Sweeney & Son, by Al Posen

Al Posen is best remembered for his gag-a-week comic strip 'Sweeney & Son', but also got a reptutation for making comics where each line was a rhyming couplet.

Alvah Posen was born in New York City in 1894 as the son of a Russian-Jewish immigrant who emigrated to the USA because of the rampant pogroms there. He worked as a film broker in Hollywood during the 1910s, particulary for the Strand Film Company. In 1917 the young man was drafted into the military during World War I. After peace returned he worked as a broker for a film advertising company. One of his projects was the first film starring The Marx Brothers: 'Humor Risk' (1921), which he co-produced. Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo Marx had already gained a reputation as a hilarious vaudeville act in the early 1920s and considered making the step to movies, as so many of their colleagues in the field like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd had tried. 'Humor Risk' was a parody of the 1920 drama film 'Humoresque', but no copies have survived. Two versions circulate about the matter. Either the film failed to impress the test audience, which infuriated Groucho so much that he personally burned it, or, it was accidentally thrown away afterwards. The debacle was enough for the nowadays legendary comedy team to wait until 1929 before they made their next, more succesful movies.

Them Days Is Gone Forever
Them Days Is Gone Forever

Posen travelled through South-East Asia in the mid 1920s as part of a group of geologists and miners. He visited Siam (nowadays Thailand) and the Chinese province Yunan. From 13 February 1922 to 4 April 1925 he was drawing the comic strip 'Them Days Is Gone Forever', followed by the weekly panel 'The Jingles Belles' (1924) and the daily cartoon 'Call for Mr. Bingo' (1925), all for United Feature Syndicate. Posen's move to comics was notable since he never had any professional artistic training.  'Them Days' also pioneered a format he would use throughout many of his comics: dialogue making use of rhyme. 'Them Days Is Gone Forever' was told in four frames. The first three would typically be in rhyme, while the fourth was always the same closing statement: "Them Days Is Gone Forever!". To make the rhymes more enjoyable, Posen even added musical notes so that readers could sing along. The comic had a satirical streak and reflected on things from the past that weren't likely to return in the present or future, like low prices, well-behaved children and the legalization of alcohol (which would return to the USA in 1933, after Prohibition was lifted). One of his early fans was Jackie Coogan, best known as the child in Charlie Chaplin's 'The Kid' (1920) and Uncle Fester on the original 1966 TV series 'The Addams Family', based on Charles Addams' cartoons. Coogan send Posen a letter in 1923 with a request to obtain an original cartoon.

Jinglet by Al Posen

By 1933 he was drawing the Sunday page 'Ella and Her Fella' for the New York News Syndicate, which only ran for four months and also made use of rhyme. On 1 October 1933 he replaced it with the more durable gag-a-week comic 'Sweeney & Son' (1933-1960), starring the humoristic events in the life of a bumbling father and his son. Both 'Ella' and 'Sweeney' ran with a four-panel gag at the bottom of the page, 'Jinglet' (1926-1935), which featured a cartoony depiction of rhyming words. 'Jinglet' had first appeared as a daily strip in The Chicago Tribune in 1926. In 1949 he also made 'Rhymin' Time', another daily rhyme comic. Posen further used his trademark when making advertisements on rhyme for companies like Bristol-Myers, Colgate, Palmolive, Lifebuoy, Old Gold cigarettes, Ingram shaving cream, Vitalis, ExLax, Pepsi and Wheaties. 

During World War II he became the National Cartoonists Society Director of Overseas Shows. He and colleagues like Gus Edson and Bob Montana created shows to entertain the troops overseas. He was also drafted himself.

Posen remained a bachelor all his life. He passed away in 1960 from cancer. His personal art work and correspondence with celebrities like Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Bud Fisher, Rube Goldberg, Fred Harman, Vernon Greene, Charles M. Schulz, Fred Waring but also politicians like W. Averell Harriman, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower is kept at Syracuse University. The catchphrase "1506 nix nix" in Bill Holman's comic 'Smokey Stover' was an inside joke between Holman and Posen, referring to a hotel where Posen once stayed.

Them Days Is Gone Forever
Them Days Is Gone Forever

Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Al Posen in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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