Monday, April 30, 2012

Rediscovered: Jimmy Hatlo's Comics For The San Francisco Call, 1926-1932, Part One

(Above: 12-13-28, Click each for bigger!) 

Last week I showed you a drawing for an early gag cartoon by Jimmy Hatlo from a ca. 1931 edition of the San Francisco Call-Bulletin. Hatlo, of course, became very famous for his later strip, the very popular They'll Do It Every Time, as well as for the obnoxious Little Iodine. The gag strip puzzled me because I couldn't figure out what series, if any, it was part of, and I found out that little or nothing was available about Hatlo's earlier, pre-They'll Do It Every Time work.

Luckily, right after I posted the Picasso gag strip, a seller on eBay popped up with a bunch of clippings of Hatlo comics from this same series, and let me tell you, these things are a major discovery! From what I've been able to cobble together, Hatlo was a very prolific cartoonist/illustrator for the San Francisco Call and Post/Call-Bulletin in the late 20s and early 30s, apparently producing editorial cartoons on a daily basis for the paper. Editorial cartooning, of course, is nothing unusual, and predates newspaper comic strips by centuries. What's extremely unusual about Hatlo's editorial work is that he didn't just cover politics, but rather a wide range of topics, from sports to politics to pop culture, music, the theater, and beyond. Furthermore, he varied his approach radically from cartoon to cartoon, sometimes producing single images, sometimes story strips, sometimes weird musical parodies with little stick figure musical note people (see above). He seems to have had a uniquely creative mind and a restless, varied approach to the art of cartooning. This kind of style/format switching was uncommon at the time, and appears to anticipate Mad Magazine on the one hand, and 1990s "meta-cartoonists" like Mark Newgarden, Bill Griffith, and Chris Ware on the other. What a treat!



Note the "meta-irony" above, where the artist makes fun of certain types of jokes while simultaneously indulging in them. Well played! This strip refers to Max Reinhardt's mega-popular cornball epic play The Miracle, which had just been a sensation in Oakland. Below is a typical office scene:


Hatlo was obviously practitioner of what animator John K. calls, in an appreciation of Hatlo's work, the "Man Style" of cartooning, and he was obviously inspired by comic artists like Tad Dorgan, Rube Goldberg, E.C. Segar, and Milt Gross, among others. As in Tad's work especially, the Battle Between the Sexes™ was a theme he returned to again and again:


 Do-it-yourself satirical craft projects were not typically featured in editorial cartoons, or anywhere else in newspapers for that matter. I love his version of Grace Drayton's fey Cambell's kids. Below, of course, no "Man Style" cartoonist could resist a prohibition gag:


Advice for visiting conventioneers from "Unka Jimmy":


This is really off-the-wall stuff:


Below, the artist comments on a recent medical discovery:


 The debt to Rube Goldberg (they knew each other) below is obvious, but also note the inventive layout:


The next one requires some unpacking. Irene Bordoni was a stage performer, a protégé of Cole Porter, and her divorce battle of 1929 was big news in the gossip columns. Hatlo seems to be taking her to task for playing sluts (basically) on stage while unconvincingly acting innocent in the court room. He also implies that her husband is a sugar daddy and a cuckolded fool:


Take a look at the bottom panel of the above cartoon: is Hatlo really making the Freudian emasculation joke I think he's making? If so, I'm a little surprised and deeply impressed. Below, the artist accurately predicts the election of Franklin Roosevelt:


Hatlo suggests that marriage is "like a game," but the players don't seem to be having too much fun:


Elsewhere, Hatlo refers to the contentious nature of his own marriage. This takes on a rather chilling tone when you consider that just a few years later, the artist's wife disappeared when she "fell off a cruise ship" under circumstances which were never explained. From the Oakland Tribune, September 14, 1935:
Mr. and Mrs. Hatlo were going to dinner aboard ship as the vessel steamed up the lower Central American coast, having just passed through the Panama Canal, Mrs. Hatlo slipped and fell in a companionway, striking her head. Hallo assisted her to their cabin where she complained of feeling ill. but asked him to go on to dinner without her.
When he returned a short time after dinner she was missing. A search of the vessel failed to locate her. It was believed by ship's officers that she went to the rail for air, and becoming dizzy, lost her balance and fell overboard unnoticed.

Next up, love the tilted-up, overhead perspective:


And for today's last example, more domestic bliss:


Can you believe all these comics come from the same series? Amazing, isn't it? And consider this: if this feature ran daily for six or seven years, there would have been well over one thousand of these. Incredible. More to come!

Note: I've goosed these scans a little for a better appearance on the web, but you may have noticed that some of these have a slightly pinkish cast. I assume the pink newsprint indicated an evening edition of the paper.

Part two is here. Part three is here.


Diane Griffin said...

Kinda love these. They're like little cultural windows. From conception to the really detailed execution, all done at the pace you need to for a daily strip? I'm blown away.

HRH King Friday XIII, Ret. said...

I just moved into a new place and I sooooo want a framed "Kitchen Huddle."

Partick said...

These are probably the most "readable" of all that you have posted from this time period. I would even go as far as to say that they would play well today with little updating. Thanks for sharing.

Peteykins said...

Right, a lot of the other ancient comics I post tend towards the inscrutable. These ones still seem fresh.