comic art by Clifton Meek
'Johnny Mouse'. 

Clifton Meek was an early 20th-century U.S. comic artist, best remembered for his funny animal comics, which starred cute, anthropomorphic mice. His signature series in this field is 'Johnny Mouse' (1913-1915), syndicated by the NEA. Meek's second longest-running comic series is 'Grindstone George' (1916-1919), about an unlucky elderly man, published in The New York Evening World. After 1935, Meek started a new career as an ironwerk designer. 

Early life and career
Born in 1888 in Fremont, Ohio, Clifton 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'.

Early comics
In 1911 Meek ghosted a few episodes based on A.D. Condo's newspaper comic 'The Outbursts of 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 additionally 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.

In January 1912, Meek drew a short-lived gag-a-day comic titled 'Nobody'. It stars a thin character in ragged clothes, whose high hat covers his entire face. The character's name is '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.

Si Small
Another short-lived strip by Clifton Meek for the NEA syndicate was the sporadic appearing 'Si Small' (1913-1914).


Johnny Mouse
In 1913 Meek moved east, and settled in Silvermine, near Norwalk, Connecticut. He drew his first mouse characters around this time, though as simple illustrations and in a loose and comical style. In April 1913 it led to his pantomime comic, 'The Adventures of Johnny Mouse', syndicated by the NEA. Johnny Mouse is an anthropomorphic mouse who, together with a friend, frequently notices man-made objects bigger than themselves. Much of the comedy comes from their (inter)reactions with these objects. Meek gave his mice clothes, but nevertheless drew them as realistic animals. Johnny Gruelle's later picture books, 'Johnny Mouse' (1922), have no relation to Meek's character, though he was his mentor in the past. By the 1920s, Meek became a freelance artist specializing in funny animal comics about (often nameless) mice. Most of his comics and illustrations were published in Life, Puck and Judge. 

Meek's mouse illustrations were a strong influence on Walt Disney and Ub Iwerks' Mickey Mouse. 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. This flattered Meek tremendously, as he described it himself: "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, Ub Iwerks also confirmed that Mickey was inspired by some of Meek's mouse cartoons in Life and Judge. When Walt Disney died in 1966, Meek wrote an 'in memoriam', published two months later in The Norwalk Hour as: 'A Tribute to the Late Walt Disney', 23 February 1967.

Grindstone George
By 1915-1916, Meek was drawing comics for the New York World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, and the New York Evening Journal. Between November 1916 and December 1919, he drew the series '(Old) Grindstone George' (1916-1919). Grindstone George is a bald, middle-aged man who is often unlucky. His mishaps were printed three times a week. Sometimes they had different titles, including: 'The Off Day', 'The Old Family Skeleton' and 'Old Grindstone George'. Meek used some of his old 'Nobody' gags as a topper comic for 'Grindstone George'. 

comic art by Clifton Meek
'Old Grindstone George'. 

Later comics
A break in the run of 'Grindstone George' happened when Meek created a different comic, titled 'Bachelor Bill', which ran from September through November 1917. 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.

Final years and death
Later in his career, Meek 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. He was also a prolific writer for The Theosophical Society, with articles appearing in The Theosophical Forum. In July 1973 he passed away in Norwalk, Connecticut. 

One of the houses Meek designed later became 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

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