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18th Oct 2013

The Irish Comics Shadow Hall of Fame

I’m a contributor over at Irish Comic News, and currently running is the third annual ICN Awards. This year, rather than do it entirely by public vote, the editorial team has put together an anonymous panel who have come up with the nominations, and put those nominations out for a public vote – and may the best creator win. The Cattle Raid of Cooley is nominated for Best Irish Digital or Web Comic, and you may or may not want to go and vote for it, but please do check out the other nominees as there’s a lot of talent out there, and it deserves recognition.

The only problem I have with the ICN awards is one I have with pretty much all comics awards in the internet age – recentism. There are two Hall of Fame awards, one for individuals and one for comics, and with the exception of Paddy Brennan, DC Thomson adventure strip artist from the 40s to the 70s (see below), they’re all for contemporary artists and publications. If a Hall of Fame is for anything, it’s for recognising the greats of the past. So if you’re going to vote in that category, I’d suggest you vote for Paddy Brennan.

But I’m also going to start what I hope will be a new tradition. Every year from now on, while the ICN Awards shine a light on what’s going on in contemporary Irish comics, I”ll induct five creators into my own Shadow Hall of Fame. Creators you may never have heard of, but who I think you should have. The decisions are entirely my own, so it doesn’t have the authority of a panel or a vote, but I think I know my stuff, so trust me. And this years inductees are:

1. Paddy Brennan.

“The White Witch”, The Topper, 1960s, art by Paddy Brennan

Dubliner Patrick “Paddy” Brennan (dates unknown) started drawing for small British publishers in the late 1940s. One of his characters, Marsman (1948), later appeared in Moore and O’Neill’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He started working for Dundee comic giants DC Thomson in 1949, drawing adventure strips and literary adaptations for The Beano, The Dandy, The Topper, Bunty, Judy and others until at least the late 1970s, and his work was always robust and dynamic. The illustration above is from “The White Witch”, an adaptation of H. Rider Haggard’s She, from The Topper in the 60s. Long-running characters he created include The Beano’s “General Jumbo” and Judy’s “Sandra of the Secret Ballet”.

2. Marjorie Organ.

Marjorie Organ and her comic strip "Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins", New York Evening Journal, 1902-05

Marjorie Organ and her comic strip “Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins”, New York Evening Journal, 1902-05

The daughter of a wallpaper designer, Marjorie Organ (1886-1930) moved to New York with her family when she was a child. At the tender age of 16 she joined the art room of the New York Evening Journal, working alongside comic strip pioneers Richard Outcault, creator of “The Yellow Kid”, and Rudolph Dirks, creator of “The Katzenjammer Kids”. She drew her own strip, “Little Reggie and the Heavenly Twins” (1902-05), about a nervous chap mercilessly strung along by a pair of beautiful young socialites, said to be based on Organ herself and her pal Helen Walsh, who married Dirks. “The Wrangle Sisters” (1904-05) were another pair of fashionable girls-about-town, and other strips she drew had titles like “Strange What a Difference a Mere Man Makes!”, “Girls Will Be Girls”, “The Man Haters’ Club” and “Lady Bountiful”. Her career as a professional cartoonist ended in 1908 when she married painter Paul Henri, after which she effectively became his manager while continuing to paint and draw. She died of cancer in 1930, aged only 44.

3. Charles E. Kelly.

Cartoon from Dublin Opinion by Charles E. Kelly, date unknown

Cartoon from Dublin Opinion by Charles E. Kelly, date unknown

Charles Edward Kelly (1902-1981) is perhaps the most prolific and versatile cartoonist Ireland has ever produced. He started out as a teenage messenger boy in the Irish Civil Service, and in 1922, at the age of twenty he, fellow cartoonist Arthur Booth and writer Tom Collins founded Dublin Opinion, a humorous magazine that quickly became a top seller. After Booth’s death in 1926, he and Collins edited the magazine until it closed in the 1960s. An untrained artist, Kelly taught himself from the work of the leading cartoonists of the day, and drew cartoon after cartoon for the magazine in a bewildering variety of styles, also contributing cartoons and illustrations to The Capuchin Annual, exhibiting his watercolours, and climbing the greasy pole of the Civil Service, where he became Director of Broadcasting and Director of National Savings. He died in 1981. His son Frank Kelly is well-known for playing Father Jack in Father Ted.

4. William St. John Glenn.

"Ballyscunnion" from Dublin Opinon by William St. John Glenn, date unknown

“Ballyscunnion” from Dublin Opinon by William St. John Glenn, date unknown

William St. John Glenn (1904-1974) started contributing cartoons to the Belfast sports paper Ireland’s Saturday Night in his teens. In 1925 he created a comic strip for its parent paper, the Belfast Telegraph, called “Oscar”, that ran until 1936. Oscar was an ugly but witty little man, and his attempts to chat up girls gave Glenn the chance to draw fashionably dressed young women, which he particularly enjoyed. When Glenn married a glamorous young woman called Dorothea, so did Oscar, and from 1936 to 1939 Glenn drew a strip called “Dorothea” for the Daily Mail. Readers were so impressed by his attention to ladies’ fashion they assumed that “Glenn” (as he signed his work) must be female. Meanwhile, from 1938 until the ’60s, he drew a weekly scraperboard cartoon, “Ballyscunnion”, for the Irish humorous magazine Dublin Opinion, in which the exploits of the inhabitants of a fictitious Irish village commented obliquely on national and world politics. He worked for the UK Ministry of Information during the Second World War, and afterwards became head of the Daily Mail‘s cartoons department, where he drew the paper’s long-running funny animal strip “Teddy Tail” and a strip based on The Diary of Samuel Pepys. He retired in 1961, and was elected an Honorary Academician of the Royal Ulster Academy in 1968. He died in 1974, at the age of 70, after a series of operations to remove brain tumours.

5. David Wilson.

David Wilson self-caricature from an ad for shaving soap, date unknown.

David Wilson self-caricature from an ad for shaving soap, date unknown.

David Wilson (1873-1935) was born in Minterburn, County Tyrone, the son of a Presbyterian minister, and grew up in Belfast. After he left school he joined the Northern Bank, taking art classes in the evening, and sold his first cartoon to the Daily Chronicle in 1895. He contributed full-page caricatures to Alf S. Moore’s Belfast-based satirical magazines The Magpie and Nomad’s Weekly, around the turn of the 20th century, his bold brush style, influenced by German Art Nouveau illustration and Japanese prints, superb eye for a caricature and surreal political imagery setting him above his local rivals, and he was soon drawing cartoons for magazines in the UK like Punch, The Graphic and The Passing Show. He moved to London, where he set up the Sphinx Studio in 1908. He also painted theatre posters and, during the First World War, propaganda posters, and illustrated books. From the 1920s on he concentrated more on fine art painting. But he never recovered from his son Jimmy’s suicide in the early 1930s, and died himself in 1935.

One Response to “The Irish Comics Shadow Hall of Fame”

  1. robert grothier Says:

    Hi Paddy.
    Just stumbled on your nominations.
    I have an original caricature by David Wilson and was doing a ‘Google’ on him.
    Interesting chap.
    Good heads up as he was in the mix politically.
    If you would like to see an image of the picture let me know.
    Regards,
    Rob.

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