The story of screwball comics in America is a large topic, more sprawling than one book can reasonably encompass if one wishes to present satisfying chunks of reprints. Foo this reason, I decided, after much deliberation, to narrow the focus of this book on American newspaper comics up to about 1950.
This means the screwballists who primarily worked in comic books -- Jack Cole, Dick Briefer, Basil Wolverton, Harvey Kurtzman, Will Elder, Al Jaffee -- are saved for, hopefully, another volume. Even with this limitation, it was necessary to halve my list. Hey-- waitaminit - why am I telling you what SNOT in the book? If I want you to read my book, maybe I should tell you some of what will be in it!
We are creating a retrospective that will be broad and deep. There will be 15 chapters, each one focusing on a particular cartoonist or comic strip with an in-depth text essay and assortment of carefully curated strips, art, and photos. Years of searching and thousands of dollars have gone into procuring the art for this book. The final selection represents not just my work, but the tireless work of many other collectors, scholars, archivists and librarians. I am deeply grateful for their help.
The chapters are arranged in order by the birth years of the cartoonists so one gets a sense of the overall progression of the arc of screwball humor in newspaper comic strips. The total span starts in the late 1870s and ends around 1950. In addition to newspaper comics, the study also touches on screwballism in magazine cartoons and comics, animation, movies, advertising, books, postcards, and more.
Aside from being fun to read, this stuff really fries ice! Zany humor comic strips link up more than we realize to screwballism in other popular art forms. Thus, to understand Charlie Chaplin, the Marx Brothers, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Spike Jones, Ernie Kovacs, and Harvey Kurtzman, studying the comic strips they read -- and the cartoonists they personally knew and worked with -- enhances the picture.
I've selected a mixture of famous and obscure cartoonists. In the case of the well-known cartoonists, I've dug deep to provide more comics, art, and information than what has been commonly available. I've treated the obscure cartoonists with the same respect. In two cases, I'm focussing only on a single strip. In one case, the cartoonist's life and work has been well-covered already, except for the single screwball masterpiece (Stumble Inn). In the other case, Boody Rogers, the cartoonist worked mainly in comic books, but had one sublime nutty comic strip.
As of this writing, and subject to change, here is the list of chapters, in the order they will appear:
Eugene "Zim" Zimmerman
Walter R. Bradford
Clare Victor "Dwig" Dwiggins
George Herriman's Stumble Inn
Boody Rogers' Sparky Watts