It Was April Fools Day, by F.M. Howarth
The Love of Lulu and Leander (1906)

F.M. Howarth was a late 19th-century, early 20th-century American cartoonist. His style is one of the easiest recognizable of all comics pioneers. Howarth drew small men and women with huge, bug-eyed expressive heads, much like a caricaturist. His illustrations had a sophisticated and elegant look which instantly set him apart from his contemporaries. Howarth's comics career started late in his life and was mostly concentrated during the six years before his death. But his newspaper comics 'Lulu and Leander ('1902-1908) and 'Mr. E.Z. Mark' (1903-1908) are still hailed as precious masterpieces by many comics lovers.

Franklin Morris Howarth was born in Philadelphia in 1864 as son of an English pattern worker. Among his main graphic influences were Wilhelm Busch, Théophile Steinlen, Adolphe Willette and "the artists of the Dutch school". He studied at the Philadelphia Central High School and at age 15 worked in the mercantile business for five years. Tired of this boring work he decided to become a cartoonist. At age 19 his cartoons already appeared in publications like The Philadelphia Call, Munsey's Magazine, Life, Judge, Truth, Tid-Bits and Puck. He also illustrated Charles Morris' temperance novel 'Broken Fetters' (1888). Though it were his illustrations for Life and particularly the satirical magazine Puck which boosted Howarth's reputation. Howarth stayed with Puck as a staff artist from 1891 until July 1901.

The Fifth-Floor Lodger and His Elevator

His early work consisted of mostly illustrations and one-shot cartoons, though he already created a few pantomime comics between 1889 and 1891. On 9 January 1890 Howarth's 'The Fifth-Floor Lodger and His Elevator' (1890) appeared in Life. It shows a man living on the fifth floor of an apartment building asking an orange salesman to put some oranges into a bucket which he pulls up from a rope. Unfortunately all other residents of the block have already snatched the oranges one by one from the bucket by the time he pulled it up. On 23 October 1890 he created another pantomime comic, 'The Reward Of Enterprise', in which a tramp spots a bench with four people sitting on it. In order to secure it all for himself he positions himself next to each one of them, until they leave in disgust. Other pantomime comics by Howarth in the same vein are 'A Nocturne in Black and White' (1889), 'The Reward of Virtue' (1891) and 'An Interrupted Elopement' (1891). On 6 September 1893 he also created a text comic called 'A Joke That Went Too Far', which starred a young boy whose face bares a canny resemblance to Alfred E. Neuman, the mascot of Mad Magazine whom Norman Mingo would design in 1956.


A Joke That Went Too Far (Puck, 6 September 1893)

Howarth was already known for his signature "big-headed people" style by this point. In an article in the New York World, published 12 May 1895, he explained why he drew characters that way: "(...) Time being money, I resolved to save as much of it as possible. Therefore, in drawing my pictures I usually make my representations of the human figure from one-half to one-fourth its correct size. This has not only saved me money as represented by time, but the amount economized in ink and cardboard is beyond belief. One more thing about my "sawed-off" people. Not being an artist by training (or otherwise), I had to do something to disarm suspicion, hence the little people. Now, no one can say to me, "That neck is too short," "that arm is too long," "that foot is entirely too large," etc., etc. This is a great scheme for a sensitive mind."


Mister Bowers

Between 1901 and 1902 he created comics and cartoons for Joseph Pulitzer's newspapers at the New York World, all of which had the text written underneath the images, in the tradition of the French Épinal prints. One Howarth's new creations was 'Mister Bowers' (1901), about an unlucky man and his frustrated wife. It ran from 21 July to 10 November 1901 and was picked up by The St. Louis Post-Dispatch as well. Another early strip for the World was 'Mister Jayson', which ran from 1 September 1901 until 16 February 1902. In April and May 1902 he made a comic strip called 'The Teasers' for the McClure syndicate, but he was quickly succeeded by Charles W. Kahles.

In 1902 he joined William Randolph Hearst's media empire, where he stayed until 1907. It was here that he created his most beloved comics series 'Lulu and Leander' (1902) for The New York American. The comic revolved around Leander Lavender, a young man who desperately wanted to gain the hand of his sweetheart Lulu Peachtree. Unfortunately he often encountered unforeseen problems with her parents and his rival, Charley Onthespot, who also tried to seduce her. Many times he tried to ask her to get engage but his plans were repeatedly thwarted by some incidents and accidents occuring on the way. This led to unforgettable temper tantrums whereby Leander exploded with rage and frustration. Yet while Leander's anger was a running gag, 'Lulu and Leander' also had different things to offer. The artwork looked gorgeous, far more more elegant and stylized than most other newspaper comics from the same period. The characters' romance also followed an actual storyline, rooted in recognizable every day situations. On 19 August 1906 Lulu and Leander married, which paved way for a different kind of storylines. In 1905 W. & R. Chambers published a book compilation, 'The Trials of Lulu and Leander'. A later feature called 'The Lad That Loved a Lady' (a.k.a. 'A Lad And His Lass') can be considered a medieval version of 'Lulu and Leander'. It ran in the American Journal-Examiner from 23 December 1906 to 21 April 1907, and like in its predecessor, the lad eventually marries the lady.

The Lad That Loved a Lady
The Lad That Loved a Lady

Soon afterwards Howarth created the gag-a-day comic 'Mr. E.Z. Mark' (15 September 1902-12 September 1907) for The American Journal-Examiner. As his name implied this furious man was an easy mark for all kinds of tricksters, crooks, con-artists and swindlers. Bascially anyone could fool the poor man and rob him of his belongings. Each panel ended with him breaking out in uncontrollable anger. The series was allegedly at one point continued by his assistant W.L. Wells. As gimmicky as his overall premise was, it was still popular enough to inspire a song, 'Mr. E.Z. Mark' (1903) written and composed by Earle Remington, for which Howarth designed the cover of the lyric sheet. The comic strip was also adapted into two live-action short comedy films named 'Lucky Dog' (1912) and 'Madame de Mode' (1912) by the Edison Company.

Mr. E.Z. Mark lyric sheet

Between 14 and 21 December 1903 Howarth also created a comic strip named 'Mrs. Wiggins's Husband' for the morning paper The New York American, which featured a henpecked husband and his bossy wife. It only lasted two episodes and was followed by 'Oh, It's Easy When You Know How' in January-February 1904. For the Evening Journal, he furthermore made 'Mister Silverlining Brightside' (three installments in June-July 1904), 'The Kid That Couldn't Be Shook' (October-December 1904) and 'When Mrs. Hammer And Mrs. Crowbar Meet' (3 September 1904-28 June 1905). He returned to one of his trademark themes, young love, for his final feature for the Hearst papers. 'Love Will Find a Way' initially ran in the New York American from 18 March to 30 June 1906, and then transferred to the Evening Journal from 12 September 1906 until 10 January 1907. Among his additional creations for the American Journal-Examiner were 'Ain't Men The Wrenches?' (4 February 1905-5 May 1906) and 'What's The Use? What Does It Pay?' (8 August 1905-8 December 1906).


Love Will Find A Way

About a year before his death, Howarth joined the Chicago Tribune syndicate, where he created his final comics. The longest running was 'Old Opey Dilldock's Stories' (31 March 1907-20 September 1908), also known as 'Ole Opey Dildock - The Storyteller'. The Tribune also ran his 'Mrs. Dingle's Diary' (9 June 1907-22 March 1908) and 'Mister Jonah Jimsenweed' (5 July-22 November 1908). The artist fell ill with pneumonia in 1908, of which he eventually died. He was only 43 years old, five days short of turning 44. 'Ole Opey Dildock' would be continued by his assistant W.L. Wells until 1914.

In a way, Drew Friedman might be Howarth's spiritual successor. Howarth's early sequential contributions to Judge, Puck and other satirical magazines had no recurring characters, but they did set the tone for later magazine creations that did, such as James Montgomery Flagg's 'Nervy Nat' in Judge and Louis Glackens' 'Hans' in Puck. Another artist inspired by Howarth's work was Carl Schultze, creator of 'Foxy Grandpa'. Despite being one of the pioneer in narrative comics, none of F.M. Howarth's comic strips feature speech balloons. He was exclusively an text comics artist.

Old Opey Dilldock's Stories

Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

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