Images of America in the Comics of Percy Winterbottom, Dwig, and Ving Fuller.
Forgotten today, the comics of these three cartoonists were widely published and enjoyed a respectable readership in their successive eras. Presenting rare art and original research, comics scholar and writer Paul Tumey paints a four-color triptych of lost comics masters.
Percy Winterbottom (1866-1901) was a sly comic persona for George A. Beckenbaugh, a humorist-cartoonist who had a brief career in comics in the late 1890s until he died in 1901 at age 36. He conceived of one of the first meta-parodies in comics: a comic strip that was a lampoon of comics, pre-dating Mad magazine by more than half a century. His strip employs deliberately primitive art and language, and displays a parade of larger than life American archetypes while at the same time skewering them.
Clare Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins (1874-1958) came of age in idyllic rural America in the late 1800s and worked in comics from 1900 to the 1950s. He enjoyed a boyhood much like that of Mark Twain’s characters Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. Working at first in whimsical illustrations, Gibson Girl art and virtuoso screwball comics. Dwig abruptly changed his work in 1913, becoming looser in style and obsessed with recapturing his childhood adventures in syndicated comics like School Days, and Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. He drew boyhood comics for the next thirty years, as if he had become frozen in time. Paul Tumey thinks he may have found the reason for this change. Dwig’s later boyhood comics reflect the rise of nostalgia in industrial America, as people began to yearn for a time when life was was simpler and perhaps less stressful.
Ving Fuller (1903 – 1965) worked in syndicated newspaper comic strips from the 1920s to the late 1950s. His work shows how a gifted cartoonist had much less creative freedom in mid-century America than earlier generations. Forced to hew to rigid stylistic formulas and gag formats, Fuller’s work nonetheless offers quirky and interesting moments. He was the barely successful cartoonist brother of famed Hollywood maverick filmmaker Sam Fuller, with whom his work shares a exploitative tabloid newspaper quality. Creator of the first psychiatrist in comics, Doc Syke, Fuller’s screwball strip dealt with a host of post-war American neuroses, including gags about the atomic bomb that first appeared mere weeks after Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Tumey will make the case that Fuller’s work quietly foreshadowed the Underground comics of the 1960s, with buried undercurrents of sexuality, social breakdowns, and charged political topics.
When juxtaposed together, the lives and work of these three obscure cartoonists tell a larger story that helps shed light on American comics and culture in the first half of the twentieth century.
Paul Tumey was a co-editor and essayist for The Art of Rube Goldberg (Abrams ComicArts 2013). He was also a contributing editor and essayist for Society is Nix(Sunday Press, 2013). His essay on Harry Tuthill appears as the introduction to The Bungle Family 1930 (IDW Library of American Comics, 2014). His work can be read regularly in his column, Framed! at the online Comics Journal.
November 10, 2015 at 7pm
The 134th meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2015 at 7pm atParsons The New School for Design, 2 West 13th Street, in the Bark Room (off the lobby). Free and open to the public.