King David by Dan Smith
'The Story of David' ('L'Histoire du Saint Roi David'in L'Action Catholique, 6 June 1943).

Dan Smith was an American illustrator and sketch artist. Between 1891 and 1897 he made several sketches of the Wild West as it was dying out, documenting it for future generations. He was mostly known as a magazine cover illustrator, but also made a few comics series. Smith drew the funny animal comic 'The Jungle Folk' (1903) and, in old age, a more serious series of text comic adaptations of The Old Testament (1932-1935). 

Early life and career
Dan Smith was born in 1865 in Ivugtut, Greenland, as the son of Danish-German parents. His parents moved to the United States when he was still a child, but in 1879, at age 14, he studied at the Public Arts Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. He later returned to the USA to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Philadelphia. In 1890 he became a sketch artist for Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly. Around that time the wars between the U.S. government and Native Americans ended in defeat for the latter, and most of the surviving Native Americans were sent to reservation camps. This also meant the end of the "Wild West", since now all territory in the United States had been conquered by white settlers. As always with the end of an era, people became more interested in it, and as such Smith was sent to the U.S. South and New Mexico to document this historical evolution. He made sketches about the plight of the Native Americans at the Pine Ridge Reservation and Wounded Knee. Smith also sketched Native Americans, cowboys, horses and local settlers. Many of his illustrations appeared in Frank Leslie's magazine between 1891 and 1897. He furthermore gained fame as a painter of animals.


Fairyland cover illustration.

Magazine illustration
In 1897 Smith left to join Hearst's newspaper concern. During the Spanish-American War (1898) between Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, Smith worked as a reporter-correspondent. For the next twenty years, his illustrations appeared on the cover of the Sunday World Magazine section and were syndicated nationally. They also appeared in The Quarterly Illustrator, Judge, Everybody's, Success, Cartoons Magazine and The Metropolitan. In the mid-1920s Smith made a series of magazine covers for the Sunday supplement of Hearst's American Weekly under the title 'Fairyland'. 'Fairyland' showed pictures of fairies, elves and dwarves in a fantasy-setting. Technically they weren't comic strips, left alone illustrated stories. All Smith did was make magnificent colourful drawings to sport the cover of each new issue. While they shared a basic theme, they didn't follow a narrative. The same could be said about his 'Pancho Rancho' cover illustrations which ran between 13 October and 8 December 1929, and 'Desert Love', from 27 July to 12 October 1930, which were distributed to Sunday magazines by the Newspaper Feature Service. For the same syndicate, Smith also illustrated romantic cartoons in 1919. Smith furthermore illustrated covers for paperbacks and magazines. In 1912 he became a member of the Society of Illustrators. 

The Jungle Folk, by Dan Smith (1903)
Episode of 'The Jungle Folk', published on 22 February 1903 in the Sunday World Magazine. 

Jungle Folk
Smith was sporadically active as a comics artist. In 1903 he created the feature 'The Jungle Folk' (1903), which appeared in the Sunday edition of World Magazine. This text comic series had no real characters, merely stories starring anthropomorphic animals in an exotic setting. At the time Western readers enjoyed tales about faraway countries with funny animals. Around the same time, Winsor McCay's 'A Tale of the Jungle Imps' (1903) and Gus Mager's '(In) Jungle Land' (1904-1906) followed similar concepts. 

Bible comics
In the dawn of his career, Smith started an ambitious series of text comics based on the Old Testament. While biblical comics had been drawn before, he used a more realistic approach, both in artwork as well as content. The artist didn't sugarcoat the nudity, sexual imagery and brutal violence of the original tales. Given that these comics could be read by a wide audience of young and old: it was quite a daring decision. Though it must be said that Smith did ommit a few stories, like 'Adam and Eve', presumably because he couldn't get around depicting them naked. Between 11 March 1933 (Stripper's Guide claims 10 June 1932) and 9 February 1935 (Stripper's Guide gives 31 August 1935 as an alternative date), these biblical comics appeared as serialized newspaper comics, usually on Saturdays, syndicated by King Features Syndicate. They were also translated elsewhere across the globe. For instance, between 20 February and 7 May 1944, they were reprinted in the Québec magazine L'Action Catholique. Smith managed to cover the stories of Sampson, Esther, Joseph, Ruth, David, Jezebel, Solomon, Salome, Elijah, Jael, Abraham, Cain and The Holy Child and was just working on Moses, when he passed away in 1934 at age 69. The final installment, detailing the story of Moses, was completed by Don Komisarow.

John Adcock about Dan Smith's Old Testament

Ink Slinger profile on the Stripper's Guide

Series and books by Dan Smith in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

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