comic art by Clifton Meek

Clifton Meek was an early 20th-century comics artist, best remembered for his funny animal comics which starred cute, anthropomorphic mice, which mostly ran in Life magazine during the 1920s. He was prior to this a staff artist with the Newspaper Enterprise Association, for which he drew comic strips like 'Johnny Mouse' (NEA, 1913-1915). He also drew 'Grindstone George' (1916-1919) for the New York Evening World.

Born in 1888 in Fremont, Ohio, Meek originally worked as a telegraphist for a railroad company. After studying art at the Cleveland School of Art he joined the Scripps-McRae Syndicate and the Newspaper Enterprise Association, which was based in Cleveland, Ohio and in San Francisco, California. He learned the finer points of the profession from Johnny Gruelle, who'd later become famous as the creator of 'Raggedy Ann'. In 1911 Meek did a few comics based on A.D. Condo's newspaper comic 'Everett True'. He filled in again for him on the same series in July 1912, and has additionally worked on some of Condo's other creations for NEA, such as 'Oscar and Adolph' in 1910 and 'Diana Dillpickles'. As a staff artist, he furthermore did fill-ins on such features as 'Pests of Summertime' (1910), which was created by a certain Valentine, and subsequently drawn by Frank R. Leet, Johnny Gruelle and A.D. Condo. At the start of 1912 Meek drew a short-lived gag-a-day comic named 'Nobody'. It starred a thin character in ragged clothes whose high hat covered his entire face. The character's name was 'Nobody', which was also the formulaic punchline of every episode. Day after day somebody would ask a question starting off with the question word "who", only to receive the reply: "Nobody", while Nobody laughed at the others' confusion. The running gag naturally got old very fast, and the feature ended in October of the same year. Another short-lived strip for the NEA syndicate was the sporadic appearing 'Si Small' (1913-1914).

That same year Meek moved east, and settled in Silvermine, near Norwalk, Connecticut. He drew his first mouse characters around this time, though in a much simpler and comical style than he would later use. Out of these illustrations grew Meek's pantomime comic 'Adventures of Johnny Mouse' (April 1913-November 1915), which was still syndicated by the NEA. It starred two mice and their frequent humoristic encounters with human-made objects bigger than themselves. Both rodents wore clothes, but were nevertheless drawn as realistic animals. Johnny Gruelle later created picture books about a similar anthropomorphic mouse named 'Johnny Mouse' in 1922.

By 1915-1916, Meek was drawing comics for the New York World and the New York Evening Journal. Between November 1916 and December 1919, his comic strip starring the quiet and always busy 'Grindstone George' ran in the New York World. The strip appeared about three times a week and was also known as 'The Off Day', 'The Old Family Skeleton' and 'Old Grindstone George'. His character 'Nobody' returned as a single-panel companion piece to 'Grindstone George'. A break in its run was when Meek did a different strip titled 'Bachelor Bill' from September through November of 1917. By the 1920s Meek became a freelance artist, specializing in "funny animal" comics about mice. Most of his work was published in Life Magazine, Puck and Judge. Around 1923 he also had a one-panel cartoon called 'Auto-Biographies', which were presumably self-syndicated to small papers like Schenectady Gazette. It featured characters in slapstick incidents, accompanied by a sentence on rhyme which summarized how the incident came about. In 1922 he became one of the earliest members of the Silvermine Guild of Artists.

comic art by Clifton Meek

Later in his career Meek grew tired of comics and started a new life as a creator of ironwork. In November 1935 he became an employee for the WPA Federal Arts Project and wrought several iron signs for buildings like Benjamin Franklin Junior High School, Broad River School, Washington School, and New Canaan Town Hall. In July 1973 he passed away in Norwalk, Connecticut.

While Meek is mostly forgotten today he was a strong influence on Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks. In a interview with Mary Braggiotti for the New York Post (30 June 1944) Disney reflected: "There was a man named Clifton Meek who used to draw cute little mice and I grew up with those drawings... They were different from ours - but they had cute ears." Meek read the article and immediately wrote a letter to Disney, thanking him. He received a photo of Walt with a written and personally signed acknowledgement. Meek himself felt so flattered by the impact he had on Walt that he wrote: "Needless to say I was surprised and delighted to learn that I had in some small way kindled a spark of inspiration in an unknown country boy who was loaded with genius."  In a 1950s interview by Bob Thomas Iwerks also confirmed that Mickey was inspired by some of Meek's mouse cartoons in Life and Judge. In December 1966 Disney passed away. Meek wrote an 'in memoriam' about him, published two months later as 'A Tribute to the Late Walt Disney' in the Norwalk Hour on 23 February, 1967.

Another connection Meek holds with later cartoonists is that one of the houses he designed is nowadays the home of Brian Walker, son of Mort Walker and co-writer of 'Beetle Bailey' and 'Hi and Lois'.

Autobiographies by Clifton MeekAutobiographies by Clifton Meek
Auto-Biographies of 2 and 3 January 1923 (Schenectady Gazette)

Read Nobody and Grindstone George at the Barnacle Press

Series and books by Clifton Meek in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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