Let us all hail one of the most unheralded of the great ink-slingers, Mr. Gaar Williams! It has long been my theory that certain cartoonists have not received their proper respect because they did not have a strip featuring a reoccurring character. Gaar Williams would fall squarely into that category. While Williams did have his panel cartoon, Mort Green and Wife, featuring reoccurring characters, that panel was one that rotated in with his other panels, such as Our Secret Ambition, How to Keep from Growing Old, and his most famous of all, Among the Folks in History, so it was not seen with regularity.
Born in Indiana on December 12, 1880 Williams was dubbed as both the "Hoosier Cartoonist", and the "James Whitcomb Riley of the Pencil", with newspaper cartoons that captured the flavor of a bygone era to the degree that they were deemed worthy of reprinting into the mid-20th century, years after his death.
In terms of pen and ink artwork, there were few better than Gaar Williams. Check out this detail from Williams’ Wotta Life, Wotta Life panel from March 24, 1926. The body language of that flapper smoking the extended cigarette is simply wonderful, as is the group of folks obviously having a good time in the back right. And that pen work! The movement of the line work, combined with the varying width of those lines is tremendous. In certain areas, it almost looks as if Williams was using a natural quill pen, rather than a metal dip pen nib, as some of the lines a quite wide.
Switch over the other side of the image, and you have a beautifully drawn couple, dancing cheek-to-cheek. Besides the movement of the line work, Williams was a master at economy of line. Those two dancers, with the impression of detail, are likely drawn with less than 50 lines. But they convey so much more than that
And here’s the full Monty, so to speak. Now you get to see the Wotta Life part, as the poor caged bird has to deal the music, the smoke, and the fumes of alcohol. This type of gag is pretty typical for a Gaar Williams cartoon. He was rarely one to go for the knee-slapping laugh, but aimed for something more subtle.
We have one more Gaar Williams panel for you to check out, as there’s no such thing as too much Gaar Williams ink-slinging goodness. Simply titled The Optimist, this cartoon ran on January 6, 1923, and features a man who has just been in an automobile accident. Again, the pen work is lively and juicy, creating forms, planes and structure with a seeming ease.
Now you get to see the mangled part of the rear of the car. Look at those lines! The variation in speed and weight is hatching (with a little bit of cross-hatching) goodness. Where Williams scribbles he adds even more movement and roundness to the parts of the car.
And then comes the rub. The gag is revealed in the full cartoon below, where the guy who crashed his car realizes just how lucky he was; how close he was to having business with the business he ran into. The understated genius of Gaar Williams!