(Click for bigger. But before you do, look at the superb rhythm of the black spaces in the thumbnail!)
This pen, brush, and ink drawing on illustration board is rather small for a daily strip, measuring 17.75" x 4.75". There is no detectable pencil underdrawing.
I like weird art, I like weird music, but I tend to collect fairly normal comic art! After all, Tad Dorgan was as mainstream as mainstream got in the teens and 20s, and Ernie Bushmiller was one of the most successful comic strip artists of all time.
But the work of C. M. Payne really satisfies my craving for the unusual and idiosyncratic. He was certainly one of the strangest gag cartoonists of his day, and his career was long. This example of his long-running "S'Matter, Pop?" strip, from 1927, comes from the height of Payne's strange, inscrutable minimalist powers. The drawings are barely there, and the gag is a "do as I say, not as I do" softball, barely even worth commenting upon. But look at how weird and great those scratchy little drawings are, floating around in outer space amongst their blobby, oddly palpable shadows! Click the detail below for a supersized version, and marvel at the expressive chaos:
From what I've seen of its earlier days, "S'Matter, Pop?" was a much more normal "rascally kids" strip when it started, but as it evolved it got increasingly distorted on the one hand, and stripped down on the other, until you're left with the abstract figures and completely undelineated space you see here. Most of the strips I've seen from this period show the father sitting down, because how else could that bizarre figure fit into the panels? But look at the postures, the facial expressions... look at the hands in the last panel! Make no mistake about it: this is a master at work.
There isn't much to read about Payne online, but it seems that his creations eventually got too esoteric and "soft" for the marketplace, and he evidently died poor and forgotten. He left his mark, however: Charles Schulz was a big fan, and frequently cited "S'Matter, Pop?" as a major, formative influence on Peanuts (and, I bet, provided an instructive example of the formal advantages of banishing adult characters from his own work)..