Crockett Johnson

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Crockett Johnson
Crockett Johnson (mid-1960s).jpg
Born David Johnson Leisk
(1906-10-20)October 20, 1906
New York City, United States
Died July 11, 1993(1993-07-11) (aged 86)
Nationality American
Area(s) Cartoonist
Notable works
Barnaby, Harold and the Purple Crayon

Crockett Johnson was the pen name of cartoonist and children's book illustrator David Johnson Leisk (October 20, 1906–July 11, 1993). He is perhaps best known for the comic strip Barnaby (1942–1991) and the Harold series of books begun with Harold and the Purple Crayon.

From 1965 until his death Johnson created over a hundred paintings relating to mathematics and mathematical physics. Eighty of these are found in the collections of the National Museum of American History.[1]


Born in New York City, Johnson grew up in Elmhurst, Queens, studying art at Cooper Union in 1924, and at New York University in 1925.[2] He explained his choice of pseudonym as follows: "Crockett is my childhood nickname. My real name is David Johnson Leisk. Leisk was too hard to pronounce -- so -- I am now Crockett Johnson!"[2]

By the late 1920s, Johnson was art editor at several McGraw-Hill trade publications. With the Great Depression, Johnson became politicized and turned leftward, joining the radical Book and Magazine Writers Union. In 1934, he began his cartooning career by contributing to the Communist Party publication New Masses and subsequently joined the publication's staff, becoming its art editor and redesigning the magazine's layout. He remained with the magazine until 1940 and embarked on a career drawing comic strips in a series in Collier's magazine named "The Little Man with the Eyes". In 1942, he developed the Barnaby strip which would make him famous for the left-wing daily newspaper PM.[3] The children's book Harold and the Purple Crayon was published in 1955.

He died of lung cancer in 1993.[2]

Children's books[edit]

Johnson also collaborated on four children's books with his wife, Ruth Krauss. The books were: The Carrot Seed, How to Make an Earthquake, Is This You?, and The Happy Egg.

The books Harold and the Purple Crayon, Harold's Fairy Tale, and A Picture for Harold's Room have been adapted for animation by Gene Deitch.


  • Barnaby (1943)
  • Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley (1944)
  • Ruth Krauss, The Carrot Seed (1945), illus. by Johnson
  • Harold and the Purple Crayon (1955)
  • Is This You? (1955), co-written with Ruth Krauss
  • Franklyn M. Branley, Eleanoe K. Vaughn, Mickey's Magnet (1956), illus. by Johnson[4]
  • Barkis: Some precise and some speculative interpretations of the meaning of a dog's bark at certain times and in certain (illustrated) circumstances (1956)
  • Harold's Fairy Tale (Further Adventures with the Purple Crayon) (1956)
  • Harold's Trip to the Sky (1957)
  • Terrible, Terrifying Toby (1957)
  • Time for Spring (1957)
  • Bernadine Cook, The Little Fish That Got Away (1957)
  • Harold at the North Pole (1958)
  • The Blue Ribbon Puppies (1958)
  • Ellen's Lion: Twelve Stories (1959)
  • The Frowning Prince (1959)
  • Harold's Circus (1959)
  • Will Spring Be Early? or Will Spring Be Late? (1959)
  • A Picture for Harold's Room (1960)
  • Harold's ABC (1963)
  • The Lion's Own Story: Eight New Stories about Ellen's Lion (1963)
  • We Wonder What Will Walter Be? When He Grows Up (1964)
  • Castles in the Sand (1965), illus. by Betty Fraser
  • The Emperor's Gifts (1965)
  • Barnaby #1: Wanted, A Fairy Godfather (1985)
  • Barnaby #2: Mr. O'Malley and the Haunted House (1985)
  • Barnaby #3: Jackeen J. O'Malley for Congress (1986)
  • Barnaby #4: Mr. O'Malley Goes for the Gold (1986)
  • Barnaby #5: Mr. O'Malley, Wizard of Wall Street (1986)
  • Barnaby #6: J.J. O'Malley Goes Hollywood (1986)
  • Magic Beach (2005), with an appreciation by Maurice Sendak and an Afterword by Philip Nel
  • Barnaby, Volume One: 1942-1943 (2013), with a Foreword by Chris Ware and essays by Jeet Heer, Dorothy Parker, and Philip Nel
  • Barnaby, Volume Two: 1944-1945 (2014), with a Foreword by Jules Feiffer and essays by R.C. Harvey, Max Lerner, and Philip Nel

The Barnaby #1 to #6 books, published in paperback by Ballantine Books under the Del Rey imprint in 1985, were compilations of the first few years of the comic strip. Additional books were supposed to appear, but publication was suspended upon the death of Judy Lynn Del Rey. In 2013, Fantagraphics began republishing Barnaby. The five-volume collection, featuring all ten years of Barnaby, is expected to be complete in 2018.

A 1946 play, "Barnaby and Mr. O'Malley", was based on the comic strip. It played in several East Coast cities, attracting attention mainly for a scene in which O'Malley flew over the audience throwing out leaflets urging support for his Congressional race. Johnson said the child cast as Barnaby looked more like the cartoon Barnaby than any real child he ever expected to see, Producer—Barney Josephson; Script--Jerome Chodorov; O'Malley--J. M. Kerrigan; Barnaby--Thomas Wm. Hamilton; Jane—Iris Mann; McSnoyd--Royal Dano

See also[edit]


Further reading[edit]

All by Philip Nel

External links[edit]