Saturday, October 14, 2017

War Declared; Hilarity Ensues

This is kind of a Scattershotback Saturday post of 100-year-old cartoons today. Let's start with the serious stuff: Boardman Robinson illustrates suffragettes in front of the White House protesting President Woodrow Wilson's opposition to women's suffrage. Between June and November 1917, 218 protesters from 26 states were arrested and charged with "obstructing sidewalk traffic" outside the White House gates. The banner in the cartoon directly quotes a banner carried by one of the arrested women.
"Kaiser Wilson" by Boardman Robinson in The Masses, October, 1917
The German press seized upon England's arrest and imprisonment of British politician Edmund Morel, a leader of the antiwar Union of Democratic Control. He was convicted of violating the Defence of the Realm Act by sending a UDC pamphlet to a friend in Switzerland. Simplicissimus cartoonist Olaf Gulbransson here compares Morel's fate to that of French Socialist Jean Jaurès, who was actively working to head off World War I when he was assassinated on July 31, 1914 by a French nationalist.
"Der Geist Jaurès'" by Olav Gulbransson in Simplicissimus, Munich, October 16, 1917
Morel served six months in Pentonville Prison, which was six months longer than any punishment  Jaurès's assassin ever received (although the assassin eventually met a rather ignominious end in Spain during its civil war).

If the cartoons of the day are to be believed, Germany had high hopes for a peace settlement proposed by Pope Benedict XV. The proposal included freedom for Belgium, Poland and Armenia, restoration of Alsace-Lorraine to France and Italian-speaking areas of Austria's empire to Italy, and negotiations for the status of Balkan states — essentially wiping out any of the Central Powers' military gains. Since England, France and the U.S. refused to negotiate with the existing governments of the Central Powers, however, Germans were pleased to be able to blame the continuation of the war on the Entente powers.
"Englands Antwort auf die Papstnote" by Thomas Theodor Heine in Simplicissimus, Munich, October 16, 1917
But turning to the lighter side: as terribly, soul-crushingly awful as the Great War was, cartoonists were still able to find nuggets of humor amidst the death and devastation. This French cartoon depicts that country's warm welcome to the freshly arriving American troops.
"Spirit of Conquest" by Maurice Radiguet in Le Rire, Paris, September or October, 1917
Mademoiselle from Armentières had quite the reputation at home, as well as the one that quickly spread abroad. Do you suppose this could be the earliest appearance of cabbage patch kids, mon petit chou?
"Jardins de Guerre" by Adolphe Willette in La Baïonette, Paris, May 24, 1917
For American cartoonists, further removed from the front than their French counterparts, it was easier to make light of the war. Keeping things light was better for morale, after all.
"Hey, Mister," by R. B. Fuller in Cartoons Magazine, Chicago, October, 1917
The war made its presence felt on newspapers' comics pages in a way unparalleled in the century since. Certainly many adventure strips during World War II had their heroes fighting Nazis and "Japs," but American comic strips of the 1910's were almost exclusively of the humorous variety. Not every comic strip was suited to wartime boosterism, but it was hardly a stretch to have "Bobby Make-Believe" imagining himself battling the Huns. Other comic children put on shows or collected rags to raise funds for the troops, or engaged in other darling displays of patriotism.
"Freckles and His Friends" by Merrill Blosser for NEA, December 31, 1917
Among adult comic strip characters, even chinless Andy Gump answered the call to arms (only to be rejected as physically unfit). In Walter Allman's domestic comic strip "Doings of the Duffs," one of the Duff family members, Wilbur, was conscripted into the service.
"Doings of the Duffs" by Walter Allman, NEA, October 9, 1917
Wilbur Duff was not alone among comic characters to serve his country in the Great War, yet you don't find the denizens of Funky Winkerbean, Luann, or Dilbert volunteering to ship overseas nowadays. Racking my brain to come up with any modern comic strip characters who have gone to war, I can only think of Doonesbury, a few of whose characters who have served in Vietnam or Iraq. Of course, there's Beetle Bailey, but he has never left the relative comfort of Camp Swampy, wherever that is. (Is someone still drawing Sad Sack these days?)

If there is any cartoon that demonstrates how startling the realistic portrayal of Bill Mauldin's Willie and Joe would be to the next generation of American cartoon readers, it's got to be this drawing for the cover of the Newspaper Enterprise Association's monthly bulletin to its subscribing editors, Pep.
Cover illustration by DeAlton Valentine for Pep, NEA, Cleveland, Ohio, September, 1917
Which is not to say that there was not more realistic humor about the war, but as with Sgt. Bill Mauldin in World War II, it came from cartoonists with first-hand knowledge of life in the field. By far the most famous was the British cartoonist Bruce Bairnsfather. Having been promoted to the rank of Captain in the British Army before being hospitalized with shellshock and hearing loss at Ypres in 1915, Bairnsfather drew the exploits and travails of soldiers he named Old Bill, Bert and Alf for the humor weekly The Bystander.
"A Miner Success" by Bruce Bairnsfather in The Bystander, London, July, 1917
Bairnsfather garnered considerable fame despite initial protest from civilian readers to his "vulgar caricature" of the troops. His best-known cartoon, in which Old Bill counsels the soldier complaining about the miserable foxhole they share, "Well, if you knows of a better 'ole, go to it," has been borrowed as the basis for countless cartoons since. But if Old Bill could be fairly wise, Bert and Alf were not necessarily the brightest bulbs in the trench.
"A Carriage Full of Bairnsfathers" by E.T. Reed in The Bystander, London, August, 1917
Well, that's enough World War I for a while. Log in again next week for some more recent history.

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