Mr. Mark just after he's been duped again. Artist: F.M. Howarth.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The American Journal-Examiner
First Appeared: 1903
Creator: F.M. Howarth
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The first decade of the 20th century was a time of "high concept" comics in newspapers, strips where most of the gags came from a single premise, which could be stated in a single short sentence, comics like The Outbursts of Everett True or Mr. A. Mutt. Often, the premise was stated in the comic's title, like Professor Otto & His Auto or Dolby's Double. Mr. E.Z. Mark, one of dozens of early comics stars who are scarcely remembered today, was named after the fact that he was an easy mark for con men, …

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… swindlers and others who endeavor to separate honest people from their money by dishonest means. Most episodes involved him falling for one sleazy scheme or another.

There is some discrepancy about exactly when Mr. Mark first appeared in newspapers. Many sources say it ran only during 1906 and '07, but Bill Blackbeard of The San Francisco Academy of Comic Art, who has contributed immeasurably to comics preservation, in part by supplying originals for such comics as Krazy Kat and Wash Tubbs to be reprinted from, has documented the feature in papers as early as 1903. Whenever it ran, it appeared in The American Journal-Examiner, and was created by cartoonist F.M. Howarth (Lulu & Leander).

Howarth usually isn't cited as one of comics' founding fathers, but that may be because he died before he was 40. If he'd had the later, possibly longer-lasting creations that might have come with the artistic maturity he had only a brief chance to enjoy, he might have been remembered alongside Swinnerton (Little Jimmy), Dirks (The Katzenjammer Kids) and Outcault (The Yellow Kid). During the 1890s, he'd contributed work to Puck, a leading American humor publication, that had influenced the development of the comics form in ways easily comparable to the contributions of those giants. One way he might have influenced the field was in his persistent use of typeset captions for narration, rather than hand-lettered word balloons.

But as it was, Mr. E.Z. Mark was a prominent part of his work. It's unclear whether or not it was still running at the time of his death, 1908. There are reports that it had ended by that time, but there are also reports that it was continued by a cartoonist named Wells.

In any case, Mr. Mark was either still a going concern by 1912, or at least a recent enough memory to retain some commercial viability. The Edision Company (Buster Brown) released a comedy short about Mr. E.Z. Mark on February 3 of that year, titled Lucky Dog. They followed it up with Madame de Mode, released July 13, but it didn't become a regular series. William Wadsworth, who lacks other toon connections, played Mr. Mark.

It's hard to imagine such a one-note, where people know what's going to happen just from the character's name, becoming much of a media sensation. The fact that he may have lasted as long as nine years is a credit to his creator.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. "Mr. E.Z. Mark" is in the public domain. This image has been modified. Modified version © Donald D. Markstein.