Thursday, December 20, 2012

Otto Soglow's "The Little King" receives his royal due

The Little King, 1946

(This week, Bellemeade Books publishes gift suggestions from this year's reviews.)

The Little King would be surprised at the size of the new book dedicated to his simple cartoon antics.
Cartoonist Otto Soglow (1900-1975) was born in New York City. In his own words, his first art job was "painting forget-me-nots on baby rattles." He studied with John Sloane at the Art Students League, and sold his first drawings to pulp magazines. In the late 1920s, his social-realist drawings were appearing in such radical publications as The New Masses and The Liberator, as well as the Life and Collier's.

In 1931 he created The Little King while at The New Yorker, and three years later, the strip moved to the Sunday comics pages of King Features Syndicate. He illustrated about twenty-five books and continued drawing The Little King until his death.

Cartoon Monarch: Otto Soglow and The Little King features 432 pages of Soglow's The Little King, plus the complete run of The Ambassador, the strip that preceded the King in the comics pages, as well as copious examples of his other artwork. Here's more from the Library of American Comics site:

The Little King is a monarch who sits stiffly on the throne but bursts into life at the sight of a hotdog stand or at the approach of a rowdy mob. He is a man of the people who has somehow found himself on the wrong side of the palace steps, but he makes the most of it, trying to do right by his office and find what pleasures he can at the absurd outer reaches of his daily rituals.

It was often said that Otto Soglow resembled his creation, and he did nothing to disabuse people of that notion as he regularly performed in character throughout his career. As is explored in this volume, the resemblance was more than merely physical: like his most famous creation, Soglow was a man whose origins and political sensibilities were always with the working man on the street—and even the angry mob.

Above: Soglow in 1933, from an animated short.
Yet while he began his career as a radical artist publishing in The New Masses and The Liberator, a decade later he was working for William Randolph Hearst and creating advertisements for Pepsi Cola and oil companies. The Little King is born out of the tension between his political idealism and his professional ambitions.
... Much of the humor in The Little King is aimed at puncturing pomposity and, as Ivan Brunetti points out in his Foreword, Soglow accomplishes it with drawings that are tightly composed, exquisitely timed, carefully structured pieces of machinery. "His process of streamlining is at the root of why his cartoons have a timeless sophistication and elegance," writes Brunetti, "and continue to entice new readers and cartoonists." ....

The Little King art from (top) Independent Online Booksellers Association and (middle) The Ephemerist. Video clip from Mike Lynch Cartoons.

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