Here Comes the Barnaby Truck

Barnaby exclusively in the Chicago Sun!” Here’s a photo of a Chicago Sun delivery truck in the 1940s.

Barnaby on Chicago Sun delivery truck

The occasion for sharing the photo is the quest for original Barnaby strips!  As readers of this blog know, Eric Reynolds and I are co-editing The Complete Barnaby for Fantagraphics.  We’re currently working on gathering strips from 1942-1943 — volume 1 (featuring those strips) is due out in April 2012.  Should you have any of these strips (or later ones), do drop me a line!  (My email address is at right, under “A note on mp3s.”)

Also, I love the fact that Crockett Johnson‘s comic strip is being used to sell newspapers.  Despite the many great strips being written these days (Cul de Sac, Doonesbury, Zits, Non Sequitur, etc.), you don’t see them deployed to help boost a paper’s circulation.  Which is a missed opportunity, I think.

Photo credit: Thanks to Charles Davis for sharing this! (Photographer unknown.)

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Crockett Johnson’s gonzo Bosco ad, c. 1960

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Crockett Johnson worked with Lou Bunin on some television advertisements.  But he had a hard time taking Madison Avenue seriously, as indicated by his parody of an ad for Bosco chocolate syrup (below).  Though it’s undated, Johnson (known to his friends as “Dave” ) seems to have sent it to Bunin in about 1960.

Crockett Johnson's parodic ad for Bosco, c. 1960

This photocopy came into my possession courtesy of the generous Amy Bunin Kaiman (Lou’s daughter), one of many people without whom The Purple Crayon and A Hole Is to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming from UP Mississippi, 2012) would not be possible.  For more Letters of Note — such as this 1970 letter from William Steig — you might check out the blog by that name.

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Barnaby. In Color.

Here is one origin story for Crockett Johnson’s classic Barnaby. At some point in early 1942, PM‘s Art Editor Charles Martin visited Crockett Johnson at his home in Darien Connecticut.  There, he saw a half-page color Sunday Barnaby strip.  Johnson had been unable to sell it.  Martin liked the strip, took it back to New York, and tried to sell it to King Features.  They rejected it.  PM‘s Comics Editor Hannah Baker loved it, and Barnaby made its debut on April 20, 1942 (preceded by the ads I posted on Monday).

I don’t know what ever happened to Johnson’s original color Sunday Barnaby, but from 1946 to 1948, a color Sunday Barnaby did appear in a few newspapers.  When it started, Johnson was serving as a story consultant on the Monday-Saturday Barnaby, having ceded the writing to Ted Ferro and the artwork to Jack Morley back in January 1946.  Johnson returned to writing the Monday-Saturday strip in September 1947, with Morley staying on to do the art (Ferro left at that point).  I believe that Johnson’s involvement with the Sunday strip mirrors his involvement with the weekday strip.  If that’s so, then the strip below — dated 13 July 1947 and reproduced courtesy of generous collector Colin Myers — is from just before Johnson ceased being merely a story consultant and resumed actually writing the text.

Barnaby, 13 July 1947

(Aside: The mendacity of the Tootsie Roll advertisement above is so cheerfully amoral: hey, kids, eating candy gives you energy!  Sure, the energy is very short-lived, but, uh… why not eat more candy? )

I haven’t seen many of the Sunday Barnaby strips, but those I have seen tend to recycle an idea from earlier Monday-Saturday strips — and by “earlier,” I don’t mean “earlier in the week.”  I mean “at any point earlier in Barnaby‘s run.”  But not all of them merely recycle.  The concluding Sunday sequence — published in May 1948, written by Crockett Johnson — is new material.  And quite clever, too.

Well.  Other tales of Barnaby‘s origin, along with about half a dozen weekday strips, will appear in The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (forthcoming from the University Press of Mississippi in 2012).  Yes, this is a shameless plug for my biography.  Thanks again to Colin Myers for the strip!  And, for those who need reminding, clicking on the strip itself will allow you to see it in its full size.

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The Debut of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby

As comics scholars know, Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby made its debut in New York’s Popular Front newspaper PM on April 20, 1942.  But Barnaby and his fairy godfather Mr. O’Malley actually appeared in PM the week before.  All during the week of April 13th, the newspaper ran ads for Crockett Johnson‘s then upcoming comic strip, Barnaby.  I believe the first such ad appeared on April 14th (below, reproduced from microfilm).

Barnaby advertisement, 14 Apr 1942

As is true of the first six months of Barnaby, Mr. O’Malley (seen below in an ad from later that same week) is initially wider, dumpier, and has a smaller head. His features change gradually over the first year until, by November, he has become the O’Malley we recognize from the Henry Holt books — and from all subsequent strips.

Barnaby advertisement, 19 April 1942

And thus ends today’s lesson in comics trivia.  Why, you’re welcome.  Thank you for reading.

Barnaby advertisement 2, 19 April 1942

Images by Crockett Johnson copyright © by the Estate of Ruth Krauss. All rights reserved.

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Parry Gripp, Commercial Jingles, & Other Good Music

What ever happened to commercial jingles?  When I was growing up, it seemed to me that most products had their own theme songs: “My bologna has a first name — it’s O-s-c-a-r,” “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz,” “Hershey is the great American chocolate bar,” “What walks downstairs, alone or in pairs, and makes such a slinkety sound?”

Parry GrippToday, most commercials just use pop songs that have little (or nothing) to do with the product. I enjoy a good pop song, and in fact have discovered some through their commercial use.  But the jingle mostly has gone out of fashion.

Well, save for Parry Gripp.  The frontman of Nerf Herder (perhaps best known for the theme to Buffy the Vampire Slayer), Gripp writes lots of songs that harken back to the commercial jingles of yore — except that he’s generally not selling anything.  He’s just writing very hummable ditties about his various obsessions… which usually include food or animals (especially hamsters and cats).

People seem to either love or hate Gripp, and probably for the same reason.  After one listen, his songs stay with you.  They’re earworms.  If you find his work too “pop” or simply too “silly,” you probably won’t appreciate “Hamster on a Piano” on an endless loop in your head.  On the other hand, if Gripp’s melodic whimsy appeals to your ear or to your sense of humor, his songs are too fun to resist.

Gripp appeals to the part of me that sang along with the “Slinky” song and tuned into Dr. Demento’s radio show every week. And, as some of the mixes I’ve posted here begin to reflect, I enjoy nearly all varieties of music.  To quote Ray Charles, “It’s like Duke Ellington said, there are only two kinds of music — good and bad. And you can tell when something is good.”  I like that statement because it establishes no aesthetic criteria other than each person’s particular taste.  And that’s as it should be.  When it comes to music, people should not feel obliged to apologize for their taste — say, admit liking a certain type of music, but then dismiss that type of music as “a guilty pleasure.”  With music, there are no guilty pleasures.  To paraphrase Charles’ citation of Ellington, there’s only good and bad, and you can tell when it’s good.

If you enjoy Parry Gripp or Ray Charles or Duke Ellington or Esquivel or AC/DC or Ella Fitzgerald or the Sex Pistols or Jay-Z or Beethoven or Emmylou Harris or Fats Waller or [insert name of artist/composer here], then that’s good music.  If you don’t, then listen something you do enjoy.

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Crockett Johnson: Ford’s Out Front!

With a nod to the survival of the U.S. auto industry, here’s an ad campaign from when American automakers were thriving.  Created for Ford in 1947-1948, Crockett Johnson based these ads on his untitled cartoon, popularly known as The Little Man with the Eyes, which ran in Collier’s from 1940 to 1943.  In each cartoon, the caption works with shifts in the man’s gaze to convey the joke.  Here’s one from July 13, 1940:

Crockett Johnson, The Little Man with the Eyes, 13 July 1940

The Little Man’s vertigo reminds me of Harold‘s experience on elevators (they “made his stomach feel funny”).  And here’s the ad campaign.  My guess is that this image would have run on one magazine page, as a teaser for the following one.  So, you’d read this:

Crockett Johnson, Ford ad, part 1

Then, you’d turn the page, and learn just what the little man has been looking at — a Ford, of course!

Crockett Johnson, Ford ad, pt 2

This advertisement seems to be a stand-alone spot:

Crockett Johnson, Watch Ford in 48

The one above also appears in black-and-white in Art Directors Annual of Advertising and Editorial Art 27 (1948), in which we learn that the art director is Wallace W. Elton, the artist Crockett Johnson, and the agency J. Walter Thompson Company.

And now, an advertisement of my own.  Coming in spring of 2012, from the University Press of Mississippi: The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  I’ll continue to post related items (and, occasionally, an extract from the bio. itself) here on the blog.  So, stay tuned!

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Corporate Seuss; or, Oh, the Things You Can Sell!

SeussvilleRandom House’s newly updated Seussville website — featuring my biography and timeline — recently went live.  This is the first time I’ve written a piece for a corporation, but Dr. Seuss did it all the time.  Though he published his first children’s book in 1937, he made his living through advertising … until the bestselling The Cat in the Hat (1957) allowed him to make writing for children his primary occupation.

Seuss’s best-known ad campaign was for Flit bug spray.  The tagline Quick, Henry, the Flit! became a staple of pop culture — the Where’s the Beef? or the Got Milk? of its day.

Seuss: Flit ad (from UCSD's website)

But he also created advertisements for many other products, such as Ford, General Electric, Holly Sugar, NBC, and Essomarine’s Oils & Greases (an example of which I actually happen to own):
Secrets of the Deep or The Perfect Yachtsman: cover

This 35-page booklet, Secrets of the Deep or The Perfect Yachtsman (1935, credited to the fictitious Old Captain Taylor), contains over a dozen Seuss illustrations – including a few that later emerge as characters in his children’s books.  This little chap (on the left) seems an ancestor of the “fish / With a long curly nose” from McElligot’s Pool (1947, on the right):

Incidentally, if you enjoy these sorts of correspondences between Seuss’s characters, check out Charles Cohen’s The Seuss, the Whole Seuss, and Nothing But the Seuss (2004) — he’s very good at spotting them, and has found far more interesting connections than the one above.

Seuss also indulges his habit of drawing needlessly complicated machinery, a Rube-Goldberg-influenced feature of many of his books.  Sure, this is nowhere near as elaborate as the Cat’s pick-up machine in The Cat in the Hat or the Utterly Sputter in The Butter Battle Book (1984), but does offer a glimpse of a tendency he exploits more fully in other early cartoons and in later children’s books.
"Feeding and Care of the Motor" from Secrets of the Deep, illus. by Dr. Seuss

The ad copy of “Old Captain Taylor” is a bit strange in places.  I think it’s safe to say that, though the second sentence above seems to make an off-handed joke about child abuse, the word “abuse” would not for a reader in 1935 have the connotations it has for a reader 75 years later.  For that matter, in the wake of BP’s Gulf oil disaster, a 35-page ocean-themed advertisement for oil seems a bit strange….

Mostly, though, the booklet showcases the sense of humor that Seuss had been honing in his magazine cartoons.  There are jokes about fat people:

"Rules of The Road at Sea And When to Forget Them" from Secrets of the Deep

Jokes about conspicuous consumption:

"Laying in Supplies for a Cruise" from Secrets of the Deep

And, of course, plenty of fish.

"Navigating without Road Signs" from Secrets of the Deep

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Ruth Krauss, mind-reader?

Ruth Krauss: Harper advertisement, 1954
Is it just me, or does “This is the lady who knows what children think — BEFORE THEY DO” sound like the tag line for a horror movie?  You will be relieved to know that Ruth Krauss could not read children’s minds. But she was an excellent and sympathetic listener. In her earliest work, she was able to imagine herself into the mind of a child. By the time of The Bundle Book (1951), she was getting her ideas from children themselves. They played, and she wrote down what they said. Or they told her stories, and answered her questions. The best-selling A Hole Is to Dig (1952) is the most famous example of this technique, but she relied on it for other works you see pictured here — A Very Special House (1953), How to Make an Earthquake (1954), and I’ll Be You and You Be Me (1954).

Old advertisements are fun to read. I especially like how this one praises Krauss as unique: “Her success has not been due to finding a formula and sticking to it. Her books resemble one another no more than clouds do.” At this stage of her career, that claim, though overstated, nonetheless carries some truth. Within a few years, she would begin to recycle ideas — Monkey Day (1957) borrows from I’ll Be You and You Be Me, Open House for Butterflies (1960) offers a variant on the premise of A Hole Is to Dig.

But being constantly original is very hard work. In any case, by the late 1950s, she had decided to become a poet. She still wrote for children, but reserved more of her creative energy for verse. However, when this ad appeared (21 November 1954) she was at her creative peak as a children’s author — having just published the third of her eight collaborations with Maurice Sendak. So, as the ad says, “Ruth Krauss is … no small achiever.” Oh, and, of course: “hurry to your bookstore for a copy.”  Go on.  I know you want to hurry there … because I know what you think BEFORE YOU DO.

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