25 May 2009

Felix Down Under: The Oily Bird Comic Strip

From kat to cat: it's time to bring one of my all-time favorite cartoon stars to this blog. Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat was one of the first animated characters who really acted—emoting to the audience, nodding and winking and turning viewers into co-conspirators. Who didn't want to go on an adventure with this wonderful cat? And those adventures... ranging from wacky comedy to truly far-flung fantasy. I've been a classic Felix buff since childhood—and the Silver Age Felix of Joe Oriolo, replete with funny bad guys and Jim Tyer animation, deserves his bon mots, too. Apart from these screen incarnations, Felix had just as rich a life in the comics, with Messmer, Oriolo, and Tyer once again contributing most of the great moments.

But there was another Felix besides those we know so well. From 1927 to 1931, Felix's then-new daily strip featured stories drawn largely from recent cartoons—in adaptations so close you'd think actual animation drawings were used. And they were! Early Messmer assistant Jack Bogle was called upon to create these continuities, and his process evidently involved choosing the "best" frames from each scene, then reinking them and adding comics details such as dialogue and extra shading. But the stories, though near to their inspiration, weren't exact. Their dialogue, dense where Messmer's was sparse, painted Felix as a kind of smart-alecky hick—an interpretation that appeared nowhere else. No Felix but Bogle's babbled "The Night Before Christmas" every time he got knocked unconscious. And no Felix but Bogle's had a canine sports coach pal named Julius, who featured in several Bogle continuities that weren't adapted from films.

Very few of Bogle's continuities have ever been anthologized in the United States. But curiously enough, Australia's Adventures of Felix comic book couldn't get enough of them in the late 1930s and early 1940s. That comic book's annual extras provided the striking covers I'm displaying here today, and that comic also offered the complete Bogle continuity seen below, an adaptation of The Oily Bird (1928) that originally ran from October 24 to November 3, 1928.

"Luke McCluck, a barnyard chicken, enters the house for no good reason..."


Nothing more to see here—keep on walking! (To the official Felix website, where their Oriolo "Comic Strip of the Day" features vintage 1950s strips... with Felix as almost a feline Dagwood.)

7 comments:

Chris Barat said...

David,

I'm squinting hard (because I HAVE to) at these strips, and I can't seem to identify Felix acting like a "smart alecky hick" anywhere inside them. That's a tough image to call up, in any event. I keep thinking of Horace Horsecollar without the practical jokes, or an intelligent Goofy.

Does your description of Felix as a "Dagwood type" in Oriolo's 50s comic strip mean that he and Kitty were MARRIED? Or was it the sort of arrangement (akin to Mickey and Minnie's) where the two characters are "canonically" married, but the narrative doesn't make a fetish of actually mentioning the fact?

Chris

ramapith said...

Hm. Maybe I ought to replace these scans with slightly larger ones—I'm away on a research trip now, but I'll see what I can do once I get back.

As for Felix the Hick, in retrospect this story isn't the best example. But you can catch a little of it toward the end, when he says "this ain't no political fight." Elsewhere Bogle goes much further in this direction, with Felix's grammar bordering on awful. Your mention of Horace without the jokes sounds sort of right.

King of [Silent] Cartoons said...

Man, I really wish there was a "like this" button on your blog posts.

Arnaud said...

Great find ! Il like Jack Bogle artwork.

Mary said...

Thanks for posting this info on Jack Bogle! He was my great uncle, and I am always looking for tidbits of information on his work. I would someday like to compile enough to make a tribute page or website about him. I think of him as sort of the unsung Felix hero, but he also did a lot of other great stuff. He was a wonderful and fun-loving person to boot, so I love it when he gets his props :)

ramapith said...

Thanks so much, Mary.

My own knowledge of Bogle's non-Felix work is limited, so I'd love to know more about his creations—please contact me privately.

My colleague and friend Mark Kausler has been blogging some 1930s Felix Sunday strips here that he and I believe are Bogle's work.

Kee Bird said...

I understand that a small toy of FELIX the CAT was used to test the very first TV