Some Peek in the Stacks blog posts are authored by CSUN students who work in Special Collections and Archives in the Oviatt Library. This week's post was written by Tanner Gilliland-Swetland, a student assistant in the Urban Archives. Tanner is a graduate student majoring in Art with a concentration in sculpture.
Handmade and personalized birthday and holiday cards often have an endearing quality. They can capture the spirit, interests, and aesthetics of both the maker and the recipient, while opening windows to the past. The L. Clarice Davis Collection does this; Davis bought and sold art books and the collection includes photographs of cards made by comic artists from King Features Syndicate for its owner, William Randolph Hearst that were compiled into a two volumes, which Davis worked with during the process of auctioning them. King Features Syndicate was one facet of a media empire run by Hearst, and the cards sent to Hearst for his 79th birthday in 1942 and the Christmases of 1943 and 1944 give a peak into the relationships Hearst had with his employees and the trends, culture, and events of the time.
In December 1943, World War II is in full swing. With an Allied invasion of Italy underway and a war in the Pacific with the Empire of Japan, the attention of the American people is on the global conflict. It is Hearst's publications, amongst others, that are reporting on and covering the War, and this includes the comic artists. Cards like Otto Messemer's have subtle hints to the conflict abroad, with Felix the Cat flying a "B-Happy" plane overhead and dropping the words "Merry X-Mas," alluding to bombing campaigns of the War.
A card from Tom Little depicts of pair of characters in a blackface style conversing while chopping a tree with one of the characters replying to the other "it takes one dis big, Granny Lou, to 'spress our merry Christmus to Mister Hearst," illustrating the perceptions and stereotypes of the period.
Other cards in the collection appear to reflect the political attitudes of Hearst and his staff, such as [P. L. Erosh]’s card that criticizes taxation with a small child complaining about the "revenue boys" while saluting Hearst and characterizing him as a patriotic icon of his time. The birthday card from Boris [Emkims] mirrors the perception of Hearst with Uncle Sam presenting a birthday cake to Hearst, with the cake reading "from an old friend."
Many of the cards include the signature characters of the artists who created and developed them like Popeye, Blondie, and Dagwood. One card in the collection appears to have not been made by a King Features Syndicate artist, but by Walt Disney, or at least created by the Disney Corporation, reminding one of Disney’s emerging media empire. Also in the collection are bills of sale for different art books that covered a range of prolific artists from the 20th century including Piet Mondrian, Marc Chagall, and Henry Moore. Finally, the collection includes a number of original illustrations, prints, and paintings that were collected by Davis.