Friday, July 19, 2013

Art Collection: Two Original Drawings For "Indoor Sports" and "Judge Rummy" By "Tad" Dorgan, 1919

(Click any picture for bigger.)

It's a twofer! These two drawings follow the same specs I've listed elsewhere, and both feature pen, brush, ink, and blue pencil to indicate where to place the Ben-Day dot screens (you can even see the words "Ben Day" written in blue pencil below the lower-left margin of the drawing above). The image area is identical in both: 8" x 12.5". And, as always, the boards look like they were cut out with dull steak knives, practically a Tad signature. These are both from 1919; the "Judge Rummy" strip above from January, and the "Indoor Sports" panel below from July (the date was later scraped and altered for re-issue).

I've written before that I have a somewhat lower opinion of Tad's talking dog gag strips when compared to the detailed, sharply observed, almost anthropological Indoor Sports panels. In these examples, the opposite is true, because this is an excellent Judge Rummy strip and, to be honest, one of the least impressive Indoor Sports I've ever seen.

So Judge Rummy is bickering with "the Wiff", and in the process of storming out of the house. Distracted by the fight, he puts on his wife's coat and hat, casts off the hat and replaces it with his own, and turns to leave... still wearing his wife's fur-lined coat. The postures and facial expressions are perfect; it's a carefully executed pantomime gag. What's interesting is that the words are nothing, just mindless nattering, background noise for the silent gag. Clever stuff!

As a bonus, this one still has the engraving order on the back:

So we learn that it's slated to be four columns, single-color line art, and that the title is "The Judge Knows", that it's to run on January 24, and that the order was placed on January 4, which demonstrates that Tad worked on a short, hectic turnaround.

Speaking of hectic turnarounds, here's the Indoor Sports panel:

I have a theory that deadlines could be a real problem for the overworked Tad, and that occasionally led to short-cuts and rush-jobs. After all, during this period he was producing two daily features, occasional Sunday pages, and assorted sports illustrations, evidently with little assistance. I've looked at many hundreds of these panels, and these quickies stick out like a sore thumb to me, and the present example is one of those. First of all, Tad's pulling the oldest lazy cartoonist trick in the book: most of the characters have their hands in their pockets! There is a near absence of hatching (compare to this one), the sloppy brushwork doesn't follow the pen contours and turns the central character into an ill-defined black blob, and then the whole thing is drenched in Ben-Day dots (indicated by blue pencil) to cover up the incriminating evidence.

The gag is that some guy is trying to bullshit his way into the private press room at the ballpark. It's typical Indoor Sports phoniness/onlooker judgement fodder, but again, it doesn't seem very well thought out, and the dialogue is all over the place.

Things improve a little if you see how it looked with the Ben-Day dots as published:

So my theory is that these quickies, with their lack of detail, over-reliance on dot screens, and labor-saving gimmicks like silhouettes (see an example which turned out great here) and darkened rooms, probably come at the "end of the batch", when Tad was really up against his deadline and needed to squeak out a few more drawings as his editor was tapping his foot and looking at his watch in the doorway.

They can't all be winners, especially when you're producing so much stuff, so I'll forgive Tad for this one; it's hardly terrible, after all. 

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