Three Celebrated Brushmen--And A Lady In A Hat, Too
“Best Cartoons Of The Year 1947” (edited by Lawrence Lariar and published by Crown) has been in my possession longer than any other book having to do with the subject of cartooning. Being exactly what is purports to be, this 128 page volume skims the cream of the year's gag cartoons from respected magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post, Liberty, Colliers, Argosy, Ladies' Home Journal, and a host of other, now sadly long vanished periodicals. Several names—and styles—seem familiar: Vic Herman, Charles Saxon, Salo, and of course, the inimitable Virgil Patch (“Vip”). The rest of the artists included—save for a very special trio we'll get to momentarily—are basically a total mystery to me at this late date, though someone better schooled in the field might recognize the likes of Paul Carruth, Will Johnson, Robert Kraus, Ben Roth, Lew Follette, and the remaining roll call.

Another mystery might be just WHY my folks had this book around in the first place! Neither one of them ever showed much interest in the funny picture field. And why only this sole volume? Weren't there any other years with good cartoons? Well, for all I know, this book may've originally belonged to my grandmother (or, even more likely, my grandfather, a man who passed away when I was but five). I distinctly recall seeing it at her house way, way back, back even before I'd gotten my first glimpse at a comic book.

This collection made quite the impression on me--for any number of reasons, ALL of which we'll eventually get to--but after I started buying comics full-time in 1961, a couple of NEW reasons emerged, justifying my latter-day claim on this otherwise unwanted tome: Henry Boltinoff and Hank Ketcham.
The above is a “Shorty” strip culled from the pages of a 1961 issue of DC's ADVENTURE COMICS (number 286), just one of the many filler cartoons that marked Henry Boltinoff's not inconsiderable contribution to the National Periodical Publications line. Whether it was "Varsity Vic", "Moolah the Mystic", or "Casey the Cop", finding one of his charming little strips mixed in amongst the dead serious antics of Superman and his like-minded compatriots was always a welcome diversion for this reader. Fact is, Boltinoff was the very first artist I gravitated towards as a kid, first tracing and then crudely copying his work directly out of some of my earliest DC treasures. Looking back, the unfortunate truth is, most of the actual gags aren't very funny—or even funny at all—but oh, what an eye-pleasing style!

As with most of the cartoonists chosen to appear in this book, Mr. Boltinoff was afforded two pages of representative material, but the real treat here—and perhaps the motivating factor in my posting these obscurities—is the self-portrait and small block of autobiographical text contributed by each artist. You can get a closer look at the Boltinoff section by going here.
Then there was Hank Ketcham, still several years away from becoming an overnight sensation—and as near a household name as you'll find in this survey--thanks to his daily syndicated “Dennis The Menace” panel. As an eight year old, I was quite enamored of the character, and not just because of the superb series of comic books created by writer Fred Toole and artist Al Wiseman—nope, some of the very first paperbacks that I ever bought were “Dennis” collections (from which, the illo over to the side was lifted, incidentally).
Ketcham's style, as you'll see, was still a bit rough around the edges back in '47, but looking at that self-portrait, well, it's NEVER been much of secret where the inspiration for the long-suffering Henry Mitchell came from, now has it?...

That, I always thought, was the extent of the connection this book had with the world of comic books, but it turns out I was wrong. I chanced upon this tattered and yellowed volume a few days back while looking for something else, y'see, and, merely out of curiosity, put it aside to glance through later.
When I did, I was surprised to find a fellow by the name of Harry Lampert amongst the contributors. Harry's recent passing, you may recall, received an unexpected amount of media attention, given his reasonably short tenure toiling in the business, but apparently co-creating an icon such as the Flash affords one that sort of posthumous recognition. Frankly, I never much cared for what little of his work on the speedster that I had seen, but was pleased to discover that his later gag cartoons were very nicely done. See if you don't agree...
Well, that'd pretty much be it—except for my confession as to the REAL reason I've held onto this ratty old tome all these years. Oh sure, I've long used the Boltinoff/Ketcham connection as an excuse—one I even convinced myself to believe in my younger days—but that's not the whole story.

The truth is, stuck somewhere midway through this otherwise sedate compendium of gag cartoons-- borrowed from the pages of the era's most prestigious publications, remember—is one blatantly featuring, well, a naked lady!! And at age six or so, it had to've been the very first naked lady I EVER saw, and friends, trust me--that's the sorta thing that tends to stick with you!

A full pager from a fellow by the name of Dick Ericson, it's rather tame in its nudity, at least by today's standards, but to a six year old in 1959? Woo hoo! That drawing alone probably turned me heterosexual, once and for all! (Hey, you always hear crackpot theories concerning stuff turning poor unsuspecting youths HOMOsexual—using that same sort of logic, why not then the opposite result, hmm?..)

Go--take a look at a little piece of heaven from 1947! (...and geez, THAT sure was tacky, wasn't it?...)

Yeah, I don't really get the joke, either—why would the curvaceous customer be adorned in such a scandalous manner merely to try on a hat and gloves? Common sense clearly doesn't come into play here—odds are, cartoonist Ericson was looking for only the thinnest of rationals to doodle himself up a nekkid lady. AND editor Lariar was no doubt looking for something provocative enough to sell his volume to prospective customers, ones who picked up this collection in a bookstore just to casually flip through it (well, men customers, anyway).

But enough. If I dwell on this topic very much longer, you know what's bound to happen--I'll start having impure thoughts about Boltinoff's "Peg" and then start picturing Alice Mitchell in the buff!

And THEN there's Mrs. Wilson, and we certainly DON'T want to go there, now do we?!?...

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