Part One: Cartoons, comics strips and "cartoonettes"
March 10, 1927.
F. G. Cooper arrived in New York City in 1904, and began a lengthy career as a freelance designer and illustrator that would include a fifty year association with New York Edison (later ConEd) , creating posters, ads, calendars -basically a visual identity - for the company. He did ads for Westinghouse, posters for the War Department, illustrated books and magazine articles and designed alphabets (though not, as is often assumed, Cooper Black.) He was a founding member of the American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA). And he contributed to Life, from 1904 on into the early 1930's, when he served briefly as the art editor during the final years of Charles Dana Gibson's ownership of the magazine.
Throughout most of the Teens Cooper's main contribution to Life consisted of spot drawings, "cartoonettes" as he called them, for the editorial page. The use of spots on this page was nothing new but none of the artists that had taken on the assignment before seemed as comfortable as Cooper working in such a small space (one 12.5 pica wide column, 5 lines deep.)
The tiny drawings were, for the most part, only tangentially related to the article they were supposed to be illustrating. They could be - and were - used over and over again well into the Twenties, for a wide range of topics, and yet they don't seem at all generic or like clip art.
Beyond the editorial page "cartoonettes", which appeared weekly, there seems to have been only an occasional panel cartoon or cover contributed by Cooper in the 1910s. There's undoubtedly more to be found, but probably not a lot more, which is too bad. The "Naughty Wag" cartoon below is a knockout on so many levels, I wish I had a dozen more like it to show.
In the 1920's Cooper's work appeared much more frequently. He created a series of comic strips that displayed not only his unique take on this form, but his skill as a writer and his sense of humor as well. He also designed a number of house ads for the magazine's subscription offer page. In 1928 Life published a Vaudeville number which was illustrated exclusively by Cooper, the only time an entire issue was turned over to one artist. (This will be the subject of a future post.) Whether he was contributing spots, panel cartoons or comics, Cooper somehow managed to make the entire page he was on look good. But it's the wide variety of covers that Cooper did that show off his skills as a graphic designer, letterer, cartoonist and illustrator best. Some of those will be posted next week.
* This book is loaded with great examples of F. G. Cooper's artwork, and is worth it alone for the section of monogram designs FGC created for, among many others, Milton Caniff, Freeman Gosden and Dwight Eisenhower.