The Chadbourne Dossier: “Some of Chad’s Books on Comics, & One Artist” (Fifth in a Series)

Let’s continue our occasional series – begun here and continued here, here, and here – spotlighting material shared with us by that longtime Friend of LOAC, Bill Chadbourne. In our fourth installment we spotlighted some of the books Chad had shared with us related to the silver screen, but of course he’s sent a variety of books focusing on comic strips and their creators.

The slimmest of these volumes, and visually the most delightful, is a slim 2006 hardcover from our friends at Fantagraphics Books. Top Hats and Flappers: The Art of Russell Patterson features scores of color and black-and-white pieces by this influential master. “I just re-read it this morning,” Chad said in an e-mail as he was sending this and other books our way. “[Patterson] was a mighty influence on several cartoonists – even Caniff testified to his greatness. Like Sickles, this artist was also an illustrator who influenced a generation, beginning in the 1920s. His simple line art seemed effortless, unless one tried to emulate it.”

Russell Patterson was a superstar in the days when burgeoning markets for illustration made celebrities of many cartoonists; he made sizable contributions to the newspaper comics page, with strips ranging from Wings of Love (launching in 1929) to Mamie, which ran from 1951-56. He was also prominently featured in most of the best “slick” magazines of the day, Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Life, and Vanity Fair among them. As usual, click each image for an isolated view:

Much is made of Patterson’s depiction of “flappers” – the forward-thinking, forward-acting young women who helped put the Roar in the Roaring Twenties. “Patterson’s flappers … were so-called because of the young ladies’ unbuckled galoshes that ‘flapped,’” said Chad. “I was aware of this and found multiple references to that fact when I was researching [a] novel [that was never finished]. Then, a few years ago, [a major magazine] did a short, up-front piece on the Roaring Twenties and declared the name ‘flapper’ came from British young ladies – nothing remotely to do with galoshes! I immediately wrote a letter to the editor and cited my research, and even added a movie poster from Singin’ in the Rain, showing Debbie Reynolds with said galoshes. They chose not to repair their error and I cancelled my subscription. (There! That’ll teach ’em! Bet they’re sorry now!)”

Check those flappin’ boots on Debbie!

The Patterson Girl remains an enduring image, one that captures a unique time in American’s popular culture. As these images show, the vibrancy of Russell Patterson’s work remains undimmed with the passing of years.

Chad also provided us with a 1971 reprint of The Granddaddy of ’Em All – Martin Sheridan’s Comics and Their Creators!

Sheridan had been both Russell Westover’s and Martin Branner’s assistant, during which time he rubbed elbows with many of the strip talents of the day. He went on to publish articles and photographs in a variety of newspapers and slicks, and wrote one novel based on his experiences as a journalist during World War II. While that war still being fought in both Europe and the Pacific, Comics and Their Creators was published, in 1944, and became the first-ever book about comic strips, predating Coulton Waugh’s The Comics by three years.

Since the book is of a size comparable to a modern-day paperback (of full-size dimensions, not “Pocket Books-sized”), the artwork and photographs tend to be on the small and muddy size. Still, the visuals are a bit of added sweetening to the rich confection of the text, where Sheridan captures biographies, insights, and quotes from the major cartooning talents whom the newspapers had featured up to that day. Remember, 1944 predates strips such as Peanuts, King Aroo, or Beetle Bailey, so Sparky Schulz isn’t featured here, but Harry Hershfield is. J.R. Williams gets discussed, with Sheridan breezily referring to him as “Jim,” while the book briefly revives for today’s readers names that the passing of the decades have largely erased, including Kenneth Kling, Ellison Hoover, and J. Millar Watt.

For the major talents of the era, Sheridan often serves up a variety of juicy quotes, direct from the sources. Consider this from Cliff (Polly and Her Pals) Sterrett: “Comic artists usually receive some fan mail. We cherish the compliments. I have always kept in mind the letters from persons who write and always ask for something … One twelve-year-old boy sent me a request for ten thousand dollars, or else. Other times I have received insulting letters from insane and feeble-minded persons. All sorts of propagandists bombard you frequently with letters. But the comic artist has to take all this and like it!”

Comics scholars are encouraged to seek out a copy of this invaluable book in order to get a real “You Are There” feel for the artists who populated the industry through the 1940s.

The comics-related books Chad sent to us doesn’t stop here – keep watching this space in the days ahead for a look inside more of these books.

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