February 2011 Archives

The Funny Papers

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I worked for the post office in Cos Cob for about six years.  On occassion, I would deliver Express Mail packages from New York City to a house on Mead Avenue in Cos Cob.  Although there was an impressive house right on the street, I was always asked to deliver the package to a workshop in the back of the property.  The first time I went back there, a friendly man in a sweater and smoking a pipe invited me in while he signed for the package.  He was very slender, probably in his mid-sixties and appeared to have a Van Dyke moustache and beard.  On occassion, he would offer me a cookie or whatever, but I always refused and thanked him.  He sometimes had me take an Express Mail back to the office.  My boss asked me if I knew the man. After answering no, he told me that he was John Cullen Murphy, the artist who drew the "Prince Valiant" comic strip.  Mr. Murphy had taken over for Hal Foster - creator of Prince Valiant - when Foster retired. 

I decided to do some research on Mr. Murphy and found out that he was born on May 3, 1919.  He aspired to be a baseball player, but met Norman Rockwell, who asked Murphy to pose for one of his well-known magazine covers.  Rockwell took him under his wing, and Murphy started to draw.  During World War II he drew illustrations of military figures, which he sent to the Chicago Tribune.  After the War, he went to work drawing for Colliers, Look and Esquire magazines.  He eventually took over "Prince Valiant" from Foster.

In an ironic twist of fate, Mr. Murphy was to speak at Cos Cob Library in 2004, but had to cancel due to illness.  Several weeks later, on July 2, Mr. Murphy passed away. 

When I worked at Perrot Library in Old Greenwich, I met a very nice couple - the DiPretas. Mrs. DiPreta told me her husband, Anthony, was the illustrator for the comic strips "Joe Palooka" and  "Rex Morgan, MD".  After reading that one comic artist made $50,000 a year, he talked to one, decided it was very good money at the time, and decided to take classes at Silvermine Guild. Mr. DiPreta went to work for McCall's magazine running a machine.  He was asked to fill in one time lettering comic strips. Mr. DiPreta did a very good job, and ended up drawing and annotating his own.  

Mr. DiPreta passed away in June 2010.

I'm a transplant from Massachusetts.  I moved here in 1976.  One of the first things I did was to visit what was known as "The Piels Castle".  I was told it was once home to two sisters who owned  Piel's Beer.  At that time it was known as the National Cartoon Museum.  Greenwich-resident Mort Walker was responsible for its creation.   Mort Walker was the "Beetle Bailey" and "Hi and Lois" artist.  I remember fighting my Dad for the newspaper on Sunday mornings so I could read Beetle Bailey!  Many of Walker's pieces of work were displayed at the museum.  In 1992, the Museum moved to Florida. 

Another comic artist who lives locally is Jerry Dumas - creator of "Sam and Silo".  He grew up in Arizona, and started drawing and writing cartoons at age 12.  He sent these to magazines in New York.  Dumas helped write gags for Walker's "Hi and Lois".   Eventually moving east to Greenwich, he now writes a column for Greenwich Time

I think it's amazing that so many successful artists have made Greenwich their home.  I also wonder about the future of this media as technology advances.  There's something to be said for lying on the livingroom floor in front of the TV on Sunday morning, reading the weekly comics without a care in the world.  It was something to look forward to!

 


 

Historian of Connecticut

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Anyone who has dabbled in Connecticut history is probably familiar with Barber's Connecticut Historical Collections.  These books were written by John Warner Barber (1798 - 1885).

John Barber was born into a farming family in Windsor in 1798.  When he was 15, he became an apprentice to engraver Abner Reed.  After 7 years, he struck out on his own.  By age 21, he had written his first book, and went on to write and/or illustrate dozens of books covering morality, history and religion.

In the summers of 1834 to 1836, Barber toured the state, sketching many buildings (which no longer exist) as well as sites of historical importance.  Barber travelled to just about all of the 154 towns in Connecticut.

Barber's Collection was reprinted many times.  The set sold for $3, and they were sold primarily door-to-door.  He made wood engravings which were used to print the first heavily illustrated local history book. And the books were quite popular.  They were written for the general public - not a special group such as academicians.  He went on to author similar books for Massachusetts and New York.

Barber was never a wealthy man.  He was very quiet but diligent in his work.  As a result, the state residents have a "picture" of the state from the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Ironically, from an historic preservation point of view, none of the buildings he depicted are still standing today.  We are fortunate that such a dedicated and diligent man took it upon himself to record so much history for our prosterity.

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