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Thursday, February 09, 2006


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Birth: 1875
Death: 1974


"the Dean of desert artists," painter, a pioneering cartoonist, illustrator

Bio Summary

His full real name is James Guilford Swinnerton Jr. He was born in Eureka, CA. His mother's name is Jennie Wise and she passed away a little over a year after she gave birth to him. Therefore he was sent to his grandparents and stayed with them until 1879 when his father got remarried. However, his relationship with his stepmom wasn't good and he was moving back and forth between his father's place and grandparents' place. Then he ran away when he was 14, ending up in San Francisco. At age of 16, he entered San Francisco Art Association School. And he got hired for San Francisco Examiner and starts his career as cartoonist and grows up to be "a pioneering cartoonist" and "the dean of desert artists."

Early Life/Family

His grandparents came to CA. in wagon with his four kids. His father was a judge of the superior court in Stockton. His mom passed away a little over a year after giving birth to James Jr. and had stepmom whom he didn't get along. He got married couple of times but never got settled. There is no records of his own family that I could find.


At age of 16, he studied art under William Keith and Emil Carlson in San Francisco Art Association school.

Career Outline

Before he graduates, he starts working at San Francisco Examiner as sketch artists (1892). He produced weekly cartoons for children's section where he created California Bears, The little bears, and little bears and tykes. Especially his Little bears and tykes (1892) was His cartoons were an immense hit. Then in 1896, with William Randolph Hearst's invitation and encouragement, he moved to New York and produced comic strips for The New York Journal American. In Mr. Jack (1898), he changed his bear to tiger and is a possible "fully-realized anthropomorphic animals" comic strip. Then his the most popular and his most personal favorite Little Jimmy (1904-1958) was created. It first appeared sporadically then it was on a regular in the Sunday comics section. It had to stop as Swinnerton retires. He moved back to dry desert area in CA. because of his health condition: Palm spring, CA. He had a studio there and another one in LA. It was about 4 years later he moved back to CA. when he started traveling desert areas in New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and California and started painting beauties of deserts. And earns the title of "the dean of desert artists." Moreover, his love for desert and traveling made him to create another one of his great works, Canyon Kiddies (1922-1941). It was for Good Housekeeping Magazine. And it is one of the only two outside propertied that was licensed by Warner Bros.

Comments On Style

clean, open style, with bold, and clear lines


His students are George Herriman (Krazy Kat), Rudolph Dirks (Katzenjammer Kids) and painter, Maynard Dixon


colorful personality, not too tall and with "a face like a frog," willing to share his knowledge, mixture of fact and fiction, loves drinking (alcohol)


A year before Little Jimmy was created (he was only 27 years old), he was told he would not live much longer because he has tuberculosis. However, he lived over 70 healthy years after he was told that from the doctor. Later someone asked him what happened and he said that since he greatly fell in love with the scenery and the beautiful sunsets that he *forgot* to die.


His last marriage was with Gretchen Parshall in 1938. The couple moved back to CA together which I'm not sure if Swinnerton took her with him when he started traveling. Moreover, there's no further information of his family that I could find.


Little Jimmy was in the Betty Boop film Betty Boop and Little Jimmy (1936).


Related Links

A-HAA: Cartooning: Jimmy Swinnerton

Bibliographic References

Contributors To This Listing

Yoonhee Cho

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