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Sorry for the delay on these, but I had to go through all of my 1930 issues and most of my 1931 issues of Liberty before I found Leslie Fenton's story in the November 28, 1931 issue. I had to go well into 1932 before I found Douglas Fairbanks, Jr's story as well. Along the way, I found a few other short-shorts of interest, which I hope to post here, too.
The author's blurb says that Leslie Fenton "spent six years in the movies, appearing in WHAT PRICE GLORY?, THE PUBLIC ENEMY, and other films. Prior to that, he had spent some time on the legitimate stage. Two years ago, he turned down a motion-picture contract to go abroad to travel and write fiction."
THE COMIC ARTIST
A short-short story by Leslie Fenton
Remember that comic strip that ran in the Daily Herald some time back for six days? Everybody was talking about it. Then it mysteriously stopped. The office was flooded with inquiries . . . It was the only good strip I ever saw, and I've seen a lot. In fact, too many.
Guy Flecker did it. Remember? No one ever heard of him before, and since -- well, there are some who know part of the story, but only part.
I had left a party down near Washington Square one night, and was walking up to the Herald office, where I had some work to do. I dropped into a restaurant on Thirty-first Street for a cup of coffee -- it helps me, somehow. It was that dull hour before the theatres are over and after the dinner crowd have left.
I gulped down the black coffee, pulled out a cigarette, and was leaving, when a little fellow sitting alone over by the wall asked me if he could borrow a match. So I walked over to him. And while I'm pulling them out I see he's been doing some drawings. I can see at a glance he's no punk, so I sit down with him for a while and talk. It's this Guy Flecker. A strange-looking fellow he is, with very light blue eyes, and young -- couldn't have been more that twenty-five or -six. He tells me what a tough time he's had, and that he doesn't know how to sell his cartoons -- which look good to me. But all the time he seems happy. You know what I mean? And he has a habit of squinting his eyes tightly, using his whole face to do it, as though they hurt him -- then turning the whole thing into a joke and laughing. But the laugh wasn't quite right. I've heard guys laugh like that before going to the chair.
Then I tell him I'm with the Herald, and he's off. He's all excited. Wants me to go up to his place and see some of his stuff. So up we go, and he's living in the loft of that building on the corner of Twenty-eighth and Broadway. He is just taking some drawings out of a combined desk and drawing board, when the lights go out. I'm standing in the dark expecting anything for a couple of seconds. Then I ask him what's the matter, but he doesn't answer. In another five seconds it's on again. He's standing there with his eyes closed and his face all twisted up. Then he opens them and laughs. That same laugh.
"You see," he says, "I haven't any money, so I've got my lights rigged up to the tobacco sign outside . . ."
Now can you beat that?
Well, in the intervals of this light going on and off I see some of his work -- and it's marvelous. In his line he's a genius, as anyone who saw what did come out will have to admit. On the drawing board is a pair of thick-lens glasses, but one eye is missing. (Then I know why he screws up his face the way he does.)
He tells me the doctor has warned him to stop working nights -- but it's the only time he can do anything. I can understand that. I'm the same way.
Well, the lights are on for thirty seconds and off for ten . . . And even working under those conditions he's developed a comic strip that -- well, you saw it! If you didn't, you should have.
I've seen some raw deals in my time, but this one tops the list. I can hardly talk. I think of those two mugs who call themselves artists we've got in the office, and the money they get for turning out a lousy strip that's enough to put the paper out of business in another six months! As you know, I like my job -- so I figure I've got to get this Flecker in. Not only to help him, but to keep the Herald going and my job!
I tell him to see Ramsay, our editor, at two o'clock next day, and by that time I'll have talked to him.
He did everything but kiss me!
One look was enough to convince Ramsay. He not only put Flecker on, but advanced him enough money so'd he could move out of that dive into a nice hotel, and have some new glasses made, and things like that.
I bump into him again in Columbus Circle four days later, just by accident. He's all happy about his job, and I go in with him while he has a sedative. He's got a headache, which he explains he has most of the time, and his eyes are closed oftener than they are open.
I tell him he ought to try and work in the daytime -- that this night work is an awful strain. But he just repeats that it's the only way he can do it, and then he's off to do his strip.
Now, here's the rest of the story as I see it -- and don't forget I investigated it at the time.
He went to his hotel, and left word that he didn't want to be disturbed. In his room he pulled down the windows and shades to keep out disturbing noises. And with one bright light shining over his board, he set to work. His drawing wasn't half finished when suddenly everything went black.
He counted ten, blinked his eyes, and opened them. Then he must have realized he wasn't in his old room . . . it was still black.
He must have felt this would happen some day. He moved one hand slowly through the dark in the direction of the light and touched it. It was hot. Yes, he must have expected it, and made up his mind long ago what to do when it happened.
He didn't hesitate.
He felt for the drawer underneath his board, and took out a gun he had kept just for this purpose.
There might have been a moment when he thought how tough it was, after having worked so hard to reach his mark.
But only a moment -- and I'll bet he turned it into that laugh.
Then pulled the trigger . . .
It couldn't have been long after that that the bell boy knocked at the door to tell him the fuse had been burned out, but the lights would be on in a minute.