As these things sometimes go, I was gobsmacked.
I ran across these two marvelous little ink and watercolor illustrations on eBay 20-some years ago. The drawings are a skootch over two inches square each, but pack a big punch, with lovely and delicate line work and color throughout.
Only one of the two illustrations was signed, and it took me a while to figure out that the artist was someone named H.L. Drucklieb. I fancy myself a pretty good lay-historian of the comic and illustration arts, but Drucklieb was not someone I was familiar with. After a couple of decades of on-and-off research into the life and work of H.L. Drucklieb, I can safely say that 1) he was one of the most prolific illustrators during the 1920s and early 1930s, 2) Drucklieb’s life remains something of a mystery, and 3) he remains sadly forgotten today. I should add that 4), H.L. Drucklieb was a hell of a cartoonist-illustrator.
Herman Lui Drucklieb was born on September 26, 1888, in Jersey City, New Jersey. His father Julius was born in Germany and Bertha (Lorenz), Drucklieb’s mother, was born in the United States. Julius Drucklieb is listed as a merchant in the 1900 census report, when the family lived in New York City. Herman Drucklieb was the oldest of four siblings, followed by Elsa, Fritz (Fred) and Marie. The family soon moved to Montclair, New Jersey, residing in a grand house at 90 Christopher Street. Drucklieb went to middle school and high school in Montclair. According to the single obituary available about Drucklieb’s passing, he spent some time at school abroad in St. Gallen, Switzerland, returning to the United States and attending the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York. He received his Certificate in Drawing, Painting and Illustration in June 1908, a couple months shy of his 20th birthday. Drucklieb also attended the Art Students League in New York City, though no specifics as to the classes he took have been found.
Drucklieb moved to the Woodstock Art Colony in New York in 1917. The art colony had been founded 15 years earlier in 1902. In the 1920 census, Drucklieb was still living in Woodstock, listed as an illustrator in the report.
Just four years after receiving his certificate from Pratt, Drucklieb began having work published in national magazines. The earliest pieces I’ve found by Drucklieb appeared in Judge magazine in 1912. Not a bad way to start out.
The initials “A.C.” on the cartoons refer to Arthur Crawford, who was a freelance writer for Judge, Puck and Life magazines. Crawford is often credited with gags such as these. Though early works, you can already seen the confidence in Drucklieb’s line. The pieces contain movement similar to what you might have found in an A.B. Frost or W. Heath Robinson cartoon of the same period. While Drucklieb did execute some work in color during his career, it was his pen that he truly lived by. His facility with ink was quite wonderful and Drucklieb would revel in line and texture for the rest of his life.
Drucklieb also broke into the Harper’s magazine ranks in the January 1913 issue:
While not the world’s greatest gag, you can see Drucklieb’s early ease with figures and compositions. His ability to use the space of a drawing would serve him well in later years.
Drucklieb continued his association with Judge through the 1910s, with an assortment of single-panel, spot, and full-page illustrations. The following two cartoons from Judge are from 1915. The first piece is a funny look at golf, as penned by the famed sportswriter Grantland Rice. The second cartoon, Hints for War Correspondents, is a humorous early look at what WWI correspondents should get ready for.
An important thing to note about both of Drucklieb’s Judge cartoons is his use of white space. Drucklieb didn’t feel the need to fill every square inch with pen work, though he certainly had the skills to do so. Drucklieb let the figures and objects do the majority of the talking for him. In the case of the Grantland Rice piece, Drucklieb allowed the drawings to work in conjunction with the text, so that one was not subservient to the other. Hints for War Correspondents shows a masterful ability at both body language and changing angles, as Drucklieb appears to effortlessly turn scenes while maintaining a sparseness in the spaces.
Drucklieb began his long association with John Martin’s Book in 1913, according to my research. John Martin’s Book was the creation of Morgan van Roorbach Shepard, who used the pseudonym, John Martin. Shepard was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1865, but was working in San Francisco in 1906 when he was injured during the earthquake. While recovering from his injuries, Shepard begin writing children’s stories and verse for publication. He then began writing a series of illustrated letters to children, which he published as John Martin’s Letters, a small publication started in 1908. In 1912, Shepard started John Martin’s Book, a magazine geared to children five-to-eight years old. During the magazine’s 20-year run, it featured work by some wonderful artists, including the creator of Raggedy Ann, Johnny Gruelle, Wizard of OZ book illustrator W.W. Denslow, Wanda Gag, Frank Verbeck, and George Carlson, who contributed over fifty covers and most of the puzzles, riddles, and activities to the magazine.
Drucklieb’s work appeared regularly in John Martin’s Book from 1913 until 1931, just months before he passed away. There were also many instances of Drucklieb doing double-duty for the magazine, as well as other publications. To clarify, let me digress for a moment.
Donald Westlake has long been one of my favorite authors of crime/mystery novels. His John Dortmunder character is a beloved figure in the genre, and I spent a long time digging up whatever Westlake books I could find. Westlake also holds a place in my heart, as when my father was dying from cancer, he lost his voracious appetite for reading, until I introduced him to Westlake’s books. That love for reading was reignited by Westlake’s books, for which I am eternally grateful. I had pretty much read whatever I could get my hands on by Donald Westlake. So, imagine my surprise when just a few years ago I discovered that Richard Stark was one of Westlake’s many pseudonyms. Suddenly I had 24 hardboiled crime novels featuring his character Parker to read! And yes, I’ve read all of them.
There has been exactly one published obituary for Herman Lui Drucklieb, which ran in the Kingston Daily Freeman on May 11, 1932. The obituary put some flesh on the bones of Drucklieb for me, but one line in particular jumped out: “He was nationally recognized for his ability as a pen and ink illustrator, especially for those illustrations dealing with gnome-like and elfish fantasies, which he drew under the name of Lui Trugo.” What?!? According to one of Drucklieb’s great-nephews (the grandson of Drucklieb’s sister Elsa), Trugo is a family name and comes from the name of a knight in the Third Crusade. So Drucklieb took his middle name, attached it to the family name, and Lui Trugo was born! No one really knows why Drucklieb started using a pseudonym, but it’s possible that he wanted to create a separation between the work done for children’s publications and the work geared more towards adults. More on that later. But first, back to John Martin’s Book.
The above illustration appeared in John Martin’s Book in 1913 and features some truly wonderful inventiveness and pen work by Drucklieb. His creatures are almost Seussian, with their strangely shaped, patterned, and elongated bodies. It would not be farfetched to imagine a nine-year old Theodore Seuss Geisel being influenced by such work that he might have seen in a children’s publication. Further, in the October 1914 issue, Drucklieb began the first of 22 installments of a character he illustrated, as written by Minerva Hall: Mr. Scoodle-Do.
Mr. Scoodle-Do was a whimsical woodland creature who appeared in the magazine from 1914 through 1927. In his first appearance, titled “Mr. Scoodle-Do and the Rabbit”, Minerva Hall described the character as, “The Scoodle-Do’s real name is Scoodle-Doodle, but we call him Scoodle-Do for short. He is a big, funny thing. About as big as a great big bear, but he does not look like a bear. He looks a little like a great big frog, and most of all like just a Scoodle-Do.” Hall continued, “But of all the tails you ever saw, his tail is the funniest. It is big, and strong and flat, and it spreads out like a fan; and it goes up and down, up and down – FLIP-FLOP-FLUMP, all the time, even when he is asleep.” Finally, “He seems to think of something funny all the time, that’s why he smiles all the time. There is always a smile somewhere on his face; on one side or the other of his mouth, or in one or the other of his eyes.”
Drucklieb became a mainstay in the pages of John Martin’s Book, with work in nearly monthly issues until May 1931. Drucklieb must have been highly regarded by Shepard, as he chose him to illustrate a number of books under his imprint.
The W. Chuck Family, written by Pauline Stoddard Howard, was co-published by John Martin’s House, the publishing imprint, along with Houghton Mifflin in 1920. The book is filled with wonderful illustrations of anthropomorphic animals, all delineated in Drucklieb’s sweet pen line.
The following year, 1921, Ducklieb illustrated two books under the John Martin’s House imprint. John Martin’s Read Aloud Book is chockful of wonderful Drucklieb cartoons and illustrations, with at least one on nearly every page. They range from small spot illustrations to full-page illustrations. When Drucklieb devoted himself to a more detailed full-page illustration, he threw out all the stops.
Also published by John Martin in 1921, in conjunction with The Woman’s Press, was Tajar Tales, written by Jane Shaw Ward and illustrated by Drucklieb. Ward described a Tajar as “…something like a tiger, and something like a jaguar, and something like a badger.” She spent 20 years working with the YMCA in China and began telling tales about the Tajar orally in a children’s camp in Colorado. Drucklieb was the perfect choice to illustrate Tajar Tales, as it allowed him to explore a fantasy character, something he excelled at.
There is a lightness of touch in Drucklieb’s Tajar Tales drawings. They are mostly contour line drawings, with lovely bits of texture brought in to add depth and character. He seems to have fully enjoyed the witch character, who has a bit of an Arthur Rackham vibe to her.
All-in-all, Drucklieb illustrated six books under his own name. Using his Lui Trugo penname, Drucklieb illustrated another five books. Six, if you count one that is a double volume.
So, what’s the deal with the pseudonym? I have been trying to figure this out ever since I ran across Drucklieb’s obituary in 2019. All the books that Drucklieb illustrated as Trugo are more adult in nature, with three out of the five books containing risqué illustrations. Much of the magazine work that Drucklieb illustrated as Trugo were also done for an adult audience. As Lui Trugo, Drucklieb illustrated for Cosmopolitan, the Elks magazine and Picture-Play magazine. In the case of Picture-Play, he starts out illustrating under his own name, then there are issues featuring work by Drucklieb *and* his alias, with the remainder of the work done under his penname. It was my assumption that Drucklieb was trying to carve out two distinct illustration careers, one as a children’s book and magazine illustrator, and a second as an illustrator of more adult-based work. But a funny thing happened on the way to the forum. Drucklieb continued doing work as Lui Trugo for John Martin’s Book. It wouldn’t be uncommon to see work under both names in the same issue of the magazine. So, while Drucklieb pretty much stopped doing work under his own name for adult-oriented magazines and books, Mr. Trugo continued working for the children’s magazine. It is a mystery that I have yet to solve.
While John Martin’s Book remained the main children’s publication for Drucklieb for approximately 15 years from 1915 through 1931, Picture-Play magazine was his monthly home in publications geared towards adults. Picture-Play was one of the early magazines devoted to the burgeoning movie business in Hollywood. First published in 1915, just five years after D. W. Griffith’s “In Old California” was the first movie shot in Hollywood, Picture-Play joined Photoplay, Screen Play, and Screen Romances as the main magazines for the inside scoop on Hollywood news. Drucklieb began his association with Picture-Play with the September 1918 issue and soon became one of the illustration mainstays in the magazine. Drucklieb’s work in the magazine appeared in most issues from 1919 through 1932, with illustrations appearing months after his passing, as he must have worked far in advance. Picture-Play offered Drucklieb a great deal of artistic freedom, often playing with the text on the page in order to allow Drucklieb’s work to have an interplay between text and image. This is a similar approach to the one that J.C. Suares would take with illustrations in the New York Times Op-Ed section decades later. The work Drucklieb did for Picture-Play was also his most mature magazine work to date, with beautiful flowing pen work that conveyed energy and movement. He would sometimes work mostly with contour lines, but other times, he would use the penwork to create textures and volume.
Drucklieb worked under his own name through the December 1920 issue. In 1919, Drucklieb had illustrations in every issue except for April and August. In 1920, his work filled all the issues except November. Drucklieb had been doing the monthly cartoon-illustrations for Harry Smalley’s “Fade-Outs” feature, a gossipy column filled with miscellaneous tidbits, since 1919. The December 1920 issue marked both the final appearance of this feature, as well as Drucklieb’s final appearance under his own name.
The December 1920 issue of Picture-Play also ushered in the Lui Trugo era, which would last until the September 1932 issue. Drucklieb’s first work as Trugo was a group of three illustrations for an article titled “Where Do They Get Those Titles?”
Below is a small sampling of Drucklieb’s work for Picture-Play. I will feature more of his work for the magazine in a future blog post:
You can see a wonderful playfulness in Drucklieb’s Picture-Play work. His use of space, as pointed out earlier in the post, could be masterful, sometimes incorporating linear perspective, as above, or simply by stacking or layering figures in such a way that they helped create the space of the image.
In addition to his work for John Martins Book and Picture-Play, Drucklieb also did illustrations for the Elks magazine for seven years, as Lui Trugo. Included in his work for the Elks magazine was one of his few pieces done in a comic strip format:
Note the wonderful figure work and animated pacing of the cartoon. And that use of space.
Under his real name, Drucklieb’s book illustration career ended with the 1927 publication of the Mr. Scoodle-Do book, but under his Lui Trugo nom de plume, Drucklieb’s best book illustration work was yet to come. From 1928 through 1931, Drucklieb would illustrate six books as Trugo, including one double-volume set. Five of the six books were more adult in nature and include some rather risqué material. Among the books were two volumes by Alexandre Dumas, La Tulipe Noire (1929) and Le Comte De Monte-Cristo (1931), Voltaire’s The Princess of Babylon (1928), Memoirs of Cardinal DuBois (1929) and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1931). The Piper’s Lad (1931), by Harriette Campbell, was the only one of Drucklieb’s final books that was not adult in nature.
Drucklieb clearly appeared to be shooting for a different audience with these final books, pushing the pen work and texture well beyond his monthly magazine illustrations. The books gave Drucklieb the opportunity to revel in the textures that he so loved. The level of detail is so high in many of these illustrations that the printing techniques of the day could barely capture of the subtlety of the pen work.
So much remains sadly unknown about Herman Lui Drucklieb. Throughout all my research, I have been able to uncover exactly one photograph of Drucklieb, a blurry newspaper photo from his 8th grade class:
Drucklieb married Katherine Brownlee, a nurse from Ottawa, Canada, in New York City on January 16, 1926. They remained married until Drucklieb’s death or May 8, 1932, just months shy of his 44th birthday. No exact cause of death was stated, but Drucklieb apparently passed away after a long illness. Drucklieb’s widow never remarried, and the couple had no children. When Katherine Drucklieb passed away in Florida in 1980, a wealth of information and material went with her.
I started this post by stating that Herman Lui Drucklieb was one of the more prolific illustrators of the 1920s and early 1930s. He produced far too much work to cover in a single blog post, but it is my hope that this brief introduction will whet readers’ appetites for more of Drucklieb’s work in the future. He has been all but forgotten for nearly 90 years. It is about time to remember the work of a remarkable artist.
Finally, a few images shot from original drawings: