Willy Cute Hangs The Cop Up For The Night, by John A. Lemon

Joseph A. Lemon was an early 20th-century U.S. newspaper cartoonist, best known for his signature comic strip 'Willy Cute' (1903-1906), about a bad little boy, and 'Professor Bughouse' (1904-1905). He furthermore created more short-lived comics, such as 'The Adventures of Dennis O'Shaughnessy' (1902), 'How Would You Like To Be John?' (1903 - 1905), 'Humpty Dumpty' (1904), 'Hop Lee' (1904) and 'Mrs. Worry' (1906). Lemon usually signed his work with a rather undecipherable signature, which resembled a star. 

Early life and career
Joseph A. Lemon was born in May 1870 in Kansas, according to the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. However, Alex Jay of the website Stripper's Guide, discovered that Lemon's obituary in the KIngston Daily Freeman listed his age of death as 59, which would indicate that he could have been born in 1868 instead. By 1897 he lived in Manhattan, New York City, with his wife. As a member of The Blue Pencil Club, he contributed to their club magazine Blue Pencil from its first issue on (February 1900). He illustrated several books, including Billy Burgundy's 'Toothsome Tales Told In Slang' (1901), 'The Man with Grip' (1906) and William Famous' 'Colonel Crook Stories' (1909).  

Early comics
As a newspaper cartoonist he was associated with the McClure Syndicate, where he created comics for their Sunday pages. His first comic strip was 'The Adventures of Dennis O'Shaughnessy' (1902).

Willy Cute
His best known comics series, 'Willy Cute' (1903-1906) ran in The Daily Reporter between 5 April 1903 until 17 June 1906, though Lemon only drew it until 1905, after which Ed Carey took it over until its eventual cancellation. 'Willy Cute' is a typical newspaper comic of its time about mischievous children. The title character, Willy, is a boy of high social standing and therefore always dressed in costume, making him near identical to Richard Outcault's 'Buster Brown'. Modern readers might accuse Lemon of direct plagiarism - seeing that Buster Brown and Willy Cute have the same design, bratty personality and clothing. Only the colours are different: Buster's costume is pink, while Willy's is red. However, in the late 19th and early 20th century, such suits weren't uncommon. They were popularized by Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel 'Little Lord Fauntleroy' (1886) and in several other gag comics and illustrated novels from the era similarly dressed boys can be seen. Therefore Lemon could be given the benefit of the doubt. Especially since the tone and side characters of his comic strip are far different. Willy, for instance, has no pet and his parents are rarely seen. Most of the time he is guarded by his African-American housemaid and babysitter Dinah who, typically for the times, is basically a walking stereotype. She is drawn in a nowadays racially offensive way, talks in ebonics, tends to be fooled easily and some gags actually poke fun at her race. Dinah is also a frequent victim of Willie's pranks. Though in some gags she does get the last laugh. In one episode Willie tries to fool her by pretending to be a black beggar, but she sees through his blackface disguise and has him do all her cleaning in exchange for cake. 

What makes 'Willy Cute' somewhat rise above the average is that Willy is a far nastier child than even Rudolph Dirks's 'The Katzenjammer Kids' or Outcault's 'Buster Brown'. Not only does he get way too excited about tormenting others: he never shows any remorse either. Many episodes end without the boy even being punished! To modern-day readers he almost comes across a sociopath at times. It's therefore remarkable that it managed to last so long in the papers without any moral outcry.

How Would You Like To Be John?
Between 23 August 1903 and 9 April 1905 the McClure Syndicate ran Lemon's 'How Would You Like To Be John?' (1903-1905). John was a character who was constantly struck by bad luck, making the title of the series very ironic. 

Humpty Dumpty / Hop Lee
In 1904 Lemon launched three comics. 'Humpty Dumpty' (1904) was based on the famous English nursery rhyme character, while 'Hop Lee' starred stereotypical jokes about a Chinese man, most of them involving his long queue.

Professor Bughouse
The most durable of the three was 'Professor Bughouse' (1904-1905), about an absent-minded professor. Although Lemon only drew it for about a year it was continued by Frank Crane between 1 January and 5 March 1905. 

Mrs. Worry
Between 11 March and 6 May 1906 Lemon created the comic strip 'Mrs. Worry' (1906), about an overprotective mother who can't leave her son alone for a few minutes. The gimmick ran old quick and the series was discontinued after only two months. The comic strip should not be confused with Charles A. Voight's similarly titled 'Mrs. Worry' (1912)

Final years and death
Joseph A. Lemon later moved to Woodstock, New York, and died in 1927, at age 57 or 59 (if he was born in 1868). 

Willy Cute Hangs The Cop Up For The Night, by John A. Lemon

John Lemon's signature

Series and books by Joseph A. Lemon in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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