Thursday, March 1, 2018

E. Simms Campbell and Dorothy McKay: Eight Cartoons from Esquire

A group of five color cartoons by E. Simms Campbell torn from copies of Esquire in the 1930s are listed together on eBay. As luck would have it, on the back of three of these are cartoons by Dorothy McKay. Let's have a look at how these two distinctive cartoonists helped to define Esquire's brand of humor in the 30s.

First off, for 1939, this E. Simms Campbell "Harem Girls" swipe at Hitler seems disappointingly tame:
E. Simms Campbell
"It's Adolph Hitler. He wants to know if he can borrow some dancers[.]"

Esquire, July 1939, page 42

This gag cartoon from 1939 retains some political relevance today:
E. Simms Campbell
"He won't pay for the oil. He said it was stolen from him anyhow!"

Esquire, August 1939, page 35

In a Father's Day gag, Dorothy McKay's sly saleswoman (on the flip side of the Hitler cartoon) wants to know a little too much about the children's young father. The size of the family says it all.
Dorothy McKay
"Well, now, let's see—what does your daddy do in his spare time?"

Esquire, July 1939, page 41

The "Harem Girls" are back again, this time in a labor dispute that leaves the sultan flummoxed. This gag would have mirrored some of the widespread social upheaval during the Great Depression. As a practical matter, though, are the women in the harem really employees?
E. Simms Campbell
[Harem Girls on Strike]
Esquire, August 1934, page 39

On the other side of the page, Dorothy McKay illustrates one of the hazards faced by susceptible swim instructors. Her female bather appears less glamorous than Mr. Campbell's typical women.
Dorothy McKay
"He was teaching me to swim[.]"

Esquire, August 1934, page 40

Swim instructors aren't the only ones with a weakness for attractive women, it seems. Here Mr. McGregor works closely on his student's form:
E. Simms Campbell
"—but when do I hit the ball[,] Mr. McGregor?"

Esquire, July 1937, page 72

On the opposite side of the page, Dorothy McKay's priest attempts to return a foul-mouthed parrot to the pet shop. Just look at his body language!
Dorothy McKay
"That's the reason I sold him to you, Reverend—I thought you'd reform him[.]"

Esquire, July 1937, page 71

The final cartoon in the set pretends to leave everything to our imagination but we all know exactly what's going on, don't we? This seems a good time to ask a basic question about gag cartoons: Why have them in color? If the color doesn't add to the joke, does it add to the atmosphere enough to justify its use? Does color need to be justified at all? To help you decide, here's a cartoon with almost nothing but atmosphere:
E. Simms Campbell
"Don't look now of course, George—but the moon is simply marvelous tonight!""

Esquire, September 1939, page 71

E. Simms Campbell
eBay Listing Ended January 25, 2018

E. Simms Campbell
eBay Item Description

Note:  Perhaps you've noticed. Attempted Bloggery is looking at the work of cartoonist E. Simms Campbell (1906-1971). I seek scans or photographs from readers of original Campbell art or rare published works not already available on the internet. Sure, I'll take work by Dorothy McKay as well. I'm not so particular.

Do we need more color cartoons today? Certainly color cartoons can be lovely to look at, but why are the world's best cartoons in black and white? Or are they? Your opinions are welcome in the comments section. Simply scroll down and you'll find it. I promise.

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