Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Crockett and Barnaby and Harold, oh my!

Born in 1906, Crockett Johnson would have been 103 years old today.

Crockett (born David Johnson Leisk) first came to prominence as the artist/writer of a quirky, ahead-of-it's-time, very post-modern comic strip called "Barnaby" in 1942. Barnaby began running in PM magazine, but was quickly snatched up by newspaper syndicate and was soon in 64 American newspapers with a readership of 5.5 million.

The cast of Barnaby was as seemingly simple, yet deep and complex as his drawings.

The strip involved a 5 year old boy named Barnaby...

And his "Fairy Godfather" Mr. O'Malley (seen here with his magic wand/cigar)...

...who no one else believed existed. Even after Mr. O'Malley sought and won election to their U.S. Congressional districts seat.

Barnaby's disbelieving parents even took Barnaby to a psychiatrist to shake the boy of his seemingly imaginary friend...

There were also other regular characters like Gorgon, a dog given to Barnaby's father but who befriends the young boy. He was of course a talking dog, but one who didn't know he could talk until one day speaking to Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley. He noted that apparently he never had anything to say until then.

Gus. He was a ghost writer from a haunted house in Barnaby's neighborhood.

Around 1952 or maybe a little earlier, Crockett's attentions drifted away from the daily strip of Barnaby. Leaving the strip to other artists and writers, he began a new career illustrating children's books.

Here's the 1966 edition of his first...the one that I got in 1st grade from the school book sale, and my first introduction to Crockett Johnson and a boy named Harold with a purple crayon.

Harold could do anything and go anywhere with his purple crayon, just like I could with my drawing pen (I believe I preferred Flair Pens in those days) and it seemed like pure magic and true edification to me.

Of course the tiny-minded grown ups soon brought me back into the real world (sigh), but Harold raged on.

Here's a few animated examples of Harold and his crayon from the late 60's-early 70's.

The sophistication of Crockett's comic strip writing and the magical work he put into children's books teaching kids the magic of an ordinary object. The surrealism of Barnaby and the fantasy of Harold.

All good stuff!
Thanks Crockett!

p.s. to the tiny-minds: I still have my purple crayon and a bunch of you are dead now. I win.

1 comment:

Amy Riggins said...

Wonderful stuff! Our 3rd grade class is making a Harold and the Purple Crayon scarecrow for the fall festival in our community. I was doing research on the author and ran across your blog. Thanks so much, it's inspiring. My kids have loved Harold all these years, and you are so correct - he was way ahead of his time! Thanks for the post!

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