'Rufus McGoofus' (4 December 1923).

Joe Cunningham was an early 20th-century U.S. newspaper cartoonist and sports writer, best remembered for the humor comic 'Rufus McGoofus' (also known as 'Rufus M'Goofus', 1922-1925). He designed the 'Treat 'Em Rough!' cat logo often used in motivational posters during the First World War. During the 1930s, he was an extra in several Hollywood B-movies.

Philadelphia North American
Joseph Cunningham was born in 1890 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He started his career at the Philadelphia North American and Evening Times, where he illustrated sports cartoons, wrote sports articles and did lay-outs and retouching. The paper's syndicate also circulated his first feature, the Sunday comic 'Sammy Stahl', between 1 March and 22 November 1914. According to Allan Holtz of the Stripper's Guide, it was an "eminently forgettable" strip about a character whose life was "a fiction of wealth and privilege built upon constant lying and Machiavellian scheming". The same syndicate also distributed Cunningham's weekly strip 'Bill The Bat Boy' from 1917 until halfway 1918.

"Treat 'Em Rough!"
Around February 1918, Cunningham designed a coat of arms an agitated black tom cat for the 65th Regiment at Camp Meade. It carried the powerful message "Treat 'Em Rough!" for the Allied soldiers leaving for war in Europe. Cunningham's image was widely copied by other artists for motivational posters, including Sgt. Henry E. Clark, Rico Tomaso and August Hutaf.

Evening Ledger
After the war, Cunningham also wrote and drew for Judge, The Farm Journal, Hardware, Motion Picture Exhibitor and other magazines. By then he as, however, already a regular sports cartoonist in the Evening Public Ledger, another paper circulating in Philadelphia. One of his early strips for this paper, 'John Sapp, Demobilized Doughboy' (1919), zeroed in on the servicemen returning home. On 8 January 1919, the Evening Public Ledger introduced John as "a recently demobilized doughboy of the Domestic Infantry department, wrestling with the problems of peace." It was also syndicated to other newspapers through the Public Ledger Syndicate. Another job at the Ledger was temporarily replacing the cartoonist Charles J. Dunn on the daily cartoon panel 'Dumb-Bells' in 1924-1925.

Rufus McGoofus
Cunningham's sports cartoons in the Ledger often starred a bald character with a Chaplin moustache named Rufus McGoofus (or Rufus M'Goofus). On 6 November 1922 the character got its own daily humor comic, 'Rufus McGoofus' (1922-1925). A Sunday comic was added on 28 January 1923. The daily feature ran for a couple of years until it moved to the Public Ledger's tabloid magazine, The Illustrated Sun, from 18 May until 11 September 1925. Meanwhile, the Sunday strip continued in the Public Ledger until 6 September of that same year. The character was revived between January and August 1928 in the paper's Sunday kids magazine as 'Rufus McGoofus Junior', but discontinued almost quickly as he'd made his unpopular comeback. Joe Cunningham then became sports cartoonist with the Philadelphia Record.


'Rufus McGoofus' (12 December 1922).

Film career
In the 1930s, Cunningham rented a house in Beverly Hills and started a second career in Hollywood. He was always cast as an extra and mostly played in gangster B-movies. He was a train salesman in 'Gold Diggers of 1937' (1936), Joe Taylor in 'Kid Galahad' (1937), a managing editor in 'Angels With Dirty Faces' (1938), Detective Pryor in 'They Drive By Night' (1938), a train reporter in 'Knute Rockne, All American' (1940) and Maxie in the 'Torchy Blane' series, to name his best remembered films. In 1937, when the "burning of Atlanta" scene in 'Gone With the Wind' was filmed, Cunningham took his family to see it firsthand.

Death
Joe Cunningham passed away in 1943 at age 52 from coronary disease, in Los Angeles, California. He should not be confused with the Associated Press artist Joe "Ham" Cunningham, who drew the daily and Sunday cartoon 'Buckley' between 1947 and 1961.

Joe Cunningham profile on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Joe Cunningham in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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