The 272nd meeting of the NY Comics & Picture-story Symposium will be held on Tuesday,  March 31, 2020 as an online event via Zoom. Here’s the link to join the online event: Free and open to the public.

Ian Gordon on Rose O’Neill: Comic Strip Artist

In December 1909 the Ladies’ Home Journal published “The Kewpies Christmas Follies,” a full page illustrated verse for children by Rose O’Neill. The Kewpies, cherub like figures with a distinct tuff of hair, were an instant success and episodes followed in January and February 1910.  O’Neill then moved the feature to the competing Woman’s Home Companion after a dispute with the Journal­­­­ editor Edward Bok. Eleven months before the Kewpies appeared in their pages the Journal editorialized against the “comic” supplement in Sunday newspapers labelling them “a crime against American children.” Comics in the Journal’s view were an “extraordinary stupidity, and an influence for repulsive and often depraving vulgarity.” Parents needed to give their children the work of “competent illustrators” who demonstrated refined rather than vulgar humor.[1] O’Neill’s Kewpies then originated in a search for an antidote to the offending comic strips. While the Journal wished to suggest that O’Neill and its other illustrators created something more refined than the crudities of comic strips it is hard to see these early Kewpies episodes as anything else but comic strips.  In this talk I will show how O’Neill’s background as a staff cartoonist for Puck gave her a full command of the visual humor tropes of the day and that her Kewpies, although presented in verse, were in keeping with the formal properties of comic strips. Moreover, Bok deployed the Kewpies in just the same way as Hearst deployed the Katzenjammer Kids: they were features designed to boost circulation and attract advertising dollars for their respective publishers. O’Neill had no compunctions about the commercial nature of her work and lent her characters to advertising for various products including Jell-O.

 [1] “A Crime Against American Children,” Ladies Home Journal, 26 (January 1909), p. 5.

 Ian Gordon teaches American Studies and History at the National University of Singapore. His publications include: “Bildungsromane and Graphic Narratives,” in A History of the Bildungsroman, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), Superman: The Persistence of an American Icon (Rutgers University Press, 2017), Kid Comic Strips (Palgrave, 2016) and the edited volumes The Superhero Symbol: Identity, Culture, and Politics. (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2019 in press), Ben Katchor: Conversations (University Press of Mississippi, 2018), and The Comics of Charles Schulz: The Good Grief of Modern Life (University Press of Mississippi, 2017).

The Ladies' home journal.