Louis Biedermann artwork from 'All The Funny Folks' (1926).

Louis Biedermann, an early 20th-century American illustrator, is mainly known for his work for the newspaper The New York World and its short-lived magazine, Circulation. Biedermann also worked for other publications, including the magazine Science and Invention. His drawings livened up articles, covers and calendars. Biedermann was a master of drawing crowd scenes and views from a bird's eye perspective. Even though he never drew a comic strip of his own, Biedermann sometimes made sequential illustrations. Together with writer Jack Lait, Louis Biedermann was the co-creator of the book 'All The Funny Folks' (1926), in which he made sophisticated crossover drawings featuring dozens of famous comic characters by other cartoonists. The success of this book led to an annual commission by King Features Syndicate to illustrate calendars with the complete roster of the company's comic strip characters.


Cover illustration for The New York World's supplement The Subway (2 October 1910).

Early life and career
Louis Biedermann was born in 1874. Around the beginning of the 20th century, he started illustrating for Joseph Pulitzer's The New York World, a newspaper with one of the largest circulations in the United States at the time. In an era before the use of photography became common, illustrators like Biedermann played an important role in providing visual material for written articles. Especially for speculative topics, worlds of the future depicted from the words of newspaper stories captured the public imagination. For example, on 30 December 1900, Biedermann drew a two-page "pictorial forecast" of New York City in the year 1999. On 29 April 1906, just a week after an earthquake devastated San Francisco, Biedermann illustrated an article about what would happen if an earthquake hit New York. In 1928, Biedermann also illustrated an article speculating what would happen if the moon suddenly broke up and crashed into Earth. Biedermann made similar futuristic drawings and science-fiction Doomsday scenarios for Science and Invention magazine.

Biedermann also worked for the King Features Syndicate, starting out as a staff assistant filling in when cartoonists went on vacation, lettering word balloons and inking in unfinished comic strips by various King Features cartoonists. His own work began appearing in the King Features publication Circulation, which called itself a "magazine for newspaper-makers". Circulation was published on an irregular basis starting in 1921, in print runs of 5,000 copies or less. A beautiful Biedermann Circulation magazine cover from September 1926, 'The Magic Carpet of the Comics', depicts several famous newspaper comic characters together on a flying magazine, hovering over the city. 


Louis Biedermann's pictorial forecast of New York City in the year 1999 (The New York World, 30 December 1900).

All The Funny Folks
In the mid-1920s, Hollywood scriptwriter Jack Lait wrote the children's book 'All The Funny Folks: The Wonder Tale of How the Comic-Strip Characters Live and Love "Behind the Scenes"' (The World Today, Inc.,1926). The book is notable for featuring dozens of famous U.S. newspaper comic characters, created by different cartoonists for different papers and syndicates. Biederman's previous job filling in for vacationing cartoonists developed his skill at being able to copy any of the cartoonists at King Features. Therefore he assigned the artwork for this book. The story, written in rhyme, describes how all the cartoon characters live together in a magical land. On first glance, it looks as if each cartoon character (Felix the Cat, The Katzenjammer Kids, Ignatz Mouse, etc.) was drawn by the original artist. However, in the 1920s, this would have taken far too much time. It was considerably easier and cheaper to have one talented illustrator draw all these characters on his own. Biedermann was picked for this job, and he mimicked the graphic styles of these artists extraordinarily well. He showed comic characters not only in close-up vignettes, but also in large groups in panoramic crowd scenes - at the races, a wedding ceremony, a banquet, and other locations. Louis Biedermann's attention to detail is remarkable. Thanks to his mastery of perspective and proportion, Biedermann gives everything a high degree of believability.


Louis Biedermann's version of Billy DeBeck's Barney Google riding Spark Plug, with George Herriman's Ignatz the Mouse hurling a brick, from 'All The Funny Folks' (1926). 

'All The Funny Folks' remains a remarkable book. In the first three decades of the 20th century, U.S. newspapers occasionally brought together comic characters from different features on special occasions, such as holidays, contests, annuals. Still, these projects were generally limited to a handful of characters, and usually the ones appearing in the newspaper in question. At the time, 'All the Funny Folks', was the most ambitious comic crossover ever attempted. Characters from both William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer's newspapers - which were bitter rivals - appeared together in the same panels for the first time. Even now, it's fun to try to identify this cavalcade of comic characters. 'All the Funny Folks' is also a predecessor to the comic encyclopedias that appeared from the 1960s on, where eye-catching covers also brought characters from different properties together. An image from Lait and Biedermann's book, showing George McManus' Jiggs and Billy DeBeck's Barney Google horseback riding, was used decades later on the cover of Allan Holtz's 'American Newspaper Comics. An Encyclopedic Reference Guide' (2012).

King Features' Comic Calendars
The success of 'All The Funny Folks' inspired King Features Syndicate to offer Louis Biedermann the opportunity to illustrate their annual "comic calendars". These publications were already a tradition, but usually featured nothing more than reprinted comic strips. For nearly a decade after 1926, Biedermann took these calendars to another level, by showing his sophisticated and, above all, completely original artwork. Biedermann made large crowd illustrations bringing together characters from different comic strips in different thematical settings: snow scenes in winter, picknicking in spring, beach holidays in the summer, forest walks in autumn, etc. The 1930 calendar featured the comic characters cavorting in different countries.


Art by Louis Biedermann for the 1926 King Features calendar.

Death and legacy
Louis Biedermann died in 1957 in New York City, at age 82. He had a fruitful career in newspaper comics and illustration for both Hearst and Pulitzer, two of the leading New York publishers of the day. Biedermann worked for their syndicates in newspapers, magazines and books, on projects ranging from uncredited cartoon strips to full-page newpaper illustrations and magazine covers. Athough he never had a newspaper comic of his own, his work on the successful book 'All the Funny Folks' and the King Features comic calendars helped popularize the comic characters of dozens of his cartoonist colleages of the 1920s and 30s, from George McManus to George Herriman, Russ Westover to E.C. Segar. In his comic calendars, Louis Biedermann drew scenarios depicting a world where Krazy Kat and Felix the Cat could have an outdoor picnic together, or an afternoon where Maggie and Jiggs, the Katzenjammer Kids and a dozen of their comic contemporaries could relax and enjoy a day at the races. For his work on the comic calendars in the 1920s and 30s, Louis Biedermann can be considered one of the earliest "comic crossover" artists ever. 


Biedermann's "The Magic Carpet of the Comics", published on the cover of Circulation magazine in September 1926.

Louis Biedermann on melbirnkrant.com

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