Stanley (Stan) George Cross

Born Los Angeles, USA 1888
Died Armidale, New South Wales 1977

By Lindsay Foyle

In July 1933 Stan Cross drew what is said to be the world’s funniest cartoon. It had the caption, “For gor'sake stop laughing, this is serious!” which has been used on its own, almost as often as the cartoon has been published. But there was far more to Cross than just one cartoon.

Stanley George Cross was born in Los Angeles USA on 3 December 1888. His family moved to Perth in 1893, where Stan grew up. He attended the Perth State School where he was awarded a scholarship to attend Perth High. At the age of 16 he started work at the WA Railways Department as a clerical cadet. It was a job he took seriously and in 1906 he passed an examination in shorthand. Soon after he started to develop his drawing skills at the Technical School in Perth.

At the age of 24 Cross resigned from the WA Railways and sailed to London where he enrolled in the St Martin’s School of Art. He was living there during the early years of the First World War. While he never said why, after approximately two years he returned to Perth to work freelance. He was soon contributing to The Sunday Times, The Western Mail and the United Licensed Victuallers Association Journal.

In 1919 at the age of 31 Cross accepted an offer to become the second artist to be employed at Smith’s Weekly which was just starting. He was offered £5 a week - an opportunity too good to turn down.

He started drawing the comic ‘You and Me’ in 1921. It soon became popular and it was not long before newspapers all over Australia were publishing comics of their own. The following year A C Sandford published a collection of Cross’ drawings from Smith’s Weekly. The hard-covered book was called Australian Humour in Pen and Ink. Selling for six pence a copy it was promoted as being real Australian humour.

Cross was a foundation member of the Society of Australian Black and White Artists in 1924 and contributed to the U.S.A. Fleet Souvenir publication the following year.

Cross was kept busy drawing cartoons and comics for Smith’s Weekly. After ‘You and Me’, he drew a number of other comic strips, including ‘The Vaudevilles’.

After the death of Cecil Hartt in 1930, Cross also took over as president of the Society of Australian Black and White Artists’ (now known as the Australian Cartoonists’ Association). A position he held till 1954. Cross also took over as Art Director of Smith’s Weekly and was later appointed to the board of the paper.

Cross enjoyed enormous respect and popularity and was on the board of Smith’s Weekly. In the edition of 25 November 1933, the paper published a special supplement devoted solely to his work.

Towards the end of 1939 Smith’s Weekly was taken over. When Cross booked his customary Christmas holidays he was told he was not owed any. He was informed staff entitlements had been lost in the takeover. Cross did not react well to this news. He immediately contacted Keith Murdoch at The Herald in Melbourne who did not hesitate in offering Cross a job. He would stay in Sydney, operating from a studio over-looking the garden at his home in Wallaroy Road, Woollahara. With the offer of a new job in his pocket Cross resigned from Smith’s Weekly. Cross would have liked to have taken ‘You and Me’ with him, but was told Smith’s Weekly owned the copyright and would not release it.

His comic You and Me, was handed on to Jim Russell to draw who renamed it The Potts. Russell also took over as Art Director at Smith’s Weekly. Reluctantly Cross agreed to start a new comic with a weekly supply being dispatched to Melbourne. In July 1940, Cross started to draw the comic that evolved into ‘Wally and the Major’. It was soon syndicated to newspapers all over Australia. The strip eventually generated a series of eighteen comic book annuals.

From the early 1940s all most all of the artwork drawn by Cross, in his Sydney studio for the comic Wally and the Major, was sent to the Melbourne office of The Herald and Weekly Times. After it was reproduced it was stored in the office. But in 1957 someone in the Feature Service Department decided the drawings where taking up too much space. Most of them were destroyed. Cross was not told of the decision and only discovered the loss after the event. He was devastated at the destruction and complained bitterly, but it was too late the damage had been done.

During the 1950s Cross eyesight started to deteriorate. It became so bad that in 1957 he approached Carl Lyon and asked him to ink in his pencil drawings. Gradually Lyon became more involved with ‘Wally and the Major’ and started to do some of the writing as well helping Cross with the drawing. By 1964 both Cross and Lyon were signing the comics and in 1966 Lyon had assumed total responsibility for the weekly strips as well as continuing his involvement with the daily strips. Cross retired in 1970 leaving Lyon to work alone on the daily strips till he retired in 1979. For three years in the mid 1970s George Haddon drew the Sunday strips. Then Vernon Hayles took it on for 12 months. But like most newspaper comics, Wally and the Major can only be read in the history books now.

Cross died in Armidale, NSW on 16 June 1977 at the age of 89. A large collection of his drawings is held in the National Library of Australia.

In 1985 the ACA started the annual Stanley Awards named after Stanley George Cross.

Stan Cross entered the ACA Hall of Fame in 2009.

Further reading