More from Mencken

Came upon another interesting passage from H. L. Mencken’s wonderful book Newspaper Days 1899-1906. Again, highly recommneded for any student of the newspaper game. Too bad Mencken hates cartoonists, though, as you’ll see anon:

“Save on a few metropolitan papers, the Sunday editor of today is not much concerned about his pages of colored comics, for they are supplied by syndicates, and most of them are printed by outside contractors, far from the office. But in 1901 there were no syndicates [not true – ed.] and every paper had to prepare and print its own. This work, untrained as I was, gave me endless torment, for I quickly found that comic artists were a temperamental and nefarious class of men, that engraving departments were never on time, that pressmen had an unearthly talent for printing colors out of register, so that a blue spot intended to represent an eye usually appeared clear outside the cheek, and that plates plainly marked red were often printed as yellow, and vice versa. The first page of the color sheet, in those days, was seldom given over to comics [he means the color magazine section here, some papers had the the comics as part of the color magazine rather than as a separate section-ed], which were still regarded as somewhat infra dig.; its more usual adornment was a large picture of a damsel in an hour-glass corset and trailing skirts, labeled “The Summer Girl,” “The Spirit of Thanksgiving,” or something of the sort. The artists who drew these sugar-teats were even worse characters than the concocters of comics, and needed more policing. If one of them delivered a drawing on schedule he was sure to be non est when the time came to block out the color plates, and if he did the color plates promptly it always turned out that he had done them wrong. There were weeks when I spent at least two-thirds of my working hours wrestling with these criminals. They were, taking one with another, very affable fellows, and they used to try to mollify me by presenting me with large colored drawings of beautiful gals without any clothes on, but my professional relations with them were usually strained, and it never gave me any pain when I heard that one of them had broken a leg or got soaked for heavy alimony by his wife. Toward the end of 1902, happily for my sanity, syndicated comics began to appear, and I need not say that I subscribed to them with cheers.

“The very names of the first ones are now forgotten — Simon Simple, Billy Bounce, the Teasers, the Spiegelburgers [these are all characters of the McClure Syndicate – ed.]. Finally came Fooxy Grandpa, and we were on our way. Even so, it was necessary to keep a comic artist or two on call, for now and then the business office sold a quarter-page ad on a comic page, and something had to be cooked up to go ’round it. I not only had to supervise the preparation of this home-made stuff, but also to supply the ideas for it. The only ideas that the comic artists of that age ever produced on their own were either too banal to be used, or too lascivious.”

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