James Guilford "Jimmy" Swinnerton was born on November 13, 1875 in Eureka, California. His father was a well-known Judge J.W. Swinnerton , founder of the Humboldt Star.

Swinnerton was very young when he started his career at William Randolph Hearst's San Francisco Examiner in 1892. He was hired to draw editorial cartoons, sports cartoons and to illustrate the news. Soon, Hearst asked him to draw a bear every day for the Examiner, celebrating the discovery, in the forest of California, of a grizzli bear - a species thought to be extinct.

"The boy artist's first grizzly leered beningly at readers (...). Soon Swin succumbed to his humorous instincts and drew a fat, rolypoly cub bear in place of the adult grizzli - and it was an odd, amusing little beast with its large round head, separated from the chubby body and short legs by a thin elongated neck circled by the wide collar Monarch (the rescaped grizzli bear) wore in public. (...)


Jimmy Swinnerton C. 1905
By the time the Midwinter exhibition opened in january 1894 (....), his baby Monarch cub had become the great popular daily hit in San Francisco."

[From Bill Blackbeard, "The Art of Jimmy Swinnerton", NEMO N°22, oct 1986.]
Realising the potential of his young star artist, Hearst asked him to move to New York City, to work alongside George Herriman, Tad Dorgan, George McManus etc.

This was 1896, a year after Pulitzer's"The World" had introduced the Yellow Kid with phenomenal public success.

Little Tigers (c. 1905)

In the following years, Swinnerton stood right beside Outcault and F.B. Opper in pionneering the stylistic, artistic et narrative possibilities of this new medium (the colored comic supplement).

Apart from numerous one-shot pages, Swinnerton created a whole bunch of cute animals, The Little Tigers, which eventually coalesced into one character, the celebrated Mr Jack.

He also drew a one panel series, Mt. Ararat, again showing his flair in drawing funny animals.
His most enduring success, however, was Little Jimmy, created in 1904 and which he drew for the next 54 years.

Here's a short portrait of James Swinnerton (aged 30), written in 1905, shortly after the introduction of Little Jimmy :

"James Swinnerton has done many good things; but his greatest hits have been his forgetful little boy, "Jimmie", who never gets what he is sent for; and his exasperating "Little Katy", who is always interrupting her kind uncle at inopportune times. Swinnerton gets "big pay", but his money comes easily and goes easily.


Little Jimmy, 1933. > click here to see more <
He is "Bohemian" in his tastes, and much prefers the society of pugilists to that of more conventional persons. His fad is sweaters and he never wears the "boiled shirt" of civilization if he can get on a sweater.
Of this article of apparel he has several hundred specimens, and most of them have added value in his eyes from the fact that they were worn and they were given to him by the doughty champions of the "squared circle".

"Mr Jack" daily from 1919. > click here to see more <

He cares little for his fame or for the money that it has brought him. He was born with a facility for comic drawing, but spent his "teens" as a jockey, and his greatest pride to-day is to be taken for a pugilist.

He has had set-tos -purely scientific ones- with friends and even strangers; but he is still in the "maiden class", not yet having won a battle."

(McCardell, R.L, "Opper, Outcault and Company", Everybody's Magazine 1905)

But Swinnerton had another, more dangerous battle to fight.

Around the same period, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and given a few weeks to live by his doctor. Swinnerton packed up his New York residence and set up camp in the arid Southwest hoping to benefit from the dry climate of Arizona.

Fortunately the diagnosis was a bit adventurous - Swin had quite a few years left in him.

However, the magnificence of the red rock canyons there engulfed Swinnerton, so much so that the atmospheric influence of the West would never extricate itself from his remaining life's work.

Before long, Arizona themes began creeping into his work - not just in his comics but also in the paintings that formed an increasing part of his output.



One of Swinnerton's Arizona paintings > click here to see more <
Swinnerton also created a series called Canyon Kiddies, about small Native American children living in remote Arizona canyons, which Good Housekeeping magazine (another Hearst publication) ran in color from 1922-41.

In Canyon Kiddies, the readers were introduced to the lush scenes Swinnerton had become so enamoured with. It is worth noting that the native Americans featured in the Canyon Kiddies cartoons were always depicted with great respect and sympathy.

Swinnerton's Canyon Kiddies > click here to see more <

Canyon Kiddies was licensed for animated cartoons by Warner Bros. Swinnerton himself drew no less than 50 background paintings for the film, producing a stunning job. Only one Canyon Kiddies cartoon was made, Mighty Hunters, directed by Chuck Jones, which came out in 1940.

After 1958, Swinnerton was unable to meet the demands of cartooning on a regular basis, and he ended Little Jimmy.

Despite the fact that he was already 82 years old, he lived to enjoy a long retirement.

The man who'd almost been pronounced dead around age 30 finally died on Sept. 8, 1974 - 98 years of age.




"Mighty Hunters", 1940.
a one-reel animated cartoon based on Swin's Canyon Kiddies, directed by Chuck Jones

 

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