Pam’s Pictorama Post: This card almost slipped through my fingers due to an email that went astray with the seller, but I am ever so glad it did not! This surreal image of a giant cat (a tuxedo cat no less) dragging this man and woman along as they clutch his (or her) leash is splendid and bizarre indeed. It falls soundly into the category of I have never seen another like it – although I would love to see more if anyone can send me in that direction. This card was mailed on December 23 (8 AM) Sierra Mac, CAL, 1920. It was mailed to Mr. & Mrs. H.H. Wear (?) & Family, 431-14th Street, San Bernadino, CA. I was tempted to save this until the end of the year and do a seasonally appropriate post, but who could resist sharing this sooner? Not to mention that it is not really a very Christmas-y holiday card.
For me what this card brings to mind is chalk talks. For any of you who haven’t encountered these before, it is an act where a cartoonist very quickly draws a drawing, or series of drawings, in front of an audience – stunning them with skill and speed. It took hold as early as the late 1800’s, had a hot five minutes first during vaudeville, then early film and finally once again in early television. (There is also an interesting tributary of bible chalk talks – the Methodists claim to have founded the practice.)
Kim was giving me some tips and tales earlier about it – some folks sketching in outlines that couldn’t be seen by the audience as a bit of a cheat, that sort of thing. Windsor McCay is one of the most famous practitioners of the chalk talk (think Gertie the Dinosaur) and when I think of it I tend to think of folks like him in the teens and twenties, but there are legions of others. Here is a link to The Enchanted Drawing from an Edison short in 1900 showing J. Stuart Blackton at work.
As I stumbled and bumbled around researching this, Kim also gave me an interesting lead – he met chalk talk (lightening cartoonist) Ernie McGee decades ago at a comic book convention here in NYC. Kim was carrying copies of Gothic Blimp Works and he gave Ernie a copy featuring his then strip – evidently an Uncle Ed strip gave the man a chuckle of approval, much to the surprise of a young Kim Deitch. Ernie McGee seems to have had his heyday in vaudeville. Cole Johnson gives a thumbnail blog post history of Ernie here at Stripper’s Guide 4/19/09 including the photo (look at all those bound volumes!) and strip drawn by Ernie below. Spoiler alert – it’s a bit of a sad tale ending with a down and out Ernie living in Philadelphia in the 1960’s, drinking too much and doing his act in his bathrobe at a lectern, in front of rows of chairs in his apartment, for his sole visitor.
West coast buddy Bruce Simon also did a strip about Ernie, published in Siegel and Simon’s Party Comics shown in a 2009 re-issue below. In an online write-up about the re-issue Bruce says, Party Comics came out in July, 1980 and the UG scene was just about moribund by then. We printed 5,000 copies and maybe sold half of them, about what a Vertigo book sells now…I screwed up on the color sep and the devil’s hands came out pink instead of red, too cheap to pull a proof. The cover character was based on a real 1930’s era ‘chalk-talk’ cartoonist named Ernie McGee who I had met in New York in 1971. Why I thought anyone would know what a ‘chalk-talk’ cartoonist was in 1980 is anyone’s guess.
Kim tells me that he thinks the drawing of Ernie here is from his business card which he remembers fondly – he once had a copy, but couldn’t put his hands on it if he does indeed still possess it.
I have once again strayed somewhat from my cat material, but their plenty of fun in ’21 may very well have included seeing Ernie or maybe even Windsor McCay.