Well, it's Monday and so I'm back. Hi. Today we have the indefatigable Paul Tumey on one slice of the giant cake that is all things Rube Goldberg.
The current dusty, dim current understanding of Rube Goldberg and his work is evident in the comics history books and websites that mention him. Sadly, many of these are riddled with errors. Peter Marzio’s 1973 biography, Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work contains a error-filled list of his cartoon series that has led subsequent scholars into fields of confusion.1 Marzio’s book also asserts that the first full-fledged Goldberg invention cartoon was published November 10, 1914, an incorrect statement that has been repeated in numerous articles, books, and websites for the last 40 years. In actuality, it appears that Goldberg published his first invention cartoon July 17, 1912 — more than two years earlier.
The first known Rube Goldberg invention cartoon, originally published July 7, 1912
The errors about Goldberg’s work have, on occasion, been off not just by a couple of years, but entire decades. For instance, Brian Walker’s comprehensive and authoritative survey of the history of the American newspaper comic strip The Comics: The Complete Collection (Abrams ComicArts 2011), reprints a Goldberg invention cartoon from 1930 with the dating “c.1910s.” It’s also identified as a “daily panel,” when it actually was from a biweekly series that appeared in a nationally distributed magazine, Collier’s Weekly.
In all fairness to hard-working cultural historians, getting one’s arms around the scope and particulars of Rube Goldberg’s career is no easy task. Rube, that cartoonist with the mind of an engineer, was more interested in the next idea than he was in drawing a concept out, exploring every nook and cranny. Thus, for most of of his career as a newspaper humor comic strip creator from 1909 to about 1938, Rube made a new and different comic strip every day. He had several series, like Foolish Questions, Silly Sonnets, and I’m The Guy which he randomly returned to as he pleased.
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