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 George Carlson  (1887 - 1962)

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Lived/Active: New York/Connecticut      Known for: illustrations-cartoons

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
The following is written and submitted by Jim Vadeboncoeur of Bud Plant Illustrated Books. This biography can be found at http://www.bpib.com/illustrat/carlson.htm

George Leonard Carlson was supposedly born in 1887---I say, supposedly, because the earliest work I can find from the man is "The Magic Stone" dated 1917 when he'd have been 30 years old. I've heard of another from 1916, but that still leaves a major gap during his twenties, usually the most productive years for an artist. The only source of birth date info that I've found is from The Who's Who of American Comics and I'm double-checking that.

There's nearly another decade gap in his career. In 1920 and 1921 he illustrated two children's books by Gene Stone: "Jane and the Owl" and "Adventures of Jane". Then it isn't until 1928 when I pick up his trail again. That's the year he did the illustrations for "The Adventures of Toby Spaniel". He did the dust jacket for "The Whirlwind" in 1929. Then in 1931, he provides a color frontis and black and white illustrations for "Fact and Story Reader" - book eight. The illustrations are in pen and ink, and it is this medium in which he excels.

It's frustrating not to be able to fill you in what must have been an interesting career up to this point. You see, in 1933 he authored a book, "Draw Comics -Here's How-!", in which he proclaims to be an expert in comic strips and panels. (In fact, it credits him as also being the author of Cartoon Comics, and How to Draw Them, which I've yet to see.) And he IS! An expert, that is.

The book is filled with practical samples and instructions and real-life tips and techniques. It was not written by a tyro, but I have not been able to locate even a mention of Carlson in any of my books on comics and cartoons. Nada. Zip. If it weren't for Harlan Ellison I don't think anyone would even know his name.

If I've dwelt abnormally long on a portion of his life and career about which I know little, it's simply because of that dearth of information and my inability to track his career prior to this point. He was 46 years old when he wrote "Draw Comics!" and I've found mention of only five or six books that he illustrated prior to this point. And none of them were cartoony. Where did he get his experience? Was he ghosting a newspaper strip for someone famous? Curious minds want to know?

Onward to a biography filled with stuff I do know!

In 1936 he illustrated the dust jacket for the first novel, "Gone With the Wind", by an unknown author. It's a sprawling tale of the Civil War and the South, and Carlson does a small drawing of a southern belle and two suitors. Within five months, a million copies of Carlson's dust jacket were printed and sold. At age 49, he was an overnight sensation.

He apparently wasn't besieged with requests for dust jackets of antebellum, bellum or even postbellum sagas. Rather he seems to have gone from the sublime to the sublimely ridiculous, The following year, Carlson wrote and illustrated a series of "Pastime Fun Books" for Platt and Munk. Fun-Time Games, Puzzles, Stunts, Drawings, etc. That year saw another how-to book, "Points on Cartooning". Then he became the illustrator for Howard Garis' classic nonsense series of Uncle Wiggily stories in 1939. It's in 1942 that he began the work that would bring him to the attention of both Harlan Ellison and myself.

Jingle Jangle Comics started in February of 1942. Carlson drew the covers for the first six issues and two 6- to 10-page strips in each issue until its demise with #42 in December of 1949. These two strips, "Jingle Jangle Tales" and "The Pie-Face Prince of Pretzelburg" were some of the most creative and truly comic contributions to the comic book medium, ever!

Harlan Ellison (who provided me with some excellent pointers for this page) waxed wildly enthusiastic about Carlson and "The Pie-Face Prince" in a nine-page essay titled "Comic of the Absurd" in Dick Lupoff and Don Thompson's seminal "All in Color for a Dime" in 1970. ... to give you a flavor of how Ellison favors Carlson, he mentions him alongside Bosch, Van Gogh, Vermeer, Monet, Dali, Wyeth, Rembrandt and Picasso. And I'm not arguing with him.

In order to convey the genius that was Carlson, Ellison was, for once, at a loss for words. He was reduced to describing and transcribing a Pie-Face Prince story in his essay. He could not have paid him a higher compliment.

Of Carlson's work, you must try to imagine an unrelenting stream of five or six panels per page, heavy with stream-of-consciousness punning text and slapstick-silly sight gags. It builds with a momentum that never stops, piling clever plays on words with images that start you giggling and leave you laughing. Pure unadulterated nonsense of only the finest sort. For eight years. Every other month, twice in each issue. Non-sequitur after the other. Good humor. Folks like Will Elder and Robert Crumb must have been fans.

Carlson did other comic book work, but it was primarily variations on his puzzle fun pages. He released a book of them, "1001 Riddles for Children" in 1949 and a similar collection of his 1937 Fun Books titled "Fun For Juniors". The latest work I've seen is another book on drawing, "I Can Draw", in 1953, meant for very young artists.

He shows up in some Uncle Wiggily books in the early Fifties, but they might be reprints. Nothing has ever topped the sustained zaniness of his Jingle Jangle work.

According to the "Who's Who in American Art", Carlson died in 1962.














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