Hey, Maybe Will Eisner Drew Scrappy After All

Earlier today, I wrote about learning–via a Will Eisner panel at Comic-Con–about Wow, What a Magazine, which published some of Will Eisner’s earliest work as well as at least one panel of Scrappy. At a different Eisner panel, Denis Kitchen mentioned The Lost Work of Will Eisner, a fascinating 2016 book which reprints two hardly-seen Eisner newspaper strips from the same era, Uncle Otto and Harry Karry. (They’re printed from the original printing plates, part of a recently-unearthed collection of 5,000 plates for various obscure comics.)

I didn’t see a copy of the Lost Art book at Comic-Con–even though celebrating Will Eisner was one of the official activities of the convention this year, its show floor is no longer the sort of place where scads of Will Eisner comics are for sale. But I did order a copy from Amazon, and it was waiting for me when I got home.

It’s a neat book. And having examined Uncle Otto and Harry Karry, I am now officially upgrading Will Eisner from a guy who didn’t seem like much of a candidate to have drawn the Scrappy newspaper strip to an an actual contender.

Here are snippets of the first installment of Scrappy, Uncle Otto, and Harry Karry. They all involve tough guys with caps, and while I’m aware that’s not proof in itself, it’s enough to be intriguing.

Eisner comparison

Another thing I noticed: the word balloon tail shapes in Scrappy and Harry are similar.

Stylistically, these three strips are nowhere near identical, I know. But there are multiple explanations why the Scrappy might be by Eisner even if I haven’t found any other Eisner that looks just like it:

  • Eisner was getting better all the time. From year to year and month to month and maybe even panel to panel. The Scrappy–which is the most confident of the three–may have been done a bit later than Otto and Harry.
  • He intentionally switched styles and sometimes was crude on purpose. Kitchen’s intro to the Lost Art book quotes Eisner to that effect in reference to his work for Fiction House. (He wanted them to think that Eisner-Iger had a larger staff of cartoonists than it did.)
  • The amount of work he put into his art varied. Lost Art mentions this too, noting that his level of interest and/or available time varied.
  • He often channeled other artists. Harry Karry started out riffing on Segar, as you can tell from the three panels above. After a few strips, it abruptly switched to aping Alex Raymond–in mid-strip!
  • He probably had help here and there. Lost Art says that Otto‘s level of quality varied and guesses that it might not have been 100% Eisner 100% of the time.

Incidentally, I’m focusing on the first Scrappy installment here. It’s enough different stylistically from later strips that if the same person did it, it’s clear it wasn’t all in one fell swoop.

If you have any thoughts on this vital matter, lemme know.

Wow! More on Scrappy, Will Eisner, and Jerry Iger

I’m just back from the San Diego Comic-Con, where I didn’t find any Scrappy-related items. But I did attend a panel about Will Eisner and the Spirit, one of several at the con in 2017, Eisner’s centennial year. During it, one of the panelists (Denis Kitchen?) mentioned that some thoughtful soul had made Wow What a Magazine–a 1936 proto-comic edited by Jerry Iger, with extremely early Will Eisner art–available for downloading. It occurred to me that the publication might provide some clues about the vital question of who drew the Scrappy newspaper strip.

It turns out that the excellent Digital Comic Museum site recently made one issue of Wow available–issue #2–along with a write-up about the series and its historical significance. Having even one Wow available as a free download is quite a development, since all four issues of the short-lived publication are rare and will cost you thousands if you can find them.

When I skimmed issue #2, I did a little double-take when I found some Scrappy in it. Specifically, a panel of Scrappy Sayings, the odd feature which apparently debuted in 1935, ran in small papers, and seemed to exist purely to promote Scrappy. It’s one I hadn’t previously seen.

Scrappy Sayings

This is the first evidence I’ve seen that Iger/Eisner had any connection with Scrappy Sayings. The discovery merits more contemplation, but for now, I wonder whether Iger had some association with its creation and if there’s any chance he drew it. (It’s also possible that he just picked up an existing comic for publication–it’s filler, not mentioned in an otherwise detailed table of contents.)

Wow What a Magazine #2 is also chock-full of cartoony art, giving us lots of examples of work we can compare to the Scrappy strip in hopes of guessing the latter’s artist or artists. (The first Scrappy strip looks like it might be by a different person than later installments.)

Here’s Iger:

Buddy and Bill

And Bob Kane, or someone else he convinced to draw this for him:

Hiram Hick by Bob Kane

And Bob Smart, if he was a real person:

And George Brenner:

And someone who didn’t sign this strip:


And Will Eisner, with more art of Harry Karry, one of his earliest characters:

Well…this stuff is fun to look at, but none of it strikes me as close enough in style to the Scrappy strip to put anyone on a list of likely Scrappy artists.

But…

A while back, ace comics historian Steven Rowe had suggested Dick Briefer as another possible Scrappy artist. I was familiar with Briefer’s later Frankenstein comics, in both their scary and funny variants, and knew of the adaptation of The Hunchback of Notre Dame which he did for Eisner/Iger. But I hadn’t seen any Briefer art that was both early and cartoony.

Well, thinking about Wow led me to track down the covers of the other issues–they’re available online, even though their insides aren’t–and it turns out that Briefer drew cartoony covers for issues #1 and #4.

Wow

These are not obviously by a person who drew the Scrappy strip. But you know what? It’s at least conceivable that Briefer is our guy. Or at least they don’t provide evidence that we should rule him out. I’d like to find strip work in a humorous vein that Briefer did in this era. For now, the search continues…

Scrappy in the Race

Scrappy in the Race

If you aspire to collect Scrappy original art, you must be a patient soul: It comes along very, very rarely. But I’ve added another item to my collection. And–this being Scrappy–it’s another wonderfully mysterious work.

The piece is titled “Scrappy in the Race,” and was done for a piece of Scrappy merchandise–which I know for sure because it’s marked “Scrappy and Oopie merchandising” on the backside. I don’t know where it appeared. Actually, I don’t even know if it appeared, especially since it’s in pencil and not all that tight. It could have been intended for almost anything, from a book illustration to a jigsaw puzzle.

It seems obvious that this art, unlike some associated with Scrappy products, was done by a Mintz staffer. Is it by Dick Huemer? It certainly feels like it might be–and Oopy’s glee and expressive hands strike me as Huemeresque–but I’m not sure. I asked Dick’s son, Dr. Richard Huemer, and he wasn’t sure either. Like me, he concluded that it would be easier to tell if it was inked. (His father had a particularly elegant, distinctive inking style.)

I do have a Scrappy original that is by Dick Huemer, and other than the fact it’s also on Strathmore board, it doesn’t particularly resemble this one. It doesn’t feel like they’re from the same project. Probably.

I’d love to think that whatever piece of merchandise this was done for is out there somewhere, available for rediscovery. If it isn’t, I’ll survive–you don’t collect Scrappy art unless you’re willing to accept that some enigmas were never meant to be solved.

Still More Scrappy Mystery Art

I’m beginning to think that deeming art of Scrappy to be mysterious is at least a tad redundant. Here’s a nicely framed drawing of Scrappy signed “Nitro.” (I assume that’s a signature–I’m not sure what else it would be.)

You might guess from a glance that this pose is a swipe. If you did, you’d be right. It’s borrowed from this stock poster, where Scrappy is wearing the same odd striped shirt and leggings.

I don’t know who Nitro was or what the purpose of this art was, and I’m afraid the chances are slim that I’ll ever learn. But I do have my semi-educated suspicions. I think this is a bootleg print that was given away at carnivals or other venues that required cheap prizes and weren’t too fussy about their provenance.

For what it’s worth, the gent who sold me this drawing also had one, with the same ornamental border, of Bill Holman’s newspaper feline Spooky–who, having first appeared in 1935, was a contemporary of Scrappy’s.

I could certainly imagine someone knocking out these drawings without any consideration of copyrights. And it’s nice to think that someone, somewhere knocked over some milk bottles with a baseball, had a choice of prints of multiple cartoon characters–and picked Scrappy.

Who Drew the Scrappy Strip?

We’ve now seen a total of 18 strips from the Scrappy newspaper strip, done circa 1937 by the Eisner/Iger studio. (Here they are: part one, part two, and part three.) There’s more to come before I run out of strips to share with you. But let’s take a break to consider a burning question: who drew these?

We can cross one name off the list without even thinking about it, and it’s the only one on the strip: Charles Mintz. After that, things get tricky.

A couple of basic points:

  • I’m working under the assumption that the strip was drawn by someone under the employ of Eisner & Iger Associates. In theory, it could have been produced by the Mintz Studio, but it doesn’t have that much of an animation feel and doesn’t seem to have been done by anyone who was terribly comfortable drawing Scrappy, Margy, and Yippy.
  • I think there were actually multiple someones involved. The first strip is strikingly more polished than later ones, and the word balloons are in a different style. It’s also possible that multiple collaborators worked to pull together later strips. And I don’t have a clue whether whoever worked on the art was also involved in the story.

With that in mind, let’s look at the most obvious candidates:

Will Eisner

Argument he might have drawn the Scrappy strip: mostly the fact that he was the co-proprietor of the company behind it.

The evidence, pro or con: Eisner is, of course, most famous for comics that mixed adventure and drama with a pretty generous dollop of humor–but not for humor comics per se. However, his earliest work had a higher bigfoot quotient, which he eventually outgrew. The notion of him doing a humor/adventure continuity such as Scrappy isn’t inherently unlikely.

Thanks to Cat Yronwode’s excellent 1982 book The Art of Will Eisner, here are some examples of early, cartoony Eisner. (Click them for a larger view.)

This is Eisner’s 1935 high-school strip, about a character named…Spunky:

spunky

Also from 1935, part of samples he did for something called Dopey and the Duke:

dopey and the duke

A bit of another 1935 sample for Harry Carey:

harrycarey

The bottom line: None of these examples of Eisner being cartoony look all that much like the Scrappy strip to me. Then again, they date from a couple of years or so before the Scrappy strips were apparently done. Eisner was rapidly getting better at the time.  And whoever did draw Scrappy may have been making a (not particularly successful) attempt to give the strip an animation feel.

Basically, I’m not quite ready to declare that it’s obvious that Eisner didn’t have anything to do with the Scrappy art–but I don’t see any clear evidence that he did, either.

Jerry Iger

Argument he might have drawn the Scrappy strip: He was the co-owner of Eisner/Iger, and, as a cartoonist, had a specialty: comics about little kids.

The evidence, pro or con: Iger was more than decade older than Eisner, and by the late 1930s, his style seems to have settled. Here’s a snippet of Bobby which is very, very representative of his work.

bobby 2

The bottom line: This is stiff, static stuff. If anything, it looks even less like Scrappy than early Eisner does.

Bob Kane

Argument he might have drawn the Scrappy strip: Before he gained fame for Batman, young Kane worked for Eisner/Iger and was a humor specialist, best known for a creation called Peter Pupp, featured in Fiction House’s Jumbo Comics. It was a funny-animal adventure strip in the mold of Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse. That might have made Kane the most obvious candidate in the shop to tackle Scrappy, which, in the Eisner/Iger version, also has a strong Gottfredsonesque tinge.

The evidence, pro or con: Today, Kane is legendary for hiring artists more gifted than himself to draw Batman, than signing his name to their work. For what its worth, Peter Pupp varies so much in style from installment to installment that it seems apparent that Kane had help with it, too. A few samples:

peter pupp 1

peter pupp 2

peter pupp 3

Eventually, after Batman debuted in Detective Comics #27, Kane’s byline disappeared from Peter Pupp, which was credited instead to “Golleh.” Some of the Golleh strips are reprints of Kane’s work–or at least work that he signed–but some of them may have been done without his involvement. This one is of the latter sort, and I find it at least vaguely reminiscent of the flavor of the Scrappy strip. (It may or may not mean anything that both Scrappy and this strip featured the notion of shooting a gun filled with cheese.)

peter pupp maravian

The bottom line: You know what? None of the Peter Pupps I’ve seen, with or without Bob Kane’s signature, look so much like Scrappy that I think that they were drawn by the same person.

Three logical candidates; no overwhelming reason to think they drew Scrappy. I’m sorry that I didn’t have the chance to ask Will Eisner about it; I first learned that the strip existed a couple of years after he passed away.

I’m going to continue to research this topic–and would welcome any information or guesses you might have.

Housekeeping Note

It’s been nearly five years since I revamped Scrappyland into a blog. In that time, I’ve written nearly a hundred posts. But I’ve never made it that easy to look back at all those items, which now greatly outnumber the articles from the site’s early incarnation.

To help rectify that, here are links to all the posts, all on one page. (You can also reach it from the “Blog Archive” link to the left.)

The Scrappy Comic Strip: Part Three

You’ve been very patient during the many months since I last ran a chunk of the 1930s Scrappy newspaper strip. (If you’re just joining us, here are chunk one and chunk two.)

To recap what this thing is: In 1937 or thereabouts, Will Eisner and Jerry Iger tried to sell a Scrappy strip to newspapers. I know of no evidence that it ever ran in any U.S. papers. But it did show up in a comic book called Wags in Australia and the U.K., in another called Bilboquet in France, and–eventually–as a repurposed pseudo-Scrappy named Shorty Shortcake in Wonder Comics.

I still don’t know who wrote and drew this. The most logical candidates are Eisner, Iger, and Bob Kane, who did cartoony stuff for them. But I haven’t seen any work by any of them that looks much like this strip. (More on this soon.) Whoever did it, it’s unpolished but (I think) surprisingly entertaining. Even though it doesn’t have much to do with the animated cartoons it’s based on.

Anyhow, here you go. (Click on the strips to read them at a larger size.) Our silly (but, um, newly relevant) plotline involves crime along the Mexican border. The characters include Scrappy, Margy, a kleptomaniac tycoon named Mr. De Welth, and a bandito called Tiny.

More to come! I’ll be sorry when I run out of these.

Land of the Rising Son

scrappyjapan

I’ve been meaning to post the above image for a while now. It was brought to my attention by wondrous cartoonist/friend of Scrappy Milton Knight, and shows Scrappy on a battlefield, wearing a Japanese army helmet, with a Japanese flag and a tank in the background.

Or at least that sure is what it seems to depict. I did a quadruple take when I saw Milton share the picture on Facebook, and started asking myself questions. Was that definitely Scrappy? Was he even known in Japan? Was this some sort of piece of Axis propaganda? (The Little Theatre, the final Scrappy cartoon, was released in February 1941, depriving the character of the chance of fighting on our side.)

Milton told me that he didn’t know anything about the art, and found it on Pinterest. That led me to do a little research…and I found the following images, also on Pinterest.

risingson4

risingson3

risingson2

Maybe these aren’t of Scrappy. But it doesn’t seem like a crazy supposition that whoever drew them could have seen Scrappy and drawn inspiration from the character. (According to the Pinterest postings, these are 1930s postcards, which places them in the Scrappy era.)

Way back when I started Scrappyland, someone who visited the site called Scrappy “the ungodly love-child of Mickey Mouse and Astro Boy.” That’s not a bad gut reaction, and as it indicates, Scrappy looks rather like a proto-anime character. Seeing these 1930s Japanese drawings led me to wonder: Is it possible that anime characters look like Scrappy because they’re drawn in a style directly influenced by Scrappy?

Having wondered that, I next wondered whether Osamu Tezuka, Japan’s comics and animation genius and the creator of Tetsuwan Atomu (aka Astro Boy) was a Scrappy fan. That led me to a fascinating 2012 Comics Journal article by Ryan Holmberg about Tezuka’s American influences. As Holmberg recounts, the artist frequently spoke about his love of American cartooning, in the form of Disney animation, Captain Marvel, Plastic Man, Dick Tracy, and other creations.

Holmberg’s piece doesn’t mention Scrappy. But it does discuss an early (1946) Tezuka character, Little Ma. Here are some images of him from the Holmberg article.

littlemachan-3

littlema2

And here’s Pete, a character from New Treasure Island (1947), a seminal Tezuka comic, which Holmberg discusses in another article that argues that it was influenced by Disney comics by Carl Barks and Floyd Gottfredson.

littlemachan-car

Based on this imagery, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to say that Tezuka may have known of Scrappy, and the character may have influenced his early work, as did Disney comics. (D. Wolfe, a Holmberg commenter, said the same thing.) Nothing odd about Tezuka not mentioning Scrappy in interviews–at the time of Tezuka’s death in 1989, the character was even more forgotten than he is now.

Exactly what form Tezuka might have seen Scrappy in, I don’t know. He spoke of his father’s home-movie projector, and perhaps some Scrappy reels somehow made their way from the U.S. to Japan. But if Tezuka was a Scrappy fan, then Scrappy isn’t the love child of Mickey Mouse and Atom Boy; Atom Boy is the love child of Scrappy and Mickey Mouse.

Any theories? Am I hallucinating?

Merry Christmas (Among Other Holidays) From Scrappy

img_0384

Over at his wonderful Tralfaz blog, Don Yowp is celebrating Christmas cartoons. He didn’t forget Scrappy–whose 1934 short Holiday Land was the first Color Rhapsody cartoon and an Oscar nominee. (Note from the ad above that Columbia promoted it as a Thanksgiving release–but Santa is part of the festivities.)

This isn’t a great Scrappy cartoon–it’s more interested in being a lush, heartwarming pseudo-Silly Symphony extravaganza than a laugh riot–but is worth your time. You can watch it here after you’ve read Yowp. And somewhere in there, you should find time to enjoy Steve Stanchfield’s 2014 piece on the short.

Scrappy holidays to you!

The Story of Sally O’Neil

image-26

Possibly the single best thing about running Scrappyland is that when people decide to research Scrappy on the web, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will find their way here–even if they start out wholly ignorant of him, as so many people regrettably are.

That was the case with Brandon Manzione, who bought a photo of Sally O’Neil, an actress who appeared in silent films and early talkies, and wondered why she was brandishing a carton of candy bars emblazoned with SCRAPPY logos. He Googled around, found my writings on Scrappy candy, and dropped me a note.

I can’t blame Brandon for not having heard of Scrappy; I was unfamiliar with Sally O’Neil until I got his email. I was pretty sure why she would pose with Scrappy bars, though, and a quick visit to IMDB confirmed my hunch. Runkel Bros.’ Scrappy candy dated from 1935–it was promoted to a fare-the-well in Scrappy’s Own Magazine that year–and I assumed that O’Neil made a Columbia film at that time and that the studio pressed her into service to shill for Scrappy, as it was wont to do.

Yup: O’Neil costarred with Victor Jory in a 1935 Columbia release, Too Tough to Kill, about a plot to blow up a tunnel out west. She played a newspaper reporter, and I’m sorry to report that the Independent Exhibitors’ Film Bulletin dismissed the movie as “no better than passable for the city dumps and cheap rural houses.” I’m not even sure what a “city dump” is in this case, but it can’t be good.

Even in 1935, O’Neil (1908-1968) was winding down her career. (She made only one more film after Too Tough to Kill.) Born Virginia Louise Noonan, she worked in Vaudeville as “Chotsie” Noonan–a stage name I wish she’d hung onto–before entering the movie business. Some of her silent features, including Don’t, Mike, and The Auction Block, are sadly presumed to be lost; she was also in Buster Keaton’s 1926 feature Battling Butler, which survives, and which I may have seen decades ago, as “the mountain girl.” In the sound era, she starred in 1931’s The Brat, which I assume must be interesting if only because of the fact that it was directed by John Ford.

image-30I was also briefly excited by IMDB’s contention that O’Neil was in 45 Minutes From Hollywood, the 1926 Hal Roach short that starred Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy–without managing to put them together in even one scene–until I learned that the website apparently confused Sally with her sister, who was born Susan Noonan and acted as Sue O’Neil before switching to Molly O’Day.

Sally’s star is said to have fallen in the talkie era because of her thick New Jersey accent and stage fright. A 1932 movie-fan magazine I ran across told a less conventional tale of career woe: Her beloved brother “Hutch” was convicted (perhaps unjustly) of stealing a couple of fur coats that belonged to bandleader Ted Lewis. He was sentenced to seven years in California’s Folsom State Prison, which sounds excessive even if he was guilty; Sally supposedly took off two years to be with the poor guy and spent all her money to defend him.

image-28

By the time frame of Too Tough to Kill, O’Neil may have been considered to have become a bit of a has-been: One magazine article about her carried the headline “I Wonder What’s Become of Sally.” But at least Columbia still thought she was enough of a celeb to help move Scrappy candy, which helps to make up for the fact that it misspelled her last name on the photo in which she did so.

And hey, at around the same time, the Safe-Kurl people of Cincinnati, Ohio, apparently paid her–handsomely, I hope–to endorse their miracle electric hair waver. I just wish she looked happier in the ad…

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