This installment of ‘The Printed Image’ highlights a scrapbook compiled by Fay King, a cartoonist and journalist who contributed to a number of newspapers in the early 20th century, including The Denver Post, The San Francisco Examiner, and The New York Evening Journal. The scrapbook, compiled between 1916 to 1919, includes numerous articles about King and her visits to various cities, clippings of her own newspaper columns, photographs, and a complete copy of The Cartoon Book, which was distributed for the Third Liberty Loan drive during World War I, and which included a contribution by King.
The scrapbook includes a key feature of King’s style, single-panel cartoons that would accompany her articles and columns for newspapers. King would include herself in these cartoons, portraying herself with long, lanky limbs and wide eyes. This cartoon persona earned her a certain celebrity, and can be seen as an early forerunner of autobiographical comics that would flourish later in the century by the likes of Lynda Barry, Art Spiegelman, and Aline Kominsky-Crumb.
But as cartoonist and historian Trina Robbins observes in her book Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century, the norms of the time limited the subjects that King was able to address, both in her cartoons and columns. Robbins writes, “Although they (Fay King and Nell Brinkley) avoided the mother and child ghetto that most other women cartoonists and illustrators seemed to have inhabited, both artists were still ghettoized simply by drawing for women” .
One aspect of King’s cartoon persona that is widely noted is its similarity to another famous comic character: Olive Oyl, from E.C. Segar’s Thimble Theatre and Popeye comic strips. However, this comparison is somewhat inexact. A similarity can be detected, but King’s cartoon avatar predates the creation of Olive Oyl, whose first appearance was in 1919. While there is no definitive record that Segar was inspired by King, if an influence does exist, King would be the influence on Olive Oyl, and not the other way around.
Fay King’s scrapbook can be read in its entirety in the Digital Library, and is available to be viewed in the Rare Book Room during walk-in hours or by appointment. Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century can be borrowed from Falvey Library’s circulating collection.
 Robbins, Trina. Nell Brinkley and the New Woman in the Early 20th Century. McFarland & Company, Inc., 2001. p. 37.
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