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Joker Comics #1-42 (April 1942 - Aug. 1950).

Joe Sulman was meant to draw.

By Morgan McGinley (The Day - Jan 22, 1977).


Joker Comics #9The Great Depression‘s effects hung over the country like a long, nagging headache. The students who had just graduated from college were, like the rest of the nation, largely out of work. Joe Sulman, a recent Brown University graduate, was one of them. He had a good education. But no job.

Joe, who is now retired in New London and occasionally contributes cartoons to The Day, really didn't know what he wanted to do, except draw. One Saturday morning Sulman wandered into the King Features office in New York City and started talking with Bob Dunn, a talented young Irishman who was to fall heir to the Jimmy Hatlo series, “They'll Do it Every Time" and to draw "Little Iodine." Dunn never had met Sulman before, but he was willing to do what he could to help young man from New London.

Dunn had heard that Ad Carter, a wacky, erratic, but talented cartoonist, was looking for a new assistant, so he took Sulman ever to meet him and Joe was hired. Sulman didn't know it at the time, but he was to begin one of the strangest years of his life.

Thrice-married and divorced, Carter found it impossible to work on his cartoon strips for the first three days of the week. But he more than made up for lost time in the remainder of the week. “The hours of work were bizarre, “Sulman recalled, “I sat in Mr. Carter's studio from 9 a.m. to midnight for the first three days of the week, ready to work. Finally, at midnight on Wednesday. Carter would yell, ‘Up and at ‘em Joe!’ We then settled down to developing the gags and proceeded with the drawings. We worked without pause for 60 hours. “

Sulman recently had married his childhood sweetheart. Edna Peck of New London. She was in their hometown and he commuted from his job in New York City to be with her on weekends. "Mr. Carter tried with great persistence to arrange dates for me with one and all of the burlesque girls," Sulman recalled. "I just as persistently rejected Mr. Carter's efforts." After a year, the strain of Carter's weird work schedule proved too much for Sulman, who went to work for the cartoon magazines in New York during their heyday from 1935 to 1946. He worked on Biff Bronson (1), Socko Strong (2), Zatara the Magician (3), Caveman Curley and Eustace Hayseed (4).Joe Sulman

“I knew from the time I was 12 years old that I wanted to draw cartoons," said Sulman, "Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly. I had to draw."

Sulman, whose style is most similar to that of Al Capp, says a good cartoonist must have the ability to hold himself at arm's length from a situation and laugh a little. He calls cartoon drawing, "a mild form of insanity."

Most of his colleagues were wacky, he says. In fact, he calls the late Martin Branner - a former Waterford resident and creator of "Winnie Winkle" - the only balanced cartoonist he ever met. Cartoonists he knew, and he knew many of the brightest and most talented, were generally helpful and fascinating. They were people who liked people, he said.

"It always troubled me that I was involved in a business that was foolish, that was not a socially redeeming value," Sulman said.

Ham Fisher, the Joe Palooka cartoonist, set Sulman straight. "He taught me that the clown also serves a useful purpose by making people laugh." Sulman said. "When people laugh, they forget their problems."

The bubble burst for Sulman when the cartoon strips did a fast dive in the late 1940s, the victims of over milking by the syndicates and the strong emergence of television. "I had to make a decision whether to try to outlast the storm or get out. My eyesight was giving me trouble and the future of the comic magazines was bleak. There finally was no alternative but to get out," said Sulman.

He was to work at several businesses before going to work with the protective services unit of the state welfare department, investigating child neglect and abuse. Late, Sulman served as a court probation officer. "I had the work ethic, and l felt that I had to ‘pay the rent.’ You see, we have to do some good in the world for the right to live on God's good green earth," Sulman said.

He has not lost his obsession with drawing. At night when his wife is watching television, Sulman frequently goes to his drawing board. His style was influenced most predominantly by Capp, but he says each cartoonist develops a style based on those of predecessors. But he says the trick is gradually to move away from the similarities of the strongest influences.

"If I had been born 20 years earlier, people would have said Al Capp draws like me," Sulman said.Al Capp's Li'l Abner

(1) Good natured hero Biff Bronson and his comic sidekick Dan Druff appeared in More Fun Comics from #43 (May 1939) to #67 (May 1941). Neither man had any super powers; both were regular guys who wore ordinary business suits, and who had adventures. Dan, who loves to eat, anticipates Tubby Watts in Johnny Quick, who debuted later in the same comic book with "Riddle of the Crying Clown" (#71, September 1941).

(2) Socko Strong was the protagonist of a boxing series from 1939 to 1940 in Adventure Comics (DC).

(3) John Zatara is introduced as a magician in various publications of DC Comics, beginning with 1938's Action Comics # 1, which also contains the first appearance of Superman. Like the very similar Mandrake the Magician, Zatara had a large East Indian as a friend/bodyguard, called Tong, to share his early adventures.

As well as being an illusionist, Zatara also had genuine magical powers (decades later ascribed to being a descendant of the Homo magi), which he focused through speaking backwards: he could do anything so long as he could describe it in sdrawkcab hceeps ("backwards speech"). This helped distinguish Zatara from the numerous Mandrake the Magician knockoffs that cluttered the comics and pulp magazines of the day, although Merlin the Magician (Quality Comics) also had this attribute, and it was also given to him by Zatara's creator, Fred Guardineer.

(4) Eustace Hayseed, which looked a lot like Li'l Abner, appeared first time in Joker Comics #1.

Li'l Abner is a satirical American comic strip that appeared in many newspapers in the United States, Canada and Europe, featuring a fictional clan of hillbillies in the impoverished mountain village of Dogpatch, Arkansas. Written and drawn by Al Capp (1909–1979), the strip ran for 43 years, from August 13, 1934 through November 13, 1977. It was distributed by United Feature Syndicate. Comic strips typically dealt with northern urban experiences before Capp introduced the first strip based in the South. Although Capp was from Connecticut, he spent 43 years teaching the world about Dogpatch, reaching 60 million readers in over 900 American newspapers and 100 foreign papers in 28 countries. Author M. Thomas Inge says Capp, "had a profound influence on the way the world viewed the American South.”

Joker Comics #35