Margaret Mitchell: From Debutante to Rebellious Writer

When most people think of author Margaret Mitchell, they think Gone With the Wind. Before Scarlett O’Hara was written into existence, there was Peggy Mitchell, a pavement-pounding reporter chronicling life in the Jazz Age South.

Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia and was a rebel from the start. From a young age she dressed in boys clothing and often went by “Jimmy”. Mitchell found herself drawn to storytelling and writing as a young girl but school was a different matter entirely. She often found it boring and wasn’t as studious as her strict mother would have liked. At about 11 years old, Mitchell was thrown from her horse and suffered an ankle injury –– the first of three that would bring an end to her journalism career. During the war years (1914-1918) she attended Atlanta’s Washington Seminary for girls where she began to use the name Peggy.

fullsizeoutput_c15Mitchell went to Smith College at her mother’s insistence, but her mother’s death cut her tenure short. Mitchell caught the first train home, but arrived too late. She finished out the academic year, and returned home to be with her father and brother. A year later, she made her debut into Atlanta society as a debutante. Always one to shake things up, Mitchell also became a flapper, started a group called “The Rebel Debutantes” and performed a rather edgy dances at a debutante ball.

In the same year (1922) the country was mourning the death of Nellie Bly, Mitchell finagled her way into a job at the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. Though she lacked experience as a news writer and had never touched a typewriter, she lied to the editor and got the job.Version 2

Mitchell was married to “Red” Upshaw at the time she began working for the Journal Magazine, but she opted to use her maiden name as her byline. Upshaw was many things–– a bootlegger, unemployed and violent. Their marriage did not last long. He left her, returning months later broke and angry, provoking Margaret to file for divorce.

According to Mitchell’s editor at the Journal Magazine, Angus Perkerson, she proved to be a valuable report who was ready for any story thrown her way. In a 1945 interview Perkerson said, “…she never looked down on any story. And she wrote like a man… Her stories did not require much editing. They ran as she wrote them.” She wrote about Georgian society, the role of women, voting rights, relationships and marriage, personality sketches, and gangs for over four years. Her stories were often the talk of either controversy or high praise. Her profiles on Georgian Civil War generals were hugely popular and provided inspiration for Gone With the Wind (GWTW).

During her time at the Journal Magazine, Mitchell married fellow journalist John Marsh who happened to be the best man at her first wedding. Marsh would become her primary editor for her first and only novel. Mitchell’s career as a reporter ended after she re-injured her ankle. Mitchell wrote more than 200 articles as a journalist.

The first manuscript for GWTW was completed in 1929. She drew on the stories of Confederate soldiers she’d heard as a child. Over the next five years, Mitchell worked on her novel periodically but made no effort to publish it, thinking it wasn’t polished enough. Finally, in 1935, Harold Latham, a literary editor, convinced Mitchell to let him read the gigantic manuscript. During the next five months, she edited, cut, and revised her work as much as she could. The final edition of Gone With the Wind was published June 1936. It was a smash hit. By October, a million copies were sold. In the same year, Mitchell sold the movie rights to producer David Selznick for 50 million dollars. The popularity of the novel earned Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the annual American Booksellers Association award.

The film version of GWTW premiered in Atlanta in 1939. Come awards season, it received 10 Academy Awards, including “Best Picture”. Even with the success of GWTW, Mitchell chose not to write another novel. Instead, she spent her time answering letters from fans. When America entered WWII, she volunteered as a Red Cross nurse and used the income from her novel to help others. Though she had a complicated relationship with African-Americans, she donated a lot of money to support the education of black doctors. She remained a secret benefactor for the rest of her life.

Mitchell met an untimely end in August 1949. While on the way to a movie, a car hit her, putting her in a coma. She died five days later. In her will there were instructions to have her work burned. Marsh followed her request but grabbed a few pages of GWTW before they burned incase Mitchell’s authorship was ever questioned.

Pavement Pounding Journalist

In the 1920s, it was still uncommon for a married woman to work. A husband was expected to be the breadwinner. This was not so in Mitchell’s first marriage. The one good thing to come from her union with Upshaw was Mitchell’s need to work. Her first assignment for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine was to report on Atlanta socialite, Mrs. Mary Hines Gunsaulus, and the newest fashion she’d seen while in Europe. During the interview, Gunsaulus mentioned she’d witnessed the Fascist revolution in Italy. Originally, the Fascist bit was tacked onto the end of the style report, but Mitchell’s editor turned the story on its head, making world political news relevant to Atlanta society.

Angus Perkerson, managing editor of the Journal Magazine, hired Mitchell to cover the style and entertainment beats, thinking her social connections would come in handy. In a collection of her articles, edited by Patrick Allen, her work is divided into sections such as “Mode and Manners”, “The Debutante and the ‘New Woman'”, and “In and Out of Wedlock”. While these stories were much lighter and fun to read, Mitchell didn’t shy away from hard news. She covered a criminal beat, reporting on Bunko Gangs, rum runners, and thieves. Even these articles focused more on the human aspects rather than the crimes.

Most of her articles, even ones that would typically be classified as “Hard News”, have a distinct story-telling feel. Readers do not feel as if they are getting a facts-only, straight news article. Mitchell’s are full of personality, humor and color.

Mitchell’s work follows patterns found in non-fiction and new journalism, as they are more immersive and focus on truth over fact.

“Fashion is fickle in all things, from the position of waist lines to the size of tips, but nowhere is She more changeable than in slang expressions.”

-“The Cat Has No Pajamas”, June 1924; pg. 31-34

In her articles on styles in slang, she presents a subjective truth that fashion is never stagnant especially in the words we use. fullsizeoutput_c17She has her readers imagine Miss 1923– the most fashion forward and ideal woman of the modern age. Miss 1923 is up-to-date on everything, most importantly, language. (“Spring Styles in Slang Reach Atlanta”, April 1923; pg.9-11) Mitchell’s presentation of Miss 1923 got me thinking about what Miss 2018 would be like. Would she be an aspiring Instagram model wearing the latest in hipster fashion and have multi-colored hair? She’d almost certainly use words like “bae”, “lit”, “yaass”, “extra” or “low-key”. While Miss 1923 and 2018 would appear completely opposite, their attitudes towards the world, style, and language might be surprisingly similar. In many of her writings, she allows her humor to poke through. Her brand of humor is less subtle than Bly’s but isn’t as outright as more modern writers like Chuck Klosterman or Nora Ephron.

“Men are endowed with ostrich-like attributes which Providence spared women.”

-“Just Like a Woman; Ditto for Men”, March 1923; pg.85-88

Style was only a small part of her repertoire. Like Bly, Mitchell writes many articles on women. She also covered marriage and relationships, voting rights, and work in a woman’s world. In her July 1924 article, “Do Working Women Make the Best Wives?” she explores the quandary of whether a wife should be employed. Version 2While some believed having a job would make women less feminine and too independent, others argued the experience would give wives a better understanding of their husbands and the value of a dollar. She wrote it was smart to work and “As for making a good wives, the girls declare that far from ruining them as homemakers, a job before marriage is the best insurance of a happy married life.” (pg. 102)

The structure of a typical article written by Margaret Mitchell begins with a short headline and a snappy lede.

Shot Three Times, Missed Him–– Divorced

Last Straws.

The little things that break the backs of camels and the yoke of matrimony.

Some of her articles feature a short synopsis before the lede and a great many are segmented. The article above has four subheadings, ‘Threw Bed Clothes on the Floor’, ‘The Dentist’s Wife’, ‘Trailed by Detectives’ and ‘Missed Him Three Times’. I feel this can be a good way of presenting a story as it naturally sets the reader up for a new idea. It could also be a good way to transition if other methods aren’t working.

Despite having a short career in journalism, Mitchell went on to write one of the most popular books in American history. She may have been born with story-telling in her blood, but her stint at the Journal Magazine prepared her and allowed her to hone her skills before embarking on the road to Gone With the Wind.

What I’ve Learned:

Every News Article is a Story- While hard news typically stays with the facts, there is no reason not to make the piece compelling. Mitchell achieved this by using her natural lyrical style and providing plenty of description of her subjects.

“Grandma Veal is a slight, tiny figure, yet erect of carriage. Her small face is wrinkled and faintly yellow, but marked with determination.

Her eyes, undimmed by age, gleam vivaciously over her spectacles and her small hands are constantly in motion as she talks.”

“Grandma Veal Speaks Her Mind on Her 102nd Birthday”, October 1924; pg. 172-179

99yr-old Flapper

While reporting on Grandma Veal, Mitchell came across a 99 year-old flapper who celebrated her recent birthday by getting a bob. When Grandma Veal hears the story she is flabergasted!

The Lede is as Important as the Headline- Mitchell knows how to write a good headline. Both her headlines and ledes are fantastically crafted. A punching headline will get readers to look at the article, but a good lede will get them to continue reading.

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It’s Ya Boi…Spiderman!

E.A.T comicsIMG_1707IMG_1707I made this comic a while ago while I was watching the new(ish) Spiderman with my little brother. I was reminded of a funny article I had read in the STL Post DispatchJPEG image-6CE229921D5A-1

#TBT: Old Comics!

I was recently flipping through an old sketchbook and I found my first real comics! I made these for a final project in a Short Story class.

So without further ado, here are some of my old comics:

Hunger Artist

“The Hunger Artist” by Franz Kafka

Stienbeck- -Chrysanthemums-

“The Chrysanthemums” by John Steinbeck

why i live at the p.o.

“Why I Live at the P.O.” by Eudora Welty

O'Connor--Good Country People-

“Good Country People” by Flannery O’Connor

Joyce- -Araby-

“Araby” by James Joyce

A&P comic

“A&P” by John Updike

Everyday Use Comic

“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker

Sonny's Blues Comic

“Sonny’s Blues” by James Baldwin

Brutal Reality Strikes Back

IMG_E1407This is what I was really thinking after I delievered my English Capstone presentation on Ray Bradbury. Brutal Reality: 1 Ellen: 0

Bonus Picture: Ray Bradbury!! (Ingore the writing- this is from one of my notebooks)IMG_E1416.JPG

Thank You, Mr. Watterson

Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I absolutely love Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I was raised on the comics, learned how to read with them, gained a broader imagination through them, and I still read them to this day. I want to use this post to explain just how much I love this strip and how it has impacted my life. However, I don’t know if the words I have are adequate or even enough to really show my apprieciation for Mr. Watterson. 

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All strips featured in this post are from The Indispensible Calvin and Hobbes (1992). [View Larger]

For quick reference, Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip about a mischevious, intelligent 6 year old boy and his stuffed tiger. Written by Bill Watterson, the strip ran from 1985-1995 and ran in 2,400 newspapers worldwide.

When I was little (probably about 5-7 years old), my dad would pull out a book of Calvin and Hobbes and read me to sleep. Dad’s only mistake was thinking that it would put me to sleep. Calvin’s adventures and vast imagination filled my head with stories and my own possible adventures that kept me awake. Now, about 17 years later, I’ve begun making my own comic strips and incorporating many things I’ve learned from Mr. Watterson and Calvin.

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Spaceman Spiff is one of Calvins’s many alteregos. Thanks to Spaceman Spiff, I wanted to grow up to be an Astronaut-Princess who piloted her own spaceship and faught menacing aliens. [View Larger]

From his comics, I’m learning how to organize my comics in an asthetically pleasing, yet readable way, how to write the dialogue of comics, and how to turn everyday experiences into fantastical adventures.

I could say here how clever, creative, enduring, intelligent, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and hilarious Calvin and Hobbes is, but anyone who’s read the comics already understands. And if you haven’t read them, stop what you are doing and go read them. I suppose I don’t have much more to say, other than Thank You, Mr. Watterson.

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My take on Bill Watterson’s style. I created this comic in response to hearing a lot of Christmas talk before Thanksgiving. (It’s actually one of my biggest pet peeves.)

The Politics of Cartoons

Note: with cartoons, political = editorial (for the most part) 

In America’s current political climate, many artists have published cartoons that criticize the (political, societal, etc) system. This is not a new phenomenon. The idea of “political” or “editorial” cartoons has been around since Leonardo da Vinci. da Vinci did a series of caricatures

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Five Caricature Heads by Leonardo da Vinci.  https://www.wikiart.org/en/leonardo-da-vinci/five-caricature-heads

focusing on deformities and the grotesque, in which he would dramatize and parody a person or person’s features. Much later, caricatures would become the basis for political cartoons, using allusions (creating context) to satirize and critique the establishment in a single panel.

Many art historians cite William Hogarth and James Gillroy (both living in the 18th century) as the fathers of the political cartoon. While there were many other influenctial artists along the way, Ben Franklin‘s “Join or Die” cartoon is one of the most important (and popular) American political cartoons as it was the first printed in the United States. Franklin’s cartoon symbolized colonial unity during the French and Indian War and was used again during the Revolutionary War to rally the colonies against Britain. This cartoon is of particular interest because it didn’t critique the enemy but turned the finger towards the self as if to say “Why aren’t we standing together and fighting back?” benjamin-franklin

When the 20th century came around, editorial cartoons grew in popularity thanks to the industrial revolution, expansion of newspaper printing, and World War I. With world wide turmoil, there was much to critique including the League of Nations which many people thought was useless.

FUN FACT: Dr. Seuss made several cartoons speaking out about issues such as “America First”, racism and political corruption. lead_960

Today, political cartoons remain popular due to the current American government and the way social media allows artists to share their work with the world. Magazines like The New Yorker and many newspapers still publish editorial cartoons everyday

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Drew Sheneman  Copyright 2017 Tribune Content Agency

which have made waves on social media as well. The artistic style of political cartoons have changed a lot throughout the past few centuries, but satire and change has always been at the center of the art.

This week’s comic is my commentary on the net neutrality discussions. IMG_1393

A Reflection on Inktober

If my memory proves correct, I’ve attempted the month-long social media event, known as Inktober, only once before.

What is Inktober?
During the month of October, artists (of all skill levels) are challenged to create something new every day according to a theme. The rules aren’t very strict, allowing people to come up with their own themed lists or post as much or as little as they deem possible. Artists are not required to draw/post every day if they can’t find the time. The goal of Inktober is to give people a reason or the time to really work on their skills. A drawing a day for a month may not result in much visible progress, but it could help an artist to develop a habit.prompt

This year, I thought I’d join in so I could develop my skills for this comics blog. I didn’t have a lot of time, but I thought the attempt was worth it. I wasn’t able to complete the full 31-day challenge but I did as many as I could. I ended up with 20 drawings, some of which were comics while others were doodles. In the end, it was a fantastic challenge. It forced me to be creative every day instead of once a week. Knowing my comics and doodles would be going on social media, I put more effort into the ideas and the products. By attempting to stick with it and come up with decent drawings, I do think I improved. Plus, I gained some Instagram followers!

Comics Spotlight: Speed Bump and The Argyle Sweater

One panel comics are short and to the point often absurd and pun-derful. With one panel comics, there is no waiting for the punchline and it often lacks a drawn-out narrative. One way to think about one-panels and strips is comparing it to literature formats: Strips are like novels whereas one-panels operate like short stories. While there are several comics like these floating around in the papers and online, two that stand out to me are Speed Bump by Dave Coverly and The Argyle Sweater by Scott HilburnBoth of these comics have an absurd nature to them and take normal concepts and turn them upside down. IMG_E1379For example, Speed Bump might take two concepts, a work vacation, and a sheep herding dog, and mash them together. The Argyle Sweater typically takes concepts, like online dating, and uses characters that seem out of place to act them out. IMG_E1381I especially enjoy these two comics because they make you take a minute to figure it out. While they sometimes rely on dumb punchlines, they often make readers see the mundane in a slightly different light.

Other popular one-panels include The Family Circus, Bizarro, Rhymes with Orange, Cornered, and The Far Side.

With the internet and mobile phones gradually replacing newspapers, many comics have moved online. Some cartoonists have exclusively put their content online and have developed a large following. One of those artists is Doug Savage, creator of Savage Chickens. He uses chickenschickengps2 to talk about very human concepts and it certainly makes for an absurdly funny comic.

Not all one-panel comics need to be funny to be successful. Political/editorial cartoons are often limited to a single panel and use a splash of humor to comment on serious topics. Political cartoons are also usually a bit absurd.

From creating my own one-panel, I discovered that it’s not as simple as it looks. The concept needs to be simple and understandable to a large audience, and you need to deliver the punchline immediately. I first struggled to come up with a good subject, and then I struggled to find the right phrasing to fit it all in. I have a new found respect for all the one-panel artists out there. IMG_1321

Comics Spotlight: Blondie

On September 8, 1930, Chic Young’s now insanely popular comic strip, Blondie, appeared in newspapers across America. It began with a pretty flapper girl, Blondie Boopadoop, and a bumbling, awkward, billionaire’s son, Dagwood Bumstead. At the beginning, Dagwood was just one of Blondie’s many boyfriends, but eventually, the two fell in love. They tied the knot in 1933, in a highly anticipated and memorable comic strip. As a result of their marriage, Dagwood was almost immediately disinherited and written out of his father’s will and “Dagwood and Blondie had to go out into the world and hack it like the rest of us” (Dean Young).

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Before I drew a comic inspired by Blondie‘s style, I figured I’d practice by drawing the two main characters and the logo.

Today the strip is written and illustrated by Chic’s son, Dean as well as head artist, John Marshall. Dagwood and Blondie’s day-to-day escapades revolve around their work and home lives. The Bumsteads have two teenage children, Alexander and Cookie, and a dog, Daisy, all of whom make frequent appearances in the strip. The strip also features the Bumstead’s neighbors and coworkers.

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A Blondie strip from Oct. 25, 2015, which includes characters from other newspaper strips such as Dustin, Zits, and Baby Blues. 

In its early years, the strip’s success led to the creation of several “Blondie” movies spanning from 1938-1950, and a 26-episode TV series in 1957. Blondie was portrayed by Penny Singleton in the movies and Pamela Britton on TV while Dagwood was played by Arthur Lake in both.

I think the strip’s enduring popularity comes from its ability to represent and show the absurd and hilarious in the mundane. While this is the aim of most comics, Blondie does it particularly well as it comes off extremely relatable and makes me laugh almost every time. Another reason I find Blondie so funny is that I see a bit of my dad’s personality (and maybe a bit of my own) in Dagwood. I think the most incredible thing is that the strip has been in print for almost 90 years. I can’t think of any other comic that has endured so long. The creators must be doing something right!

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My comic inspired by the Blondie comics. I wanted to find a way to include Dagwood’s famous sandwiches and it just so happens that I really DO get excited about sandwiches.