William F. Marriner was born in Kentucky in March 1873. Marriner's first work appeared in the magazine Puck in the late 1890s. It stood out for its particularly loose and lush drawing style. Eventually, he specialized in drawing cartoons about little children. From 1900 until 1906, he worked for the Philadelphia Enquirer and the New York World. He was associated with the McClure Syndicate in 1901 and again from 1905 to 1914. He also worked for Hearst and appeared in the short-lived Chicago Chronicle comics section.
His first comic was 'The Centaurs' for The New York Evening Journal in August and September of 1898. For The Philadelphia Enquirer he drew the adventures of Willie White and Benny Brown, a rich and poor child who were both white, and Bobby Black, a child whose last name already gives away his skin color. This feature ran from May to September 1900. Marriner was a follower of the "giant heads" school of cartooning, as can especially be seen in the occasional daily 'Johnnie Bostonbeans', that ran in Hearst's New York Evening Journal from October 1901 to October 1904.
Marriner followed these up with his McClure features 'Foolish Ferdinand' (December 1901-1904), 'Mary and Her Little Lamb' (1906-1909) and 'Sambo and His Funny Noises' (1905-1913). The latter comic strip was based on Helen Bannerman's popular children's novel series 'The Story of Little Black Sambo', of which she had sold the copyright. Sambo in both series was a little black boy who interacted with two white boys. While these comics can nowadays come across as a bit racially insensitive, little Sambo wasn't always the loser in this gag comic. Some jokes end with him receiving his come-uppance over others.
Another popular series by Marriner was 'Wags, the Dog that Adopted a Man' (1905-1908), a strip built around the running gag of a pet hater unable to get rid of a puppy dog who keeps following him. His first continuing feature for McClure was 'Glad Rags, The Corpulent Tramp', that only ran from February till May 1905. The gimmick-based 'The House of Mirth' was also a shortlived effort (March till June 1906), and dealt with a gang of kids fooling customers in their sideshow-type establishment.
Marriner's personal life was not as idyllic as the world he depicted in his cartoons: he drank a lot, and during these spells, his wife would take his son and move away until he became sober. During one of these drinking sprees, a neighbour overheard Marriner say that he would burn down his home and the entire village if she didn't return. That same night Marriner's house caught fire, killing him within it.
One of Marriner's assistants during the final years of his life was Australian cartoonist Pat Sullivan. After his mentor's sudden death he would make the move to animation. One of his first animated series was based on Marriner's 'Sambo' character, but renamed as 'Sammie Johnsin' to avoid copyright issues. It ran from 1915 until 1916, after which Sullivan and Otto Messmer developed a more durable animated series: 'Felix the Cat'.