Obscurity of the Day: Mr. O. U. Absentmind

Before John R. Bray cemented his place in history as an animation pioneer, his previous success was pretty well limited to a stint on the well-received Sunday strip Little Johnny and the Teddy Bears. When that series ended in 1909 it seems that Mr. Bray used his pay to buy a small farm, and gave his occupation as farmer to a census-taker.

Farming apparently wasn’t immediately profitable, and to keep the bank account healthy he penned the series Mr. O.U. Absentmind for McClure starting on October 17 1909*. This series was obviously done purely for the paycheck. The absent-minded character had already been done to death in the early comic sections, and Bray offered us nothing unique in his take. The gags are shopworn when they do work, and often don’t work at all. In the above sample, for instance, the florist has been given no direction to send a funeral wreath, so why would he? With two minutes of thought Bray could have straightened out the gag so that Mr. Absentmind gives the wrong impression to the florist — because, ya know, he’s absent-minded.

The art on this feature is actually quite fine, but that’s because Bray has swiped all his characters from  William F. Marriner. Granted, that was a common bit of larceny in those days, but Bray had already shown that he could get along just fine in his own style.

The dismal Mr. O.U. Absentmind lasted a long time in one of the secondary McClure sections, proving that the syndicate really didn’t care much what they used to take up space. Readers were blissfully relieved of it after November 26 1911*, except when they ran an unused or  reprint strip much later, on February 28 1915**.

* Source: San Francisco Chronicle
** Source: Washington Herald

3 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Mr. O. U. Absentmind

  1. I reckon the gag here is that the florist has assumed Mr. Oh You might be interested in funeral weeds, and is showing him a sample, which is turned away from us, so the gag payoff is when we see just what sort of arrangement he was looking at. It would have been more effective if the shape of the first one matched the second, but I guess Bray might've been a bit absentminded. Or something.

  2. Here's another thing I just noticed about forgetting things. the (appears to be) tails of his jacket dangle out of the back of his coat only in panel five.If that's not what it is, maybe we should just ignore it.

  3. It's very interesting how many of the pioneer animators were influenced by Marriner's drawing style – Bray and Pat Sullivan being two notable examples. I would imagine that if Marriner had lived past 1914 he would have tried animation himself – his style correctly anticipated the american animation design style (like Swinnerton and post 1900 Opper).

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