Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Art Collection: "Indoor Sports" Panel By "Tad" Dorgan, Ca. 1922-25

(Click for bigger.)

TADstravaganza continues with perhaps my favorite drawing by Dorgan in my collection. The busted vaudevillian crooner and his jaded accompanist have got to be two of the most grotesque characters ever to flow from the celebrated cartoonist's pen. Note, too, how he uses heavy blacks and patterns to emphasize these figures. I love the later "Indoor Sports" panels which often feature more depth than the frieze-like earlier examples; note how Tad uses progressively lighter lines and fewer details in the figures placed further back in the scene. Elsewhere, the diners' ruminations on the popularity of corny "Mother songs" is typical sarcastic Tad banter. I haven't found this one in the online newspaper archives, but I'm assuming this is from the early to mid 1920s. It's tricky to date, because the prohibition gag makes me think earlier, but the sophistication of the execution and composition make me think later. Note, too, that Tad spent plenty of time on this one, with no shortcuts such as dot screens or silhouettes.

What's really fun to see in this cartoon, besides the excellent draftsmanship, is the setting, a classic slice of Americana if ever there was one. The scene takes place at a "beefsteak banquet", and not to be lazy or anything, but Wikipedia's entry on the subject is too good not to simply cut and paste:

Beefsteak banquets originated among the working class of New York City in the mid-1800s as celebratory meals or "testimonials". The meal would generally be set up by an organization wishing to laud or raise money for politicians, newly promoted friends, or celebrities.


 Early beefsteaks were held in a relaxed, men-only atmosphere, with diners sitting on crates and eating with their fingers off of rough, improvised tables in saloons, rental halls, or residential basements. Food and drink were the focus of the evening, and entertainment often consisted simply of those present telling stories and singing amongst themselves. Brass bands were sometimes hired.


Though the centerpiece of beefsteak culture was indisputably the frenzied consumption of beef and beer, with diners eating with their fingers and drinking with abandon, serving styles varied. 1930s-era beefsteaks could be grouped into two styles, referred to by Joseph Mitchell in a 1939 The New Yorker article as "East Side" and "West Side" and roughly corresponding to the geographic separation of New York City into the same-named areas. Each group claimed to Mitchell to have originated beefsteak banquets and to have the most authentic serving and eating styles.

This cartoon shows a more working-class "East Side" beefsteak, held to benefit a neighborhood volunteer fire department. Note that the attendees are wearing butcher's aprons and chef's hats, just as in this photo from ten years later.  No utensils allowed, so just imagine everybody wiping their hands on their chests throughout the evening. Tad's beefsteak is much grittier than the one shown by the NY Times, though, with everybody sitting on and at crates, and the suggestion of a refuse-littered floor and illicit alcohol (seldom a big deal in Tad's prohibition-era comics).

Coming next: a rare drawing by Tad from 20 years earlier!