Late last week, Terry Keegan, informed me of the death of a mutual friend, Gabriel Laderman. In the midst of my moving, I was not paying attention to many news sources, and so had missed the announcements in numerous quarters. Gabriel Laderman (seen left), born December 26, 1929, was a painter and art critic of note. At top is a photo of one of his works — “The House of Death and Life”, painted 1984-85. Gabriel briefly maintained his own art criticism/commentary blog, Gabriel Laderman on Art (click on its title to go there). In 2008-2009, a travelling retrospective of twenty-five of his paintings made between 1963 and 1990 — Gabriel Laderman: Unconventional Realist — toured several university campuses.
Gabriel was in poor health when I first met him, fifteen years ago. He long struggled with leukemia, succumbing finally to heart failure on March 10th, 2011, at the age of 81. His passing and influence in the fine art world was noted by numerous publications, including The New Republic, and the New York Times.
While these articles naturally concentrate on Laderman’s artistic endeavors, he and I crossed paths in a less documented area of Gabriel’s interests — early 19th century American comic illustrations. Gabriel was both a devoted long-time collector and sometimes dealer, of mainly pre-Civil War American humorous illustrations. At the point when he and I met, I was a couple years into my pursuit of nineteenth century sequential comic books and cartoons, in all the media I could find them (obsessed with uncovering all I could, after having been told my entire life via comic publications such as Overstreet, CBG, and various comic strip history books, that with rare exceptions, virtually nothing of interest of a sequential nature existed prior to Richard Felton Outcault’s mid-to-late 1890′s The Yellow Kid ). To my couple years of blindly digging to discover what was out there, Gabriel Laderman had been collecting such material for decades. When I enquired into the nature of some of the books he had for sale, and detailed to him what I was seeking, Gabriel became excited to meet another person with an appreciation similar to his, as he had long felt like a loner in his obsession.
Laderman was somewhat amused at my concentration on books telling sequential cartoon narratives as being early comic books — Gabriel saw no difference between single panel illustrations and sequential narratives. (The general antiquarian book community, having bought into the “no comic books or strips existed before Yellow Kid” notion, regarded and classified such items as merely children’s picture books). Gabriel attempted to sway my interest to include single panel illustrations, particularly those of his favorite early American comic artist, David Claypoole Johnston, and comic illustrated almanacs. In some cases, such as the latter two, he succeeded. We corresponded periodically these past fifteen years, with Gabriel sharing some of his knowledge, while also sometimes withholding that knowledge (because, as he frankly stated, I had a knack for finding books that Gabriel himself was after, and so while a friend and ally in uncovering the history of comic illustration, I was also competition for acquiring books.) He was at times impressed by how I went about dating items (finding references to historical events/persons, to narrow the date, in addition to drawing style, fashions shown, range of existence of the publisher), and at times frustrated with my ignorance (he was peeved for years, at my having bought for a bargain an early rare comic illustration by an important comic artist, without my realizing either its importance or who the artist was — I simply liked it.) My correspondences with Gabriel, and his pushing me towards certain items and artists (such as Johnston), was an influence upon me when I was the primary creator of the first Victorian Age Comics section within the Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide (I authored the article, and provided eighty to ninety percent of the data and photos for the comics listed that first year, from my own collection — a fact Overstreet attempted to erase last year, by expunging my name from the list of the section’s creators, in favor of only those currently involved.) Having influenced the direction of my knowledge in creating the Victorian Age Comics section, Gabriel thereby influenced that first section itself (plus, directly contributed information to the section, in later years). The purpose of this article, is to make certain that Gabriel Laderman’s contribution to the field of comics history, is not overlooked amongst the (justifiable) dominance of coverage devoted to his paintings and art world commentary.
The New Republic article by Jed Perl, mentions Gabriel’s obsessive collecting of antiquarian books, nineteenth-century comic illustrations, and his interest in the works of D.C. Johnston, pointing out that Gabriel drew inspiration from Johnston in some of his own paintings. The influence of David Claypoole Johnston, and other pre-Civil War comic art, upon Gabriel Laderman, is obvious to see in a comparison of Johnston’s works with Laderman’s paintings (in addition to Gabriel’s paintings at the top and bottom of this article, you can see more of Gabriel Laderman’s works by click on the hyper-links found in this articles first two paragraphs).
Immediately below, is one of numerous political Before/After cards by David Claypoole Johnston (you pull/push the tab at the card’s bottom, to change the expression and text). This card depicts the loser of the 1856 Presidential Election, John C. Fremont. Beneath that, a page of cartoons cut out of the 1832 third collection of D.C. Johnston’s Scraps, ironically pasted back onto a scrapbook page by a nineteenth-century person unknown.
Click on the pictures below, to see larger versions.
Beneath, more examples of Gabriel Laderman’s passion for nineteenth-century comic art — comic almanacs. From left-to-right, the covers of Turner’s 1839 Comick Almanack, the Boston Comic Almanack for 1840, and, the 1846 edition of Elton’s Comic All-My-Nack. Beneath that, an example from the interior of the 1846 Elton’s. Influence can be seen here, too, in the style of Laderman’s own figures.
After the first Victorian Age section in Overstreet, co-author Robert Beerbohm (who has updated/modified the article & section every year since) visited Gabriel’s New York City apartment, to catalog sequential comic items Laderman owned, not yet listed in the Overstreet. (Robert got through a mere fraction of Gabriel’s vast collection). Beneath, amongst the items he found, was the early 1870′s comic book, The Adventures of a Woman in Search of Her Rights, by Florence Claxton.
A few examples of Gabriel Laderman’s could occasionally be stubborn/argumentative. (Given comments in the other articles on Laderman, I don’t believe I am revealing anything unexpected; I tell this, affectionately.) For years, he refused to believe, or even acknowledge the possibility, that there could have been a hand-colored cover of the early 1850′s Gold Rush-themed comic book, The Adventures of Tom Plump (color cover, plus one of the interior pages, shown immediately below).
Below that, left, Illustrated Flying Sheets number 32, from published by Stroefer & Kirchner in the 1870′s (Gabriel long insisted they were from the 1850′s, even though Stroefer & Kirchner were not yet publishing then, and, that they reprinted German sheets, which were themselves post-1850′s). And right, the cover of an 1849 American copy of George Cruikshank‘s The Tooth-Ache (for years, Gabriel had a copy posted for sale, that he had dated as being from 1831, despite the fact that Cruikshank didn’t draw it until 1849; I repeatedly pointed this out to him, but he refused to believe that his copy wasn’t from 1831, and would never change the date he was advertising. I simply gave up after awhile; it wasn’t worth arguing over).
Perhaps I would’ve gained more information out of Gabriel, if not for my finding at a bargain price, a copy of the 1873 William H. Bell comic book, Quiddities of an Alaskan Trip, mere days after Laderman told me of the book’s existence. (Or perhaps, I just should have kept my mouth shut about it.) From that point forward, Gabriel was always somewhat cagy on the information he parsed out — and, he would always point to this specific example, as to why he didn’t dare be entirely forthcoming.
Another early sequential comic book Gabriel Laderman revealed to me — and in this case, sold me his spare copy — was the 1849-published Journey to the Gold Diggins by Jeremiah Saddlebags (in truth, by brothers J.A. & D.F. Read). The cover plus interior pages 7 through 9 are shown below. The influence of early comic illustration on Laderman, can again be detected, in the figures above (in Quiddities) and below (Saddlebags).
Yet another highly rare comic book in Gabriel Laderman’s collection (and one which I’ve never seen a copy of — the cover photo below comes from an advertisement for it, found on the back of another book), is the 1850′s Sad Tale of the Courtship of Chevalier Slyfox-Wikof. This is but one example, of the vast knowledge of early comic history that Gabriel Laderman knew of and possessed.
Finally, to close out this remembrance, below is a series of Gabriel Laderman’s paintings — “Murder and its Consequences”, finished in 1984.