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  • Winsor Mccay, George Randolph Chester, and the Tale of the Jungle Imps
  • Jenny E. Robb (bio)

In 2006 Lucy Shelton Caswell, the curator of the Ohio State University Cartoon Research Library, received a call from a local businesswoman who wanted to bring in some old cartoon drawings that she had found. The Library does not provide appraisal or authentication services, so Caswell attempted to direct her elsewhere. The woman was very persistent, however, so Caswell agreed to see her the next day. The woman walked in with a shabby, portfolio-sized cardboard box from which she produced eleven large hand-colored drawings that Caswell was astonished to discover were original comic strips by Winsor McCay. McCay is considered one of the greatest comic strip artists of all time, a master and pioneer of the art form. Caswell was particularly surprised, because these drawings were from McCay's very first newspaper comic strip series, A Tale of the Jungle Imps. Until then, no Jungle Imps originals were known to have survived from an era when comics were considered ephemera: something to be enjoyed today and then discarded tomorrow. For the most part, original comic strips were not collected or preserved by museums, libraries or collectors, and although some artists saved their originals, most were destroyed or disappeared. Somehow these eleven had survived and had found their way to the Cartoon Research Library.

The Tale of the Jungle Imps

The tale of the Jungle Imps begins in early January of 1903, when the Cincinnati Enquirer began running advertisements to announce a new and exciting feature: "Comic Pictures in Colors." The ads read: [End Page 245]

THE SUNDAY ENQUIRER has long been pre-eminent in the field of contemporary journalism. All that is best and latest in news, fiction, rhyme and story has been laid before its votaries with lavish and unstinted hand. Notwithstanding these facts, the issue for SUNDAY, JANUARY 18 will mark the beginning of a new era in ENQUIRER history. On that date it will present to its reader a splendid new supplement containing the


This supplement will become a permanent feature of the SUNDAY ENQUIRER and will be in addition to its usual pages of news and special matter.1

With this enhancement, the Enquirer followed the lead of the eastern newspapers, which had introduced Sunday comics and begun experimenting with color in the mid-1890s, first to compete with the popular humor weeklies, but soon also to compete with each other. The early evolution of the newspaper comic strip was largely shaped by the fierce circulation wars between New York publishing magnates Joseph Pulitzer, William Randolph Hearst, and James Gordon Bennett, Jr. Although color comics had been featured in Sunday supplements previously, Pulitzer's New York World contributed the most famous example when it colored Richard Felton Outcault's comics featuring Mickey Dugan. Mickey's nightshirt was made yellow, and he was henceforth known as "The Yellow Kid." In 1896, Hearst lured Outcault and his Yellow Kid to the New York Journal's new full-color Sunday comic supplement in an effort to gain the edge over his main rival, Pulitzer's World. The popularity and success of these early efforts encouraged smaller papers around the country to follow suit. The Enquirer, founded in 1848, printed 40,000 copies a day by 1900.2 It featured its first Sunday comics in black and white on June 8, 1902.3

The advertisement for its new Sunday supplement went on to explain what Enquirer readers would find in the new feature:

The Katzenjammer Kids, Happy Hooligan, Foxy Grandpa (copyright, 1903, W.R. Hearst) and all the other old favorites of ENQUIRER readers will appear in gay garb, together with a series of new and original comics which is sure to please "children of all ages" from seven to seventy.

The newspaper also promised pages devoted to the latest fashions, illustrated articles, and "bright and interesting stories for the little folks."4

As pledged, the new era of color comics in the Enquirer began on January 18, 1903. Carl Schultze's Foxy Grandpa and Jimmy Swinnerton's Mount Ararat appeared on the front page of the new...


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pp. 245-259
Launched on MUSE
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