Suspended Animation

Michael Vance - Mark Allen
Michael Vance Books

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Review Index 2002 - 2001 - 2000 - 1999 - 1998
 
Harry Herschfield
 

     Comics legend Harry Herschfield began his career as a cartoonist at 14, doing comics for the sports page of the Chicago Daily newspaper.  His first published comic strip (about a mutt) was titled Homeless Hector. In 1910, he began his first major strip, Desperate Desmond, a burlesque inspired melodrama about a top-hatted villain.

     In 1914, he created his most successful strip, Abie the Agent, which entertained millions until 1940. Begun as a character in Desperate Desmond, Abie was the first syndicated Jewish comic strip character. According to Hoyle was a Herschfield Sunday half-page that ran from 1933-1935.

     Abie was an endlessly anxious, extremely active, lower middle-class Jew in New York City.

     Abie the Agent is characterized by ethnic dialect in stories that treated the Irish, Jewish and German nationalities with sympathy. At the time, immigrants were ridiculed and held in disdain on stage, in print and in movies. Herschfield's use of the Yiddish dialect--"Oi, Gewalt-I'm trepped!"-- was eliminated from the strip by the 1930s as Abie's stories focused on the character's integration into America.

     Herschfield's art was direct and simple, more striking for its character design than for his finesse as an artist. It featured impeccable comic timing, a bold line, an unerring sense of staging, and an eye for detail in the clothing, furnishings, and affectations of his day. 

     Hershfield's work includes Abie the Agent, reprinting the strip from 1914 and 1915 (Hyperion Press, 1977). 

     Several of his comic strips are reprinted in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics. In 1917, Abie appeared in Abie Kabibble Outwitted His Rival, an animated cartoon. In addition, Herschfield wrote books including Laugh Louder, Live Longer, and worked as a radio comedian and raconteur. He died in 1974 when he was 89 years old. 

     The work of Harry Herschfield is highly recommended.

     Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate.  Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

     Review by Michael Vance

 

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