A predecessor to Frank Godwin’s “Vignettes of Life” . . .

Frank Godwin’s Vignettes of Life was a tour de force, especially with respect to the art.  It was also a highly amusing feature, and it tends to prove the proposition that people do not really change.  People were the same in 1924 as they are today.

A long time ago, I located — on the internet — a Vignettes of Life from June 15, 1924.  That was the earliest one I knew of for certain.  I see that a certain website that has posts of a number of examples of the strip states that the first episode was June 1, 1924.  That makes sense to me.

The earliest one I have in my collection is July 20, 1924.  The strip was continued by others after Godwin left it; the final Godwin episode was in October 1927.  So, Godwin drew the strip for very close to three and one-half years.

Even though I started this post out thinking I would discuss a predecessor to Vignettes of Life, I am deferring that discussion.  But in the teens (maybe before or after as well), Godwin produced a very similar full-page feature for one of the humor magazines of the time.  I have maybe a dozen or so examples of that — nowhere near a complete group, I am sure.

–Tom Sawyer

May 19, 2014


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The red background is probably just temporary . . .

. . . till I put something else up.


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Frank Godwin and “The Farm Journal” . . .

Frank Godwin created at least two covers for The Farm Journal.  I seem to recall seeing at least one other one as well, but I could not locate such a thing just now.  The only one I have in my collection is the cover of the magazine for October 1919 — just the magazine, not the original art.  It portrays two boys, possibly vying for the affections of a girl who is also shown.

Farm Journal Oct 1919

The caption on the cover is “Country versus City Brawn,” and even the dog seems to see the humor in the city slicker trying to display his axe-wielding capabilities.

The 1919 date makes this a fairly early illustration by Godwin (who was 30 or so when he painted it), but his skill is evident, and certain components of this illustration were manifest in many of Godwin’s drawings in later years.  Examples would include his close attention to folds in clothing, as well as the three-dimensional effect achieved by (in this case) the exploitation of atmospheric perspective (with the trees in the background somewhat washed-out).

—Tom Sawyer

April 28, 2014


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Happy Easter!

And they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy and ran to report it to His disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and greeted them. And they came up and took hold of His feet and worshiped Him.

Quoted from Matthew 28, NASB [verse designations omitted]

I hope all readers of this post are having (or had) a wonderful Easter. The above extract from the Bible doesn’t “say it all,” but it does capture some of the wonder and excitement of the events long ago.

I am aware that readers are operating under widely varying life-circumstances, but whatever your lot — I hope to day is (or was) a good one for you.


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Early “Connie” Sunday strips . . .

I notice that Charles Pelto, of the Classic Comics Press (which has published a Rusty Riley reprint book that I discussed in an earlier post), has posted a panel from the August 9, 1931, Sunday Connie comic-strip.  I also notice that the “Stripper’s Guide” blog has posted many Sunday examples from the first Sunday Connie science-fiction story, which started on August 2, 1936.  I’m not sure whether that all represents a renewed interest in the strip.

There is little or no doubt that the August 2, 1936, strip was the first episode of the first real Connie Sunday science-fiction story, or adventure story, for that matter — unless you consider the Connie detective stories to be adventures.  (I doubt that any of the detective stories lasted more than one Sunday.)

As to the 1936 Sunday Connie strips that preceded August 2, 1936 — seven months of strips — I have examples of all but three, and all of the ones I have are “gag” strips.  And I have enough of the pre-1936 Sundays to be pretty sure that there are no science-fiction strips that preceded the August 2, 1936, strip, although there are a couple of gag strips that flirted with being science fiction (one of which involved a dream).

I don’t know whether I have made much of a point of it on this blog, but I personally have been perhaps as interested in the earlier Sunday strips as I am in the science-fiction or adventure Sundays.  I think part of my interest was due to the mysteries that formerly shrouded the early months of the Sunday strip.  It appeared that no one was able to state — with proof — “when” the Sunday strip began.  For probably many years I was convinced that the Sunday strip started in 1929, though I could not figure out exactly when.  Allan Holtz nailed down the exact date of the first Sunday strip as April 28, 1929, as stated on his blog.

That is completely consistent with everything I know about the strip.  The earliest example in my collection — a strip which I obtained on eBay recently — is the May 5, 1929, strip.  So, there isn’t any mystery any more, but I think it will be a long time — if ever — before the April 28, 1929, date gains universal acceptance, in part because a date in 1927 has been stated in so many places.

Below is an image of the first panel of the May 5, 1929, Sunday.  It’s particularly interesting, because it shows that Connie was portrayed as an aviatrix very early in the Sunday strip (as well as in the daily strip).  Also, notice the skillful rendering of Connie in the second panel — especially her pilot’s coat or jacket.  Also notable is the apparently casual lettering which was a staple of a great many Connie episodes.  This image also shows (in part) the general kind of “title panel” that Connie used in the early days.  Also, though you can’t tell from this image, in those days, the Sunday Connie was truly a “full,” because there was no “bottom-strip.”

Connie 5 5 29

Incidentally, I should mention that this particular episode is definitely a gag strip.

—Tom Sawyer

April 18, 2014


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Frank Godwin’s book-illustration work in perspective — a very brief and informal discussion . . .

Note:  This is a revised version of a post that I wrote about two years ago (and which I revised a few months ago).

Frank Godwin’s life as a professional artist spanned from early in the twentieth century until his death in 1959, something over five decades.  His first illustrated book was published in 1915, or thereabouts, and I his final illustrated book was first published in 1929.  So, unless I am overlooking something (and I may be doing so), Godwin’s career as a book illustrator lasted fifteen years or so.  And that is pretty interesting, because he did illustrate many books, and it is perhaps surprising that his involvement with book illustration did not span a longer period of time.

But no, that is an oversimplification.

For instance, when the Garden City Publishing Company published Robin Hood with his illustrations, it included illustrations from the McKay version, but Godwin painted two new paintings (including one for the front cover) and produced a drawing for the endpapers — and that Garden City book was first published outside of the span of years mentioned (in 1932).  And I have a couple of pamphlets reprinting articles that he illustrated, and at least one of those is outside that span.  And there are other items which blur the picture a bit. But basically we are talking about fifteen years, a relatively small period of time when judged against his entire career as an artist.

Nonetheless, during those fifteen years, he (as mentioned above) worked on many books. In at least two cases, the illustrations had been previously published in periodicals, but I am ignoring that fact for the moment, and simply treating them as books he illustrated.

To assemble a complete collection of books — especially a complete collection of his first editions — illustrated by Frank Godwin would be a daunting task, but thankfully it seems that most of his books are rather common (though I doubt that this can be said of many of his first editions), at least in relationship to the apparent demand. Right now, on eBay, there are literally scores of copies of books illustrated by Godwin.

Overall, the variety and number of Godwin’s books present a complicated and slightly bewildering picture.  However, his work can be viewed according to various categories, and then the picture becomes a little simpler.

I have never seen any attempt to create a complete list of books illustrated by Godwin.  Certainly no list I have seen has been anywhere near complete.  The following list is probably not complete, but I would think that it is nearly complete (except that, for Winston books, I refer to another post on this blog).  I have grouped the titles loosely into various categories.  I decided to list only the titles of the books, but in time I may expand on the information below. I have only listed books as to which I have at least one copy in my collection, though I know of a very small number of others, perhaps two or so.  For example, illustrations by him appeared in The Story of the States, which appears to have been published primarily to promote an advertising agency.

One other thing.  I have made the following list in a relatively brief period of time.  Ultimately, I will probably create a more detailed list.  But it is possible that I have inadvertently omitted a few items.  Nonetheless, the titles specified below total more than twenty.  And in an earlier post, I mentioned more than a dozen others.

1.  Early books:

Letters of a Self-Made Failure

Molly and I

Why Theodora!

Five Fridays

Trying It on the Dog

2.  Semi-early works for which Godwin contributed only the front-cover illustration (published by David McKay, Publisher):

The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments

Through the Looking-Glass

The Little Lame Prince

Andersen’s Fairy Tales

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes

Mother Goose Fairy Tales

[Probably at least one other book in the series.]

4.  Other books published by McKay

The Blue Fairy Book

Robin Hood

The Black Arrow

5.  Books published by Winston:

[In another post, I name thirteen books published by Winston.]

5.  Other books:

Uncle Henry

Roughly Speaking (dust jacket only)

Robin Hood (Garden City)

6.  Large format books:

Some were published by Donohue.  Others were published by Murray.  There were probably about six or eight more or less different ones.  I hesitate to even list them, because the picture is a little unclear on them to me.  Some of the contents overlap to some degree. Below I’ll list most of the ones I have.  I don’t know that I really consider them to be “books illustrated by Godwin.”  At least two of the illustrations apparently appeared first in the Public Ledger, and I think the books are more like later compilations of art and text.

Stories the Baloonman Told [only one "l" in "Baloonman," hard-cover book]

Stories the Balloonman Told [with different or overlapping content]

Mother Goose Nursery Rhymes [completely different from the McKay book of the same title listed above]


Stories the Sandman Told

[Also, at least one other.]

7.  Yearbooks of the Dutch Treat Club (various years, various titles).

Frank Godwin was a member of the Dutch Treat Club for many years.  I basically found that the only way I could figure out which of the club’s yearbooks Frank Godwin drew illustrations for was to collect as many as I could.  (I have since pretty much stopped collecting them.)  The earliest one I have is for 1923, and the latest is probably in the late 1960s.  I have more than forty in all, but that includes various duplicates.  (Godwin passed away in 1959.  He was definitely a member of the Dutch Treat Club as early as 1923, for his name is listed in the 1923 yearbook as a member.)

I don’t know exactly how many of the annuals include one or more pictures by Godwin — probably around twenty, but that is just a guess.

The only ones from the 1920s that I have are 1923, 1926, 1927, 1928, and 1929.  I don’t think Godwin drew anything for those.  During a quick look, the earliest I found with a Godwin illustration was the one for 1931.  There were at least three by Godwin in that book.  The latest I found with a Godwin illustration was 1956, and indeed that edition had a two-page spread of drawings by Godwin. 

8.  Other miscellaneous books with one or more illustrations by Frank Godwin:

There exist a number of books or the like with one or more illustrations by Frank Godwin.  Example:  The Iron Gate of Jack & Charlie’s “21.”  Another example:  The Eastern Edition of Advertising Arts and Crafts, Volume 1.  (Of course, many more modern books also show one or more illustrations by Godwin.)

Well, for the moment, I think I have said almost enough.  I am pretty sure there are other books with which Godwin was involved.  I am not including as “books illustrated by Godwin” the various editions of Caricature, which I think consisted principally of material from Judge magazine.

I think it might be worthwhile to realize that some of the books mentioned above are “books that happen to have an illustration or two by Godwin.”  Also, I think that certain works mentioned above, such as Stories the Balloonman Told, are compilations of illustrations that appeared elsewhere, so to me it might be a little unclear to say that he illustrated them.  Godwin did produce a frontispiece illustration for a book entitled Uncle Sam Needs a Wife.  I didn’t list that above (I guess I just overlooked it), but I do consider it a book illustrated by Godwin, even though it only has one illustration by him.  Of course, there are many relatively recent books which include one or more illustrations by Godwin, but I consider them far beyond the scope of this post.  I think sometime I’ll discuss some of these nuances in detail.

—Tom Sawyer

March 28, 2012

Revised April 1, 2014

Revised further on June 29, 2014

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Rethinking “Rusty Riley” . . .

Charles Pelto was kind enough to send me a complimentary copy of the Classic Comics Press reprint of the 1948 Rusty Riley dailies and of almost the whole year of the 1949 Rusty Riley dailies. The book presents the reprinted strips in a very good fashion, somewhat enlarged, with two strips per page.  I already have most or all of the strips shown, as extracted from newspapers — and although the “newspaper” versions may be fine as collectibles, for the most part they are not ideal for reading.

For one thing, the paper on the “newspaper” versions is generally a tannish color, and that means less contrast than is present when (as in the reprint under discussion) white paper is used.  Next, the strips as extracted from newspapers are quite small.  Moreover, I have found it quite easy to cause them to be out of sequence.  And probably the majority of my Rusty Riley strips as extracted from newspapers are not the full version.  (Rusty Riley daily strips were often — possibly always — offered to newspapers in at least two formats:  a tall format, and a short format that was lacking the “bottom” area of the full strip.  And from what I gather, newspapers sometimes made additional “cuts,” not necessarily at the bottom.)

I have read most, if not all, of the introductory text(s) by Charles Pelto, Howard Chaykin, and Dennis Wilcutt, but I mostly haven’t read the strips (though I did notice that a few appear to be missing and that a couple were repeated).  But in looking through the book, I was struck by something that I have kind of noticed when looking at my newspaper strips, and that is this:  the art seems to have a certain rhythm to it.

It waxes and it wanes.

The art is brilliant at times, and then, almost as though Godwin is recovering from the strain of detailed work, it becomes more mundane.  There are periods where the art is lively, and there are periods when it is little more than people talking.  Even when people are talking, there are times when Godwin lavished great care on the strips, and there are other times when he appears to have spent less time on them.

At the moment, these are just impressions, though — I would really have to look at the strips further (more methodically) and think about them more.

Howard Chaykin argues that the story plots are on the mundane side, and that they exist primarily as lay figures, for draping Godwin’s artwork upon.  Those aren’t Howard’s words exactly.  I don’t totally disagree with that, but I don’t totally agree, either.  All of the stories I am familiar with — in the Sunday strips as well as the daily strips — appear to be workmanlike in their construction.  They are competently written.  They have moments of drama, conflict, suspense, and so on, and they seem to have problems that are resolved as of the end of the story.  I haven’t really thought about them in this way, but they probably have a fairly conventional three-act structure.  And they are reasonably entertaining.

On the other hand, over the almost twelve years of the strip’s existence, there was a fair amount of repetition — lots of stories that were somewhat different from each other, but which were fairly similar to one or more other stories.  For instance, and I have probably mentioned this before, but it seemed like Rusty was always falling under suspicion of having committed some misdeed, such as theft.  Mr. Miles — from the very first story — seemed ever-willing to believe, on the flimsiest of evidence — that Rusty had done something wrong.

In this context, it is useful to compare Rusty Riley and Roy Powers, Eagle Scout (during the time Godwin worked on the Roy Powers strip).  A couple of years ago, in another post, I said the following (which I’ll kind of blend into the present post — I’ll mention when the excerpt ends).  I have modified it a little:

There are significant differences between Roy Powers, Eagle Scout and Frank Godwin’s other comic strips. One thing that the Roy Powers strip lacks is . . . uh, let me see . . . oh, yeah — females!  They are few and far between. In the strips I have seen, there is not the slightest romantic interest hinted at, and the only girls or women who exist in the stories — and there are very few — are strictly incidental.

The Roy Powers stories that I have examined (from the Frank Godwin era of 1938-1940) seemed fairly well structured and at least reasonably interesting. I have not read all of the strips, but the ones I have seen compare favorably with Rusty Riley. A number of “angles” or types of plots exist in both strips. Here are a few situations that occur in both strips:

Being framed for a theft

Stolen property disguised by paint

Hero dressed as circus clown

Thwarting smugglers

Wallet stolen by pickpocket

Major flood, threatening life

There are a couple of other plot-similarities I have noticed, as well, and of course all this involves less than three years of Roy Powers strips — the ones drawn by Godwin. And, mind you, I do not claim to be an expert on the content of the Roy Powers strip or the Rusty Riley strip!

While the Roy Powers strip and the Rusty Riley strip do have similarities, differences between the two strips abound. Roy and Rusty are very different people. At least a couple of times, Rusty is identified as being 14 years old, while Roy Powers is 17. Both Roy and Rusty have their moment or moments of brilliance, but Rusty, sorry to say, is burdened, from time to time, by his exercise of unbelievably poor judgment and by a high level of gullibility, seasoned with occasional bouts of cluelessness. Both of them, however, know right from wrong, and although Rusty is repeatedly accused of wrongdoing, whether it be theft (multiple occasions) or defacing school property, he is never guilty of anything more serious than not having a license for his dog, Flip.

That’s the end of the extract from the earlier post.

What am I getting at here?  Well, the stories were okay — especially for an audience of youngsters for whom the plots would in many cases seem “new.”  For adults they are mildly entertaining when illustrated by Godwin’s art.  But overall there is little, if any, real innovation in the plots.

For adults, the story was often a means of delivering the art.  For kids, the stories were interesting, and the art was cool.  Or, the art was often cool.  But sometimes it was perhaps a little ordinary.  So what existed was an ebb and flow of stories (as well as art), some stories being better than others, and there might be an ebb and flow within each story — with some parts of a story better than others.

In the end, there was art of varying quality superimposed on stories of varying quality.  I think most collectors recognize that not all of Godwin’s Rusty Riley art was of super-high quality.  When a collector says, “Wow, that’s a great daily,” it implies that other dailies are at least “less great.”

I probably should not be theorizing at this stage, but a few thoughts on this occur to me.  It seems that in the beginning, Godwin concentrated seriously on making the strip a horse-racing strip.  The Sunday strip pretty much opens with the story in which Rusty rides in the Plug Horse Derby — and there is plenty of intrigue during the early months of the strip.  And in the two years covered in the new reprint, there are at least two separate attempts by underworld characters to do damage to Blaze.  Also there is a controversy in which Rusty comes under suspicion of secretly clocking a horse.

Apart from it being more of a “horse” strip in the beginning (as far as I know), the first few months of the daily strip were rather convoluted (story-wise), and there was a certain amount of a “soap opera” slant to it, with Patty concerned that he dad might marry Cherry Norton, who was Junior Norton’s mother.

Unfortunately I know essentially nothing about the stories portrayed in any other strips of the late 1940s and early 1950s by other artists, so I don’t know how to put the Rusty Riley stories into any perspective.  But it seems to me that in time — after more than one somewhat improbable tales (the eohippus story, and one involving tracking down a spy, and maybe others) — the strip seemed to settle down.  The art seemed to stabilize more in the later stories, with perhaps somewhat simpler art than in the early days — especially in the later years of the strip.  But I’m not sure of that.

—Tom Sawyer

March 24, 2014

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