On Top of Blueberry Hill

I'm here in St. Louis at Washington University on a fine spring day.

Naturally any trip to the Gateway City must include beers with Kevin Huizenga and Dan Zettwoch. Duh.

But the big news was a fine trip I took with Kevin to go see an archive of work by Harry Tuthill, of Bungle Family fame. And here is the thing, as evidenced in this archive, between 1924 and 1930 Tuthill hand-painted every single one of his Sunday pages. I don't mean color guides -- I mean fully painted pages. One after the other. The only thing we can figure is that he simply liked to do it, as stats couldn't have been shot from the painted pages. That would have caused too much line distortion. Plenty of cartoonists hand-colored their pages, but usually (or maybe only) to give as gifts. I can't think of anyone who did it seemingly just for themselves, with no obvious purpose in sight. If anyone knows different, please let me know.

Have a look:

And a close-up:

An excellent panel:

Here's another:

These pieces are just stunningly beautiful, and the attention Tuthill paid to fashion is remarkable. He had a loose, calligraphic line -- unfussy but in complete control. And, it turns out, a helluva way with color. Anyhow, more on this later. And yes, there'll be a book in it sometime.

Ah, ok, since you asked, here's one more:

And don't forget:

Meanwhile, just a couple of links today, as I'm on the run:

* Matt Seneca on Dash Shaw at Robot 6.

* Not comics, but highly relevant: Artist Richard Prince lost a lawsuit over an appropriated photograph -- the judge ruled that essentially the resultant artwork was not transformative, and thus not "fair use". Faire use is always a tricky thing, and these days, as so much artwork is based on the digital or photographic manipulation of extant imagery, it's getting trickier. And before I hear a word about Lichtenstein and Warhol, those works were obviously a whole other kettle of fish: painted and/or screened,  significantly altered, and recontextualized in scale and production. The Prince case is a mildly manipulated photograph of a photograph. Anyhow, it's interesting and the article at the link is a thorough investigation.

Finally, hot new content today:

Ryan Holmberg digs in deep and comes up with revelatory ideas and facts about late 1960s manga. Get in there and read.


19 Responses to On Top of Blueberry Hill

  1. Robert Boyd says:

    Can you tell us more about the Tuthill archive? Is it accessible to the public?

  2. patford says:

    What a thrill to see those Tuthill pages.
    Given the fact that Tuthill lavished all that attention on the pages it would be a shame if they weren't collected.
    Herriman did a good deal of painting as everyone knows, but nothing like every page for seven years.
    It is possible the Tuthill pages are colour guides.
    There are quite a few early examples of cartoonists using the original art page to produce a colour guide.
    In those instances a black line proff must have been made first before the colour was added.
    In most of the instances I've seen the colour is limited, with many of the final choices being left up to the engraver.
    A good place to see several examples is in the Judith O'Sullivan book "The Great American Comic Strip" which includes pages by Swinnerton, McManus, and Outcault.
    Typically the artist will fully colour the first panel, and then colour only new elements or characters which are introduced in succeeding panels.

  3. JeetHeer2 says:

    Wonderful stuff. On what Tuthill was up to by hand-coloring those pages: I suppose one way to answer this question is to look at the printed tear sheets and compare, to see if they have the same coloring.

    The other thought is that virtually every cartoonist of that era (Dirks, Swinnterton, Frank King, Luk, Sterrett) had an extra-curricular artistic life apart from their printed work, usually in the form of painting. So the hand-coloring might have been Tuthill's counterpart to painting or sculpture.

  4. PKarasik says:

    What is this archive? Where is this archive Can I have the combination to the safe?

  5. Dan Nadel says:

    It's a private collection, not open to the public. But I hope to work on a book at some point.

  6. Dan Nadel says:

    It's unlikely these were guides, given the detail and extensive palette in the work — but as Jeet remarked below, a comparison to the printed pages (which I'll work on) would be telling.

  7. patford says:

    I've got quite a few Sunday pages which I could compare to the originals.
    Re. the palette; not many people know how remarkable the colour printing was prior to around 1930.
    It's said the early newspaper colour men were German immigrants who were coming straight out of the recently outmoded stone lithographic printing seen commonly in the 1800's.
    A cartoon view of a park lake would have the subtle blended colour variations.
    Amazingly beautiful printing, and I would think very difficult from a technical standpoint.
    By the thirties thing were changing. I've always kind of assumed the original master printers had retired or were dying off.

  8. grapesgrapes says:

    c/o Richard Prince's defense:

    "He's playing the guitar now, it looks like he's playing the guitar, it looks as if he's always played the guitar, that's what my message was"

    "as if he's always played the guitar………………….that's. what. my. message. was."

    so glad he lost…for the future

  9. JeetHeer2 says:

    "Typically the artist will fully colour the first panel, and then colour only new elements or characters which are introduced in succeeding panels." That's right and that's why I don't think these were color guides. If they were color guides Tuthill would have only colored the first panel and a little bit of the other panels. But it's clear he colored everything in the page, which was totally unnecessary. I think it'll turn out that he did this for his own pleasure, which is also odd but as the Bungle Family makes clear, he was a quirky guy.

  10. patford says:

    Perhaps research will yield clues?
    It could be argued since Tuthill was intent on fully colouring the originals every single week; why wouldn't they have been used as guides?
    Incidentally, in Cartoonist Profiles No. 34 Tony DeLuna (publisher of Hyperion Press) contributes a few comments on the Hyperion Press book collection which reprints the complete (1928 dailies) first year of
    "The Bungle Family." DeLuna calls the Bungle Family: "The funniest strip ever."
    The very large size strips were printed at in the 20's and before allowed not only the advantage of "large art," but where warranted "large text." Like Sidney Smith in "The Gumps" Tuthill often created strips which read like illustrated dialogues. There is a link to an oral tradition of storytelling and debate which had been a vital part of communication, but was beginning to fade from the scene.
    The generation which had been captivated by eight hour long Lincoln-Douglas style oratory had already passed through the exits.

  11. MarkNewgarden says:

    Dan- A comparison with the printed pages should tell you what you need to know in Tuthill's case, but generally such hand colored Sunday pages would have been photostated FIRST as line art and then returned to the cartoonist (or assistant) and colored (either in whole or in part ) as a guide for the engraver.

  12. carolinebren says:

    "He's playing the guitar now, it looks like he's playing the guitar, it looks as if he's always played the guitar, that's what my message was," the ruling quotes Prince as testifying.

  13. grapesgrapes says:

    She evidently didn't agree with…: "He's playing the guitar now, it looks like he's playing the guitar, it looks as if he's always played the guitar,"

    /and not to fade or fold/

  14. vollsticks says:

    I bet that Bristol board is like fucking plywood, isn't it? One of those pages was reproduced in the second volume of Ivan Brunetti's Graphic Fiction book, wasn't it?

  15. Stannous says:

    This archive was found in 1994, in a state in which it never should have survived, but it did. The collection of drawings were covered with an inch and a half of dust, exposed to moisture, temp. changes, etc. The property has long been sold and razed. The collection would have been bulldozed and gone to the landfill. There must have been another limited collection of Sunday pages somewhere else, originating in St. Louis, that were stored after Tuthill’s death in 1957, because a few pieces have started to emerge that were no part of this collection. Certainly each is a unique drawing, and scarce by anyone’s standards. There was a rumor that I heard from an antique dealer that a collection of Sundays was deaccessioned by the Missouri Historical Society in the 1980’s, but that is unsubstantiated, according to that institution’s sale records. It is certain that the preservation of Tuthill’s legacy, (or a representative part of that legacy) happened completely by chance. Dan Nadel told me that we can read The Bungle Family Sundays because they were preserved on the back of Gasoline Alley Sundays. That is the remarkable story behind the Sundays that are currently for sale at Heritage Auction house in Dallas. They are very unique and special. Hopefully they will receive the attention they deserve, as the interest increases for Harry J. Tuthill, Little Brother, and The Bungle Family.

  16. Stannous says:

    Hello, I wanted to make a comment about the piece with the lake and the Bungles taking the streetcar home from as someone mentioned, a park with a lake. This is Tuthill’s local (St. Louis) reference to the Streetcar line that ran out to West St. Louis County in Creve Coeur Park, and Creve Coeur Lake. This was a very common activity for St. Louisans, and was popular until the streetcars were removed in the late 1950’s. mms://
    The Hodiamont Line went west as in the next link from the PBS feature, “Living Saint Louis” mms:// My mother’s teacher took her class out there in the early 1950’s, so the kids could experience what earlier generations of families used to do. Tuthill repeats this theme in other Sunday comics.

  17. Stannous says:

    Yes, the cotton rag Strathmore paper is still in fine shape, but the edges are more brittle with staining and prone to chipping because of the exposure to oxygen, and because some were bumped at the corners. Another condition issue resulted in the later thirties, when Tuthill seems to have stopped using wheat paste, and stated using mucilage (hide glue) to affix the titles. The acid migration from wood pulp paper combined with the mucilage caused brown staining on the titles. They still look presentable, but in some cases these strips of paper are prone to falling off, especially if the paper is bent. I have gone to great pains to try to pair the loose titles with the proper drawings. Likely wheat paste would be the conservator’s choice to put them back on.

  18. Stan Henderson says:

    In the 1920’s, Harry J. Tuthill provides commentary on urban and suburban themes, set in a metro area that was connected by streetcars, as in St. Louis County’s “streetcar communities” of Ferguson, in N. St. Louis Co., MO, where Tuthill moved in the spring of 1926. Webster Groves was another of the well-known suburban streetcar communities, as was University City, where Tuthill attended night art classes at Washington University. In the 2/13/1927 Sunday page Tuthill depicts streetcar commuters, passing through “Sunken Heights,” perhaps a reference to Richmond Heights, and “Busher Bend,” to Big Bend Blvd., which led from University City to Webster Groves . This can be seen at Heritage,
    I really like the drawings of the passengers in their coats and the trolley driver, and strung out George Bungle sleeping on the train.

  19. Patrick Beckham says:

    Mr. Nadel
    I have recently purchased 8 lead printing plates that I believe are some of Harry Tuthill’s early work on the Bungle Family. Can you please contact me so we can discuss.
    Thank You

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