Mel Cummin, American (1895 - 1980)

Melville Porter Cummin (January 29, 1895 – December, 1980), popularly known as Mel Cummin, was a magazine illustrator and a newspaper staff artist; a notable cartoonist in the early decades of American comic strips; and a Golden Age comic book artist and art director. He was active in the Society of Friends. Cummin was also a well-known naturalist and explorer.

Mel Cummin was a newspaper cartoonist for the Metropolitan Newspaper Service. He drew the 'Good Time Guy' strip in 1927-28. The strip was written by "Frank Smiley".

Mel Cummin was born in Brooklyn, New York on January 29, 1895. Of Quaker origin, Cummin attended Friends Seminary. On course at a young age for his eventual career, Melville Cummin is listed in Mary Mapes Dodge's St. Nicholas Magazine in 1909 as President of a seven-member chapter of the St. Nicholas League called "St. Nick Drawing Club". He attended National Preparatory Academy and the Art Students League of New York. He held no college degrees. Cummin married at around age 20.

Cummin worked as a graphic artist for many decades. At various times he was a staff artist for publications of the Boy Scouts of America (c. 1912, shortly after the organization's founding), the American Kennel Club, and West Point. Cummin drew editorial cartoons for The Middletown News-Signal, an Ohio daily. He worked as an illustrator for the San Francisco Examiner as well as a number of New York newspapers, and also contributed to magazines, including the original Life.

One of the endeavors that brought Cummin popular notice was his recurring paper dolls/cut-outs section for McCall's Magazine beginning in the early 1920s. Examples of his subjects include Teeny Town, Martha and George Washington, Dappelton Farm's Wagon House and Hay Barn, Strike Out for the Camp-Fire Trail! (shown), The Madisons and Their Family Carriage and John Adams and Abigail, His Wife. Our American Humorists (1922 ed.) lists Cummin among many others including Winsor McCay as "Our Comic Artists," and (in a probable reference to this work for McCall's) credits him with "Children's Cartoons."

Later in the decade, Cummin was the first artist for Good Time Guy, which began in 1927. During the strip's short run at Metropolitan Newspaper Service, Cummin worked with writer Bill Conselman, a notable screenwriter who was writing under the pen name "Frank Smiley". Cummin was succeeded the following year by Dick Huemer.

Around the same time, Cummin began developing a comic strip called Hap Hazzard (alternatively titled Hap McSnap)., which may not have ever seen publication. Hap Hazzard featured an art deco-influenced style (the originals surfaced in the 1990s comic art market), with dialog full of puns and complicated wordplay, suggesting it too may have been written by Conselman. Cummin made another foray into comics in 1929 with Traveler in the Land of Trundletree, a daily strip that may have been nationally syndicated, or only local.

Cummin was a well-known artist-naturalist, who produced work for museums (including backgrounds and drawings for exhibits) and their publications, and was a benefactor of the American Museum of Natural History. His deep personal interest in nature is further evidenced by his very active "Life Fellow" membership in New York's Explorers Club, which he joined in 1937. He was elected the Club's Third Vice President in 1954, and he also served as Secretary. Over the years, Cummin joined expeditions to Haiti, Santo Domingo, and the Canadian Arctic (on the latter expedition he carried the Explorers Flag). He collected specimens, took photographs, and painted and drew what he encountered in nature. In 1978 he was awarded the Edward C. Sweeney Medal for service to the Explorers Club.

In the late 1930s, Cummin decided to marry his comic strip experience to his passion for naturalism in creating Back to Nature. This educational syndicated daily newspaper feature spotlighted flora and fauna facts with the subjects rendered in a naturalistic art style. In promoting the feature Cummin wrote, "We pride ourselves on our culture, on our mastery of the principles of modern science; and, like peacocks, we like to display the social graces. Yet, many would trade places gladly with our forefathers who lived so close to nature. Our so-called civilization is merely a thin veneer covering a framework of rough wood that has been thousands of years in the making."

Mel Cummin drew covers, interiors, and he also served as art director from 1946-49 for Novelty Press, one of the numerous comic book publishers of the Golden Age of the 1940s (his tenure as art director there is alternately listed as 1943-1948 on the Who's Who of American Comic Books 1928-1999 website). The cover to Target Comics #V7 #1, for example, was produced from Cummin's pencil and ink artwork.

Cummin's home studio was set in the beautiful scenery of the Hudson Highlands, in Fort Montgomery, New York. In 1977, he listed his present occupation on a questionnaire as "trying to convince myself that I'm retired," and his avocations as "model-making, dioramas, and designing wooden toys for children."

Cummin died in December of 1980, survived by his wife of 65 years, Marion, and two daughters, Eleanor and Miriam.

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