Like Charles Schulz of Peanuts fame, Paul McCarthy was the son of a barber. He was born on January 26, 1910, probably in Crawfordsville, Indiana, and graduated from Crawfordsville High School in 1928. By being born in the right place at the right time, McCarthy fell into the "Sugar Crick School," a group of cartoonists that included Allen Saunders, Bill Holman, Frank Beaven, Dave Gerard, Bandel Linn (a classmate of McCarthy), and, later, Tom Henderson. Nappanee, Indiana, lays claim to having the most cartoonists per capita of any city in the United States. Crawfordsville might give Nappanee a run for its money.
Paul McCarthy began his career as a commercial artist in Louisville, Kentucky, and Danville, Illinois. Moving to Toledo, Ohio, he joined Allen Saunders and Elmer Woggon on the staff of their syndicated comic strip Big Chief Wahoo, later just Chief Wahoo. Though politically incorrect by today’s standards, Chief Wahoo was a popular strip in its day. In order to house a growing staff of assistants and ghosts, Saunders and Woggon "rented a suite of offices in a decrepit building across the street from the [Toledo] News-Bee." (1) Among the junior artists there were Elmer’s brother Bill Woggan, later of Katy Keene comic books, and Don Dean, later of the newspaper strip Cranberry Boggs.
Paul McCarthy didn't stay long in Toledo. Nineteen forty found him in New York City, working in the publicity department of Paramount Pictures. He also drew magazine gag cartoons and his own syndicated comic strip. It was called Gertie O’Grady and it made its debut on the same day--June 30, 1940--and in the same venue--the Chicago Tribune Comic Book Magazine--as Dale Messick’s Brenda Starr Reporter. The main characters in McCarthy's Sunday strip are plump, Irish Gertie O'Grady, mad genius Professor Bunson Burner, and Apercott, Professor Burner's gorilla. Although it appeared in big-market newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, Gertie O’Grady was short-lived and came to an end on November 14, 1943.
During World War II, McCarthy drew educational comics and cartoons for the war effort. He continued doing commercial and advertising work after the war. In 1950, McCarthy went to work for Harvey Comics, drawing such features as "Holly of Hollywood," "Fun at the Zoo," and "Sad Sack." He is supposed to have worked at Harvey from 1950 to 1963 as a writer, penciler, and inker. Harvey Comics historian Mark Arnold called his work "pristine," and a look at the two-page story below shows as much. (2) We need cartoonists like Paul McCarthy again.
In 1959, Paul McCarthy lived in Somerville, New Jersey.
He is said to have died an untimely death in the early 1960s. However, what happened to Paul Joseph McCarthy remains a mystery. I would like for it no longer to be a mystery, and I hope someone can help put an end to it. His obituary states that Paul McCarthy lived in Milford, New Jersey, for the thirty-five years preceding his death. He may have been the same Paul McCarthy who taught art in elementary school in the area during the 1960s and '70s. In any case, Paul J. McCarthy died on July 11, 1991, at Hunterdon Convalescent Center in Raritan Township. He was eighty-one years old. His wife, Blanche Horton McCarthy, preceded him in death in March of the same year. And so at last we have a solution to the problem of the missing cartoonist. I wish we could have him back.
(1) "Playwright for Paper Actors: The Autobiography of Allen Saunders, Chapter 9: The Foot in the Door Wore a Moccasin" by Allen Saunders in Nemo: The Classic Comics Library, Oct. 1984, pp. 48-50.
(2) "A Family Affair: The Harvey Comics Story" by Mark Arnold in Comic Book Artist, June 2002, pp. 18-38.
You can read more about Paul McCarthy in Allan Holtz's blog, Stripper's Guide, here.
Gertie O'Grady by Paul McCarthy, 1941. Scan by Allan Holtz.
|"Fun at the Zoo" from Harvey Comics, date unknown.|
An advertising cartoon by McCarthy from Coronet, August 1951.
|Finally, a two-page Sad Sack story showing Paul McCarthy's "pristine" style. Date unknown.|
Revised and updated, January 30, 2020. Thanks to James Stout (his comment appears under my article "Allen Saunders and Chief Wahoo," here) for the information that has led me to finding Paul McCarthy's date and place of death.
Text and captions copyright 2015, 2020 Terence E. Hanley