“Elsie” (Collier’s July 3 1915)

“Elsie” (Collier’s July 3 1915)
by F C Yohn (1875-1933)
16 x 18 in., ink, wash, and gouache on board
Coppola Collection


A renowned painter of historical themes, Frederick Coffay “FC” Yohn’s illustration work appeared regularly, in the early 1900s, in publications including Scribner’s Magazine, McClure’s, Harper’s Magazine, and Collier’s Weekly.

Illustrations such as this one were common in his work between 1910-1920, with examples in all of these magazines. This example is not marked for time or place.

Yohn is noted for his strong sense of anatomy, detail, and spatial composition.

“If you can stand for the story of this robbery, I can, too. Why don’t you call the police?”

“Elsie” by Richard Washburn Child

Mage: The Hero Denied #0 (Cover)

Mage: The Hero Denied #0 (Cover)
by Matt Wagner (1961-)
13 x 17 in, ink on board
Coppola Collection

In between Mage: The Hero Discovered (Feb 1984 – Dec 1986) and Mage: The Hero Defined (Jul 1997 – Oct 1999), creator Matt Wagner published two Interlude stories. I have 5 of the 16 painted pages from Interlude 1, wishing I had all 16 (we in the comic art collecting community know where 8 of them are located at the moment).

The third Interlude story comes just before the start of the third book, Mage: The Hero Denied (Aug 2017 – Feb 2019), in July 2017.

Thirty-five years in the making, The Hero Denied is the conclusion of the tale of Kevin Matchstick, who, after encountering a wizard, discovers he is the reincarnation of the legendary Pendragon and able to wield the power of the mystical weapon, Excalibur.

This third Interlude story picks up several years after the end of The Hero Defined, with the introspective Kevin Matchstick pondering his life, his actions, and his destiny.

The story is 12 pages long. I am pleased to have the art from the entire book in addition to the cover.

Matt Wagner: “The main character of Mage is Kevin Matchstick, a somewhat cynical everyman when the story first begins, he eventually meets a wily street wizard (the title character) who reveals that he is heir to a legendary power and destined to become the hero he never imagined himself to be.”

“The three stages of his journey make up the three books of the Mage trilogy—The Hero DiscoveredThe Hero Defined and the current series, The Hero Denied. The second series ended with some significant developments in Kevin’s role as a hero and his proposal to his beloved Magda. The latest and final series – Denied – begins with a #0 issue, which is a motif I’ve used throughout the saga to bridge the gap between each book of the trilogy. Here, we find Kevin still going through the motions of tracking down and hunting supernatural menaces but feeling somewhat out of place and disconnected from his role. The actual first issue of The Hero Denied skips ahead a few years to find Kevin and Magda settled down with a family and effectively retired from the world of magic and monsters that had become his reality. Unfortunately, those same familiar mystical threats soon reemerge to threaten their peaceful life.”

“Just About Married” (November 12, 1984)

“Just About Married” (November 12, 1984)
by Mischa Richter (1910-2001)
8 x 11 in., ink and wash on watercolor paper
Coppola Collection

Mischa Richter (1910-2001) was a well-known New Yorker, King Features, and PM newspaper cartoonist who worked for the Communist Party’s literary journal “New Masses” in the late 1930 and early 1940s, becoming its art editor in the 1940s.

In this piece is from The New Yorker (11/12/1984) and it is more interesting than it appears at first glance.

The telltale clue is the license plate – 12 4 X

Here is the relevant headline from December 4, 1984:

Nation’s First Domestic Partnership Law Passed

“It took five years of lobbying by a stalwart city employee before the city of Berkeley [CA] enacted the nation’s first domestic partnership ordinance in 1984. At the outset only city employees could register, and the program offered only dental insurance coverage and leave benefits to city employees, but within a year Berkeley began including medical insurance benefits as well.”

Frederick Hertz, JD “Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnerships & Civil Unions,” 2011

Tom Brougham, a Berkeley city employee working on the Task Force associated with this action, coined the term “domestic partner” and created the concept.

I wonder how many people caught this meaning in 1984 (see below for original appearance, which was not embedded in an article related to it), or simply figured this was a riff on the usual traditional of hanging signs of “just married” from cars, and not that funny? The ambiguity of the two passengers is no accident.

The New Yorker (11/12/1984) p 109


“Francis Underwood and Mildred” (October, 1889)

“Francis Underwood and Mildred” (October, 1889)
In “The Old Bascom Place” Joel Chandler Harris, The Century Illustrated 38, p 913
by Edward Winsor (EW) Kemble (1861-1933)
6 x 8 in., ink on Board
Coppola Collection

EW Kemble had a quite noteworthy career as an illustrator. An early contributor to the new Life magazine (1881), Kemble’s work got the attention of Mark Twain, who invited Kemble to illustrate the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). He subsequently illustrated several other famous books, including Twain’s Puddin’ Head Wilson (1894), Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1891 edition), Washington Irving’s Knickerbocker History of New York(1893 edition), and many of Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remusstories, starting in the late 1880s.

This illustration is from a Southern plantation story, “The Old Bascom Place,” written by Joel Chandler Harris and published in the October 1889 edition of The Century Illustrated literary magazine, at the same time Kemble was working with Harris on some of the Uncle Remus stories.

Thanks to the fame he garnered from Huck Finn, Kemble became the go-to artist for representing African American people and culture, which is how he ended up illustrating both Uncle Tom’s Cabin and Uncle Remus. The negative stereotypes in his widespread imagery influenced the way cartoonists depicted these subjects for generations.

“In All of Us Mortals…”

“In All of Us Mortals…” (date unknown)
by Charles N (CN) Landon (1878-1937)
10.5 x 12.5 in., ink and wash on textured board
Coppola Collection

Landon was an illustrator for The Cleveland Press(1900-1912) art director for the Newspaper Enterprise Associationand art editor of Cosmopolitan. He is most notable as the founder of the Landon School of Illustration and Cartooning (1909), a mail-order correspondence course that trained a generation of famous cartoonists in drawing for publication.

Examples of Landon’s work are rare. And look at this crazy textured paper. How on earth did he get such good ink lines while going over this moonscape of lumps and bumps?

Among the famous names from the Landon school: Carl Barks, Gene Byrnes, Milton Caniff and Chic Young.

“Mud Center Folks” (February 17, 1926)

“Mud Center Folks” (February 17, 1926)
by Charles Desaix Small (1882-1953)
14 x 9 in., ink on board
Coppola Collection

C. D. Small was born in Philadelphia and began comic sketching at age thirteen. He sold his first cartoon fresh out of high school. Small took a comic art course, worked at odd jobs in the advertising field, and contributed cartoons to Lifeand Judge. Next up was a stint as a sports cartoonist for a New York newspaper before being tagged by NEA.

Some of the strips he worked on were Mud Center Folks (1925-26), Bugs (1926–1927), and Salesman Sam (1927–1936).

In his “Stripper’s Guide” description, we learn that Charles D. Small was stuck taking up the slack where other cartoonists left off. He lived in Cleveland in 1925 and got hooked up with NEA there. His first signed assignment was Mud Center Folks. NEA had just lost the panel cartoon series The Old Home Town to Johnson Features and the syndicate had Small provide a replacement. His version was Mud Center Folks. Small did not follow the lead of Lee Stanley, whose Old Home Town was a rather frantic and slapstick look at small town life. Small instead chose a warmer, folksier approach that owed more to another NEA panel, J.R. Williams’ Out Our Way. The drawing style is very much like Williams’, and the gags are gentle.

This excellent feature did not immediately catch on as a replacement to The Old Home Town. Many NEA clients chose to continue the original feature through its new syndicate, and just how many folksy panels does a newspaper need? Even though Mud Center Folks came free as part of the NEA package service, it ran in few papers.

After Mud Center Folks, Small continued to pick up where other cartoonists left off. There was Bugs, and then the long-running Salesman Sam, in which Small did such a perfect impersonation of George Swanson that you can’t tell one from the other without looking for the signature.

Mud Center Folks ran for about 8 months, from July 6 1925 to April 20 1926.


Bringing Up Father (March 6, 1945)

Bringing Up Father (March 6, 1945)
by George McManus (1884-1954) and Zeke Zekley (1915-2005)
23.25 x 5.75 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

In 1904, young George McManus was hired by Pulitzer’s New York World as a cartoonist. While he was there he created such strips as The Newlyweds, which comics historians consider the first family comic strip. In 1912, William Randolph Hearst hired McManus away to start a comic strip about a guy called Jiggs, a lower class man who came into a lot of money. With their new wealth, Maggie, Jiggs’ wife, wanted to enter the upper crust of society but Jiggs just wanted to hang out with his old friends at the local bar playing cards and pool and eat his simple favorite foods.

This is the classic strip Bringing Up Father, which is counted as the second longest running comic strip of the 20th Century (1913-2000) after The Katzenjammer Kids, 1897-2006). A few more that started after 1913 now have longer absolute running times, post-2000, so that’s a narrowly-defined second place finish.

McManus had masterful line work with a strong deco feel to his designs. Over time, he developed the recurring motif of animating the background wall-paintings in certain panels, and this is generally delightful (see above).

The whimsy in the funny papers often sits in sharp contrast to the news of the day.

Let’s fire up the time machine and head back to March 1945.

In March 1945, things were looking up for the Allies. Facing a siege of Berlin by the Soviets, Hitler had withdrawn to his bunker about 3 months earlier. And in less than 2 months, on the last day of April, he would commit suicide in that bunker.

FDR was less than a month away from his death at this point. In his public report to Congress on the Yalta Conference, on March 1, he made the noteworthy and open acknowledgement of his paralysis: “I hope that you will pardon me for this unusual posture of sitting down during the presentation of what I want to say, but I know that you will realize that it makes it a lot easier for me not to have to carry about ten pounds of steel around on the bottom of my legs.”

In Germany, the Wehrmacht began calling up 15- and 16-year old boys on March 5, the same day that the US Army entered Cologne, about 375 miles from Berlin.

On March 6, 1945, the day of this particular strip, Germany launched “Operation Spring Awakening,” the last major German offensive of the war, near Budapest. After about a week, the Soviets had countered and pushed the Germans back.

By March 10, the last German troops west of the Rhine withdrew to the east as Bonn and Godesburg, along the river to the south of Cologne, were occupied by US forces.

And on March 18, the Allies made heaviest daylight bombing raid, to that point, on Berlin. The next day, Hitler ordered destruction of the country’s infrastructure to prevent their use by the Allies. Two days later, Hitler made his final public appearance (it’s an often-repeated film), awarding medals to members of the Hitler Youth.

“M’Liss” in “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (1893)

“M’Liss” in “The Luck of Roaring Camp” (1893)
by F C Yohn (1875-1933)
8 x 11 in., ink, wash, and gouache on board
Coppola Collection

A renowned painter of historical themes, Frederick Coffay “FC” Yohn’s illustration work appeared regularly, in the early 1900s, in publications including Scribner’s Magazine, McClure’s, Harper’s Magazine, and Collier’s Weekly.

Illustrations such as this one were common in his work between 1910-1920, with examples in all of these magazines. This example is not marked for time or place.

Yohn is noted for his strong sense of anatomy, detail, and spatial composition.

I know something but not everything about this illustration.

Bret Harte was an American author who was famous for his stories about the California Gold Rush. In 1870, he published “The Luck of Roaring Camp,” which became one of his headliner stories when his collected works were published, later, starting in 1882. One of these other takes was“M’liss: An Idyl of Red Mountain,” the story of an orphaned girl who ends up in a mining community.

The early version of M’Liss ran for four chapters in a newspaper (1852) turned literary journal (1860) called “The Golden Era” (for which Harte, who worked at the paper, was made the founding editor, 1860-1863, before breaking off to start his own publication). The printed version of the 4-chapter story was about 30 pages long. In 1863, Harte expanded the story to 10 chapters and it also appeared in “The Golden Era.”

M’liss was dramatized several times in the 1870s as a stage play, in a role originated by an actress names Annie Pixley. When Pixley died, the first line of her obituatary was “M’Liss is dead.”

M’Liss, and the Harte collection, was reprinted many times, and was still popular when the moving picture shows started. The second (silent) movie version (1918) started Mary Pickford as M’Liss (a watchable copy exists on the internet). The story is renamed to “The Girl who Ran Wild,” and it was filmed again in 1922 and 1936.

I cannot locate the source for this image, but here is what I know. First, the ink wash drawing is dated 1893. Second, it is the story of M’Liss and it appeared in one of the “The Luck of Roaring Camp & other sketches” collections. Houghton Mifflin published a 292 pp collection in 1894 and in 1899, and it included the 4-chapter version of M’Liss (pp 30-79). But it is purely text.

I saw an edition published by J J Little and Ives that had a frontispiece illustration, but the image was not distinct in the picture.

The Yohn drawing is p 34 of M’Liss, and the line of dialog “I’ll go with the play-actors, or I’ll eat this and die hear,” is unique to the shorter, 4-chapter version. It comes about 3 paragraphs before the end.

“If only Vincent Sheean could persuade the Czechs…”

“If only Vincent Sheean could persuade the Czechs…” (November 28, 1939)
by Mischa Richter (1910-2001)
10 x 14 in., ink and wash on paper
Coppola Collection

Mischa Richter (1910-2001) was a well-known New Yorker, King Features, and PM newspaper cartoonist who worked for the Communist Party’s literary journal “New Masses” in the late 1930 and early 1940s, becoming its art editor in the 1940s.

Just before that time, he worked in the WPA art project as a mural painter in New York. He then turned to cartooning, doing editorial and humorous cartoons for the daily newspaper, PM, and then becoming art editor for the New Masses.

The New Masses (1926–1948) was an American Marxist magazine closely associated with the Communist Party in the US. It succeeded The Masses (1912—1917) and later merged into Masses & Mainstream (1948—1963). With the coming of the Great Depression in 1929, America became more receptive to ideas from the political left and the New Masses became highly influential in intellectual circles. The magazine has been called “the principal organ of the American cultural left” from 1926 onwards.

In 1941 Richter began his longtime affiliation with the New Yorker, as well as producing daily panels, “Strictly Richter” and “Bugs Baer” for King Features. In the 1970s and 1980s, Richter did numerous drawings for the OpEd page of the New York Times.

But here we are in November 1939, less than three months after the Nazi invasion of Poland (September 1) that marks the start of WW2. This is not a drawing of the historical Hitler we have today, monstrous with the insight of hindsight. To many in 1939, he is an authoritarian despot with still-secret ambition for world conquest, benefitting from the surprising non-aggression pact with Stalin (Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty, August 1939), the appeasement policy of British PM Chamberlain (“peace for our time”), and the radical isolationism of the US after WW1.

A despondent Hitler splays across a table and wonders “If only Vincent Sheean could persuade the Czechs that Communism and fascism are the same thing.”

So who is Vincent Sheean, and what is happening in Czechoslovakia in late 1939?

In 1918, Vincent Sheean (1899 – 1975) joined the US Army with the intention of taking part in the First World War, which ended before he served. “We felt cheated,” he says in his autobiography. “We had been put into uniform with the definite promise that we were to be trained as officers and sent to France.” He finished his degree at the University of Chicago in 1919, moved to New York City and began work for the Daily News. He lived in Greenwich Village where he associated with many left-wing figures who had reported on the 1917 Russian Revolution and the civil war that resulted in the rise of communism and the establishment of the USSR in 1923. In 1922 he visited Europe. He eventually settled in Paris where he became foreign correspondent for The Chicago Tribune.

Sheean published his autobiographical Personal History in 1935. The book tells the story of Sheean’s experiences of reporting on the rise of fascism in Europe. Sheean was highly critical of both Chamberlain and the US. His follow-up book, Not Peace but the Sword was published in March 1939, the same month that Czechoslovakia was invaded, and it was on the bookstands as a bestseller only weeks before the invasion of Poland on September 1. Both books focus on the rise of fascism in Germany, its parallel and at least sympathetic relationship with communism, and what he saw as a betrayal by England and France to not defend democracy more strongly. A fictionalized account of Personal History, which had been republished in 1940, was used as the basis for Foreign Correspondent, a movie by Alfred Hitchcock, also in 1940.

Hitler annexed all of Austria without firing a single shot in March 1938. His next target, as had been laid out in Mein Kampf, was the possession of the Sudetenland, the part of Czechoslovakia where millions of ethnic Germans lived. He announced in September 1938 that Germany demanded the “return” of all Czechoslovak lands where at least fifty-one percent of the population considered itself “German,” promising that war would soon erupt if his demands were not granted.

Journalists rushed into Prague, capital city of the Czech Republic, to report on the drama that unfolded over the following months. Among those who came to observe and report: Vincent Sheean. Sheean reported on September 21, 1938, having spent the day in the Sudetenland, that loud speakers posted throughout the city had just announced to the Czechs that under pressure from London and Paris, the government had accepted the German dictator’s demand for a revision of the two countries’ border. On September 30, 1938, Hitler, Mussolini, French Premier Daladier, and British Prime Minister Chamberlain signed the Munich Pact, which sealed the fate of Czechoslovakia, virtually handing it over to Germany in the (false) name of peace.

Chamberlain (September 1938): “My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time.”

Chamberlain is frequently misquoted as “peace in our time.”

Under European pressure, the Czech government attempted to appease Hitler: from dissolving the Communist Party to suspending all Jewish teachers in ethnic-German majority schools. As early as October 1938, Hitler made it clear that he intended to force the central Czechoslovakian government to give Slovakia its independence, opening up its dependence on Germany and putting the Czech state in greater jeopardy. And like clockwork, it happened. Slovakia declared its “independence” on March 14, 1939. And the next day, March 15, Hitler threatened a bombing raid against Prague unless he got free passage for German troops into Czech borders. He got it. By evening, Hitler made his entry into Prague.

Another easy conquest, with the stage set for his move on Poland. The secret terms of the August 30, 1939 non-aggression pact with Stalin (Molotov-Ribbentrop Treaty) outlined how Czechoslovakia and Poland would be divided between Germany and Russia, giving the Nazis their opening to invade Poland on September 1, which marks the historical opening of WW2.

Hitler continues to bamboozle England and France with promises of peace over the next few months. On October 28, thousands of people, mainly students, mark the 21stanniversary of the founding of Czechoslovakia. The Nazis retaliate by closing universities, executing student leaders and making many arrests. On November 17, the Germans stormed the university dorms in Prague and other towns in the former Czechoslovakia, attacking and arresting thousands of students, sending many of them to concentration camps. The Nazis executed nine Czechs by firing squad without trial that day for leading the demonstrations. On November 18, the Nazis closed all the technical schools.

Today, International Students’ Day is observed on November 17. This year, 2019, marks the 80thanniversary of the protests.

Richter’s cartoon expresses some anxiety by Hitler on how things are going in Czechoslovakia. And at the time, it might have looked like he was getting pushback from the Czechs, but we know in retrospect that the Nazis had the situation in hand.

It is worth noting that 2019 is also the 80thanniversary of Marvel comics (the original Marvel Comics #1 was published in October 1939 and featured both the Human Torch and the Sub-Mariner). In the 2015 movie, Avengers:Age of Ultron, Tony Stark explicitly and ironically uses the “peace in our time” phrase as something that could now be possible, as it was not before, because of the protective Ultron protocol he wants to put in place around the earth following the alien invasion seen in the first Avengers movie. Stark’s line of dialog: “peace in our time, imagine that.” His naïve arrogance inspires the now-sentient Ultron to repeat the quote, which is played back after Ultron takes a look at the madness of human history, as a mandate to exterminate human life as the only pathway to peace.

The huge sales of Marvel Comics #1 results in a second printing, with the October date removed, in November 1939, just as the situation in Czechoslovakia is unfolding and this cartoon appears in the New Masses.

The Age of Ultron allusion is a nice example of good writing, but there is just no way to clue the audience in to the Chamberlain reference. When you are aware of the significance of the quote, the scene reads quite strongly. In both cases, the quote ignores the implicit danger of the situation and precedes the threat of the villain in the story to end up carrying out a quite distorted version of “peace.”

The “peace in our time” phrase is infamous for representing ironic delusion, and (perhaps even more interesting) it is apparently tied to the origin of the phrase “killer joke.”

In October 1969, on the 30-year anniversary of Chamberlain’s pronouncement, a Monty Python sketch titled “The Funniest Joke in the World” is aired. The military potential of the “Killer Joke” is one that is so funny that anyone who hears it promptly dies. In the sketch, the “German translation” of the joke is used as a weapon during July 1944, causing the immediate death of soldiers in the field, and leading to victory in WW2. The German version of the joke is said to be 60,000 times more powerful than Britain’s great pre-war joke, at which point the famous video of Chamberlain waiving his copy of the Munich “peace for our time” Pact around, nailing the Pythoncommentary squarely on its head. The “Killer Joke” skit was reduced in time and popularized in the 1971 Python movie And Now for Something Completely Different.

Although I have never seen the following connection made, it is difficult to ignore. In March 1988, DC Comics published the landmark story Batman: The Killing Joke, which helped to shape the realism narrative of comics stories ever since, and includes controversial maiming, abuse and exploitation of Barbara “Batgirl” Gordon.

Joker tries to persuade Batman that the world is inherently insane and thus not worth fighting for. He knows he went crazy after learning how the world was just an awful joke. He rants how the Second World War was allegedly caused by Germany entering an argument over the amount of telegraph poles they owed the Allies when undergoing reparations shortly after the First World War. There is a “Killer Joke” in the story, and it is funny enough to make the normally stoic Batman laugh.

And just to close this tight, tight circle a bit more, the “funniest joke in the world” being “a joke so funny you will die laughing” is easily imagined to extrapolate from the common expression “to die laughing.” This is an old expression, which appears in Shakespeare [The Taming of the Shrew (3:2), ca. 1590: “Went they not quickly, I should die with laughing.”] and is accompanied by any number of hyperbolic things that happen when you laugh too hard (splitting your guts, having your head fall off, and so on).

Either the Python crew got an independent inspiration, or they were inspired by the comic strip writer Al Capp who, in 1967, has his Li’l Abner character uncover a joke so funny that you die laughing. Bob Hope makes an appearance in this story because he is looking to get the joke for his TV show.

“An Empty Seat at Dinner” (1915) by F C Yohn

“An Empty Seat at Dinner” (1915)
by F C Yohn (1875-1933)
12 x 24 in., ink, wash, and gouache on board
Coppola Collection

A renowned painter of historical themes, Frederick Coffay “FC” Yohn’s illustration work appeared regularly, in the early 1900s, in publications including Scribner’s Magazine, McClure’s, Harper’s Magazine, and Collier’s Weekly.

Illustrations such as this one were common in his work between 1910-1920, with examples in all of these magazines. This example is not marked for time or place.

Yohn is noted for his strong sense of anatomy, detail, and spatial composition.