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.

3 comments on Hey, Maybe Will Eisner Drew Scrappy After All

  • hi Harry,
    In doing my weekly Sunday Comics mailings for Yahoo Groups, I ran across a Sunday comic section distributed by Syndicated Features Corp., a part of the Eisner/Iger shop, which is a forerunner to the Spirit Sections distributed to newspapers in the 1940s. This supplement started in July, 1936 and features a character called “Happy” drawn by “Kin” or “Kim”. I could send you a copy of it if you write to me, you know my address. Maybe these comics might provide a link to your Eisner/Scrappy mystery.
    Regards, Mark Kausler

  • Ed

    it has that “eisner-esque” look to it! Nice find

  • I’ve always believed that the “Scrappy” strip was likely the work of either Eisner or possibly Iger, Harry. Eisner was doing much of their shop’s work at the time and utilizing various names to give the impression of it being a larger operation than it actually was. He also varied his style for the same reason.

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