'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers', 17 April 1915.

Stuart Carothers was an early 20th-century U.S. cartoonist, best known as the creator of 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers' (1914-1915) and 'The Movies Of Haphazard Helen' (1915). Carothers wasn't the first celebrity comics artist, nor the first to make a comic strip about Chaplin, but he was the first U.S. cartoonist to do so. His career was tragically cut short after only two years, when the 22-year old artist fell to his death from a hotel window. He is also referred to as Stewart Carothers.

Early life and career
Stuart Wallace Carothers was born in February 1893 in Tennessee, but lived with his family in McNeil, Arkansas, later moving to Austin, Texas. His brother, Neil Carothers, was an associate professor of Political Economy and Sociology at the University of Arkansas. Stuart studied there too. His earliest cartoons appeared in the official annual university magazine the Cardinal. In 1912 Carothers moved to Chicago, where he took a drawing course at the Chicago Art Institute.

Charlie Chaplin comics
In 1914, a British vaudeville comedian, Charles Spencer Chaplin, started appearing in Hollywood slapstick movies by Mack Sennett. In 'Kid Auto Races at Venice' (1914) audiences first learned to know his signature character, the Tramp. The iconic moustached beggar in bowler hat, baggy pants and twirling cane quickly became a global sensation. Since movies were still silent at the time, Chaplin's visual comedy destroyed all language barriers. Within a year he wasn't just the most popular Hollywood star in the world, but the most famous person on the planet! Chaplin's tramp character appeared on a whole string of merchandising products, so naturally a comic strip couldn't stay behind. In Chaplin's home country, England, Bertie Brown drew a 'Chaplin' celebrity comic as early as 1914. It was later continued by Freddie Adkins. Around the same time, Freddie Crompton drew a comic based on Chaplin and one about his brother, Syd Chaplin, too. 'Chaplin' comics were extraordinarily popular in the United Kingdom, mostly because the British considered him a national hero for making it big in Hollywood. They kept running for decades, even inspiring a whole industry of celebrity comics based on popular comedians. Most centered around Hollywood stars such as Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Chester Conklin, Lloyd Hamilton, Billie Ritchie and especially Laurel & Hardy, but also English comedians such as Little Titch, Billie Reeves, Arthur Askey and Benny Hill. The demand was so high that no less than two British magazines were launched full with celebrity comics about radio and movie stars: Film Fun (1920-1962) and Radio Fun (1938-1961). 'Chaplin' comics also ran in Funny Wonder from 1915 on. Unlicensed 'Chaplin' comics furthermore circulated in France and Italy as well.


'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers', 14 April 1915.

Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers
On 29 March 1915 Carothers launched the first U.S.-based 'Chaplin' comic, 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers', in the Chicago Herald. The series was syndicated by J. Keeley-Handy in a partnership deal with Essanay Film Manufacturing Company, the studio that produced Chaplin's movies at the time. Although the star left Essanay for another studio, Mutual, by December of that year, 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers' kept running. One month after Carothers, another U.S. newspaper comic starring Chaplin was launched. In April 1915 Ed Carey took over Charles H. Wellington's gag comic 'Pa's Imported Son-In-Law' and retitled it as 'Return Engagement of Pa's Imported Son-In-Law' and later: 'Pa's Family And Their Friends' (1915-1916). The series originally centered around an elderly couple, pa and ma Splutterfuss, and their obnoxious son-in-law Cedric, who was a stereotypical snobbish Englishman. When Carey took over he changed Cedric into Chaplin's Tramp character, without otherwise changing much about the farcical formula.

Both Carothers and Carey's paper-and-ink version of Chaplin couldn't match the original. Since the comedian relied on pantomime and the comics mostly on verbal comedy, this was perhaps inevitable. But even otherwise both were merely typical gag-a-day comics of the time. The only real novelty was the addition of a beloved Hollywood star. In the USA, Carothers' 'Chaplin' comic was only mildly succesful. It fared much better in British and other European magazines.

Other comics
Carothers had two other newspaper comics in The Chicago Herald around the same time. 'Advice To Would-Be Movie Actors' ran from 31 January through 11 April each Sunday on the paper's movie page. It also went by the titles 'How Near Film Stars Register Emotions', 'How To Become A Cameraman', 'How To Become A Film Star Without Leaving The Flat', 'How To Write A Scenario' and 'It Never Occurs To Film Directors'. More enduring was 'The Movies of Haphazard Helen', launched on 2 January 1915. All text was on rhyme, written by J.P. McEvoy. Other artists continued it after Carothers' run ended on 3 October, namely Burroughs, Tom Rover, Bud and Awrie.

Death
In the night of 3 to 4 October 1915 Carothers and two friends, R.A. Skinner and H. Bergum, checked in at De Jonghe's Hotel in Chicago, Illinois. A few hours later, at 3.30 AM a policeman discovered Carothers' lifeless body on the cement pavement. His friends remembered that he'd suffered from a headache that night. At one point that night Carothers sat in the window and fell outside. There were no signs of suicide or murder. The police ruled it an accident. Carothers was only 22 years old.

After his unexpected death, 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers' was briefly ghosted by two cartoonists who drew under the pseudonyms "Warren" and "Ramsey". On 29 February 1916 the future creator of 'Popeye', E.C. Segar, took over. He continued Chaplin's daily antics until 15 July of that same year. Segar also drew the Sunday page between 12 March 1916 and 16 September 1917. After that date, 'Charlie Chaplin's Comic Capers' was discontinued, though M.A. Donohue & Co compiled most episodes in five books, with the fifth reprinting all Sunday episodes.

Other artists who created comics based on Chaplin's tramp character over the century have been Ed Carey, Bertie Brown, Freddie Adkins, Don Newhouse, Roy Wilson, Reginald Parlett, Henry Puttick, Terence Wakefield, Wally Robertson, C. Rojo, Raoul Thomen, Mat, Pierre Lacroix, Jean-Claude Forest, Jim Russell, Mariel Dauphin, Pascal Radulescu, Ramón Alonso, Patrick Lesueur, Sergio Zaniboni and Richard Cowdry.

Stuart Carothers on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Stuart Carothers in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.