Sunday, January 12, 2014

Larry's Cartoon Vault: Comic Postcards

When was the last time you mailed a postcard?
In our continuing documentation of the demise of print media, the postcard may be another form of cultural ephemera you can kiss good-bye.

Aside from the ‘Wish-you-were -here” school of photo landscapes and sites there’s been a long tradition of comic and novelty postcards – often topically funny, lurid, risqué and sometimes just plain strange.

Here from the Vault are some true oldies by three of the most renowned cartoonists of the late 19th and early 20th century.

R.F. Outcault- creator of what is commonly held to be the first comic strip The Yellow Kid and creator of the once enormously popular Buster Brown drew these in 1905.

Frederick Burr Opper

Opper by Opper
He drew for the humor weekly Puck through the 1880's and ‘90’s  until lured away by William Randolph Hearst to create comic strips for the New York Journal such as And Her Name was Maud and Happy Hooligan.

Opper's most famous creation, Happy Hooligan, 1906

F.M. Howarth- a mainstay of humor rags such as Puck and Life created the strip Lulu and Leander in 1903.

Some of the above cards (the ones with sepia hued phantom images) by both Opper and Howarth are “Magic Cards” produced by Hearst papers as a promotion circa 1906.

The “punchline” was invisible and required the viewer to “run a hot flat iron over the back of these postcards or hold them over a gas jet, or a lamp, or a burning match (but be careful not to set them on fire)---and see what happens”.

By doing so the punchline image would be obtained (along with a few burnt fingers perhaps).

Numerous other cartoonists drew cartoon postcards including the renowned Clare Victor Dwiggins aka Dwig.

And the unknown (to me anyway) Myer.

On the other hand some cartoonists specialized in comic postcards.  Three figures who dedicated a great deal of the creative career to cartoon postcards are below: Walter Wellman, Donald McGill and the nearly feral Hillbilly Larry Smith.

Walter Wellman drew cartoon postcards, comic valentines and novelty cards of all sorts for decades.

Here’s an original drawing from my collection by Wellman. It appears to be an incomplete drawing for a postcard drawn probably sometime before WWI.

British artist, Donald McGill usually specialized in vulgar and racy (by British standards of the day) cards that were hugely popular in England.  Apparently there’s a Donald McGill Postcard Museum in England.

A tame McGill card circa 1924

Hillbilly Larry Smith often bartered cartoon drawings for hamburgers and beer.

He also drew a lot of postcards like these:

This black and white one was used by Smith himself back in 1944 just as he was being discharged from the military.

And another one

Somebody probably has written a history of the comic postcard but I’ve never seen it.    Here’s a sort of bibliography for the three cartoonists I’ve just featured.

The Postcard Collector magazine  v8 #11 Nov. 1990    Features a brief account on Walter Wellman. 

The World of Donald McGill  by Elfreda Buckland,  Blanford Press 1984

The Brass Ring by Bill Mauldin  (Mauldin describes the colorful Hillybilly Larry in this memoir—the first cartoonist Mauldin ever met).

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