The Little King by Otto Soglow

Otto Soglow, The Little King, August 7, 1960

Otto Soglow (1900-1975) had a highly unusual career arc. His cartooning career began with cartoons appearing in The Liberator and The New Masses, two leftwing periodicals, in the 1920s. Harold Ross, editor of The New Yorker, noticed his work and began publishing his cartoons there. It was in The New Yorker that the character of the Little King appeared. The Hearst syndicate saw the comic strip potential of the character and took Soglow on as a daily strip cartoonist in 1934 (although Soglow continued contributing to The New Yorker for decades). Despite his political beginnings and the potential for political satire in a strip whose protagonist is a king, The Little King was quite apolitical.

The strip is best known for its elegant minimalism. Indeed, The Little King is often a pantomime strip (in other words, no word balloons), and even when it does have dialogue, it is minimized, as in the example in this exhibit. Soglow brings the sensibility of the magazine gag cartoonist to the comics page. There is no continuity (each strip is a self-contained gag), but motifs are repeated--losing his crown, using some part of his palace or other royal holdings for advertising purposes, ridiculous military parades, etc. Art exhibits and modern art are often a subject for the strip as well. And throughout, the Little King is always depicted in profile with the exact same expression. The visual means of the strip are so deliberately limited that it almost becomes a comic strip equivalent of OuLiPo.

A very well-edited anthology of The Little King is in print.