Ryan Walker, Part II

Hello again, comrades! Here is part two of our look at Ryan Walker. Above you’ll find another Bill Worker strip from the Daily Worker; below you’ll find his obituary and another memorial article, both real heavy on the whole proletariat-bourgeoisie-revolutionary jazz. Not to mention the occasional non sequiturs due to bad editing. Can you imagine anyone reading a daily paper where every single article every single day was written just the same way? It’s exhausting, I tell ya!

As mentioned in the obit, Walker was indeed a big wheel for awhile at the St. Louis Republic – he was responsible for much of the content of their locally produced color comics circa 1901. There he created a comic strip title that makes me giggle any time I think of it — The Automopig Family. The strip itself isn’t much to speak of, but I do love that title. I’ll have to dig one out sometime to share with you. Y’know, I can’t help but think that it might be a good premise today. Big fat porkers driving around in their gas-guzzling Escalades. An idea whose time has come!

Ryan Walker’s Life and Work Built Around Struggles of American Labor
Revolutionary Artist Was Known to Thousands of U.S. Workers

Born at Springfield, Ky., on December 26, 1870, Ryan Walker’s early life was spent on a hilly, rolling farm. His people were of the early English settler stock, with a dash of Scotch and Irish.

Early Talented
At a very early age Ryan Walker developed the traits which had such a decided influence upon his career. To think for himself and express his own ideas, to read and reach out beyond his narrow environment, to draw pictures on every scrap of paper he could find, and to have a warmth for working folk — the twenty miles from a railroad in the days before the telephone, radio or automobile.

Ryan’s particular delight was to print with a pencil and draw cartoons for a little newspaper, and his mother used to help him print the words. From his mother he acquired that fine sympathy and understanding which made him rebel against the hidebound religious bigotry and rotten injustice, which later found a definite expression in his intensity as a Communist.

Studies Art
Ryan went to Texas with his parents. Later his father died and his mother remarried and went to Kansas City. Ryan attended the public schools in Kansas City and then spent two years studing art in New York.

He sold his first political cartoon to Judge when he was sixteen years old. Upon finishing his art schooling, he returned to Kansas City, where he took his first newspaper job with the Kansas City Star. It was on the Kansas City Times that Ryan’s cartoons began to attract national attention and be copied in publications all over the world. The country was at high pitch over the Bryan-McKinley campaign, and Ryan’s pictures of McKinley as puppet Napoleon on a hobby-horse and Mark Hanna dressed in a dollarmark checked suit created a great demand and many copies were distributed in the campaign.

Ryan then went to the St. Louis Republic and developed the first color section for that paper. His work by this time was well-known throughout the newspaper world and he began to get offers to come east. About this time he married Maud Davis.

Comes East
Ryan came to New York in 1901, and during the following years contributed work to a large number of newspapers and magazines. Later for three years he was the art director of the New York [Evening] Graphic.

For a number of years he was a regular contributor to the Appeal To Reason, creating the comic strip Henry Dubb which became famous. Henry Dubb was reprinted in booklet form and hundreds of thousands of copies were distributed. He illustrated many tracts and booklets which were sent out by thousands. Ryan developed a series of chalk talks which went over big with thousands of workers and farmers all over the U.S. and Canada. These talks were very popular and rolled up thousands of subscriptions for the Appeal To Reason. Then Ryan devoted his efforts to the New York Call, before the left wing split in 1919.

The Truth Seeker printed many of Ryan’s cartoons and he illustrated a booklet for them entitled Funny Bible Stories which was widely circulated.

While Ryan had no children of his own, he was very fond of children. He used to have great fun in mill and mining towns, drawing little Henry Dubb sketches for crowds of children who would gather round him. The frightful condition of children in these towns touched him very deeply, and stirred him to greater activity.

Joins Communist Party
In the autumn of 1930 after several years of isolation from the revolutionary movement, Walker joined the Communist Part of the United States.

Several months previously he had already come to the Daily Worker as one of its staff artists. With characteristic fervor and enthusiasm, he threw himself into his work creating the new character Bill Worker which became known to thousands of miners, farmers and workers in the shops and mills.

Loved By Children
His juvenile characters Red Pepper and Joe Jr. were especially loved by the children, and the Young Pioneers of the country claimed Ryan Walker as their own. At the time, too, his chalk talks again were in great demand among the workers.

Will Be Remembered
Ryan Walker will live in the hearts of the workers and particularly those who knew him. He had a most lovable and charming personality. He was unselfish and a loyal fighter in the ranks of the working class. His visit to the Soviet Union , though being then quite ill, was the crowning adventure of his colorful career. He had travelled 16,000 miles over the U.S.S.R., seeing the great work of Socialism, and glorying in the realization of his dream, the triumph of the workers.

A Co-Worker Writes About Ryan Walker
Jacob Burck, “Daily” Staff Artist, Tells of His Day-to-Day Work With Him

In the rush of daily struggle we do not always stop to think of the qualities of those working with us. The death of a comrade brings home sharply what we have lost. In the last couple of years of acute strife, many of our comrades have fallen on picket lines, in protest demonstrations and on the no-man’s land of the coal barons. Ryan Walker would have preferred to have died that way. He was that sort of revolutionist. Instead he daily stuck to his drawing board and sent out his Bill Worker, Red Pepper and John Henry to carry on the fight with those comrades.

Ryan Walker is dead. He died in the Soviet Union, the land where Bill Worker rules. Born on a small Kentucky farm in 1870, he grew up with the labor movement which was beginning to assert itself alongside the rise of big industry. He was still in his ‘teens when the Haymarket martyrs went to the scaffold. Thomas Nast was making the Tammany tiger squirm with his savage drawings. Ryan Walker had just begun to draw. There were practically no art schools then; no young artists with false grandiose notions removed from actual life. If there were, the social consciousness and fire in young Walker could not have been drowned out by fallacious teachings. He was Irish-American — a fighter. His homespun technique expressed exactly what he felt with no frills or trimmings.

Quite naturally he found himself in the company of other American fighters. Mother Jones, Bill Haywood, Mother Bloor [?] and Eugene Debs. There he found his real function. And so Henry Dubb the strip character known to all old revolutionaries was created and lived for years.

The war was over. The socialist party divided into two camps; the red and the yellow. Things were moving fast. The Soviet Union became an established fact. Ryan Walker found himself in a whirlwind of emotions. Old friendships proved disillusioning, old ideas had to give way to new. Ryan Walker had to readjust himself. He stopped drawing until he could see his way clear again.

The big ,crash came — 1929. The Communist Party organized the big March 6th demonstration against hunger and unemployment. Workers and intellectuals became aware that the Party showed the only way out of this insane, vicious system. The rebellious spirit in Comrade Walker could not be quieted. Almost 60, he decided to cut himself completely off with old friends and strike out on a new revolutionary road continuing where he left off after the war. He joined the…
[microfilm illegible for most of a paragraph]
…of the Daily Worker and was admitted to the Communist Party.

It was then that I met him. The surprise was that this peppy, youthful man with a head that resembled very much that of a curly-headed child, was well past middle age.

Walking to Thompson’s for a coffee and hamburger, it was I, less than half his age, who felt the older, hearing him get explosive at seeing a young bootblack chased by a cop, or a young girl slaving away in a restaurant. Like most artists he was extremely emotional, but unlike them he was keenly aware of the sort of world in which he lived. His work showed the same blending of qualities. He was like a mischievous kid running after a person it disliked and taunting him with embarrassing truths. Full-Belly-Hoover, Lord Cut-The-Dole-MacDonald, Hey-Gin-Broon, etc.

His cartoon strips were drawn in his own inimical [sic] manner. They were carefree, full of spirit, untainted by any art snobbery, uninfluenced by any of the stereotyped techniques characterizing most strip artists. They were not ‘great’ drawings according to the standards of the art critics. But they were genuine; part of the man himself. And what is more, part and parcel of the lives and struggles of thousands of workers. I say that is real art!

We have lost an artist and fighter. The younger artists who are now working in the movement can learn from Ryan Walker what qualities make working-class art.

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