Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Art Collection: "Indoor Sports" Drawing By Tad Dorgan, 1925

(Click for lots bigger.)

Another outstanding Tad drawing! Like the last one, this one is labor-intensive, with lots of shading, hatching, beautiful pen work and loads of details, sharply observed clothing, etc. It's a pretty funny gag! Italian barbers struggle with a crossword puzzle due to a language barrier they haven't quite overcome, while their African American colleague chuckles at their efforts.

People are often quick to call any portrayal of black characters by Anglo artists of this period "racist," but I disagree in this case. Here, the African American character isn't really portrayed any more or less grotesquely than the others, and furthermore, he's shown as being smarter, the wry observer of the scene. Dated, sure, but racist? I honestly don't think so. If anything, the way the Italians are shown is more insulting. What do you think?

There are a few details to unpack in this one! I was unable to find the origin of the phrase "You can't blame a guy for trying," but Mizner almost certainly refers to the notorious Wilson Mizner, a popular playwright, colorful raconteur, and co-owner of the famous Brown Derby restaurant.

The location by the signature is spurious. Tad took to doing this as a joke, giving far-flung locations by his signature during this period, some glamorous and others less so. The gag is that Tad was a convalescent during the last years of his life, and rarely left his home in Great Neck at all. The sad story behind this can be found here. Another drawing with a false location can be seen here.

And poor Tad, banished to the suburbs due to ill health, could no longer enjoy his beloved boxing matches. The best he could hope for was a neighborhood brawl, comically announced in the fake match poster on the wall. Funny detail!

The song quoted in the lower right, "Birmingham Papa, Your Memphis Mama's Comin' to Town", is a real song from 1924 made famous by Eddie Cantor. You can see a photo of the sheet music here, and you can hear an amazing 1925 version of it here.

1 comment:

Fred said...

I think the joke is simply that these barbers are trying to use Italian to complete an English crossword, and even the Af.Am. janitor can tell that they will never succeed though he "can't blame them for trying" -- maybe Mizner is the origin of the phrase, given that he was a raconteur and all...