Saturday, March 6, 2010

Buster Brown and Tige

I just got a big collection of American comic book illustrations from 1776 to...I guess around 1976...and I always get such a kick out of Buster Brown and Tige. BB was created in 1903 to help promote the Brown Shoe Company (one model of which was named after BB's sister-- Mary Jane!) and ran on and on and on until I believe the early 60s. Buster is unstoppably mischievous, and Tige tags along slash aides and abets. Buster buys a dozen eggs and tries to sit on them to hatch them, in his mother's best chair. Buster organizes all the dogs and boys with dogs in town to chase the dogcatcher away. Buster trades clothes with a little girl and they both try to pass as each other. Buster has a surreal dream the likes of which would scare David Lynch. The hits keep coming.

The illustration style is really mostly disturbing. Like Little Orphan Annie, the non-realistic eyes have a look to them that just read as creepy in a contemporary viewing. I can't imagine seeing this as a parent and going, "Cute! I want something with that cute little boy and his dog on it for my kids!" because Buster and Tige both have the eyes of an escaped mental patient. Look at the valentine on the right! In what way is this whimsical? It looks like he's painted a message in blood on the wall. Very sweet. Despite what I consider their unsuitability for children, I just love these little guys-- their antics, their borderline ghoulish faces. Look at these individual panels and try to understand the nightmare world they come from:

Just as I get over looking into the cue balls of their eyes, however, I came across this in my Google Image search wanderings:

Take it away, Wikipedia. What's with this photo?

"Midgets were hired by the Brown Shoe Co. to play Buster in tours around the United States. These little people, who were each accompanied by a dog, performed in department stores, theaters and shoe stores from 1904 until 1930."

HOW IS THIS IN ANY WAY NORMAL?! I mean, I know public opinion on the acceptability of midgets or little people used in entertainment has peaked and sloped over the course of the 20th century, from Tom Thumb to the Munchkins to Tattoo to Mini-Me, but when did it seem like a good idea to dress a midget in a pageboy and a Little Lord Fauntleroy outfit to impersonate a comic strip character and promote shoes? Could you not get a real child? Even if I was a kid back then, I think I'd know the difference between a midget and a Great Dane, and my beloved comic strip idols. I'm just saying. I'm just saying.

I'm probably going to spend the better part of this afternoon looking at Barnacle Press's website which has a HUGE online archive of BB comics. Here's four to give you taste:

"Don't do it, Buster! Noooooo, don't do it!" How can you not like them?

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