and Will Scarlet’s Revenge 
(in Thriller Comics Library 162, Feb 1957)
Robin Hood and the Saxon Feud 
(in Robin Hood Annual 1957)
Robin Hood and the Red Fox 
 (in Robin Hood Annual 1957)
The Story of Wat O’ The Whip  
(in Robin Hood Annual 1957)
The Story of Aladdin 
(Playhour 100-105, 8 Sep to 13 Oct 1956)
The Story of Puss-in-Boots 
(in Playhour 106-111, 20 Oct to 24 Nov 1956)
Knights of the Red Eagle 
(in Thriller Picture Library 172, May 1957)
Jack and the Beanstalk 
(in Playhour 134-137, 4 May to 25 May 1957)
The Story of Tom Thumb 
(in Playhour 141-147, 22 June to 3 Aug 1957)

ca.1969 [8] A photograph of the one and only, elusive Eduardo Teixeira Coelho (1919-2005).
THANKS to Arthur Lortie, Steve Holland and Leonardo De Sá, author (with António Dias de Deus) of the career retrospective E.T. Coelho: A Arte e a Vida, 1998.