Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Robert E. Brook

Robert E. Brook was born in Arizona in May 1885 as recorded in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. An obituary in the Baltimore American said he was born in Tucson, Arizona. The Brook family lived in Los Angeles, California at 2123 Ivers Avenue. Young Brook’s occupation was candy maker.

According to Edan Hughes’ Artists in California, 1786-1940, Brook was a resident of Los Angeles from 1900 to 1906, and exhibited in the Los Angeles Press Artists Association in 1906. The Los Angeles Herald reported, on December 12, that the exhibition would be at the Alexandria Hotel parlors on December 18, 19 and 20. The artists included Arthur Dodge, E.E. McDowell, George A. Grant, A.L. Ewing, Clarence Pugsley, J. Coxen, Oscar M. Bryan, H.J. Turner, R.C. Springer, George Herriman, E.O. Sayer, Jr., A.S. Wheeler, Henry Ivene Hawxhurst, L.T. Johnston, R.P. Strathearn, J.D. Johnson, R. Gale and George Baker.

Brook was on the move in California and Hawaii then headed east, and settled in Baltimore. On February 5, 1911, the Baltimore American reported the exhibition of cartoons at the Charcoal Club.

Exhibition of Cartoons
Work of Thorndike and Brook at Charcoal Club.

The first of a series of exhibition of cartoons by artists was opened in the rooms of the Charcoal Club last night. The opening exhibition is devoted to the works of Mr. Willis H. Thorndike, whose cartoons have appeared daily in The American for some years, and those of Mr. R. Brook, of the Star. The exhibitions will continue all this week….

His comic strip, Officer Crust, was introduced, without fanfare, in the American on Monday, October 30, 1911; it was signed “R Brook”. The strip’s popularity apparently produced at least one merchandising item as recorded in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 4, 1912, New Series, Volume 7, No. 2, on page 175.

Gold-Art Specialty Co., Baltimore, [10358
Officer Crust: by R. Brook. [Grotesque statuette of policeman with hands clasped, leaning forward laughing.] © 1 с June 5. 1912; G 41005.

Brook contributed to Cartoons Magazine, September 1917.

Brook’s passing was reported in the American on September 12, 1918:

Death Ends Career of Robert E. Brook
Was Creator of Officer Crust In The American—His Cartoons Pleased Thousands. 

After a prolonged illness of nervous trouble, Robert E. Brook, creator of Officer Crust and a number of other cartoons which appeared in The American and The Star, died Tuesday [September 10] at Spring Grove State Hospital, Catonsville. Several months ago he suffered a breakdown. He received treatment at the Phipps clinic and later went to Spring Grove. He was born at Tucson, Ariz., and is a son of Harry Brook, an Englishman, who is at present editorial writer on the Los Angeles (Cal.) Times. 

Brook’s father drifted out to the great West in the early eighties and started a newspaper in Tombstone, Ariz., which he called the Epitaph. In spite of its name, it was a very live sheet. Young Brook was nursed by an Indian squaw, who carried him around in a blanket. At an early age he was taken to Los Angeles, Cal., and placed in school much to his disgust but after a brief sojourn in the halal of knowledge he started his active career as a bill peddler for a tea house. Then he became a helper in a candy factory. His first job on a newspaper was with the Los Angeles Herald, where he worked in the pressroom, the mailing department, stereotyping-room, the business office and, finally, in the art department as a helper, where he was put to making layouts for half-tones and the drawings of simple line pictures. 

As he grew older he drifted away from the newspaper game and took a fling at the theater. For a time he was property man at the Los Angeles Opera House. Then he went on the road and became a regular stroller. Later he joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times, where he drew sport cartoons, layouts and news sketches. He left the Times very abruptly one morning at the lament suggestion of the managing editor, and after drifting about hit San Francisco and landed with the art department of The Chronicle. After leaving The Chronicle he went back to the show business as assistant property man at the Grand Opera House in Frisco. Next he struck out for Honolulu with a stock company, returning to Frisco in time for the great fire. From Frisco he went back to Los Angeles and helped build up the Press Club. Then for a time he went on a farm, learning how to raise oranges. 

It was about this time he received a position with the Washington Times. His next venture was in New York in 1907, the year of the panic, but as there was very little doing he turned Southward to Philadelphia and got a berth under Pop Scholl [probably actually Paschall — Allan] on the North American. From that paper he went with the Philadelphia Telegraph as sport cartoonist and from there to his last position with The Baltimore American and The Star. It was while working for these papers that he evolved his most popular comic strip character, Officer Crust. 

Brook was a natural-born cartoonist and his advice to those aspiring to comic drawing was, “Natural ability is the most essential thing, but it must be backed up with a barrel full of experiences. Experience is the best teacher but the rates are scandalously high. Natural ability is the foundation of success in any profession. A man may be able to make a screaming caricature, but unless he is a natural story-teller he will fail as a stripper.” 

Brook seldom talked unless he had something to say. During his career with The American he made many friends in this city, especially among the business men who furnished him with quips for his cartoon characters. 

He is survived by his father and mother, a widow (Mrs. Ora Brook, who before her marriage was a Miss Dooley of [illegible] Reisterstown road), three daughters (Katharine, Ora and Margaret Brook) and two brothers and four sisters. The funeral took place yesterday. Burial was in Western Cemetery [Baltimore].

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