Saturday, March 04, 2023

And This Blog Loves Comics King Milt Gross

Today is the natal anniversary of the outstanding, brilliant and original comic artist Milt Gross, born in Brooklyn on March 4, 1895.

Among the very first topics of this blog (back when we started doing this in fall 2006), Milt Gross ranks right up there with George Herriman, Winsor McCay and Otto Messmer as truly astonishing auteurs of comics.

The compilations Gross Exaggerations: The Meshuga Comic Strips of Milt Gross and Nize Baby are a great place to start exploring the world of Milt Gross.

Like Messmer and McCay, Gross was the rare comics king to double successfully as an animator. His flagship characters, Count Screwloose and J.R. The Wonder Dog, starred in two MGM cartoons, Jitterbug Follies and Wanted: No Master.

The Milt Gross MGM cartoons express a nose-thumbing sensibility that challenges Warner Bros. in the zany department and unabashedly travel in eccentric, bizarre territory.

They dramatically altered the MGM animation brand three years before Tex Avery was hired by the unsuspecting Fred Quimby, who had found Jitterbug Follies and Wanted: No Master a tad too zany and irreverent for his taste. The fact that Bill Littlejohn and other ace animators, through determination, skill and hard work, managed to - no small feat - animate Gross' unique characters - is still impressive.

High on my list of missing cartoons is the Columbia Color Rhapsody and WW2 classic HE CAN'T MAKE IT STICK, directed by Paul Sommer & John Hubley - with story by Milt Gross! Kudos, bravos and huzzahs to Jerry Beck of Cartoon Research for finding the second half of HE CAN'T MAKE IT STICK; fervently hope that a complete 35mm I.B. Tech print turns up someday.

The excellent Lambiek Comicopledia elaborates: Milton Gross began drawing comics when he was twelve years old, and hardly ever stopped. After doing many odd jobs to support his art, he was hired by the New York American, where his talent was noticed, and he got to work as an assistant to Tad Dorgan. In 1915, his first own comic appeared: 'Phool Phan Phables', a sports page feature, which was soon followed by other brief strips, such as 'Izzy Human', 'Amateur Night', 'Kinney B. Alive', 'And the Fun Began' and 'Sportograms'.

After serving in World War I, Milt Gross went on to produce strips like 'Frenchy', 'Banana Oil' and 'Help Wanted', but his big break came with 'Gross Exaggerations', a weekly column of prose and cartoons. In 1926, 'Nize Baby', a book collection of some of these columns, appeared and was an instant hit. Under the same title, Gross began a Sunday page feature in 1927.

Other books by Gross are: 'Hiawatta Witt No Odder Poems', 'De Night In De Front From Chreesmas', 'Dunt Esk', 'Famous Fimmales Witt Odder Ewents From Heestory' and his Masterpiece, 'He Done Her Wrong'.

In 1933, Gross was hired away from Joseph Pulitzer's New York World by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst, for whom he made strips like 'Count Screwloose of Tooloose', 'Dave's Delicatessen', 'Babbling Brooks', 'Otto and Blotto' and 'That's My Pop!'.

Quite a few terrific Milt Gross compilations, led by Craig Yoe's publications on comics, are highly recommended.

Another excellent source of comics and Milt Gross specifically is Screwball: The Cartoonists Who Made The Funnies Funny by Paul C. Tumey of the Screwball Comics blog and The Comics Journal.

©Paul C. Tumey

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