Sunday, March 20, 2011

Mrs. Waitaminnit—The Woman Who Is Always Late: George Herriman’s First Daily Strip?

What was George Herriman’s first daily comic strip? Even though Herriman is acknowledged by many artists and critics as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, cartoonists to ever work in the art form, it turns out that there still is not a straightforward answer to that question. In his article from 1983 titled “The Forgotten Years of George Herriman,” Bill Blackbeard wrote:
It has now become evident that research into the classic period of the American comic strip, a still considerably obscure era between 1896 and 1930, will not be completed until the files of every American newspaper of any sizable circulation in that general time has been examined… Even in the instances of those cartoonists who have been considered of major rank for a great many years… there may well be extraordinary surprises in store for the assiduous researcher. (NEMO: The Classics Comics Library, June 1983)
I had one of those extraordinary surprises last week, but the research that uncovered it was more serendipitous than assiduous.

While I was researching the 1903 World Series in the Evening World using the Library of Congress’s excellent digital collection of newspapers Chronicling America, I stumbled on a page of comics following the sports section. And a strip called Mrs. Waitaminnit—the Woman Who Is Always Late, to my surprise, was signed “Geo. Herriman.” I checked the issues of the newspaper before and after and determined that there were twenty-two episodes of this comic strip from September 15, 1903 to October 13, 1903. Excepting the second episode, they were all authored by Herriman. I had never heard of Mrs. Waitaminnit before. The authors of Krazy Kat: The Comic Art of George Herriman wrote that Herriman’s first weekday strip was Home Sweet Home which had four episodes in February and March 1904 (probably favoring the term weekday over daily because the episodes weren’t consecutive). Bill Blackbeard identified Herriman’s first daily to run more than a week (a total of ten episodes) as Mr. Proones the Plunger, which ran from December 10, 1907 until December 26, 1907. Mrs. Waitaminnit predates both Home Sweet Home and Mr. Proones the Plunger and covers a longer period, so it’s now the earliest daily we know of by Herriman. His first daily? Maybe… but I wouldn’t be surprised if more turn up. In fact, there are a few one-shot and two-shot comic strips that appear in early 1903 in the same paper.

One more observation I can’t resist: a black cat with a ribbon, which made its first appearance in Herriman’s Sunday supplement Lariat Pete, appears in the later episodes of this series.

Below are all of the episodes of Mrs. Waitaminnit. They include the one episode not by Herriman, as well as a comic strip by Herriman called Little Tommy Tattles which was substituted for two episodes. They are from the Evening World, downloaded from the Library of Congress website Chronicling America. The images of this newspaper were provided to the Library of Congress by the New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundation.


Anonymous Michael Tisserand said...

This is a terrific discovery. A lot of GH's early signature touches are here in addition to the cat, such as the lettering and the circular clouds, and especially that wine bottle gag, which hints at a certain brick still years away. Great slapstick and great find!

7:46 AM  
Blogger Eddie Campbell said...

this rewrites history somewhat!
Eddie Campbell

8:28 PM  
Blogger Allan Holtz said...

These features are all duly documented in my book, American Newspaper Comics - An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. Of course you had no way to know that since the University of Michigan Press is still in the process of publishing it. The Evening World is an absolute treasure-trove of interesting weekday strips, so keep searching. There's lots more to discover.

Herriman's first weekday strip, and his first strip period, actually predates this by over two years. It is undocumented in the standard references. But yes, Mrs. Waitaminnit is the first that ran as a true daily, although that title comes with an asterisk since Ed Flinn did an episode, and it misses days at the end of the run.

--Allan Holtz

6:55 AM  
Blogger C. Stoner said...

Thanks for all the encouragement! And thanks, Allan, for confirming that Mrs. Waitaminnit is Herriman's first daily - but not weekday - strip. I look forward to the publication of your book; it sounds like a great resource!

7:28 AM  
Blogger Mister Ron said...

Love these cartoons. Many of the Mrs. Waitaminnit strips are quite similar to episodes of Stanley Huntley's "Mr. and Mrs. Spoopendyke" stories which he wrote for The Brooklyn Eagle, Drake's Travellers Magazine, and other publications from 1880-1885. Collections of those stories were readily available at the time Herriman did these, and I wouldn't be surprised if he had the battling Spoopendykes in mind for some of them...

5:37 PM  

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