Willy Cute Hangs The Cop Up For The Night, by John A. Lemon
Willie Cute in the Indianapolis Journal of 6 September 1903

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

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 Stripper's Guide blog, 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 features. His first comic strip was 'The Adventures of Dennis O'Shaunessy' (1902, also referred to as 'The Adventures of Dennis O'Shaughnessy').

Willie Cute
Lemon's best known comics series, 'Willie Cute' (1903-1906) ran in The Daily Reporter between 5 April 1903 until 17 June 1906, though Lemon only drew it until 1905. Ed Carey drew the final installments until its eventual cancellation. 'Willie Cute' is a typical newspaper comic of its time about mischievous children. The title character, Willie, 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 Willie Cute have the same design, bratty personality and clothing. Only the colours are different: Buster's costume is pink, while Willie'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. Willie, 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 'Willie Cute' somewhat rise above the average, is that Willie is a far nastier child than even Rudolph Dirks's 'The Katzenjammer Kids' or Outcault's 'Buster Brown'. To modern-day readers he almost comes across a sociopath at times. 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! 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 / Professor Bughouse
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. The most durable of the three was 'Professor Bughouse' (1904-1905), about an absent-minded professor. Although Lemon only drew it for a short while (Allan Holtz of Stripper's Guide suggests it might even have been one single strip on 28 August 1904), it was continued by Frank Crane between 1 January and 5 March 1905. A cartoonist called Anderson also drew a feature called 'Magic Pictures and Cut-Outs by Prof. Bughouse' for McClure in 1905.


Lemon's 'Professor Bughouse', published in the Saint Paul Globe on 28 August 1904.

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' (1910-1914)

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

Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

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