Screwball Sunday: Social Distancing in 1902 with Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman

Below: “A Sardonic Soliloquy” Judge, January 17, 1903

From roughly 1890 to 1910 Eugene “Zim” Zimmerman enjoyed national prominence as the star cartoonist for Judge magazine. Emulating its predecessor, Puck, each issue of the humor weekly was stuffed with cartoons and funny prose. Much of the content was topical, reflecting both political and social issues of the day.

Today’s Screwball Sunday offers a color lithograph Zim cartoon about the public’s fear of the small pox outbreak of the early 1900s. Not exactly a pandemic, the outbreak was centered first in New York City and then Boston, where about 1600 people died. Nonetheless, the concept of social distancing is in full display in this humorous two-part cartoon in which a tramp scores libation in a local saloon by deftly playing the public fear of spreading a deadly communicative illness. This is an excellent illustration of how screwball cartoonists helped people find a laugh even in the grimmest of circumstances.

Even though Judge was formatted to be read in “portrait” mode, Zim enjoyed creating horizontal “landscape” cartoons such as this one. This format gave him the space to draw a variety of comic types in a single setting, something at which he excelled. Note how Zim winds up the energy on the first picture and explodes it in the second image. Compare this to the similarly dynamic 1902 Zim cartoon found in the extensive chapter on Zim in Screwball! The Cartoonist Who Made the Funnies on page 38.

It is interesting to note Zim invents a hobo-moocher character for this cartoon and names him Hungry Hank.  A few years earlier, in March 1900, another hobo with an h-alliterative name made his debut and quickly rose to fame: Happy Hooligan. Zim and Hooligan’s creator, Frederick Opper (also covered in Screwball!), had worked side-by-side as cartoonists for Puck magazine fifteen years earlier. Could Zim have worked in a nod to his old co-worker with Hungry Hank?

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