Friday, May 06, 2011

Art Collection: "Judge Rummy" Comic Strip Drawing By "TAD" Dorgan, 1920*

Click for bigger.

Here’s my newest acquisition, original art for a “Judge Rummy's Court” (or possibly "Indoor Sports")* comic strip by T. A. Dorgan from about 1918-19*.

Dorgan was on the younger end of the first generation of newspaper comic strip artists. He wasn’t a brilliant draftsman like his close friend George Herriman (Krazy Kat), but he was vastly more popular and influential at the time. He was, basically, a newsprint superstar in the era before radio, and was also a respected  and widely-read sports writer. He had a major impact on popular culture, introducing such slang terms and phrases as “drugstore cowboy,” “hard-boiled,” “dumbbell”, “yes, we have no bananas” and “23 Skiddoo”, among others. You can read more about this important pop-culture figure here.

I love the above strip because it features the classic comic cliché of a character falling over backwards in the last panel, a gag which is still used in comics today (although Dorgan probably didn't invent it). Also, it’s just a funny (if a bit sexist) vaudeville-style joke. It’s interesting to me that Charles Schulz is usually credited with taking the comic strip down to its barest essentials, but here’s Dorgan doing the same thing over thirty years earlier.

Technically, the drawing has some interesting features: there are only a few vague pencil marks visible, very light and generalized. Some are erased. The (non-reproducing) blue pencil indicates where the artist wished to have a dot screen (“zip-a-tone”) applied in the production process for reproduction. Later, most cartoonists integrated dot screens directly into their original drawings (with disastrous results from a conservation standpoint, as the dot screens were applied with rubber cement).

*The "-29-" inscription must refer to either the day of the month or was possibly put there much later, as Dorgan's strips were used and re-used in syndication for years and years after he retired in 1920. If you look around the web at his work, you'll see much confusion over dates due to this.

UPDATE: Pony Pal Mark Newgarden informs me that the idea that Dorgan retired in 1920 isn't true as far as he knows (and he knows A LOT about early comic strips). However, the strip still probably dates to the end of the teens.

*UPDATE: I've been doing a little research, and was able to find, incredibly, a scan on the Library of Congress' website showing the cartoon as published (as "Old Judge Rumhauser") on February 14, 1920, in the El Paso Herald. The scan confirms that the number in the lower right-hand corner is original and refers neither to the year nor the day of the month, but, I suppose, to the number in the batch? The scan also confirms the use of dot-screen applied during the production process where TAD used the blue pencil. Very exciting!


Lazy Media said...

James Lileks had a funny bit about the "flip take," which in lesser comics such as "Jerry On The Job" was always preceded by the "violently ordinary rejoinder."

samael7 said...

Cool piece of art history.

And, ah, domestic abuse jokes: paving the way for Andy Capp early on, I see!

Peteykins said...

...and the horrible Lockhorns.