Bugville by Gus Dirks

Although his tragic life was short, Gus Dirks can be considered a pioneer of American comics. He was the younger brother of Rudolph Dirks, the creator of the legendary 'Katzenjammer Kids'. Born in Chicago, he joined his brother in New York, where he began making drawings for humor weeklies like Judge, Life and Puck. Gus Dirks specialized in anthropomorphic insect cartoons in the tradition of the animal cartoons by Harrison Cady, Albert Blashfield, T.S. Sullivant and Walt Kuhn. Dirks' cartoons not just presented the funny doings of bugs, but in fact presented the artist's satirical look at human behavior.

In 1898, he published a collection of his bug cartoons, called 'Bugville Life'. Dirks' drawings were accompanied by verses written by fellow Judge contributor R.K. Munkittrick. Around the same period, he had a short-lived feature called 'The Evening Journal's Topical Turnovers' in the New York Evening Journal (28 October till 5 November 1898), which was followed by 'In Nature's Fun Shop' in the New York World (27 May till 24 June 1900) and 'Education of Simple Sam by His Big Brother' (27 May till 8 July 1900). By that time, newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst offered Dirks the opportunity to create a bug-based comic strip. The strip was titled 'Latest News from Bugville' (or 'Latest News from Bugtown') and ran in the Hearst papers from 4 November 1900 until 9 March 1902.

From Judge, by Gus Dirks 1900

Gus Dirks committed suicide somewhere in June 1902. He was approximately 23 years old. The reasons for his suicide were not clear. Some papers mentioned an unnamed illness, others stated that "the task of laughing and making others laugh just to keep away his own tears overcame him", while the Evening World concluded that he was frustrated that his comics weren't taken seriously enough. The Evening World further wrote about his working methods in his obituary on 12 June 1902:

"He worked whenever he felt that he should. He would sit in an easy chair for hours drawing the tiny creatures and when tired would fall asleep. When he awoke he would finish the work he was at. He loved an irregular life, sleeping, eating, drinking when he felt that he wanted to. He frequently worked all night and slept half the day. He had no excesses and had no patience with those that had. Gus Dirks's bug pictures made him, supported him and perhaps killed him."

After Dirks, several newspaper cartoonists have created strips about anthropomorphic bugs living in their own town, namely Morton Thayer ('Bugville' for the NEA Syndicate, 1905), Paul Bransom ('Bugtown Budget' for the Boston Traveler, 1909), Percy Crosby ('Bugville' for the New York World, 1912-1914) and Leon Searl ('Bugs Will Be Bugs', 'Bugville Closeups' and 'The Bugville Newsreel' for the New York American, 1917). The concept was picked up by the Walt Disney Studios in 1932 for their Sunday comics page starring 'Bucky Bug' (by Al Taliaferro and Earl Duvall) and the animated short 'Bugs in love'.

Bugville Life

Series and books by Gus Dirks in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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