Speaking of Harold

Barnaby cast (L to R): Gus the Ghost, Jackeen J. O'Malley, Gorgon Baxter, Barnaby Baxter and Jane Shultz.

Barnaby cast (L to R): Gus the Ghost, Jackeen J. O’Malley, Gorgon Baxter, Barnaby Baxter and Jane Shultz.

By John Hertz: Speaking of Harold, some of you might like to see this. Some of you already have (reprinted from Vanamonde 1038).

The graphic artist, sailor, and inventor Crockett Johnson (1906-1975) did two splendid things and one fine thing. His first great creation was the comic strip Barnaby (1942-1945, then drawn by others until 1952, “updated” and revived 1960-1962), praised by Duke Ellington and Dorothy Parker, titled after an unassuming five-year-old to whom enters a Fairy Godfather named Jackeen J. O’Malley with wings and a more or less magic cigar, collected under hard covers in Barnaby (1943) and Barnaby and Mr. O’Malley (1944). Judy-Lynn del Rey before her death had Ballantine Books publish six collections, Wanted, a Fairy Godfather and Mr. O’Malley and the Haunted House (1985), Jackeen J. O’Malley for Congress, Mr. O’Malley Goes for the Gold, Mr. O’Malley, Wizard of Wall Street, and J.J. O’Malley Goes Hollywood (1986). Fantagraphics undertook Barnaby in 2013.

haroldsky98_smHis second, even simpler, more timeless, perhaps even greater, was seven little books about another boy, Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955), Harold’s Fairy Tale (1956), Harold’s Trip to the Sky (1957), Harold at the North Pole (1958), Harold’s Circus (1959), A Picture for Harold’s Room (1960), Harold’s ABC (1963). In The Purple Crayon Harold one night, after thinking it over for some time, decides to go for a walk in the moonlight; there is no moon, so he draws one; he has nowhere to walk, so he draws a path; after various adventures, he at last draws his own house and bed and goes to sleep. The Harold books are all still in print.

In his last decade he painted a hundred geometricals, mostly house-wall colors on Masonite, illustrating Euclid, Galileo, Descartes, Fermat, Euler, Poncelet, Gauss. Eighty are held by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History; the site does not explain, but if you know or look up e.g. Eratosthenes or Kepler you will applaud Measurement of the Earth or Law of Orbiting Velocity (both 1966). Johnson could not construct a regular heptagon under classical rules, but at a restaurant in Syracuse, Greece, he realized he could make one if allowed a single mark on the straightedge; this led to Heptagon from its Seven Sides (1973) and “A Construction for a Regular Heptagon”, Mathematical Gazette no. 59, p. 17 (Mar 75).

"Polar Line of a Point and a Circle (Apollonius)" by Crockett Johnson

“Polar Line of a Point and a Circle (Apollonius)” by Crockett Johnson

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6 thoughts on “Speaking of Harold

  1. Oh wow, I remember Harold and the Purple Crayon. That’s… a long time back.

    @Kip W:
    Years ago I picked up a copy of The Tough Coughs as he Ploughs the Dough: Early Writings and Cartoons by Dr. Seuss, which includes stuff back to his days with the Jack-o-Lantern, the Dartmouth College humour magazine. (And the fact that he used Dr. Seuss as a pen name to start with because he’d been officially banned from said magazine.)

  2. Jenora Feuer
    The most recent big news (to me) about him is that he gave up and started pronouncing Seuss like everyone else did, instead of as the German family name it had been.

    Springfield, MA, has a wonderful sculpture garden of Seuss images, in the library/museum quad. Here are some of my photos, on flickr. Arrow left or right to see more. If you see striking Disney artists wearing masks, try the other direction.

    (My first exposure to Johnson was either Mom’s Barnaby collection or a student book club book he did about magnetism, which came with a magnet taped inside the cover.)

  3. Bit of fandom historical trivia for those who don’t already know (I suspect Mike knows this): The old San Francisco Bay Area fan club known as “Little Men” got its name from the Barnaby strip. The full name of the club was “The Elves, Gnomes, and Little Men’s Chowder, Marching, and Science Fiction Society.” Minus the “Science Fiction” part, that was the name of an organization in Barnaby that the fairy godfather belonged to.

    Poul Anderson was a member of Little Men, and also a big Barnaby fan. He made sure I read all the collected strips when I was young. (He was a neighbor, and I used to feed his parrot for him when he had to go out of town.)

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