Mrs. Mountain Lion declares a truce to show off her own kiddies. Artist: Jimmy Swinnerton.


Original medium: Magazine cartoons
Appearing in: Good Housekeeping
First Appeared: 1922
Creator: Jimmy Swinnerton
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When cartoonist Jimmy Swinnerton's health forced him to move to the dry climate of the American Southwest in 1903, he didn't expect to fall in love with …

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… his new home. But he did, and it affected his work for the rest of his life — which, by the way, was far, far longer than his doctor back in New York had predicted. The Arizona influence is seen most strongly in Canyon Kiddies, which he did for Good Housekeeping magazine starting in 1922.

The Canyon Kiddies were a bunch of Native American tykes who lived in one of Arizona's red rock canyons. Presumably, the series was set back in the days before Europeans ever got near there, but some of those canyons are pretty remote, and for all anyone knows, it might be happening right now. A typical installment consisted of two or three full-color paintings (showing the area's spectacular scenery to excellent advantage), each depicting a tiny vignette in the lives of the diminutive protagonists, and accompanied by a brief descriptive verse.

Good Housekeeping was a Hearst publication, just like the papers in which most of Swinnerton's other work (such as Mr. Jack, Jimmy, Mount Ararat and other very early comics) appeared. (Another cartoonist who worked for the Hearst organization was O. Soglow, creator of The Little King, who is listed in a few bibliographies as the author of Canyon Kiddies. It isn't clear where this misinformation came from, but it has no basis in fact.)

In 1923, Doubleday, Page & Co. published the only collection of Canyon Kiddies. It was a hardcover, with 88 magazine-size pages. Unfortunately, it was printed in graytones rather than full color, which severely muted the impact of Swinnerton's work.

However, the feature's only media spin-off, a Warner Bros. cartoon titled Mighty Hunters, was done in full color. In fact, Swinnerton himself supplied over 50 paintings for it, which were used as backgrounds, giving it a look unlike any of the studio's other cartoons. Chuck Jones directed the short, which was released January 27, 1940. Despite the unique appearance of the cartoon, the characters pretty much blended in with the crowd of cute kids that populated animation, and no follow-ups were made. But it was in good company — the only other character Warner licensed from outside the studio was Horton the Elephant, by Dr. Seuss.

Good Housekeeping discontinued the feature in 1941, and Swinnerton never brought it back. But he continued to paint Southwest landscapes, and made quite a name for himself doing so — on top of the name he'd already made as one of America's seminal newspaper cartoonists. Today, many of his paintings hang in that region's museums — including quite a few that originally appeared as episodes of Canyon Kiddies.


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Text ©2003-05 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Jimmy Swinnerton estate.