The Madcap Master Poet of the Improbable

“Madcap master poet of the improbable” was a phrase used by Pat Calhoun to describe the illustrator George Carlson (1887-1962).

The words “madcap” and “improbable” refer to Carlson’s frequently nonsensical comic plot lines and illustrations for the Jingle Jangle comic book series. In addition to his Jingle Jangle work, Carlson illustrated a number of Wanamaker’s Jollybook and John Martin’s Book series covers, as well as the first Gone With the Wind dust cover. His work also appears inside the Crypt of Civilization time capsule, which was sealed away in 1940 at Oglethorpe University in Georgia, and is scheduled to be reopened in 8113.

Despite Calhoun’s intriguing description of the artist, Carlson was little known in his own time, and is little remembered today. In the words of Harlan Ellison, Carlson’s work was simply “swept away with the silt and persiflage of a world whose attention is constantly being diverted to wrest the buck from its grasp.”

Carlson’s work may well be remembered by posterity when the Crypt of Civilization is opened. But he need not be forgotten in the meantime.

Below is a selection of Carlson’s Jingle Jangle illustrations.

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Issue 2, April 1942

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Issue 3, June 1942

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Issue 3, June 1942

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Issue 5, October 1942

For more information on George Carlson and his work, see the following article by Daniel Yezbick in the University of Florida’s ImageTexT journal, “Riddles of Engagement: Narrative Play in the Children’s Media and Comic Art of George Carlson.”  Or Yezbick’s book, Perfect Nonsense: The Chaotic Comics and Goofy Games of George Carlson.

All images shown are part of the George Carlson Collection at the Dowd Modern Graphic History Library. In addition to Jingle Jangle Comics, MGHL also has issues of Wanamaker’s Jollybook and John Martin’s Book in the collection.  Contact us to make an appointment if you would like view these items.

About the author

Maria Dorfman is a student in the Olin Business School.