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:

Leave a Comment

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!

Comments (3)

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.)

Leave a Comment

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:

Comments (1)

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.

 

Leave a Comment

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

Comments (1)

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.

 

Comments (3)

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

Comments (2)

Color Sunday Barnaby: March comes in like…

As has been noted previously on this blog, a color Sunday Barnaby ran from 1946 to 1948 — apt, because when in 1942 Crockett Johnson showed cartoonist (and PM Art Editor) Charles Martin a Sunday strip, Martin then shared the strip with PM Comics Editor Hannah Baker.  She decided to run it, beginning Barnaby‘s ten-year run.  Apart from these Sunday strips, Barnaby ran six days a week — Monday through Saturday.  Courtesy of the generous Colin Myers, here’s a Sunday Barnaby from 64 years ago — March 2, 1947 — commemorating the transition from February to March.

Barnaby, 2 March 1947

(Don’t forget: clicking on the image will provide you with a larger version.)

You’ll note that the author of the script is Ted Ferro, and the artist is Jack Morley.  Morley does a good job of approximating Johnson’s precise line, but Ferro’s wit is not as sharp  — though, to be fair, few people had a wit that measured up to Johnson’s.  Recognizing the lesser standard of the Morley-Ferro Barnaby, Johnson in 1948 resumed writing the words himself, though he left the art to Morley.

Comments (1)

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.)

Comments (1)