comic for Our Continent in 1883
'Photographs of Animals in Motion' (18 April 1883).

Henry Stull was a late 19th- early 20th-century Canadian-American painter and illustrator, most famous for his classy paintings of race horses. Together with Edward Troye he was widely regarded as one of the most prominent equestrian artists of the United States. In 1883 Stull also made a contribution to comic history, when he made a few text comics for the magazine Our Continent. All make use of silhouette drawings and often have horses as subjects. 

Early life and career
He was born in 1851 in Hamilton, Ontario as the son of a coach and hansom cab driver. According to legend he was born above a stable, but this story is presumably an urban legend. What is for certain is that Stull's father was a driver of a horse-drawn hack, bringing the boy already in contact with these magnificent animals from an early age. Yet in his younger years, Stull was more determined to become a professional actor and moved to Toronto around 1870 in the hope of joining an amateur theatrical company. However, he wasn't hired and therefore took a job at a local insurance firm. Still not giving up his dream, Stull moved to Brooklyn, New York City, where he finally managed to work for a local theater company. Unfortunately not as an actor, but as a painter of stage sets. 

Report published in Harper's Weekly, 21 June 1879.

Cartoons and horse portraits
Stull's talent for painting would eventually steer him into a different direction. He submitted his portfolio to Frank Leslie, chief editor of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Weekly, who hired him as a cartoonist and caricaturist for three years. Stull had an interest in horse races and often took sketches at local contests. While he attended a race at Jerome Park in the Bronx, he sketched a race horse owned by August Belmont, named Fiddlesticks. He copied his sketch to more high-quality paper and sent the end result to the editor of Sporting New Yorker. Belmont was one of the people who saw this drawing in print and was so impressed that, in 1876, he helped him get a job for the racing magazine Spirit of the Times. Stull would remain its house cartoonist and illustrator for 14 years. In the late 1870s he started painting official portraits of race horses on commission, with many millionaire horse owners acting as his maecenas. From then on his race horse paintings also appeared in Harper's Weekly. 

Yet some critics felt Stull couldn't draw horses well enough. In 1884 he therefore went to a veterinary college to take horse anatomy lessons for a year. His technique and knowledge improved and within a decade he became one of the top horse portraitists of the U.S., even travelling to Europe once for a client. He became a member of the Coney Island Jockey Club and often visited horse farms in Kentucky and the New York era. Stull also had a horse of his own, named Brad Law. 

Stull's cartoon for Our Continent of 21 March 1883.

Aside from painting horses, Stull also made a few text comics depicting horses, which appeared in the humorous section 'In Lighter Vein' of the Philadelphian magazine Our Continent. They are all drawn in black silhouettes, with the narration written underneath the images. One cartoon, published on 21 March 1883 depicts a Chinese washerman trying to ride a Bronco "all same Melican man" ("like an American man"), only to be thrown off and carried away on a stretcher afterwards.  

On 18 April 1883 he published 'Photographs of Animals in Motion, Taken By Professor Abdrige's Instantaneous Process' (1883) in that same section. The work in question is a text comic, with narration written underneath the images. It parodies Eadweard Muybridge's famous series of photographs 'The Horse in Motion' (1878), which show a jockey riding a horse in consecutive stills. Up until Muybridge's photographic experiment people had never seen a step-by-step visual proof of how a horse trots?  He particularly wanted to proof that horses, when they run, lift all their legs in the air for a brief moment. 'The Horse in Motion' proved the theory and caused a sensation among photographers and horse experts. Muybridge would soon make similar photographs of people and animals running and doing other things, to show their actions in successive motions. His achievements were not only important for the art of photography, but also played an important part in the eventual invention of film. Comic artists were also interested in Muybridge's sequential photographs, as they showed a more dynamic way of suggesting motion in a visual narrative. Apart from Stull, A.B. Frost also spoofed Muybridge in a 1884 cartoon, published in Stuff and Nonsense. And in 1890 the British cartoonist George Roller created a silhouetted drawing of horse throwing his jockey of his back, which appeared in Pick-Me-Up Magazine.

Stull's comic strip, 'Photographs of Animals in Motion', is a text comic in five parts, each told in a strip each. All strips parody Muybridge's photographs of beings in motion, with sarcastic commentary written underneath. Contrary to what the title claims, not all panels depict "animals". They are mostly a random set of funny ideas, showing certain people or animals in slow motion. In the first strip Muybridge is lampooned as "professor Abridge" who doesn't photograph a horse, but a mule. Things do not go as planned, as the donkey kicks him and his equipment away. In the next strip two boys tie a kettle to a dog's tail to watch it run away in panic, dragging the object behind him. The third strip shows a boy chopping wood for his mother, but the clock shows that even after an hour he hardly did anything. The telegram deliverer in the next strip also takes his time to bring his urgent message to his client. The narrative is interesting because Stull drew two speech balloons, which were still a novelty in comics at the time. Finally, the last strip shows an obese man getting angry, a cat creating havoc, a slow and fast moving telegram boy and a man arriving home late at night, taking his slippers off to avoid waking others up. 

Death and legacy
Henry Stull passed away in 1913 in New York. Many of his paintings can be seen in the New York Jockey Club, the Kentucky Derby Museum and the National Museum of Racing Hall of Fame. 

'Photographs of Animals in Motion', strips 4 & 5 (18 April 1883).

Series and books by Henry Stull in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:


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