Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Advertising Comics, 1939

This Time We'll Name Names!
From the pages of the Art Directors 18th Annual of 1939, here are a number of advertising newspaper comic strips with an unusual twist: credits!

At this time the focus of the New York Art Directors Club annuals was not on design, but illustration. They're a gold mine of nicely-reproduced illos by both the famous and the not-so-famous practitioners of the Golden Age of American illustration. A priceless feature is that the volumes credit artists (and art directors, agencies, etc.). These books are often the only credit some of these guys got in a notoriously-anonymous business.

Leading off is an ad for Krueger's Beer, one of the countless local brews that soothed American throats in the days before national corporations pushed them out of business. This New Jersey brewery started in 1858 and held out until 1961. A unique bit of trivia is that Krueger's put out the first canned beer. The initial test batch debuted in Richmond, Virginia in 1934 (they ran the test out of town so that if the project flopped it wouldn't hurt their reputation in their main market). The cans had conical tops with a crown cap, like on soda bottles. The cans were a hit, by the way.

I don't know much about artist Walter Early. He appears to have illustrated children's books in the early 1940s as well as painting some of Borden's Elsie the Cow ads.

The next page begins with a 3-panel silent gag for Ballantine's ale. The artist, William Sakren (1902-1991), is represented three times in the annual. AskArt.com identifies him as a pioneer of the American silent gag cartoon and says he later worked for Johnstone and Cushing. He drew cartoons into the 1980s, numbering The New Yorker among his clients.

Walter Hoban follows with one of two Jerry on the Job strips pushing Post Grape-Nut Flakes. Bet Hoban didn't paste over old balloons for this job! Am I the only one who thinks Jerry resembles Calvin (the "and Hobbes" one, not Coolidge)?

John Holmgren does a really nice job on a hysterically-titled half page for Fletcher's Castoria. The kid thinks Mom's a beast because she makes him "take that awful stuff"--a laxative. But after drinking Castoria the lad thinks Mom is "swell" again. Jeez, if he thought Castoria tasted good, the "awful stuff" must really have been gross! I've seen Holmgren's illustrations in places like Collier's and Judge as well as in advertisements. He often worked in watercolor. I discovered from Googling that in 1920 he graduated from Columbia College on Morningside, the alma mater of Rockwell Kent. I don't know much else, not even whether his mother gave him Fletcher's Castoria.

The next page leads off with art from a Beeman's Gum ad by the legendary Albert Dorne. In the printed ad balloons with typeset dialogue overlaid the art. I hardly need say anything about Dorne, except that he'd have made a great comics artist if he'd hadn't preferred to become a wealthy, famous illustrator.

Judging by the art style, Howard Williamson's Eveready Batteries ad might have come from the 1950s. Williamson is yet another artist I don't have much on. He did several of these flashy (pun pun) Eveready ads and some book illustration. I've seen a signed 1939 ad illo in wash, drawn in a refreshing style reminiscent of marker comps from thirty years later. Jerry and his Grape-Nuts round out the page.

On the next page William Sakren peddles new, wonderful Jell-O Pudding in two separate strips.

Sandwiched between them is a half-page ad for Sal Hepatica, another laxative. They needed to loosen a lot of bowels back in the 1930s. Maybe it was the lack of junk food in their diets. Anyway, the artwork by Joseph King is an interesting combination of cartoony and straight styles. I went crazy trying to Google Mr. King. The internet is awash with references to painter Joseph Wallace King (1912-1996), who gained international recognition under the signature "Vinciata." Apparently something of an eccentric, King served in the North Carolina legislature and painted portraits of the likes of Queen Elizabeth II, King Fahd, and Richard Nixon. However most of the paintings and prints available online are capable but somewhat fuzzy paintings of idealized 1960s-style young women baring their breasts. (I presume Elizabeth had her blouse closed when he painted her.) One site said this King had once been an illustrator. Given his dates it's conceivable he did some ad work (he would have been 26 years old when the ad was published). Other cartoonists have become big shot painters...think of Everett Raymond Kinstler. Still, Joseph King isn't that uncommon a name. Does anyone know who this guy is?

(Sidebar: I'd swear on a stack of Esterbrook Probate Stub pens that the lettering on this strip is by Frank Engli. It looks just like the lettering on Terry and Sickles' Scorchy Smith.)

Concluding the Annual's comics section are strips by two familiar names from the newspaper strip world. John H. Striebel of Dixie Dugan fame offers two crispy, flaky ads for Crisco super-creamed pure vegetable shortening. Dixie makes a cameo appearance in one of them.

In between is a half page ad starring Mr. Peanut, drawn by Ham Fisher, of all people. Jack the Giant Killer kayoes the Giant with the the help of a fistful of Planter's Peanuts. Ever the pragmatist, Mr. Peanut also points out (to Jack's mom) that they're great for bridge parties, too...and they keep you trim. Often when a noted cartoonist did an advertising strip he'd get to sign it, but well-known egoist Fisher didn't get a byline on this one. Pity poor John Striebel. He masqueraded as both "Rush" and "Winifred Carter!" Is it my imagination, or does Fisher's Mr. Peanut look rather sinister?


Ger Apeldoorn said...

Wow! I think we should work together to produce an article (for Hogan's Ally, for instance) on comic strip ads. I know they had a short piece on Johnstone and Cushing, but there is so much more to be said. The fact that the Ad Art book gives so much information is great. I will have to look out for the next ten editions as well! Who knows what we may find!

Smurfswacker said...

An article sounds like a great idea, Ger...Johnstone & Cushing was the sort of place I'd have loved to have worked if (a) I were born earlier and (b) I drew a helluva lot better than I do!

I have several other AD annuals which are presently buried in the Demon Garage. I shall apply myself to digging them out.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

I decided to start the exceedingly tedious, tiome-consuming job of copmpiling an INDEX for the comics features in BOYS' LIFE magazine, which ain't easy, believe me, considering the monstrous, unreadable nature of their website. The up side is, they do have almost every page of every issue from the beginning posted, but, you have top download the stuff to be able to read or enjoy it.

ANYWAY... starttng with the Johnstone & Cushing color supplement (which began in Sep'52-- there's lots more misc. stuff going back at least a decade before that), "Joe King" has turned up on "SCOUTS IN ACTION" in Dec'52, and "FRONTIER TALES" starting in Dec'53. The latter seems tro have morphed into "KAM OF THE ANCIENT ONES" starting with Jan'54. That's all I've got so far.

I'm really wondering if some guys worked for J&C under aliases, as "John Sink" looks an awful lot like early Gil Kane to me, while a one-shot anonymous feature, "Faith Of His Fathers" (Nov'52), I would SWEAR was George Roussos' work.

E-mail me and I can send you images.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

I'm STILL trying to identify about 4 different artists who worked on "STORIES FROM THE BIBLE" in the mid-70s, between Curt Swan & Frank Bolle.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

"Johnstone & Cushing was the sort of place I'd have loved to have worked if (a) I were born earlier and (b) I drew a helluva lot better than I do!"

Al Stenzel apparently put them out of business when he took over the BOYS' LIFE account in the early 60s. That was the point where nearly all the artist credits VANISHED, and did not return until after Stenzel passed away. FOR SHAME!!!