Cubist Comics Notes, Part II
by Jeet Heer
Friday, April 23, 2010
To continue our notes on comics and cubists:
1. Modernism came to America in 1913 via the Armory Show. One early response was this Mamma’s Little Angel page by Penny Ross , circa 1913 or 1914, where the lead character has “a cubist nightmare in the studio of Monsieur Paul Vincetn Cezanne Van Gogen Ganguin.” (The page can be found in the great Smithsonian book edited by Blackbeard and Williams.) This page is an early example of a common joke, later repeated by Frank King and Cliff Sterrett, where American domesticity and “normality” is turned upside down by modern art.
2. It would be good to have an inventory of all the cartoonists who saw the Armory show in 1913. As mentioned earlier, Frank King, Clare Briggs, and John T. McCutcheon all went to the show when it went to New York. Percy Crosby went to the New York show (see Jared Gardner’s essay on Crosby, Comics Journal #298). Herbert Crowley — one of Dan’s great discoveries in Art Out of Time — actually exhibited at the Armory show. Another cartoonist who exhibited at the show was George Luks, who did a Yellow Kid knockoff during his foray into comics. Is there anyone else?
3. Burne Hogarth, who one would have thought of as a strict realist, made some interesting connections between comics and cubism in his Comics Journal interview (issues 166-167). “And through some of the critical values by some of the professors, it occurred to me, too, that the nature of the continuum, the relativistic world of Picasso and Cubism as the continuum, fired me up to say that the comic strip is an equivalent of the ongoing continuum in relativity theory.” (Issue 166, page 81). I have only a foggy idea what Hogarth is saying here, but it sounds like it overlaps with the concerns of this post.
4. This Dingbat Family strip from Dec. 23, 1914 is interesting because, as usually, Herriman offers a different take. The joke is not on modern art but on the American know-nothing, Mr. Dingbat, who doesn’t know the difference between Cubists and Cubans (Herriman’s family had some roots in Cuba).
5. This Polly and Her Pals from May 31, 1936 is interesting because there is a double joke here, I think. One the one hand we have the typical joke of Paw being scared by modern art. But Sterrett himself was influenced by cubism. The figures he draws aren’t that different than the paintings that Paw sees.