July 24th, 2008

The Zombie

"If you like to draw, THIS IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY!"

July 22 -  Before this month, I'd never heard of the Landon cartooning course, but I knew that such schools have been around for years.  Heck, I even was eventually a student in one of them (Big Joe's House of Kubert).  What I'd never known before this last couple of weeks was just how popular such courses were during The Platinum Age.  That's not surprising.  In many ways, cartoonists were the most famous personalities of that period, much like movie stars would be just a few years later.  The lure of money, fame, influence, and (as always) the promise of artistic immortality proved so strong for some young people of the era that cartoonist C.N. Landon seems to have been able to retire from his day job within five years of starting his cartooning correspondence course in 1908.  Relatively quickly, his practical lessons, coupled with (for those who could afford it) his personal input and corrections, had produced some of the most famous cartoonists of the following decades.  Even more amazingly, Mr. Landon was virtually as unknown then as he is today.  So, with no national reputation, no classrooms, and no template to follow, how did he do it?  In short; he advertised.  Moreover, though, he accomplished more than anyone might have expected because he had a keen, analytical view of his craft, was an instinctive teacher and, most importantly, he was a natural-born coach.  Charles Nelson Landon was born in 1878.  Just where he was born, however, is still a mystery (more on that later).  What is known is that by at least 1884, his family was living in Norwalk, Ohio, which is a small community between Toledo and Cleveland.  It's also about that time that Charles' mother died, leaving him, his younger sister, and his father with a small, but popular, tea store to operate alone.  Just how he got from there to Cleveland is something of another mystery, but by the time he was 22, he was already a staff cartoonist for the Cleveland Press, and, shortly thereafter, director of the entire art department (which probably included only a few more people than just himself).  As I've been trying to relate over the last couple of weeks, this was a Platinum Age not just for proto-comic books, but for the medium of cartooning in general.  Demand for cartoons of all sorts - sports, political, illustrative, comic strip - was far out-pacing the availability of quality artists, which struck Mr. Landon as an opportunity.  It's pretty obvious from looking at his writings and course that he had been thinking about dissembling the craft of cartooning for some time.  It's my guess that he'd already developed some sort of "cheat sheets" or other instructional notes that he had used in-shop to help other staff artists (sort of like, sixty years later, Wally Wood's classic sheet of comic book panels "that always work" that his assistants would use and pass on to others) which formed the basis of his courses.  Leaving aside any of the "artsy-fartsy" motivations behind the desire to create, he instead wisely broke down cartooning into it's basic components, devising simple, clear ways to teach these methods to students.  He didn't promise fame or creative fulfillment.  In fact, he promised nothing - no degree, no career counseling, no work - except the knowledge of how to draw professional-quality cartoons.  Curiously, he also intended these classes to be taught to teenagers before they made there way out into the wider world.  Ingeniously, he stated that students must be at least fifteen, virtually insuring the interest of thirteen and fourteen year olds (who, despite the stated age requirement, made up a large segment of his customers).  A century ago this year, he placed his first advertisements for "The LANDON Course of Cartooning" in national magazines which were sure to have a healthy teen readership.  No cartoon-loving kid could resist the classic tease-line "If you like to draw, THIS IS YOUR OPPORTUNITY!"  Students had two ways to take the course.  For a small outlay of cash (anywhere from five to eight dollars), Mr. Landon would send the printed literature for the entire course.  For about twenty dollars more, he'd correct a student's work, offering jotted notes of advice and encouragement as he went, like he did for Buford Peer (for example, he wrote Buford that he admired the way he handled a pen...which must have made for one of the greatest days in the young cartoonist's life).  By the 1920's, when Buford took the course, Mr. Landon already had a pantheon of famous graduates to offer as examples of successful students.  Eventually, many "big name" cartoonists benefited from the Landon School (which, by the way, originally consisted of nothing more than Mr. Landon, his stenographer, and boxes of printed material in an office in the impressive National Building in Cleveland, which was in the same neighborhood where there is now a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame).  I don't think that anyone today has a good idea of just how many students Mr. Landon had over the years (except maybe the IRS), but the number of famous ones is impressive enough.  More on that in the next post.  For now, here are your Platinum Age Comic Book Characters of The Day for - July 21 - Everett True, and July 22 - Andy Gump!

It's Andy and the rest of the Gump family!

The Zombie

C.N. Landon's Most Famous Students

July 23 -  Yoips!  Last night's WOMP-Blog entry didn't post!  ARGH!  I guess I was so tired when I finished that I just saved my work and closed the program without hitting the "publish" button.  Sigh.  Well, if you haven't seen it yet, please skip down and read the previous entry.  It gives some background on C.N. Landon and his cartooning school.  Go on.  Read it.  I'll wait right here for ya. 

Done?  OK.  So, I've mentioned several times that lots of well-known cartoonists took the Landon course in the thirty or so years that it was offered.  I'm sure that there are many more famous names than the ones I found, but I still found a lot of them.  Here, to the best of my research, is a list of those names and some of their best known works;

Carl Barks - Donald Duck artist, creator of Uncle Scrooge, and all-time comics master
Merrill Blosser - Freckles and His Friends
Martin Branner - Winnie Winkle
Gene Byrnes - Reg'lar Fellers
Milton Caniff - Terry and The Pirates, Steve Canyon
Jack Cole - creator/artist of Plastic Man
Roy Crane - Wash Tubbs, Buz Sawyer
William Donahey - The Teenie Weenies
Edwina Dumm - Capp Stubbs
Gill Fox - comic book pioneer, artist and editor for DC and Quality Comics
Paul Fung, Sr. - Dumb Dora
Floyd Gottfredson - Mickey Mouse
John Hix - Strange As It Seems
Jud Hurd - Health Capsules, CARTOONIST PROfiles editor (and, on a side note, when Cleveland native Mr. Hurd was a kid, he actually went with his mother to Mr. Landon's National Building office to meet him before starting the course)
P.H. Kadey - Christian evangelist who utilized cartoon "chalk talks"
Stanley Link - Tiny Tim
Fred Locher - Cicero Sapp
Bill Mauldin - creator of classic World War Two U.S. Army Infantry characters Willie and Joe
Ken Muse - Wayout
Robert Naylor - Barney Baxter, Jerry On The Job
Fred Neher - Life's Like That
Frederick Siebel - one of the greatest magazine illustrators, especially active in 1950's advertising
Dorman H. Smith - cartoonist for Des Moines News, New York American, and San Francisco Examiner newspapers
Dow Walling - Skeets
Jim R. Williams - Out Our Way

To that list, I can add the "maybe" of magazine illustrator Phil Uzanas, and the "for sure" of two once-famous cartoonists named Hartman and McCall, each of whose first-names and works have not yet made an appearance on the world-wide web nor in any of my reference books.  Speaking of books, by the way, I have to tell you that artist John Garvin, an amazing illustrator and expert on the life and work of Carl Barks, has just published a book about C.N. Landon and his cartooning course!  In another happy coincidence, he has posted several invaluable pages of The Landon School of Illustrating and Cartooning on-line (check that out HERE).  I should tell you all to run right over to Mr. Garvin's site to buy his book, but it was limited to a first edition printing of only 250 and I want to make sure that I get a copy before they are gone, so...um...forget all about that convenient link above, will ya?  Next post, I'll try to wrap up Mr. Landon's life story for you.  Now, though, it's time to leave you with your Platinum Age Comic Book Character of The Day - Captain Easy!

***WOMP-Blog Archives EXCLUSIVE!  This image (below) is a banner scanned from that 1938 Sunday comics section that I bought at a rummage sale earlier (which I blabbed about in the "July 10" entry).  By yet another happy coincidence, it features many characters (including tonight's Platinum Age Comic Book Character of The Day) which were drawn by cartoonists who took C.N. Landon's course!

Name 'em all and win a prize!  Or not.