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Originally published Saturday, August 7, 2010 at 7:24 PM

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Seattle's Fantagraphics and Rosebud Archives reclaim vintage comics

Fantagraphics Books, a Seattle-based publisher of comics and graphic novels, is partnering with Rosebud Archives to make a historic collection of newspaper and magazine cartoons available to the public.

Seattle Times book editor

On the Internet

Fantagraphics/Rosebud Archives: To view images from the collection, go to www.fantagraphics.com/rosebud.

For a before-and-after look at some restored newspaper and magazine art, go to http://www.rosebudarchives.com/wp/about/

It's hard to say where or when an obsession is born. For comics collector Rick Marschall, it might have started when he was 10. Knowing Marschall had a schoolboy crush on cartooning, the pastor of his New Jersey church took him to visit the studio of churchgoer Al Smith, the creator of the comic strip "Mutt and Jeff."

The young boy stood rapt before a two-foot long version of a daily "Mutt and Jeff" strip, he recalls in a remembrance: "sweat beads and motion lines, funny postures, little shadows under the tips of shoes ... at that moment I knew I was hooked on comic art, the medium of cartoons, of wondrous storytelling possibilities; the charm of earlier times; the excitement of hunting and collecting and reassembling artifacts of the past. All in that moment."

Marschall has spent a lifetime drawing cartoons, editing cartoons, writing and editing 60 books and assembling a massive archive of historical cartoons, newspaper and magazine art. Today he presides over "arguably the nation's largest private collection of comics and cartoon archives," says Eric Reynolds of Seattle-based Fantagraphics Books, publisher of comics, graphic novels and other forms of graphic art.

Now Marschall's company, Rosebud Archives, and Fantagraphics have formed a joint publishing enterprise that will draw from Marschall's immense collection, reclaiming the work of the great 20th-century magazine and newspaper artists for the 21st-century public.

The Fantagraphics website is already a portal to Rosebud's collection of prints, posters, framed art, books, and stationery. Later this year Fantagraphics will issue the first book in a new imprint, Marschall Books — forthcoming volumes include a compendium of cartoon advertising, a book devoted to Johnny Gruelle's lost masterpiece Mr. Twee Deedle, a book on Krazy Kat and a volume devoted to Sherlock Holmes illustrations and art.

Michigan resident Marschall and his partner, preservation expert Jon Barli, have complete runs of newspapers and magazines to draw from (some rescued from the trash bin). An entire run of Vanity Fair magazine from 1913 to 1936; Harper's Weeklies from the Civil War years; New York Herald Sunday Color comics 1894-1911; a mostly complete collection of Puck Magazine from 1877 to 1918.

"When I met Rick, it was really like hitting the payload," Barli, a New Jersey resident, says. "I wanted to see this material, and I wanted other people to see it, too. It was such a shame so much of this material was in private collections and universities, and unavailable."

In the glory days of newspapers, artists and illustrators were kings. John T. McCutcheon (1870-1949), a Pulitzer-Prize winning war correspondent and political cartoonist who drew for the Chicago Tribune, had his own studios in the Tribune Tower (after he left, they would be occupied by Chester Gould, creator of "Dick Tracy"). McCutcheon drew sentimental, beautifully colored creations ("Jack Frost," "The Hunter's Moon," "Injun Summer") that ran a full page in the newspaper and created indelible memories for many a Chicago child.

Gruelle, creator of the "Raggedy Ann" strip, drew "Mr. Twee Deedle," a surrealistic, dreamy strip that ran in the New York Herald from 1911 to 1914. Gruelle concocted the world of Mr. Twee Deedle, a wood sprite who befriends two children, with rich colors and whimsical drawings just as likely to delight a 21st-century child as an early 20th-century one.

Other artists featured in the Fantagraphics/Rosebud collection include Winsor McCay, creator of Little Nemo; Clare Briggs, who drew beautifully understated portraits of small town/rural life, and Harrison Cady, illustrator of Thornton Burgess' "Mother West Wind" stories, whose zany illustrations (such as the "Beetleburg" series) are so minutely detailed "you almost need a magnifying glass to appreciate them," says Marschall. Also featured: vintage art from European magazines. Most posters sell in the $30-$40 range; stationary and card collections are about $22.

Though technology has helped thrust newspapers into the digital age, it's up-to-date printing technology that has helped Marschall and Barli rehabilitate many of the items in his collection. Barli, who is 28 to Marschall's 61, was primarily trained in filmmaking but taught himself digitizing restoration techniques after becoming an avid comics collector.

"It's not so many years ago that I would acquire something and it would be so tattered, I would say, 'Isn't it a pity it's not in any shape for framing?' " says Marschall. "Now something can be half gone and we can restore the tones, the screen pattern, and eliminate the yellowing of the papers," says Marschall.

Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or mgwinn@seattletimes.com. Mary Ann Gwinn appears on Classical KING-FM's Arts Channel at www.king.org/pages/4216533.php

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