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)

Barnaby Fan Club

In a tribute to the Barnaby fan clubs of the 1940s, Del Rey created its own “Barnaby International Fan Club” — or, at least, the laminated plastic card announcing such a club — to promote the six Barnaby volumes it published in 1985 and 1986.  Here’s the front of the card:

Barnaby International Fan Club (Del Rey, 1985), front of card

Here’s the  back:

Barnaby International Fan Club (Del Rey, 1985), back of card

Del Rey only managed 6 of its planned dozen Barnaby books.  Judy-Lynn del Rey passed away in February 1986, and, lacking an advocate, this unprofitable collection of Crockett Johnson‘s great strip found itself discontinued.

As readers of this blog likely know, Eric Reynolds and I are co-editing The Complete Barnaby for Fantagraphics (designed by Daniel Clowes!).  The first volume of The Complete Barnaby is scheduled for April 2012 — timed to coincide with The Purple Crayon and a Hole to Dig: The Lives of Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss (my biography, published by UP Mississippi) and the 70th anniversary of the debut of Johnson’s influential strip.

Thanks to George Nicholson for the card, and to Del Rey’s Betsy Mitchell for sending it on to him!

Leave a Comment

Merry Christmas from Mr. O’Malley

As noted last month, a color Sunday Barnaby ran from 1946 to 1948 — apt, because the original Barnaby strip that helped Crockett Johnson sell the comic to PM was also a Sunday strip.  Courtesy of the generous Colin Myers, here’s a Christmas Barnaby from 63 years ago — December 21, 1947.

Barnaby, 21 December 1947

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

Leave a Comment

The Complete Barnaby: Coming Soon!

Cushlamochree! 70 years after Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby made its debut, the entire ten-year run (1942-1952) will be published in full … for the first time!  Daniel Clowes will design the books — five in all, the first of which will appear in 2012. I’ll be providing biographical & historical notes.  The publisher is Fantagraphics, whose lovingly produced Complete Peanuts serves as a model for the Complete Barnaby.

Barnaby advertisement, 1943

These will be the original strips, and not the redrawn ones that appear in the collections published by Holt in 1943 (see above advertisement, courtesy of the generous Colin Myers) and 1944 — and republished by Dover in 1967 and 1975.

A favorite of graphic novelists (today) and of the culturally influential (in its day), Johnson’s Barnaby reflects its author’s wide-ranging interests — political satire, popular culture, classic literature, modern art, and mathematics.  Its subtle ironies and playful allusions never won a broad following, but the adventures of 5-year-old Barnaby Baxter and his bumbling con-artist of a fairy godfather was and is a critical favorite.  Confessing her love of Barnaby, Dorothy Parker wrote, “I think, and I’m trying to talk calmly, that Barnaby and his friends and oppressors are the most important additions to American arts and letters in Lord knows how many years.”  Barnaby’s deft balance of fantasy, political commentary, sophisticated wit, and elegantly spare images expanded our sense of what comic strips can do. With subtlety and economy, Barnaby proved that comics need not condescend to their readers.  Its small but influential readership took that message to heart.  As Coulton Waugh noted in his landmark The Comics (1947), Barnaby’s audience may not “compare, numerically, with that of the top, mass-appeal strips. But it is a very discriminating audience, which includes a number of strip artists themselves, and so this strip stands a good chance of remaining to influence the course of American humor for many years to come.”  His words were prophetic. Barnaby’s fans have included Peanuts creator Charles Schulz, Family Circus creator Bil Keane, and graphic novelists Daniel Clowes, Art Spiegelman, and Chris Ware.

And, now that these strips will be available to new generations of readers, here’s hoping that Barnaby continues to influence and delight creators and fans of comic art!

For more on this news, check out Tom Spurgeon’s article in today’s Comics Reporter.

Comments (8)

Barnaby on the radio

O'Malley on the micThe first dramatic adaptation of Crockett Johnson‘s Barnaby appeared on the Frank Morgan Show of June 12, 1945.  Morgan (best known as the title character in MGM’s Wizard of Oz) played Mr. O’Malley, Norma Jean Nilsson played Barnaby, and Ralph Bellamy played Mr. Baxter. The radio dramatization begins in the second half of the show — at 15:30 of the broadcast.

Click to play The Frank Morgan Show: Barnaby Audition (12 June 1945)

I presume that this goes without saying, but, since this is 1945, some jokes may offend: racial & ethnic stereotypes, sexism, and so on.  A few references:

  • James Petrillo was the President of the American Federation of Musicians.
  • Victory Gardens: during the Second World War, the U.S. government encouraged people to grow their own food.

In my view, this was the lesser of the two radio adaptations.  It uses little of Johnson’s original material, and doesn’t capture the strip’s comic tone.  This broadcast was its one-and-only episode.  Barnaby also inspired another radio show (two episodes), two stage versions, two TV adaptations, and an animated cartoon.  Neither the 1946 nor the 1948 stage version was a hit.  In 1959, the pilot for first TV version — which starred Bert Lahr as O’Malley and Ron Howard as Barnaby — aired to strong reviews, but that was its sole episode.  Produced by Norman Lear, the second TV version (1966) never aired.  I’ve never seen either TV version, and nor have I seen the animated cartoon.  Since it (the cartoon) did win a prize at the 1967 Venice film festival, I presume a print is out there somewhere….

Leave a Comment

Crockett Johnson & Ruth Krauss: biography outtakes, Part 4

For those who care about such minutiae, here are some outtakes from Chapter 14, “At Home with Ruth and Dave” — from which I’ve just cut 540 words.  The chapter, which covers Crockett Johnson and Ruth Krauss in 1947 and 1948, draws heavily on Ruth’s 123-page account of their daily lives in late winter 1948: suffering from writers’ block, she took a friend’s advice to write a few pages every day.  The resulting manuscript reads like a modern-day blog.  In short, it’s a biographer’s gold mine.  But, of course, I can’t use it all!

I’d already reduced it to just a few major themes, one of which is the document itself.  Ruth’s friend “planned to write three pages a day, in this way getting her dissertation ‘novel’ done.” I’ve cut an explanatory sentence after that:

It’s unclear whether her friend was writing a dissertation or a novel: considering publishing the results of her writing, Ruth sometimes crosses out words (including proper names) to replace them with ones that might work better in a magazine article or book.

The above did explain the struck-through “dissertation,” but who really cares?  This is about Ruth and not her friend.  Also, slicing that out allows me to move the narrative forward sans interruption.  I made another small cut in a story concerning an incident that highlights Ruth’s racial consciousness.  A white woman (Louise) in the neighborhood accused her black maid (Esther) of stealing two cups and two forks.  I’ve cut this:

When Louise threatened to call the police, Esther replied, “Go ahead.”  Louise decided not to phone, but instead to defer to her husband (who was not home at the time).

And I’ve moved directly to Ruth’s concern that such an accusation would make it difficult for Esther to find work, and would damage race relations.  The above detail would be important if I were writing (say) a legal history of racial discrimination, but what’s interesting for readers of the bio is what this means to Ruth.

Robert and Lillian Masters' adaptation of Crockett Johnson's BarnabyThe chapter also addresses a couple of dramatizations of Johnson’s comic strip Barnaby.  My main change here has been to cut the plot summary — which, in each case, was already radically reduced from what I’d originally written. The first, Robert and Lillian Masters’ stage version (for children’s theatre), focuses on Mr. Baxter (Barnaby’s father) running for major against the corrupt Boss Snagg.  I’ve retained that, but cut this:

All action takes place in the Baxters’ living room, and Mr. O’Malley’s flying is described but not shown.  Though a comedy, the show at times veers towards melodrama: Snagg is not just a crooked politician; he’s a criminal who threatens the Baxters with a gun.  Usually, though, it maintains a light tone.

The above detail isn’t needed.  However, I have retained that the Masters’ adaptation focuses on characters rather than special effects or scenery: the failure of the former and the expense of the latter doomed an earlier stage version, and so this detail resonates with that.

Mr. O'MalleyThe second adaptation, this one by Sidney Rumin and Helen Mack’s, was the second attempt at making Barnaby a radio serial.  Like the earlier version (which I’ll post tomorrow), this one also failed.  I’ve heard one episode (and there’s a second I’ve not heard), but it never found a sponsor.  Too bad. John Brown’s Mr. O’Malley and Jared Brown‘s Barnaby are both very good.  Anyway, after noting that the dramatization conveys sympathetically the perspectives of both children and adults, I indicate that this version (like an earlier stage adaptation) includes Barnaby’s parents taking him to a psychologist.  I’ve then cut all of this:

While Doctor Lenser is out of the room, O’Malley reads aloud some case histories and makes one into a paper airplane.  When the doctor returns (just after O’Malley disappears), Barnaby explains what O’Malley has done,  supplying details from the cases. Lenser accuses the Baxters of playing a prank on him, and asks how their son could know this information when, according to them, Barnaby cannot read?  They rally behind Barnaby and, that night, each parent’s attitude towards Mr. O’Malley has softened. Mrs. Baxter, suggesting that Barnaby not mention this to his father, says that she’s bought the dill pickles O’Malley likes. Mr. Baxter, asking that Barnaby not mention this to his mother, says he has bought a cigar for O’Malley to use as his magic wand.  When O’Malley arrives that night, Barnaby presents these items to his fairy godfather, who says “Now we’re really living!”  The episode ends there.

Removing that allows me to segue directly to the fact that the show never found a sponsor.  I’ve decided that too much plot summary slows down my narrative — the stories of Johnson’s and Krauss’s lives.  I hope I’ve not removed items of interest!  But… I’m reasonably sure that these cuts are good ones.  Barnaby scholars and some Barnaby fans might care about the above, but other readers likely will not.

Tomorrow’s post will be one for Barnaby fans: full audio of Barnaby on the radio in 1945.  So, stay tuned!

Comments (2)

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.

Comments (1)

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.

Comments (1)

Happy Birthday, Crockett Johnson!

104 years ago, David Johnson Leisk was born in New York City.  For his pseudonym, he would later add his childhood nickname “Crockett” to his middle name… becoming “Crockett Johnson.”  Below is an ad for the second collection of the comic strip that made him famous: Barnaby (1942-1952).

advertisement for Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley (1944)

After this volume (published 1944), Johnson planned to publish a third collection, but never got around to it.  Pocket Books republished the first collection, Barnaby (1943), in 1946.  Dover republished each volume in 1967 and 1975, and Del Rey published six paperback volumes of the original comic strips in 1985 and 1986.  The full run of the strip has never been reprinted in its entirety.  Will it ever be?  Readers of this blog may rest assured that, should such plans coalesce, I’ll post news of that here.

For now, a shameless plug: in the spring of 2012, the University Press of Mississippi will publish my biography of Crockett Johnson (1906-1975) and Ruth Krauss (1901-1993).  Both were accomplished artists in their own right (he of comics and children’s books, she of children’s books and poetry), and my book tells the story of their lives, works, and times.

Leave a Comment