Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Two Cats and a Cockroach

So here's a little unit I scored at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago. Two bucks. What caught my eye was the cover art. It's by Rube Goldberg. But it wasn't just the artist -- it was the subject matter.

So when I flip it over, I find this -- the damned thing has actually been through the mail. This edition was dated 1909. I wonder if those stamps might be of interest to someone. And note that gorgeous cursive. Dip pens rule. I find it interesting that it's addressed to Omar, which is the name of the cat on the cover.

Let me be honest. The book itself looks dreadful. It's about a pampered cat's wild night out on the town, and it's got that dated us-guys humor that makes a feller want to slink into the corner and weep for his gender.

But the scratchy caricature and subject matter reminded me of the works of another writer and artist. So I looked up A Night Out, and found that it had been reprinted into the twenties. Which means that there's an excellent chance that it exerted an influence on one of my favorite works of US letters.

Poor ol' Marquis. (Not to mention the Herriman.) He was a genuinely good writer. Top-shelf stuff. But the poor bastard had to go and be funny, and now all that anyone remembers him for is this.

The pieces in this book were cranked out for a newspaper column, and from what I've read, Marquis didn't think too highly of them. He was wrong, of course, but if you read his other stuff you can understand why he was frustrated.

The pieces are all supposedly written by a cockroach who was a reincarnated free-verse poet. It's kind of like a more sophisticated Damon Runyon, written for exterminators. It's fascinating to think of something as basically dumb as A Night Out influencing something as smart as Archie and Mehitabel.

There's a lot of missing links out there we'll never find out about.

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