“The Judge Wised Him Up” (ca. 1913)

“The Judge Wised Him Up” (ca. 1913)
by Thomas A “Tad” Dorgan (1877-1929)
25 3/4 x 7 3/4 in., ink on heavy board
Coppola Collection

Anthropomorphic characters (personification of non-humans with human characteristics) have been around for a long time. Ancient fables and fairy tales abound with them.

In children’s literature, these characters emerged in the nineteenth century, with the creatures in Lewis Carroll’s “Alice” being cited as a most noteworthy early example (1865) prior to the era of animation in the 1920s and 1930s (particularly a noteworthy mouse and a rabbit).

In the comics, the use of anthropomorphic characters is often lovingly referred to as the “funny animal” motif. Dave (Cerebus) Sim, reflecting on setting anthropomorphic characters against their human counterparts: we are all just funny animals living in a world of humans.

In his early life, Thomas A “Tad” Dorgan lost three fingers in a machine accident, and used drawing as a form of physical therapy.

Dorgan’s dog-men feature varied its name from time to time. Sources cite Silk Hat Harry’s Divorce Suit, Old Judge Rumhauser and Judge Rummy’s Court, which, together, seem to cover most of its tenure (1910-1922). This is an early example done in a less usual horizontal strip (rather than square) form. It is also in excellent shape.

Dorgan is an interesting guy. He is generally credited with either creating or popularizing such words and expressions as “dumbbell” (a stupid person); “for crying out loud” (an exclamation of astonishment); “cat’s meow” and “cat’s pajamas” (as superlatives); “applesauce” (nonsense); “cheaters” (eyeglasses); “skimmer” (a hat); “hard-boiled” (tough and unsentimental); “drugstore cowboy” (loafers or ladies’ men); “nickel-nurser” (a miser); “as busy as a one-armed paperhanger” (overworked); and “Yes, we have no bananas,” which was turned into a popular song. In the New York Times obituary, he was lauded as a popularizer of “a new slang vernacular.” His obituary also credited him as the originator of “Twenty-three, Skidoo,” “solid ivory,” “Dumb Dora,” “finale hopper,” “Benny” for hat, and “dogs’” for shoes.

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