Famous cartoonist's drawings found under wallpaper in Sibley

By ROSS BROWN
bluehavanaross@gmail.com


SIBLEY — Ford County’s most well-known cartoonist is undoubtedly Russell Johnson, a lifelong Gibson City resident who for years wrote the Mister Oswald comic strip from his home and published it in national trade magazines.

Few people have heard the name Ed Mack, yet his work experience trumps Johnson’s by a longshot. And one would be surprised to learn that he hailed from Sibley.

Born in 1882 in Sibley, Mack was educated in Sibley schools and helped his father in the painting trade for a few years. According to a Gibson City Courier article upon his 1935 death, “he early evinced a native ability in drawing pictures ... and often introduced well-known Sibley characters into his sketches.”

According to Marge Vetter, the president of the Sibley Business and Historical Association who is heading up the village’s downtown renovation project, Mack first found lucrative employment as a cartoonist for William Randolph Hearst, the legendary newspaper publisher.

“His early cartoons were ‘The Adventures of Ziggy and Sim,’ and that was for a year in Chicago,” Vetter said. “He wrote for the Chicago Record-Herald.”

In 1913, Mack relocated to New York City to begin a long stint with Hearst’s New York newspaper, for which he wrote a number of different comics.

“He moved from Chicago to New York and started comic strips like ‘Hilda’s Tender Heart,’” Vetter said. “Hearst assigned him to do the ‘Mutt and Jeff’ strip after its creator, Bud Fisher, left the Hearst newspaper.”

After three years in court, Fisher regained control of “Mutt and Jeff” in 1915 and began writing it again. Mack stayed on board with Hearst until 1916, producing a panel called “At the Movies” or “Made in the Movies.”

Mack started writing “Mutt and Jeff” again in 1916 when he teamed up with Fisher in his own company, the Bud Fisher Syndicate. Mack was a ghostwriter for the comic strip in place of Fisher, who enjoyed a high-class social life in New York City.

“He did most of his work on ‘Mutt and Jeff,’” Vetter said. “He was also an artist for the ‘Katzenjammer Kids.’”

Today’s Sibley residents have reason not to know of Mack, as he passed away 83 years ago. Vetter has 16 of Mack’s original drawings, and until a few weeks ago those were thought to be Mack’s only existing original pieces.

Until now.

While cleaning out the downtown Sibley building once owned by Guy Amacher, Corky Meyer discovered multiple cartoon drawings on the walls where layers of paint and wallpaper have disintegrated. Those drawings have been confirmed by Vetter as Mack’s drawings.

“The hats on the people are similar to what he drew in his drawings,” Vetter said.

Upon examination Friday afternoon, the walls of the building are filled with Mack’s drawings, mostly of people. One drawing along the south wall features two men wearing hats, with one smoking a pipe. Another appears to be a middle-aged farmer. One with a window drawn around it appears to be a young boy. Names are scribbled underneath the drawings and at other places on the walls. One has the name “Lindelof,” but most don’t ring a bell.

Sonny Meyer, a lifelong Sibley resident, said he doesn’t recall ever seeing the drawings before.

“Guy Amacher came here in ’46, so those had to have been from many years before that,” Meyer said.

Not all of the drawings have been uncovered yet. Some of the wallpaper is still in place, but Vetter said that if it were to be removed, the drawings could be damaged.

Much of Mack’s work was visible on Friday afternoon in natural light, but local historian Derrick Babbs suggested that artificial light be placed inside.

“If you shine a bright light on this stuff, you might be able to find more details than you can see right now,” Babbs said.

Not much information has been published in Ford County about Mack. A small bit of information exists in the 1977 Sibley centennial book under the last name “Hrlicka.”

“That was his half-sister,” Vetter said. “She was a Hrlicka. His last name was Mack.”

According to the Courier obituary, Mack made annual visits to his hometown. It mentioned that he drew a lucrative salary while working for the nationally known syndicate. He died in December 1935 at age 54 after “being in failing health for several months.”

During his visits to Sibley, Mack was often invited by classroom teachers to draw his cartoon work on blackboards in front of students.

Mack, who never married, had a brother, Louis Mack, who worked on the Wabash Railroad. His sister, Emily Hrdlicka, was a school teacher. The family does not have any relatives living in Sibley today.

Neither Corky Meyer nor Vetter have any immediate plans for the building. They do plan to open it up to the public for the Fourth of July celebration.

Vetter said an upcoming book with Sibley historical information will include stories and cartoons of Mack’s.

Categories (4):News, Miscellaneous, Living, Business
Location (3):Local, Ford County, Sibley

Comments

Comments for this post are inactive.