Friday, November 13, 2009

Little Jimmy Swinnerton - Comic Strip Pioneer

Today is the 134th anniversary of the birth of comic strip pioneer James "Jimmy" Swinnerton, born this day in 1875.

James Swinnerton was one of a handful of "Newspaper Illustrators" who unknowingly invented one of the few true American art forms, the "comic strip" while just doing what they do. And it was something worthwhile, just as the subheading of this blog says.

While still a teenager he went to work for Hearst's San Francisco Examiner doing spot illustrations and filling columns with graphics. His innate whimsical style and solidity of form helped define the strip medium with simple easy to read art and endearing characters. Characters with such solidity, you almost imagine you could reach into the page and hold them.

Like all those toiling in this field in it's developing days, Swinnerton did more than one regular strip over time. But they all had that Swinnerton stamp of natural cartooning that can't be mistaken.

From the earliest days he did strips with no main character. Here's an example:

He had a natural flair for anthropomorphising animals. He did a brief run of the animals from Noah's Ark on Mt. Ararat.

From here developed a series of "little tiger and little bear" strips, from which evolved a high society tiger with a mischievous streak, named "Mr. Jack":

And finally came his most famous character, "Little Jimmy". "Little Jimmy" had a good long run from the heyday of the humor strip in the 1920's right up to the thick of adventure strips of the 1940's.

He even made it to the silver screen (you know I never miss a chance to show a little Betty Boop).

Jimmy Swinnerton is one of my favorite newspaper cartoonists. Not for grand storyscapes or deep characterizations or gorgeous layouts, but because he was one of the true pioneers who made it work.

A real trail-blazer, who didn't just show us the way down a narrow path, but left a trail that could be expanded and expounded on in ways he couldn't even imagine. He was one of those who left a bedrock that multitudes could build on.

Thanks Jimmy!

1 comment:

Marco said...

One can never have enough Betty Boop!

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