We come now, to the moment of some gnashing of teeth. Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm. Published on the front page of the September 11th, 1875 edition of the (New York) Daily Graphic. The fifth published appearance of artist Livingston Hopkins’ recurring comic strip character, Professor Tigwissel.
Let me repeat for emphasis — the fifth appearance. Not Tigwissel’s “first” appearance. Nor anywhere close to being “the first comic strip in a newspaper”, as has for well more than a decade been reported incorrectly by a multitude of sources. Misinformation that, with the advent of the internet, has become rapidly disseminated and repeated by more and more outlets each every year, primarily by those providing long “On this Day In History”-type listings. Likely made worse, by our collective desire to find good things that happened on the now-infamous day of September 11th.
Before continuing into my rant against those whose “research” into history consists of repeating information others have written/said, without any attempt to verify that information (and, with rare exception, with no creditation as to their source) — before I continue that rant — please, first, click on the above picture, and enjoy Livingston Hopkins’ masterpiece of humor, Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm. First Tigwissel or fifth, it’s still a masterpiece of comic art, and deserves to be appreciated upon its own merits.
(NOTE: Click on the picture above, to make it large enough to read!)
Enjoy it? I hope so. Now, back to the rant…
I’ll admit, that I approached writing this particular post with some pre-conceived notions as to how this widespread error came to be. I was relatively certain that it had originated with an innocuously written reference by editor Clark Kinnaird. I’d thought, that others had read into his more carefully phrased statement what they wanted to be there, then misquoted it. And that misquote had happened on the internet. And, that once one person had made this mistake, that tons of others with “This-Day-in-History”-type websites, preferring to simply find their “facts” from other websites via quickie internet searches, instead of by looking it up in vetted published print books (or, God Forbid, conducting actual first hand research), had simply stolen from the person who made the original error. Then more websites swiped from them. And more websites copied from those. Etc. Etc.
However, I’d be a hypocrite concerning researching/verifying facts, if I didn’t first research whether my assumptions were correct before stating them. They weren’t correct (or at least, not entirely — I still think at least some of this involves websites copying from each other). But the origin of the mistake comes from print. Not from the internet.
What has me going is not only that for years, multiple uninformed sources have claimed that the September 11th, 1875 episode of Professor Tigwissel was that character’s first appearance. The more egregious issue for me, is that, repeatedly, the above episode has been cited as “the first comic strip in a newspaper”. I.e, as the starting point for all comic strips (in newspapers)! Those who follow SuperI.T.C.H., have in recent weeks seen the four Tigwissel episodes which precede the above, as well as cartoons involving earlier Tigwissel-prototypes by Hopkins (click here on Tigwissel Tuesdays, to view these now). So, obviously, the date for the first Professor Tigwissel episode, has been misreported.
Amongst the more prominent sources to get it wrong, is Zippy the Pinhead, led astray by a misinformed fan. In the below March 21st, 2004 episode by artist/creator Bill Griffith, which integrates Hopkins’ black & white art from Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm, Griffith avoids claiming that the September 11th episode was Tigwissel’s first, but twice asserts that Tigwissel was “the first comic strip character”, plus gets the publication Tigwissel appeared in wrong, claiming it to have run in 1875, in the non-existant “New York Daily Telegraph“).
Others incorrectly assigning Tigwissel to this same fictional 1870s newspaper, are: The New York State Library, Bill Lucey’s The Morning Delivery, and a September/October 2009 Minnesota Orchestra program guide, each of them asserting that “The New York Daily Telegraph was the first American newspaper to feature a comic strip beginning September 11, 1875 called Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm.”
Meanwhile, Conservative Talk, Those Were the Days/Today in History, On This Day, Timeline Cartoons, Timelines of History, The Nostalgia League, Brighter Side of History, the Arizona Daily Wildcat, Chronology of Chinese History, and the Massachusetts Rifle Association assign Tigwissel‘s appearance either to the “New York Daily Graphics” (the first two), or, New York “Daily Graphics” (the rest of the above).
The proper title for the newspaper that Professor Tigwissel appeared in, is simply “Daily Graphic” (non-plural). So, every one of the above sources have listed it wrong. (And the above is hardly an exhaustive list — it’s simply the sites with the most hits, or ones I found more strange or amusing, until I got bored with finding references and plugging in their hyperlinks — there are hundreds more.) The reason all my references to this paper are phrased as “(New York) Daily Graphic“, is because “New York” is not part of the title, but, as there was also a Daily Graphic published in London, it is necessary to mention New York to distinguish them.
All but three of the above citings use — with slight variations accountable as minor rewriting of the unnamed sources they are copying from — the following type phrasing: “September 11, 1875 — Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm appeared in the New York Daily Graphics newspaper. 17 successive pictures that filled a full page made up the first comic strip to be published in a newspaper.” Also mentioning the “17 successive pictures” line, but at least getting the title of the New York Daily Graphic correct (the only two I found who did, until I got bored with listing websites), are Livingston Hopkins bio pages/sites, found on the Comics History website Lambiek (which I was surprised to find — they know better), and Australian Military History site The Harrower Collection. Lastly, the award for Can’t-be-Bothered-to-Perform-the-Least-Bit-of-Fact-Checking — in that at this point any internet search for Tigwissel will pop up the prior episodes now listed under Tigwissel Tuesdays/SuperITCH — goes to, unsurprisingly in this destroyed-by-Wall Street economy — Investor’s Hub Stock Goodies of the Week, who just last week posted their misinformed version of the Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm bit.
The “17 successive pictures” phrase — which again, appears in the majority of listings — is particularly revealing as to the origin point from which most (and possibly all) of the above got their (mis)information.
I mentioned above, that before attempting to research where this error had originated from, I had assumed it had started as a misreading of something written by Clark Kinnaird. Kinnaird who edited the book Rube Goldberg vs. The Machine Age, published by Hastings House, NY, NY, in 1968. In the back of this collection of Goldberg cartoons, starting on page 202, Clark included an appendix, titled, “Rise of Comic Art Up to Goldberg And Its Advancement in His Era”. According to a footnote on page 202, the appendix is described as:
‘Prepared by Clark Kinnaird. Portions were originally published in a pamphlet, “Fifty Years of the Comics,” for the world’s first traveling exhibition of comic art, 1948. A rearrangement for The Funnies Annual No.1 (Avon Books: New York, 1959) was reprinted without illustrations in The Funnies: An American Idiom, edited by Harry Manning White & Robert H. Abel (Macmillan: New York: 1963). A revision, with illustrations, was made by the author for an Italian edition of the latter (Valentino Bompiani & Co.: Milan, 1965). Further revisions and additions have been made for this book.’
In the appendix, on page 204, we find the below entry, while opposite (page 205) is a full page reprinting of the same Professor Tigwissel episode that we are featuring today:
’1875: Livingston Hopkins, illustrator for “Josh Billings” humor, had in New York Daily Graphic, one of the first, if not first U.S. newspaper strip with a continuing character. See [next page] Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm. The series was given this large format.’
Kinnaird, while hopeful, was careful in his phrasing. Note all the qualifiers in what he said. “One of”, “if not”, “U.S. newspaper”, and “with a continuing character”. Altogether, these specify only “maybe” was the first but not for sure, not counting publications outside the U.S., only counting newspapers as opposed to other types of publications, and only for comics strips with recurring/continuing characters, versus one-shot sequential comic strips in whose characters never appeared again. While he reprinted the very September 11th Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm that every one else cites, Kinnaird never outright says that this was the absolute first Tigwissel. Rather, he merely implies that Professor Tigwissel began in 1875. In his uncertainty, Kinnaird has correctly hedged his bets. Many of his cautious qualifiers are found missing in modern citings.
Also notably different, is that Kinnaird did not use the “17 successive pictures” phrasing that found nearly everywhere else. Meaning that this 1968 version of Kinnaird’s chronological comics history listing, is not the source from which every one else copied. But, what about the earlier versions of Kinnaird’s essay? Might the “17 successive pictures” phrasing have been used in one of these? Might Kinnaird have revealed more information about Livingston Hopkins’ Professor Tigwissel? From the moment I was first pointed towards Kinnaird’s reference to Tigwissel, I was troubled by its ambiguity. For someone to say that this was a continuing character, they should first have knowledge of more than one episode/appearance. Clark Kinnaird only showed one episode in the back of the 1968 Rube Goldberg vs. The Machine Age, and did not mention the date of any other episodes. I was curious whether Kinnaird might have, on another occasion, provided the proof, by listing and/or showing, other Tigwissel episodes.
Hunting local library catalogs for the earlier versions of Clark Kinnaird’s essay, as listed in the front of his essay in the Rube Goldberg book, I was able to find a copy of the 1963 The Funnies: An American Idiom, edited by Harry Manning White & Robert H. Abel. This book is a collection of essays on comics by various authors. One of which was a similar chronological comic history to that which appeared in Rube Goldberg vs. The Machine Age, written by Clark Kinnaird, and this time titled, “Cavalcade of the Funnies”. It appeared on pages 88 thru 96. And, it contained zero references to Livingston Hopkins, Professor Tigwissel, or anything important happening regarding comics, in 1875.
Clearly, Clark Kinnaird had, in 1963, no knowledge of the Professor Tigwissel comic strip. He had learned of it at some point after 1963, and before/by 1968. There also remained the matter of ubiquitous “17 successive pictures” phrase — it did not originate with Clark Kinnaird. So, where did it come from?
As I’ve previously indicated, nearly every one who has listed the Professor Tigwissel’s Burglar Alarm complete with incorrect information/claims, further failed to cite where they got their information from.
The websites were all created by adults. Who should know better than providing information they themselves did not discover/create, without providing the source. However, amongst the many websites containing the Tigwissel tidbit which I did not list — basically because it just play to my fair sense — are websites created by students. And God Bless one middle-schooler (there may be more — I stopped looking after finding this). For he, listed his source! (Why aren’t I naming him? I’m torn between the fact that congratulating him, would also point out that his site has errors.)
There are a few things to remark on here. First, of course, is the “17 successive pictures” description. Pretty much proof that all the sites out on the web, either got their information from Famous First Facts, or else, stole it from others, who had stolen it from others, who had gotten it from Famous First Facts. Second, in 1964, it had the name of the newspaper correct, but, by 1997 (or earlier), New York Daily Graphic had incorrectly become New York Daily Graphic. Third, Daily Graphic is not Daily Graphics. Nor, is it Daily Telegraph. The question here, is whether these occurred because one of creators of the internet site committed these errors, which then got copied. Or, if there are other Famous First Facts editions, which listed this as the newspaper title. (I’ve only looked at the 1964, 1997, and 2006 editions — I’d particularly be interested in what how pre-1964 editions might differ, but I do not have access to any.)
Fourth, the 1964 edition of Famous First Facts, provides the most likely explanation for why Clark Kinnaird knew nothing of Tigwissel in 1963, but by 1968, had heard of Tigwissel, and tracked down a copy of the September 11th, 1875 newspaper to reprint from. It also likely explains why Kinnaird was so ambiguous regarding Tigwissel — because, if his source of information was Famous First Facts, then, Kinnaird would have had no proof of other episodes without conducting a search for them himself. This would explain his silence regarding other Tigwissel dates or episodes.
And, fifth, there’s still the question of from where did Famous First Facts originally get its information regarding Tigwissel? Huge listings of factual tidbits, are not generally uncovered by a single person (Joseph Nathan Kane). More easy to believe, is that Kane gathered his “First Facts”, by scouring other published sources. So, what was his source for asserting (incorrectly) that the September 11th, 1875 Professor Tigwissel, was the first newspaper comic strip? I’d like to know what that source was, and, what its author might actually have said.
So, having swift-kicked the annual September 11th recitation involving the “first” newspaper comic strip, what is the new “first”, Doug? You’re not going to like my answer. Nobody knows. Nobody ever will. And those who are sure they know, will not be in agreement on definitions.
Assuming what is meant is not merely a single, stand alone sequential strip (which go back hundreds of years prior), but multiple publications involving the same character(s), there are numerous prior examples I can cite off the top of my head, starting with Hopkins‘ own Professor Simple, two years before Tigwissel. Still earlier examples would include: Toodles by John McLenan, in mid-1850s issues of Brother Jonathan; The Adventures of Mr. Verdant Green in comic strip form, by Cuthbert Bede, in early 1850s issues of Illustrated London News; and, the 1845 serialization in L’Illustration, of Cham‘s re-interpretation of Rodolphe Töpffer’s Swiss graphic novel, Histoire de M. Cryptogame. (Above and below, provided by Leonardo Desa to the “Platinum Age Comics” discussion group that I used to co-host with group founder Robert Beerbohm, are pages from the first January 25th, 1845 installment of Cryptogame, from L’Illustration.)
And while I don’t advocate the following as “the earliest known newspaper comic strip” (I think yet earlier examples will be found), I will make point readers towards this. Comics historian David Kunzle, in his History of the Comic Strip, Volume 2, on page 21, noted that in 1826, Pierce Egan’s Life in London and Sporting Guide (a Sunday newspaper), began running comic cuts (i.e., comic illustrations and cartoons) by George Cruikshank. And that, according to Kunzle, in 1827, the above title was absorbed/bought out by the newspaper Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, which continued to publish the Cruikshank cuts.