George Clark, “The Ripples,” Chicago Sunday Tribune, 27 February 1949; © 1949 News Syndicate Co., Inc.; (Courtesy, Special Collections Room, Glendale Public Library)
“When we found ourselves in the funny papers, Ansel and I realized we had arrived.”
Artistic acclaim and celebrity manifest in many forms. But I ask you, what could be more auspicious than a nod from a nationally syndicated comic strip? Especially when that strip commands a half-page in the Sunday color comics! Such was the case on 27 February 1949 when cartoonist George Clark conjured both Edward Weston and Ansel Adams as models for an aspiring photographer in his popular weekly strip, “The Ripples.” A bemused Weston clearly appreciated the “honor.” On a visit to Weston’s home a year later, San Francisco Chronicle arts columnist Kevin Wallace noticed the clipping sitting on a table and recorded Weston’s response to it: “When we found ourselves in the funny papers, Ansel and I realized we had arrived.”
Weston likely obtained his clipping from a family member or friend in Illinois. He annotated it “Chicago Tribune / 2-27/49” and filed it away for safekeeping—a most fortunate circumstance, as this ephemeral item might otherwise have been lost to posterity. Indeed, its discovery was a purely serendipitous one made during a Weston related research trip to the Glendale Public Library in 2003. Had Weston’s clipping not found its way there, it’s unlikely this wonderful cartoon would have come to my attention. I regret the poor quality color image illustrated here. A high resolution scan was requested for use in my post, but as of this writing, Library staff have been unable to locate the original. Here’s hoping it turns up!
Smile inducing charm aside, what truly stands out about this cartoon is how it reflects the degree of popular renown Weston and Adams had achieved by the late 1940s. After all, Sunday comic readers needed ample familiarity with the two photographers to appreciate the joke.
As an artist living in New York City, George Clark no doubt kept abreast of artistic trends, visited museums and attended exhibitions. How closely he followed Weston’s career remains undocumented, but he may very well have seen Weston’s 1946 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Clark certainly had a healthy appreciation for art and photography, as these themes—and the public’s often bewildered reaction to them—appeared in his strips throughout the decades.
George Clark, “Side Glances,” Rockford Morning Star [Illinois], 1 February 1928, p. 3 © 1928, NEA Service, Inc.
George Rife Clark (1902–1981?), a prolific, highly successful illustrator and cartoonist, enjoyed a half-century career stretching from the 1920s through the 1970s. Greatly appreciated by both the public and his peers, in 1946, Clark became a founding member of the National Cartoonist Society and the recipient of the Society’s Newspaper Panel Cartoon Award in 1961.
Born in Bridgeport, Oklahoma Territory and raised largely in Oklahoma City, Clark worked as a sign painter throughout much of his youth, honing his artistic skills through a correspondence course from the Landon School in Cleveland, Ohio. After high school, Clark moved to Chicago, where he worked briefly in animation before signing with the Scripps-Howard newspaper chain. This association brought him to Cleveland in 1923 and a position as head of the Cleveland Press art staff. In 1928, Clark landed in New York City where his first strip, a black and white daily titled “Side Glances,” began syndication under the auspices of the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA).
In 1939, Clark shifted his affiliation from the NEA to the Chicago Tribune-N.Y. News Syndicate and launched his second black and white daily, “The Neighbors,” along with its color Sunday offshoot, “The Ripples.” Clark would continue writing “The Neighbors” until his retirement in 1974.
Throughout his career, Clark found inspiration by walking the streets of New York sketching and, later, photographing subjects for his work. Perhaps relying on the camera as a tool of his trade stimulated Clark’s appreciation for photography’s more rigorous application as an art form. “‘I draw real people,’ Clark said. I very seldom draw anyone I know. I sketch people from life and take hundreds of photographs and draw from them.’ … ‘In a few hours I can get stuff with a camera that would take me hours sketching. It is mass production sketching, that’s all.’”
“Side Glances,” “The Neighbors” and “The Ripples” each captured the foibles of daily life through an astute yet affectionately arch lens. Although rooted in his own time, Clark’s humor continues to resonate today. Think of tv “binge watching” and social media dependency as you chuckle at these panels from 1949:
Clark’s powers of observation allowed him to record the trials, tribulations, joys and mundanity of everyone from parents, children and teenagers to working folks and their employers. Like all social satirists, he encourages us to laugh at ourselves by gently exposing our commonalities. As Clark said, “I make no attempt at belly-laugh gags, because I don’t see things that way. I believe when anyone laughs at one of my drawings they are usually laughing because it reminds them of a similar personal experience. For that reason I prefer a gag that might mean several different things to many different people.”
Clark found equal humor in his own artistic endeavors. Certainly the poet in this 1937 “Side Glances” panel might easily stand in for the cartoonist himself, stuck at a drafting table, struggling to be creative on a lovely spring day.
1 Kevin Wallace, “Edward Weston, Photographer: The Birthday of a Modern Master,” San Francisco Chronicle, 2 April 1950, Section WA, 8.
2 Ibid. Wallace visited Weston at Wildcat Hill in celebration of his 64th birthday and subsequently published a two-part article recounting the experience. These appeared on 2 and 3 April 1950. The full passage in which Wallace comments on “The Ripples” cartoon reads: “It was a happy birthday [Weston’s], all things considered. And there was one more token of it on the table—a clipping of ‘The Ripples’ from the Chicago Tribune’s Sunday comics, in which a hypertonic adolescent is seen exclaiming; ‘Look at these GREAT photographs by Weston and Adams!’ / ‘When we found ourselves in the funny papers, Ansel and I realized we had arrived,’ Weston said.”
3 Biographical information on George Clark is sparse and occasionally conflicting. I plumbed as many sources as I could find, compared their data, and exercised my best judgement to resolve discrepancies. For example, Clark’s death date is reported variously as 1974 (definitely incorrect; Clark retired in 1974), 1978 and 1981. The Social Security Death Index lists May 1981 as does the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum of The Ohio State University Libraries. However, Ancestry Library and its associated Find a Grave application report 1978.
4 “History of the NCS” [National Cartoonist Society], Adapted in part from an article by R.C. Harvey in the NCS album. NCS website. See: https://www.nationalcartoonists.com/about/
5 Bill Caldwell, “George Clark’s ‘Side Glances’ Portrayed Life’s Lighter Side,” The Joplin Globe, online digital edition, 14 May 2021. Caldwell writes: “In 1918, Clark found an art correspondence course from the Landon School in Cleveland, Ohio. The school advertised in magazines such as Boys’ Life. It claimed “picture charts make drawing easy to learn.” He was a sophomore in high school.”
7 “Mirror of America,” Omaha World Herald, 13 July 1952, G-23.
8 Martin Sheridan. Classic Comics & their Creators: Stories of American Cartoonists from the Golden Age. Arcadia, California: Post-Era Books, 1972 (originally published 1942): p. 258.
10 Don Wooton, Caricature of George Clark, Spokane Daily Chronicle, 13 March 1937, p. 4. Don Wooton was a fellow cartoonist.
11 Op. Cit. Classic Comics… p. 258. The NEA continued to control the rights to “Side Glances” after Clark left to work for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. In 1939 “Side Glances” passed from Clark to artist William Galbraith Crawford then, in 1961, from Crawford to cartoonist Gill Fox. It ceased publication in 1985.
12 Ibid., p. 258.
13 “New-Old Cartoon Appearing.” Spokane Daily Chronicle, 3 June 1974, p. 1. This article reads: “The Spokane Daily Chronicle today has “New Neighbors” / George Clark, creator of the popular and familiar “The Neighbors” cartoon, is retiring at 71. But the authentic family humor of the original artist is being carried on by a new artist, Bob Bugg. The cartoon is different enough to call for a revised title—”The New Neighbors.” The first of these cartoons appears on page 4 of today’s Chronicle. / Bugg, a suburbanite himself, observes that suburbs are booming everywhere, and his “New Neighbors” reflects them as they are today with all their hangups.”
14 Marcia Winn, “Let’s Meet ‘The Neighbors’,” The Seattle Times [Sunday magazine supplement?], 2 March 1947, 10.
15 Op. Cit. Classic Comics & their Creators: Stories of American Cartoonists from the Golden Age, p. 257.