Forgotten Comic Strip
By Roy Nuhn
As seen in The Antique Shoppe Newspaper, March 2006
Bumptious dogs and nasty little children.
They were Gene Carr's trademark characters. He loved to draw them and he did so throughout a two-decade long career as a pioneer of the newest graphic art form - the comic strip.
By such signs you always know the man behind the pen. His dogs are noisy, self-assertive and unlovable mutts, and his children are prank-playing, equally unlovable mutts.
Rambling through daily comic strips and color Sunday funnies, Carr's creations were familiar sights to readers in the earliest decades of the 20th century.
Yet, Carr never made much of a name for himself as a cartoonist and today is counted among the also-rans. But he brushed elbows with the best and even on occasion became partners with some of them for a brief while. He was a journeyman, never a master of his trade. But it wasn't for lack of talent or expertise that he never achieved wealth or lasting fame. He lacked endurance and patience, it is true, always hopping from one comic strip to another, but for Gene Carr the BIG break never came. He just never stumbled onto that pot of gold at the end the rainbow.
Eugene Carr, as he was christened, was born on January 7, 1881, of poor parents in the great city of New York. The family's poverty forced him into the work world at a very young age. By the time he was nine, he was working as an errand boy for the New York Recorder. Young Carr became quite a pest in the art department where he constantly hung around trying to pick up bits and pieces of information.
He had become infatuated with drawing and this was to be his only training ground. He never received any formal education, just that of the school of hard knocks.
He began working as a cartoonist by the time he was 15 and two years later was hired by Hearst for the Evening Journal. Eventually, his work career came to include other great newspapers, such as the Herald, World, both of New City, and the Times of Philadelphia. He was also employed by both the McClure and King Features syndicates.
Yes, without a doubt, Gene Carr bored easily and he had feet which kept on walking, as well as a mind forever leaping ahead to the next project. He initiated or assumed a very large number of cartoon strips, but only a few proved successful or popular. Most are merely footnotes in the passing parade of American comic strips.
Some of his more notable efforts include:
"Lady Bountiful" (New York Herald, in 1904), a fairy tale modernized. In 1917 Saalfield Publishing Co. compiled the best of these into a 24-page, 10x13-inch book with cardboard covers, one of their and other company's many popular comic strip reprint editions of the era.
Postcard from 1907 set (The Rotograph Co.) showcasing other misadventures of Carr's prank-playing children.
"The Bad Dream That Made Billy a Better Boy' (a prophetic forerunner of McCay's "Little Nemo"), "Buddy," "Romeo, the Dog," and "Flirting Flora."
In 1912 he joined hands with Cartoonists Opper, Dirks and Schultz in a team effort to create a multi-character Sunday color strip. Such joint projects, with each artist's famous characters involved in a common adventure, were somewhat common back then. The idea was later borrowed by comic book artists during the 1940s and '50s.
In 1913 Gene Carr assumed Rollin Kirby's panel, "Metropolitan Movies." He turned it into a successful feature. Years later it was also made into a reprint comic book and titled "Kid Kartoons."
Carr was an innovative, tireless and highly productive worker. Unfortunately, his span of attention was not too strong and he went from strip to strip, always experimenting with new ideas.
This jumping around and refusal to settle on one idea contributed to his failure to attain the fame of an Outcault or McManus. In the 1920s, he moved out of comic strip work and did free-lance illustrating for America's major magazines, working for the likes of Liberty, Colliers, and Saturday Evening Post.
A few weeks short of his 79th birthday, on December 9, 1959, Gene Carr dies at his Walpole, New York, home.
Among his postcard output, which numbered over 40 different designs for two different companies, Rotograph and Bergman, is a very interesting six-card set for st. Patrick's Day. It was published by Rotograph, in 1906, as their numbers F.L. 187 to P.L. 192.
The drawings mock the Irish and the holiday, but then, most all of Carr's postcards lampooned somebody or something. Some of his characterizations are quite unflattering and insulting.
On all but one of the cards will be found the ubiquitous dog, Carr's trademark. Appearing on three of the cards are
the same urchins who scamper on his 4th of July postcards, also published by Rotograph.
Predominant coloring is green, naturally, and black against a white background. Essentially, Gene Carr's St. Patrick's Day drawings parodying the annual New York parade on that grand and glorious day are cartoon strips transplanted to the postcard format. The artwork and coloring are distinctly reminiscent of the cartoons in the Sunday funnies and daily newspaper strips. Carr is now entirely forgotten except by collectors who eagerly seek his work. Yet his postcards were only a minor effort of his, a negligible endeavor undertaken for a few quick bucks as a moonlighting experience during the first decade of the last century.
Thanks to his picture postcards, the talent of Gene Carr is recognized today and collected as are many of the other fine cartoonists and artists of the early years of the 20th century. Often this is their only surviving legacy.
Collectors are also in search of his sports set
(The Rotograph Co., Series No. 242)marketed in 1907.
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