Edwina Dumm (1893-1990) remains one of the great unheralded ink-slingers of the 20th century. Edwina, as she signed her work, was doing some of the most beautiful drawings found on the comic strip page from the early 1920s through the 1930s. The line quality found in her Cap Stubbs comic strip was full of thick and thin bounciness, which helped convey the wonderful action in her strips. In addition to the quality of the line work was Edwina’s wonderful figure drawings. It didn’t matter if they were humans or animals. Edwina’s figures moved effortlessly in an animated fashion, combining a beautiful sense of realistic movement in comic strip bodies.
So why then does Edwina Dumm remain unheralded? There are a few possible answers to that question. The elephant-in-the-room answer is sexism. Edwina was one of only a handful of women who were working in the comic art field at the time. Rose O’Neill and Nell Brinkley were the most well-known women in the field, but folks like Kate Carew, Fanny Cory, and Annie Lou Rogers were making a living in the male-dominated profession. When you see photographs of groups of cartoonists from that time-period though, absent from the images are usually the women. It was undoubtedly a difficult good old boys club to break into.
Also factoring into the equation was the length of Edwina’s career. There is some dispute as to exactly when her Cap Stubbs comic strip first appeared, but if you go by the earliest reference made (which I doubt), the strip began in 1916, ending in 1966. 50 years is an incredibly long run in newspaper comics, and unfortunately the high quality of Edwina’s work was not sustained throughout the entire run. From the 1950s onto the end of the strip, the drawing in Cap Stubbs was fairly pedestrian. Gone was the lively bounce of the thick and thin contour line, replaced with a sparser line and scratchier textures that worked well enough, but missed the joyousness of her earlier work.
Another part of the equation may be the sheer volume of Edwina Dumm original art that is available to fans and collectors. Even though she did not begin a Sunday page until 1934, you can figure that Edwina drew well over 15,000 strips during her career. And a lot of those strips are available on the market. And they are inexpensive. Simply put, when artwork is valuable, folks pay attention. When it’s not, the artwork gets put into the equivalent of the dollar bin, or bundled in lots in auctions, to be forgotten.
Finally, is time. Given that Cap Stubbs ended in 1966, and that was from the weaker version of the strip, there are relatively few collectors remaining for whom the comic strip holds a nostalgic tug at the heartstrings. I knew a few collectors who knew Edwina, some of whom visited her at her apartment in Manhattan, but those collectors have long passed away. And with them, the nostalgia of growing up with the characters. Nostalgia is a big driver of the collecting bus and without it, people often forget. Or cease to care.
Whatever the case, Edwina Dumm remains one of my favorite cartoonists, especially her work during that sweet spot from the early 1920s into the early 1930s. That’s the work that I’ll largely be talking about in this post.
There is a great deal of biographical information about Dumm available online, including this wonderful digital exhibition from our friends at the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University:
So rather than rehash what has already been written, let me start by going to the dogs. Two of them, in fact.
As mentioned previously, there is some minor debate as to exactly when the Cap Stubbs comic strip began. Allan Holtz, in his wonderful book, American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide, puts the start date as July 29, 1918, though Allan does note that some references list the start year as 1916. As far as I’ve been able to determine, the true start date appears to be March of 1918, with March 4 of that year as the earliest example that I’ve found. On Tuesday, February 26, 1918, the Rock Island Argus ran the earliest advertisement for Capp Stubbs that I’ve run across. I’m actually showing an example of the same ad from the Bridgeport Telegram from March 2, as the condition of the image was much better than the one found in the Argus. You’ll note the reference to Phil May, the great British cartoonist who died at the far-too-young age of 39 in 1903. May was known for his wonderful cartoons of street urchins, affectionately referred to as guttersnipes, which obviously left a longstanding and positive impression on American audiences, even 15 years after May’s passing. As an aside, Billy DeBeck was a huge fan of May’s work, and had a young 19-year-old assistant named Fred Lasswell copy the work of Phil May and Charles Dana Gibson in order to better understand their line work. But I digress. Also of note is the canine figure to the left of the scrum of children. That, my friends, is Tippie. Or Tippie version 1.0, as I sometimes refer to him.
Comic strip fans who are familiar with Edwina Dumm’s work are likely more familiar with Tippie 2.0, a terrier version of the pup. But for the first 14 years of Cap Stubbs, Tippie was a bulldog. There was, of course, another bulldog character that had already ruled the Sunday comics for years. Buster Brown’s Tige was wildly popular, with merchandise that went far beyond the newspaper pages.
It’s highly possible that Edwina’s use of a bulldog character was due to Tige’s popularity. Afterall, why not try and grab onto his coattails (or maybe just tail in this case)? It’s also possible that the breed was already popular, and that Edwina was simply trying to capitalize on that popularity. Or maybe she just loved bulldogs. Who knows? Even the aforementioned Phil May was a lover of bulldogs, so there had to be something about the breed that drew people in.
As you were able to see in the advertisement in the Bridgeport Telegram, Cap Stubbs had a fairly rough start, style-wise. In the earliest daily that I’ve run across, from March 4, 1918, the drawing is flatter and on the crude side, with a slight echo of Jimmy Swinnerton’s approach in the work. The adorable image of Tippie in the last panel shows Edwina’s early love of the character. There is something sweet about the piece, without being overdone.
Fast-forward seven years and you’ll get a very different vibe from the strip. In this Cap Stubbs daily strip from March 17, 1925, the piece brims with movement.
Edwina does a wonderful job of setting the up strip from the beginning, by showing Cap having collided with another kid. Tippie’s expression adds to the action. The next three panels are simply joyous in their movement, as Edwina shows off her figural skills.
In this larger-than-life image, you can really see Edwina’s wonderful linework at work. The scene in which Cap and the other boy run into the cop are cartooning magic, with so much action taking place in one little panel. And notice our pal Tippie in the lower left corner. He’s the only one that wisely pulls back, adding to the forward movement of the other characters.
Edwina liked to feature Tippie in the strips sometimes, as in this example from June 10, 1925, in which Gran’ma asks Tippie to wake Cap up.
It’s a quieter strip than the previous one, but Edwina does a sweet job of creating a miniature movie about a dog waking up a boy. The two-panel sequence of Tippie pulling on Cap’s pajamas, followed by the pillow being thrown at Tippie, show that wonderful physical movement that we often find in Edwina’s work. Another thing that we often find is a smiling Tippie. One of the possible reasons why Edwina enjoyed working with a bulldog character is the range of emotions she could bring to the face. Every panel in this daily shows a different facial expression for Tippie, conveying a humanistic approach to emotions in the character.
The next daily strip, published on October 29, 1925, is a fascinating one for a couple of reasons. First off, Edwina really threw herself into the drawing, conveying action and movement in each of the four panels via body language and line variation. You note the figural attitude that Edwina conveys in her characters. It’s something that I’ve commented on in Bud Blake’s work in different posts. With a subtle shift in weight or subtle movement, Edwina is able to speak volumes about the figures.
Immediately above is a cleaned-up enlarged view of the first two panels of the strip. One of the things that Edwina did so beautifully was to take your eye off the ball as she planned for action. In this case, as you watch the characters engage in the first panel, you barely notice Tippie 1.0 getting ready to pounce. It’s as if he’s loading up his potential energy to spring forward, as he does in the second panel. The action of his springing-forward and the boy’s reaction always brings a smile to my face.
The other fascinating thing about this strip is the reason for its existence. The Montgomery County Children’s Home, located in Dayton, Ohio, was built in 1867 and had enough room to house the 70 orphans in their charge. By 1925, the number had swelled to 270 and the building was in disrepair. In 1925, a Children’s Home Bond was brought before the public, in an attempt to raise $400,000 to purchase land and build a larger and better home for the orphans. According to my research, the public was very much in favor of the bond. That support was aided by cartoonists Edwina Dumm, Harold Gray, and Frank King. Gray (Little Orphan Annie) and King (Gasoline Alley), of course, were noted for their strips that featured two prominent orphans. In the October 29, 1925 issue of the Dayton Herald, three specialty cartoons were run by the three cartoonists. Harold Gray and Edwina Dumm created daily strips in support of the Children’s Home Bond, while Frank King created a single panel cartoon featuring Uncle Walt and Skeezix, who were also in support of the new home. The bond must have passed, as in 1928 Shawen Acres, the new children’s home, was built on land donated by a Dr. Charles Shawen. The government began funding the foster care system in 1960, which eventually replaced orphanages. With a diminishing need for orphanages, Shawen Acres closed in 1977
Let’s can the chatter for a bit and let a few daily strips speak for themselves, with minimal commentary.
A wonderful example of boys being boys, as Cap gets distracted from his errand by a pair of stilts.
Cap once again gets distracted from his chores, this time by a passing fire engine.
Part one of the great boot-buying saga, in which Cap’s mother gets distracted bumping into an old friend. And just check out the action and movement in those center three panels. Beautiful stuff.
The great boot-buying saga continue! This time Cap isn’t thrilled with the choice of foot ware, though he’s pretty durn happy with ‘em by the end. Tippie too!
There were some comic strips, such as Percy Crosby’s Skippy, that got their start in the pages of magazines before moving to the newspapers. Skippy first appeared in LIFE magazine in 1919 and later debuted on the newspaper page in 1925. Edwina Dumm also had features in both newspapers and magazines, but she did them in reverse order. And simultaneously. In the December 31, 1925 issue of LIFE magazine, a full-page Edwina cartoon about a nameless dog first appeared.
The cartoon, titled “The Crayon Portrait”, started a nine-year association with LIFE magazine. The unnamed dog has a bit of that bulldog look, but it is clearly not a bulldog, with a fuzzier coat. As time went on, the dog, eventually named Sinbad, morphed into a terrier. The strip was almost always a pantomime strip, masterfully painted with either ink washes or black watercolor by Edwina. The strip featured a Cap look-alike, as well as a character who looked almost exactly like Gran’ma from Cap Stubbs. By the late 1920s, Sinbad proved so popular that two hardcover collections of the strip were published by Coward McCann, Inc.
Edwina drew the Cap Stubbs daily strip and Sinbad for LIFE for nearly a decade, but a big change in the strip took place in 1932. In the February 15, 1932 installment of Cap Stubbs, Tippie goes missing. As you might imagine, Cap is heartbroken. On Friday, February 19, 1932, Cap hears some scratching at the door. Expecting Tippie, Cap opens the door and in runs…….Sinbad! Because the newspaper world and LIFE magazine world don’t collide, this dog isn’t named Sinbad, but he is a spitting image of the magazine pup. Below is the week of February 15, 1932.
For nearly two months, Cap struggled with losing Tippie, while he slowly bonded with the new dog, which he also named Tippie. As time went on, Cap mentioned the original Tippie less and less, until April 29, 1932.
On May 4, 1932, the original Tippie returns to the strip!
It seems that Tippie found his way into an open car and the family thought he was lost, until they saw notices that he was missing. He was found by Lonnie, a young boy Cap’s age who had to use a crutch to walk. While Cap was glad to have his original pup home, the new Tippie was less than thrilled with the situation. For a while there was an uneasy truce. And Tippie 1.0 missed Lonnie something fierce, so eventually he went to live with Lonnie. But for the next three years, Tippie 1.0 made fairly regular appearances in the strip, and for quite a while, Cap had two dogs named Tippie.
I’ve not read why the switching of the dogs was made, though I imagine that readers may have reacted more favorably to the version that appeared in LIFE magazine, prompting a slow shift from one dog to another. On November 24, 1934, the first Tippie Sunday page appeared. In the following month, the final installment of Sinbad appeared in LIFE magazine. Edwina was a one-dog woman from then on, at least in the daily format.
There were many kid-strips during Edwina Dumm’s long career, but few were equal to her combination of drawing and storytelling. Most of the kid-strips, like Reg’lar Fellers and Just Kids, were gag-a-day strips with little continuity. Walter Berndt’s Smitty was probably closest to Edwina’s in terms of balancing humor, warmth and continuity in a kid-strip. In the middle of Edwina’s long run on Cap Stubbs, another cartoonist entered the kid-strip market, changing the course of comic strips forever. Charles Schulz brought the same elements to Peanuts that Edwina brought to Cap Stubbs, but he went much further into unventured waters, challenging children and adults alike.
Edwina Dumm does have her small fanbase, including a number of artists who admire her work. We at Inkslingers Enterprises will continue to raise the Edwina Dumm banner high, reveling in her joyful ink-slinging abilities. Bully for Edwina!