Shrdlu, Minsky, Burke & Hare

When you look at Chris Ware’s post-Newtown New Yorker cover, the looks on the parents’ faces call to mind the previous month’s massacre in Connecticut. But 10 years from now, readers (I hope) will see just a scene of children entering a school as their parents watch intently. In creating the notes for Volume 2 of Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby, I’m facing this challenge as I work to help contemporary readers follow the political satire.

Johnson’s comic strip was a fantasy, and you can enjoy it without knowing the contemporary scene of 1944 to 1945.  But I’m one of those people who wants to know. In reading Fantagraphics’ beautiful Krazy Kat series, I was always a little disappointed when one of Herriman’s obscurities lacked an explanation in the book’s “Ignatz Debaffler Page.”  So, for Fantagraphics’ equally beautiful Barnaby series (the first volume of which should be available in March), I’m catering to the reader ­— like me — who wants to turn to the back of the book, and find an explanatory note.

In addition to being topical, Barnaby was also wide-ranging in its allusions. Johnson’s characters offer wry commentary on American politics in the 1940s, but also reflect his interests in mathematics, mystery novels, and popular culture. There are many referents that might be obscure even to his readers in 1944 and 1945.  On 28 September 1945, the lettering on a con-artist swami’s door reads “SWAMI ESYAYOUISIJA.”  I spent some time staring at this before realizing that the swami’s surname is “YES” in four languages: Pig Latin (ESYAY), French (OUI), Spanish (SÍ), and German (JA).

ShrdluEarlier that same month, Barnaby introduces a printer’s devil named “Shrdlu.”  He’s a friend of Barnaby’s fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley. Why Shrdlu? A linotype machine arranged the letters in order of how frequently they were used. In English, that order is ETAOIN SHRDLU. On the machine, the first column (reading downward) was ETAOIN, and the second was SHRDLU. Thus, as the OED explains, “ETAOIN SHRDLU” are “The letters set by running a finger down the first two vertical banks of keys on the left of the keyboard of a Linotype machine, used as a temporary marking slug but sometimes printed by mistake; any badly blundered sequence of type.” So, Shrdlu is the ideal name for a newspaper employee who, as he explains on 4 September, is “responsible for all omissions, typographical errors, pied lines, switched captions and misspelled names.”

etaoin shrdlu from Linotype: The Film on Vimeo.

On 28 March 1944, O’Malley says he’s a devotee of Minsky’s brand of humor. Who? He’s referring to the comics employed by the Minsky Brothers, who were more famous for their risqué burlesque shows. Johnson’s also making an in-joke: one Minsky comedian, Jimmy Savo, provided some inspiration for the character of Mr. O’Malley.

O'Malley phones Burke & HareNear the beginning of his career as a Wall Street financier, Barnaby’s fairy godfather decides to phone a brokerage firm. So, he checks the phone book, and says “This firm’s name has a familiar ring to it. ‘Burke & Hare.’” The name may be familiar, but it’s not the kind of familiarity one associates with a reputable firm. It recalls the infamous Burke and Hare Murders of 1828. Over the course of 10 months in Edinburgh, Scotland, William Burke (1792-1829) and William Hare (1792-?) murdered 16 people, and sold the corpses to Dr. Robert Knox, who needed cadavers for his anatomy lectures.

Even though you don’t require these notes to enjoy the strip, a thorough editor (that’s me!) provides them… for the few readers who (like me!) want to know.

Barnaby Volume 2: 1944-1945 should be out in early 2014, and Barnaby Volume 1: 1942-1943 is due in March. I expect to receive an advance copy in the next week or two.

Note: All Barnaby images are from the Del Rey paperbacks (1985-1986). For the Fantagraphics books, expect higher-quality images and paper.

Barnaby, Volume 1

Coming in March, from Fantagraphics: Barnaby Volume 1: 1942-1943, co-edited by Philip Nel and Eric Reynolds. Design by Daniel Clowes. Introduction by Chris Ware. Essays by Jeet Heer and Dorothy Parker. Biographical Afterword and Notes by Philip Nel. You can pre-order it now.

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Barnaby, Vol. 1

Barnaby, Volume 1

The book went to press earlier this month, and will be out in the spring.  I can’t wait for you to see it.  Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby Volume 1 is truly a thing of beauty.

If you read any books published by Fantagraphics, this last sentence will not surprise you.  But in case you are not (yet) a Fantagraphics devotee, let me give you a little behind-the-scenes look at why this book looks so great.  (If you can’t wait to see a few glimpses, please scoot on over to Fantagraphics’ post on Barnaby Volume 1: it includes images and Daniel Clowes‘ rough sketch for the cover.)

Fantagraphics is perfectionistic in all the right ways.  At each phase of the process, Eric Reynolds — who is co-editing the Barnaby books with me — contacted me with specific questions.  Most recently, at page-proofs phase, we talked about the layout of my essay, as well as those by Chris Ware and Jeet Heer.  Dan Clowes put the epigraph for the first section of my essay in a Barnaby-style speech bubble.  I thought: that looks cool. Might we try the same treatment for the other epigraphs? We did, and liked the result.  Eric, Dan, and Fantagraphics designer Tony Ong also experimented with how to lay out my notes.  We proofread everything many times, had conversations about grammar and word choice.  Eric worked hard on getting the spacing just right on the back cover’s panels (visible, if too small to read clearly, on Fantagraphics’ post — and below).  If these details sound boring to you, they really shouldn’t.  This sort of keen attention to detail makes for a beautiful book.

Barnaby, Volume 1: cover

Fantagraphics works with the best people.  Daniel Clowes! Chris Ware! Jeet Heer!  Dan designed the book to look as if it were designed by Crockett Johnson in the 1940s.  When you look at (for example) the back cover, it does not look as if it was designed using contemporary software.  The lines look hand-ruled because (I believe) they were hand-ruled.  For the typeface, Dan used Futura because that’s the distinctive typeface of Barnaby — and, incidentally, of Ruth Krauss‘s The Carrot Seed, which Johnson illustrated & designed.  Chris wrote a beautiful, insightful introductory piece on Johnson and Barnaby.  I’m tempted to quote it here, but I think I’ll leave it as a surprise.  I will say, though, that there are few comics creators who can speak as lucidly as Chris can about how comics work.  I’ll also say that Chris’s piece will make you look at Harold (of purple crayon fame) in a new way.  And… that’s all I’ll say.  Comics scholar Jeet Heer’s introduction features the best description of Mr. O’Malley (Barnaby’s fairy godfather) that I’ve ever read: “half-pixie and half-grifter, an otherwordly being most at home in low-life dives and gambling dens, raider of other people’s fridges and cigar boxes, an inept wizard whose magic only works intermittently and often with unintended consequences, a self-mythologizer whose account of his own past glories is an improbable farrago of tall tales, a rhetorician quick to smooth over any difficulty with rococo eloquence and irrelevant digressions.”

Fantagraphics — specifically, Eric Reynolds — communicated with me clearly and regularly.  He was always clear, polite, and had the best interests of the project at heart.  A great guy to work with.  I’m delighted that we’ll be working together on volumes 2 through 5!  (We’re collecting the full ten-year run of Barnaby, 1942-1952, with two years in each volume.)

Finally, we could not have done this without the help of collectors who loaned us their newspapers or scanned strips — the Smithsonian, Harvard University, and Charles Cohen, in particular.  So.  Thanks to them!  Note to the curious: a complete collection of old newspaper strips are not just lying around in an archive.  You have to go looking for them.  It’s an enormous amount of work, and is one of the reasons Volume 1 took so long.  The other is Fantagraphics’ admirable perfectionism.

So.  This spring.  Barnaby Volume 1.  Get it!

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Barnaby on stage, version 2.

Mr. O'MalleyAfter a failed stage adaptation and one failed radio version, Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby headed for the stage a second time.  Adapted for children’s theatre by Robert and Lilian Masters, this Barnaby made its debut in Terre Haute, Indiana, in May 1948.  Looking ahead to the publication (in February 2013, I am told) of The Complete Barnaby, Vol. 1: 1942-1943, here is the story of that play, featuring a few images from the script (published by Samuel French, 1950) and a program from a production at the Wall Central School in the 1950s.

Also directed by Robert and Lillian Masters, this Barnaby’s main narrative focused on Barnaby’s father running for mayor against the corrupt Boss Snagg.  Subplots included O’Malley appointing himself Mr. Baxter’s campaign manager, a birthday party for Barnaby, and Snagg’s attempt to kidnap Barnaby to blackmail his father into ending his campaign.  It borrows some dialogue from Johnson’s comic, and focuses on characters rather than special effects or scenery — a wise move, given that the earlier stage adaptation got bogged down with special effects that didn’t work.  All action takes place in the Baxters’ living room, and Mr. O’Malley’s flying is described but not shown.  Though primarily a comedy, the show at times veers towards melodrama: Snagg is not just a crooked politician; he’s a criminal who at one point threatens the Baxters with a gun.  Usually, though, it maintains a light tone. A review in the Terre Haute Tribune predicted this two-act adaptation “bids fair to be a favorite with Children’s Theatre producers all over the country.”

Robert and Lillian Masters' Barnaby: program from Wall Central School, New Jersey, c. 1950sCourtesy of Mark Newgarden, here’s a program from the Wall Central P.T.A.’s production, presumably presented at the Wall Central Elementary School, in New Jersey.  (The program offers no info. about the state in which the school is located, but there is a Wall Central School in NJ, and mark bought the program in NJ.)  The cover image seems to be a sort of “stock” image.  Presumably, a guy reading from an unabridged dictionary conveyed “drama” to the person assembling the program.  Or maybe this was all they had on hand.

Below, the inside of the program, where we can see the cast of this show.  Anyone from New Jersey recognize any names?  Any sense of a year?  Mark Newgarden thinks that it’s from the 1950s, and that sounds about right to me.

Robert and Lillian Masters' Barnaby: program from Wall Central School, New Jersey, c. 1950s

Perhaps wary of working on another adaptation of his comic (he felt he was insufficiently consulted on the earlier stage version), Johnson left this one entirely to Robert and Lillian Masters.  He sold them the rights for $1.00, plus the promise of fifty per cent of any profit they might make from sales or performances of the play.  All too aware of the complications of trying to shape a stage Barnaby, Johnson otherwise remained uninvolved.

Thanks to Daniel Clowes, here are some… unusual drawings of the Barnaby characters, included in Robert and Lillian Masters’ script.  And no, these are not by Crockett Johnson.  The script does not identify the artist.

sketches of Crockett Johnson's McSnoyd (by an unknown artist), in Robert and Lillian Masters' Barnaby (Samuel French, 1950)

sketches of Crockett Johnson's Mr. O'Malley (by an unknown artist), in Robert and Lillian Masters' Barnaby (Samuel French, 1950)

sketches of Crockett Johnson's Gorgon (by an unknown artist), in Robert and Lillian Masters' Barnaby (Samuel French, 1950)

The stark difference between this artist’s style and Johnson’s highlights the clean beauty of Johnson’s.  Or, at least, when I look at these, I am struck by how “un-Johnson” they are.

Incidentally, I have in the past week seen some of Dan Clowes’ layout and design for The Complete Barnaby Volume 1.   I can’t share it with you on the blog (yet!), but trust me: this is going to be a beautiful book.

Related links:

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Clear Lines and Comics Luminaries: A Report from SPX

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby and the American Clear Line School. Left to right: Mark Newgarden, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, Philip Nel. Photo by Paul Karasik.

It’s hard to put into words what it means to spend over a dozen years on a book, and then be able to talk about it with smart, talented people whose work I admire.  Saturday’s panel at the Small Press Expo — featuring Daniel Clowes, Mark Newgarden, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, and myself — was exactly that.  Titled “Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby and the American Clear Line School,” the panel aimed (among other things) to spread the word about Fantagraphics’ Complete Barnaby: Eric and I are co-editing, Dan is designing, Chris wrote an intro for Volume 1.  Since that book isn’t out yet (currently expecting a February ’13 pub date), it also enabled me to draw upon my dozen years of research for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (which is just out, and features a cover by Chris).

For 50 minutes, we had an illuminating conversation about Crockett Johnson, Barnaby, and how comics work.  Few people understand comics as well as Mark, Dan, and Chris do.  If you’ve ever heard Chris Ware speak or read an interview with him, you’ll know that he is one of a very few comics creators who can articulate, clearly & with precision, how particular comics work — and do this all without notes, speaking in what sound like perfectly punctuated paragraphs.  He was just as sharp, the following day, on the Building Stories conversation between him and Dave Ball.

Crockett Johnson's Barnaby and the American Clear Line School. Left to right: Mark Newgarden, Daniel Clowes, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, Philip Nel. Photo by Paul Karasik.

It’s also fascinating to me that three quite different cartoonists are drawn to Barnaby. With the exception of Ice Haven (my favorite Clowes book, incidentally), Daniel Clowes’ works have the fewest visual similarities to Johnson’s style. Chris Ware’s precise line recalls Johnson’s, though he favors more detailed pages than Johnson does. Mark Newgarden’s line is thicker and looser than Johnson’s, though his aesthetic is closer to Johnson’s succinct minimalism.  What all four share in common is a sharpness, a precision that gives their work a vital presence on the page.  All four understand the visual grammar of cartoons; they are fluent in the language of images.

Commercially, SPX was a success, also. Fantagraphics kindly sold copies of my biography (we sold all of them), and set up signings for me at their booth — the first of which found me sitting next to Dan.  Chris very generously signed the prints of his cover, for my Johnson-Krauss bio., and I sold about a dozen of those, too.

Daniel Clowes and Philip Nel signing books at the Fantagraphics booth. Photo by Alvin Buenaventura.

But, for me, what made it special was getting to hang out with so many great artists, writers, editors, & scholars. I never thought I’d find myself at dinner with Dan Clowes, Chris Ware, Charles Burns, Adrian Tomine, and Françoise Mouly. When I told Mike Deforge (an up-and-coming comics creator who was also at that dinner) that I felt like I’d been invited to the grown-ups’ table and wondered how the heck I got there, he admitted that he felt the same way.  So, a hearty thanks to Alvin Buenaventura for inviting us! (On that note, check out Daniel Clowes: Modern Cartoonist, edited by Alvin & with an essay by Chris.)

There are many other highlights — hanging out with Mark N. & Megan Montague Cash, getting to show them original Barnaby strips at the Smithsonian, meeting fellow Crockett Johnson fans, other comics scholars, seeing Warren Bernard’s astonishing personal collection of comics (at his house), discovering a group of comics artists engaged in an ongoing alphabet project, and so much more.  And the Barnaby panel was a career highlight.

Thanks again to Dan, Mark, Chris, and Eric for making it happen.  Thanks to Bill Kartalopoulos for including us in his great program.  And thanks to everyone I met for a fantastic SPX.

Photos by Paul Karasik (top two) and Alvin Buenaventura (lower one). Thanks, fellas!  Enjoyed seeing you, too!

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Cushlamochree! Barnaby, the Small Press Expo, & more

Chris Ware, poster for Small Press Expo 2012

Do you like comics? Any chance you’ll be in the vicinity of Bethesda, MD this weekend?  If so, then come to the Small Press Expo!  On Saturday the 15th, you can hear Daniel Clowes, Mark Newgarden, Chris Ware, Eric Reynolds, & me talk about Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby.  Here’s the panel description:

Barnaby advertisement, 19 April 1942Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby and the American Clear Line School

12:00 pm | White Flint Auditorium

In a canny mix of fantasy and satire, amplified by the clean minimalism of Crockett Johnson’s line, Barnaby (1942-1952) expanded our sense of what comics can do. Though it never had a mass following, this tale of a five-year-old boy and his endearing con-artist of a fairy godfather influenced many. To mark the launch of The Complete Barnaby,Dan ClowesMark NewgardenChris Ware, and the book’s two co-editors — Fantagraphics’ Eric Reynolds and Crockett Johnson biographer Philip Nel — discuss the wit, the art, and the genius of Barnaby.

Later that day, I’m chairing a panel on “Comics as Children’s Literature,” featuring Françoise Mouly, Renée French, and Brian Ralph:

Comics as Children’s Literature
5:00 pm | White Flint Auditorium

Comics’ fraught historical legacy as children’s literature and children’s comics’ status as an expanding category of contemporary publishing will be discussed by cartoonist and picture book author Renée FrenchFrançoise Mouly, founder of the TOON Books imprint and co-editor of The TOON Treasury of Classic Children’s ComicsMark Newgarden, co-author of the “Bow-Wow” children’s comics and picture book series; and Brian Ralph, author of the all-ages graphic novel Cave-In. Children’s literature scholar Philip Nel will lead the conversation.

I’m honored to be in such august company.

But there’s more!  Perhaps you would like to buy a 20″ x 39″ print of Chris Ware’s beautiful cover for my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss?

Chris Ware's cover for Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children's Literature

I will be selling prints specially designed by Mr. Ware.  (He’s removed all of the text except the title and my name.)  Find me at the Fantagraphics booth (tables W40-44), where we’ll also be selling (and I’ll be signing) copies of the biography itself:

  • Saturday, September 15, 1:00 – 2:00 PM    Daniel Clowes // Philip Nel
  • Sunday, September 16, 2:00 – 3:00 PM    Philip Nel // Rich Tommaso

Both items will be available while supplies last.  You can see a full signing schedule on Fantagraphics’ website.

There’s much more.  Artists Gilbert & Jamie Hernandez, Paul Karasik, Adrian Tomine,… plus a full panel each devoted to Ware & to Clowes, footage of cartoonists screened by Mark Newgarden,… comics scholars David Ball, Sara Duke, Ken Parille,… and, oh, go read the conference schedule.

Hope to see you there!

(And… here ends my commercial announcement.)

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Crockett Johnson draws Mr. O’Malley, 1962

Cushlamochree!  It’s a portrait of Barnaby’s fairy godfather, Mr. O’Malley, in … 1962!  Yes, 1962 — which makes it unusual for several reasons.  First, Crockett Johnson didn’t draw Barnaby for its 1960-1962 revival.  Warren Sattler did.  Second, it’s a bit looser than Johnson’s drawings of O’Malley during Barnaby‘s original 1942-1952 run.  As a result, you can see more clearly the individual pen strokes that create his hat, face, wings, arms, and buttons.

Mr. O'Malley, as drawn by Crockett Johnson, 1962

The drawing comes to us courtesy of Vicki Smith, the daughter of a friend of Frank Paccassi, Jr.  When her mother (who had inherited the drawing from Ms. Smith’s late father) passed away, she sent me Mr. Paccassi’s collection of 1960-1962 Barnaby strips, along with the above drawing and a couple of penny postcards from Crockett Johnson.  A fan of Barnaby, Mr. Paccassi had written to Johnson in the fall of 1962 about obtaining copies of the 1960-1962 run (which had then just concluded).  Johnson obligingly sent him “some extra release proofs I have no use for,” and signed Mr. Paccassi’s copies of Barnaby (1943) and Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (1944).

As readers of this blog will already know, this is shaping up to be a good year for Crockett Johnson fans:

  • The Complete Barnaby Vol. 1 (co-edited by yours truly and Eric Reynolds), covering the first two years (1942-1943) of Barnaby, is due out late summer / early fall from Fantagraphics. Indeed, on Free Comic Book Day (first Saturday in May), watch for Fantagraphics’ free Barnaby comic book featuring a 30-strip sequence from The Complete Barnaby Vol. 1!
  • Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How an Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature (my biography, a dozen years in the making) will be out in September from the University Press of Mississippi.

Indeed, the page proofs for the latter arrived this past Tuesday.  I’ve been reviewing them and constructing the index.  Since they are due back at the end of the month and since I have many other deadlines this month, the blog may be slightly quieter than usual — or the posts may be more brief.

But the many posts devoted to Crockett Johnson and Barnaby should (I hope) keep you amused.  Depending on your stamina and level of interest, there’s a great deal here related to the creation of the biography.  I’ll list some (well, far too many) below:

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Sunday Color Barnaby: O’Malley in Winter

As has been noted twice before on this blog (see here and here), a color Sunday version of Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby ran from 1946 to 1948.  Courtesy of Colin Myers, here’s a full-page one from the winter of 1948.  Though it’s undated, “winter” would have to be January or February because the color Barnaby concluded in May of 1948.  Most of the Sunday strips are half a page; this one is unusual in that it’s full-page.

Barnaby, Winter 1948

The artist is Jack Morley, the words are by Ted Ferro.  For the daily strips during this period, Johnson was serving in an advisory capacity; I assume he was also serving as a story consultant for the Sunday strips. While they’re not up to Johnson’s exacting standards, the Ferro-Morley strips are still fun.

Not incidentally, my blog has been unusually quiet during this past week because of two Crockett Johnson projects:

  • The Complete Barnaby, Vol. 1. My afterword (complete!) and notes (nearly complete!) are due in to Fantagraphics on December 1st.  The book is due out in June 2012.  You can learn more about it in the Spring/Summer 2012 Fantagraphics catalogue.
  • Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss: How An Unlikely Couple Found Love, Dodged the FBI, and Transformed Children’s Literature.  The copyedited text arrived on November 18th, right at the beginning of a Thanksgiving “break” during which I already had an impossibly long list of tasks to complete.  It’s due back on December 9th. The book is due out in September 2012 from the University Press of Mississippi.


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Complete Barnaby: flyer

The first promotional flyer for The Complete Barnaby is here.  And no, the strips you see on it are not of the resolution that you’ll experience in the book itself.  Fantagraphics is still working on cleaning up the scans.  But, at least, a hazy glimpse of what’s to come… in June 2012!

Here’s a pdf:

And, below, jpegs of each side of the page.

Complete Barnaby flyer, page 1, Sept. 2011

Complete Barnaby flyer, page 2, Sept. 2011

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Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art

This piece appeared in Comic Art in 2004.  As the magazine is now (sadly) defunct, I’m posting the article here.  Until The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss appears in 2012, this essay is the most thorough account of Johnson’s life available.  Enjoy!

For those who prefer ’em, jpegs are below. Click to enlarge.

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 2

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 3

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 4

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 5

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 6

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 7

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 8

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 9

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 10


Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 11

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 12

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 13

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 14

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 15

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 16

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 17

Philip Nel, "Crockett Johnson and the Purple Crayon: A Life in Art," Comic Art 5 (Winter 2004), p. 18

The above article represents the state of my research in 2004.  While the essay is accurate, I’ve learned a great deal since then — so, if interested in learning more, please check out the book (due from the University Press of Mississippi in mid 2012).  Thank you.


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Cushlamochree! Barnaby on stage!

Mr. O'Malley69 years ago today, the first daily strip of Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby ran in the newspaper PM.  One year from today, Fantagraphics will begin reprinting Barnaby in full (co-edited by me and Eric Reynolds) — and the University Press of Mississippi will publish my biography of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss.  In anticipation of both events, I bring you … Barnaby on stage!

Charles Friedman and Tommy Hamilton, 1946.  Friedman was the director. Hamilton portrayed Barnaby.

In September 1946, Crockett Johnson’s Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley made their stage debut. Adapted by Jereome Chodorov, the play initially seemed like it would be a great success.  After reading Chodorov’s script, Elia Kazan thought the play would be a hit.  Before its debut, Columbia Pictures bought film rights.  But, as was the case with the previous year’s radio adaptation, Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley did not live up to initial expectations.  It had but four performances — two in Wilmington, Delaware, and two in Baltimore, Maryland.  Before ever making it to New York, it closed for repairs… and that turned out to be the last of it.

With thanks to Thomas Hamilton (who played Barnaby), above is a photo of himself and director Charles Friedman.  Also thanks to him, here are a few pages from early the script, leading up to Mr. O’Malley’s entrance.  (Sally is Mrs. Baxter, Barnaby’s mother; John is Mr. Baxter, Barnaby’s father.)

Jerome Chodorov, Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley, Act I, page 6

Jerome Chodorov, Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley, Act I, page 7

Jerome Chodorov, Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley, Act I, page 8

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