This “Bobby Make Believe” cartoon — from 1915 or thereabouts — totally cracked me up. I love how (in the boy’s fantasy) all the townsfolk are so calm and unruffled by a mysterious sniper shooting bullets at them. This was written and drawn by Frank King, who later became famous for “Gasoline Alley.” The drawing in this cartoon is great, but not as great as some of his later work.
Click on the sample panel to read the whole thing.
Hat tip: The Balloonist. For more “Bobby Make Believe” strips, see the “Bobby Make Believe” archive on Barnacle Press.
But don’t go there without being forewarned: There is racist imagery in some of these strips. And sexism, of course. I love classic cartooning — the best cartoons from a century ago are in some ways better than what’s being done today, and of course the best newspaper strips back then were much better drawn than newspaper strips today (due to having so much more space to work with). But racist and sexist approaches were very commonplace in cartoons back then.
It’s easier for me to wince at the racism and sexism, but nonetheless enjoy old cartoons, because I’m white and male. Most current cartoonists whose drawing style is rooted in classic cartooning techniques (For example: Robert Crumb, Seth, Kevin Huizenga, Chris Ware, Tom Neeley, Jeff Smith)1 are white men. I’m not sure how meaningful that is — American comics as a whole are white-male-dominated, although getting less so every year — but it’s at least suggestive.
On the other hand, it’s not like today’s pop culture isn’t full of racism and sexism, too, although the racism today tends to be subtler. This is really just the problem that anyone anti-racist or anti-sexist (but especially us folks in fandom) constantly faces; you find ways to enjoy offensive pop culture, since the alternative is giving up pop culture altogether.
- Of course, it’s a bit weird to lump all those folks together; Crumb, Huizenga, Neely and to a lesser extent Ware take visual inspiration from classic newspaper cartoonists from the first half of the 20th century (as well as Disney comic books, in Neely’s case), while Seth’s visual inspiration appears to come from classic New Yorker cartoonists of the 30s through 60s, and Smith’s visual inspirations seem to be Pogo and classic Disney animations [↩]