Saturday, January 31, 2015


Herriman Saturday

Monday, September 14 1908 -- Another cartoon about the "Solid Three", Herriman's favorite whipping boys lately. For those who don't recall, a recap:

County commissioners Patterson, Eldridge and Wilson, dubbed the "Solid Three", put together a bond issue for the county and sold it off, probably to favored friends, at a high interest rate. They did this without proper public meetings and without going through the normal channels to determine a fair interest rate. On discovering this breach of the public trust, Angelenos are, not too surprisingly, up in arms.


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Friday, January 30, 2015


Sci-Friday starring Connie

Connie, August 8 1937, courtesy of Cole Johnson. 
Follow the Connie story every Friday here on Stripper's Guide.


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Thursday, January 29, 2015


Cole Johnson's Envelopes

One last batch of these Cole Johnson envelopes today. The Katzies, if they aged in real time, is one of my favorites. After I stopped laughing I found the cartoon quite haunting. Those eyes....!

As regards the Obama envelope, Cole and I didn't see eye to eye politically, but at least he had a sense of humor about his views -- more than can be said for most of the folks on his side of the great divide.

This, then, is the best I have to offer to send off my good friend. Cole deserves much more. I regret that this came at a time when I have so many other obligations, and my thoughts also have to be in so many other places. It is not by choice.

I had a long talk with Mark the other day, and there is one aspect of this situation I still want to address. I want to write an essay about what happens to one's collection after passing. It is a source of great concern to Cole's family, of course. I have put a lot of thought into the fate of my own large collection, as well, and I have some thoughts on the matter that I think are worth sharing. Hopefully I will be able to carve out some free time to write.

More Cole Johnson art - logo for a Sons of the Desert convention featuring Laurel, Hardy, and Todd:

On this page, from Slapsticon 2004, Cole and friend are about to start a Classic pie fight (with cake):

Hello Allan-

As of now, I don't know what I will do with the comics, records, movie materials or the other herds of white elephants Cole amassed over the last half century. It's too early, I guess. I want to thank you for your heartfelt eulogy. He would appreciate it also. it is a shame he didn't apply his thoughts to paper more often; he thought he'd just go on forever.
about the cartooned envelopes- I'm agog that everyone who ever got one saved them, and want to tell me about them; maybe I should organize a tribute art book of his many art covers over the years.
If you're not sure what to do with his collection, might I suggest a museum? The Cartoon Museum of San Francisco might be interested, for instance.

(Also, I'm terribly sorry for your loss.)
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Wednesday, January 28, 2015


More of Cole's Envelopes

I talked to Mark Johnson, Cole's brother yesterday. While Cole's death was unexpected, he did have a laundry list of health issues with which he was dealing. The cause of death was heart failure. The family is not having services for Cole, as his vast network of friends, mostly fellow fans of popular culture, are scattered all over the globe. Your condolences, though, are sincerely appreciated by the family.

A very short obituary is in the Bucks County Courier.

Here are some more of Cole's delightful envelopes. The first one is a really obscure reference to totally wacky cartoonist Eddie Eksergian, who had a strange obsession with umbrellas.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015


Cole's Envelopes

Cole Johnson sent me mail packages of old comic strip material on a regular basis. If this weren't enough of a huge favor, he often added to that Christmas-morning style fun at the Holtz household by illustrating the envelopes.

Cole had an amazing ability to ape the comic strip art styles of the 1890s-1910s, and I often told him that he should get into the business of drawing up fake Rudolph Dirks Katzies strips -- he could have made a bundle! Cole's envelope cartoons often illustrate, with his trademark sardonic wit, the old time cartoon characters in decidedly untraditional ways. Some of those cartoons would need footnotes for the gags to be understandable outside our circle.

I saved every envelope he ever sent, but unfortunately the vast majority are buried in a storage facility right now (the Holtz household is in the throes of a move). Luckily I had a stack of Cole's correspondence still at the house because I haven't yet done all the necessary research associated with it. So here are some samples of Cole Johnson's wonderful sense of humor. The odd blank areas are where the post office defaced his cartoons with their labels and stamps.

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Monday, January 26, 2015


Tragic News -- Cole Johnson Dead

I have just heard from Mark Johnson that his brother, Cole Johnson, has died. I have no particulars, and I was notified via a blog post that seems to have later been deleted. Here is the text:

I am sad to disclose that everyone's friend and my dear brother Cole Johnson has passed away.

He was incredibly knowledgeable about strips and contributed many items to these pages. He was also warm and witty, himself a great cartoonist, who seemed to know most everything about American history and popular culture. I loved him, God bless his great soul. His loss is a tragic waste.

I knew that Cole had health problems, but I did not know they were life-threatening. I was on the phone gabbing away for an hour or two with my good friend just a week ago, and he seemed to be in great spirits. I can hardly believe that he is gone.

Even though I never had the privilege of meeting Cole face to face, I felt that we were kindred spirits, and that I could consider us to be good friends. Our long telephone gabfests will always be some of my happiest memories. Though Cole occasionally mentioned health problems to me, he was much too eager to talk about other things to bother taking time to talk about them. He would much rather talk about newspapers, comics, movies, cartoons -- all with the same giddy fascination that he knew we shared.

I loved listening to Cole talk. He talked in a leisurely drawl, and his words were always impeccably well-chosen. He loved to set the scene for his stories, telling all the details and establishing atmosphere. He seemed like he was weaving a story as he talked, and his stories were always fascinating, funny, and smart. I enjoyed baiting him -- just mention an obscure cartoonist or a tabloid newspaper title, and more often than not he would start in on one of his stories, mixing together history, storytelling and sardonic wit. Cole should have been a writer, and I should have pressed him harder to write for the blog. But he was so modest and self-effacing, and so amused at his own fascination with popular history, that I think he couldn't imagine people would be interested. But I think that a weaver of stories like Cole could have made just about anything interesting, even the minutiae that we discussed endlessly.

One of the most endearing things about Cole was that he realized, and reveled in, the idea that being a newspaper comics expert is mystifying pointless and utterly ridiculous to 99.9% of humanity. He never took himself seriously, a trap many experts fall into. Even as Cole and I would spend an hour discussing something esoteric like the origins of World Color Printing, we were always at the same time laughing at ourselves, and how bizarre we would sound to an outsider.

Cole was also one of the most open-hearted, giving people I've ever met. His incredible collections were freely open to anyone who had an interest. As far as I know, he never once asked anyone for a fee, even when supplying material for publications that were expected to turn a profit. His delight was in the possibility that the material he collected, and shared freely, might attract new people to be interested in these things. You reading this blog are constant beneficiaries of his philosophy, as I have reproduced hundreds, maybe thousands of scans he produced to be shared here, not to mention all the knowledge that accompanied them.

There is without a doubt no person on this earth who knew more about newspaper comics than Cole Johnson. It is a shame that most of us care so little about history that Cole's death does not get wide reporting as a tragic loss to humanity's collective memory. A vast repository of knowledge has been extinguished.

Personal to Mark Johnson: Mark, you have my heartfelt condolences. I would greatly appreciate if you can get in touch with me, as I have no way to contact you directly. I'd like to know where and when services will be held, and get access to obituaries, as I never knew nearly enough about my friend's life -- we were always too busy talking comics.

Dreadful news. My condolences to the Johnson family and to you as well, Allan. I only know him from your blog here and would see his scans and fascinating comments. Such a knowledgable guy! His is a big loss. So sad.
Very sorry to hear this. I had some brief communication with him on occasion - I wish I'd had more! Thank you for this written tribute.
Very sorry to hear this. I had some brief communication with him on occasion - I wish I'd had more! Thank you for this written tribute.
Very sad news. Thank you for taking the time to write such a nice tribute; his presence here will definitely be missed.
An extremely heartfelt reflection on the loss of a dear friend. He will be greatly missed. His contributions made a great site even greater.
My condolences, Allan. Mr. Johnson sure had some wonderful and eclectic taste judging by all of the fantastic scans of rare stuff he has contributed to this blog. I hope his collection finds a good home.
This is the same guy who did the Sugar Free Days comic, right?
Anonymous --
No I don't think so. Hard to believe there would be two cartoonists named Cole Johnson, but those Sugar Free Days mini-comix seem to be by someone else -- at least the style doesn't match. According to Mark Johnson, Cole did do at least one comic book -- it was done for a Dr. Who fan club of all things.

Allan says this of Cole in the Acknowledgements page of American Newspaper Comics:
"Cole Johnson is a near-mythic figure among comic strip
researchers. His articles in various fanzines of the 1970s,
often coauthored with his brother Mark, revealed a grasp
of comic strip history so vast and detailed that some
wondered whether he was human or some sort of divine oracle.
In the '80s and '90s he effectively disappeared from the
ranks, and I never thought to contact him until I eventually
met him around 2007, and we talked about his particular
passion, the Philadelphia syndicates. In the interim I had
indexed the Philadelphia syndicates myself, but I soon
discovered that his knowledge of these newspapers and others
still dwarfed my own. He was able to point me down essential
but previously unexplored paths and has provided much new
important information for the project. Amazingly, Cole's
real passion isn't newspaper comics but silent movies-
I can only imagine what a force to be reckoned with he is
in that field!"
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