Krazy Kat and The Gumps

I ordered a couple of books from Amazon. Krazy Kat by George Herriman and The Gumps by Sidney Smith. The books are part of a series by The Library of American Comics Essentials and they are superb. The quality of the books themselves are first class, they come with a place holder ribbon, you know, like a bible has. And what’s great about the books is that they have one comic strip per page, basically the size that the original ran in the newspaper, the unique size of the book allows this. Each book takes one year, 365 days, of a period in time and the object is to read one strip per day and to be transported back into that time period, which is quite hard to do as you want to binge read the strips and cannot just contain your enjoyment to just one strip per day.

I’ve always been a fan of Krazy Kat and I have many Krazy Kat anthologies. What’s different about this book is that it’s not the usual full color Sunday pages which get all the usual attention. This is 365 strips from 1934. The first strip is January 1, 1934 and the last is December 31, 1934. This year was chosen because it was thought to be one of his best years regarding writing and drawing.

As for The Gumps, I didn’t know much about them except the name. When I had seen images of the strips in the past, they were few and far between and seemed too wordy for me. I’ve always felt that less is more when it comes to text in comic strips. But back in the early 1900s when The Gumps started, the comic strip was a very important part of American entertainment and the more wordy, the better.

The Gumps strips in the book run from May 1, 1928 to May 3, 1929. This was an important period in that it was probably when it had the most readers and the biggest plot twist of all time. It involved a new neighbor who moved next door to Andy and Min Gump, named Mary Gold, and the whole year twists and turns around her disappearance and (spoiler alert) death. Yes, cartoonist Sidney Smith had the character die which was something unimaginable at the time. The Gumps received thousands of emails a week, they received front page headlines during the Mary Gold episode and serial strips were born.

The Gumps was already a very successful strip, probably the number one strip and most popular. It started in 1917 when Sidney Smith had characters from his previous strip, Old Doc Yak, about a bunch of goats as people, moved out and the Gumps moved into their house. It all took place in the same space on the newspaper page. In 1922. a common greeting of people was, “Did you see Andy this morning?” Sort of like, “Who shot JR?”

One other interesting fact about The Gumps is that when the New York Daily News began in 1919, The Gumps was the only comic strip in the paper! “Gump” was a word used by Joseph Patterson, owner of the Chicago Tribune, NY Daily News and Tribune Syndicate, to refer to everyday people, he had Sidney Smith use that name for the characters in his new strip.

At the front of the Library of American Comics Essentials books there is a written history of the cartoonist and the strip. There is a lot of information there that I had never heard before. It’s just as good as the strips themselves. The Gumps really can fill a book all by themselves, I don’t mean comics, but the whole story of Sidney Smith and his life, how he was the richest cartoonist at the time, the most popular cartoonist and was known for his exotic car collection. He received a new car each year as part of his cartooning contract, something like a Speedster 348, which is shown in the book.

Sidney Smith was killed in an auto accident in 1935, very ironic since his life was the comic strip and cars. He was front page news as you can see.. You can read the article up close here. It jumps to page 6, which you can see if you scroll down on the Tribune site.

sidney-smith

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