Wednesday, May 6, 2009

George Carlson's Film Fun

Down in Front!
George Carlson (1887-1962) is best known to comics fans for his work in the Jingle Jangle comic books. He had a long career illustrating children's books, including the Uncle Wiggly series. But my favorite Carlson work came from the beginning of his career, when he created "movies" for Judge and Film Fun magazines.

Judge was a humor weekly created in 1881. Its founder was James Wales, who had worked as a cartoonist for Joseph Keppler's Puck magazine. Judge was so similar to its rival that it had trouble catching on. Four years later Wales sold the magazine to millionaire William J. Arkell, who solved the problem by hiring away two of Puck's top people. Arkell was a staunch Republican who used the magazine to trash Grover Cleveland and the Democrats. The formula must have worked, because eventually Judge boasted a circulation greater than Puck's. New talent, including James Montgomery Flagg, Richard Outcault, Art Young, and Frank Godwin joined the magazine. Judge flourished through the early 1920s, but the magazine was dealt a body blow by the Depression from which it never recovered. It went monthly in 1932 and limped to a long-overdue demise in 1947.

In the 'teens Judge began covering the world of (silent) movies, running photos, capsule reviews, interviews and celebrity articles. These features eventually spun off into Film Fun magazine, which had begun as a Judge reprint mag called first Judge's Library, then The Library of Fun. Film Fun is best remembered today for the long series of pinup cover Enoch Bolles painted beginning about 1921.

While George Carlson's comic strips did poke gentle fun at the movies, they were mostly vehicles for his gags. His funny drawings were interspersed with dead-serious title cards and sometimes (as in the case of Lady Godiva's ride), interference by the audience. And of course each film was approved by the Board of Censorship.

These two Carlson movies came from one of Judge-Leslie Company's collections entitled Caricature: the Wit and Humor of a Nation in Picture, Song, and Story, Illustrated by America's Greatest Artists. These hardbound books reprint a mix of cartoons, jokes, and columns from Judge and Film Fun. They often show up in used book stores, usually not in very good shape. Most of the volumes of Caricature I own seem from internal evidence to date from 1911-1919. None of the books have dates and I've seen many content variations. Occasionally some material appears in more than one book. I don't know if anyone has attempted to index them. Could they be, like the old comic book annuals, simply leftover Judge "insides" bound together?


Anonymous said...

Man, Crumb must be nuts for this guy. Kindred spirit (not that Carlson would exactly relate to Crumb's work, though, I would imagine).

Harlan Ellison, who evidently encountered Jingle Jangle tales at a young age, wrote a loving tribute to Carlson for, I think, Comics Values Monthly.

He was a wild, free visionary.

Hey, did you just mention Frank Godwin?

Smurfswacker said...

Yeah, I'm going to post a couple of Frank's drawings here tomorrow (sadly, a couple is all I have found).