The history of Undertoad Comics is a long and storied one, filled to the brim with hard-work, determination, theft, deception, and mercenary tactics. Though only on the web for a little over a year, the company has actually existed in one form or another for 150 years. It is in honor of this sesquicentennial that we here at The Global Street Journal proudly present the definitive, albeit severely abbreviated, history of a truly American institution.

Winston Hezekiah Beck
c. 1865


Chapter One: The Tawdry Beginnings

The story begins downright shamefully with the adventures of Winston Hezekiah Beck. Winston, also known variously as “Winston the Wedge”, “Killer McGee”, “Admiral Ronald L. Piccadilly”, and “The Lakeside Lurker” was a notorious scoundrel of unprecedented wickedness. While almost nothing is known of his youth, the earliest known records pick up in Logan County, KY where Beck was incarcerated on multiple counts of theft, larceny, assault and battery, public drunkenness, lewdness, and public spitting. In 1847 he, managed to escape from prison (supposedly by convincing the guard that Winston himself was actually the guard’s mother-in-law) and made his way north..


In 1849, he settled in the Juneautown section of Milwaukee in the newly stated Wisconsin. Milwaukee, having just three years earlier overcome the Bridge War and united into one city, was in no condition to handle a rogue of Beck’s caliber. Thus, he was roundly ignored in the hopes that he would just “go away”. Beck had other plans, however, and soon he became quite wealthy running a wildly popular casino boat anchored in the Milwaukee River, which he claimed were “international waters”. The law heartily disagreed and in 1854 “The S.S. Can’t Touch Me” was shut down, run out into Lake Michigan, and sunk. Beck escaped prosecution by greasing a few palms but soon lost his fortune in a series of ill-advised drunken craps shoots.

Not one to admit defeat, Beck soon came upon a new scheme to make it back to “Easy Street”. Sensing the growing popularity of the emerging medium now known as photography, Beck robbed and killed his neighbor, Sir Henri Harcourt-Reilly, simply because the old bugger happened to own a rudimentary camera and darkroom. Hiding the body and taking over the darkroom, Beck undertook what was at the time still a rather unique photographic enterprise: pornography. Rigging up a rather ingenious mount for the camera and photographic lenses (which he patented in1866), Beck stationed himself in the Milwaukee sewers beneath open grates.As young women passed, Beck would take photos, notable as quite possibly the earliest covert upskirt pictures ever taken. In 1857, taking advantage of the name of the then popular “Toad-style” skirts, he began selling his photos as “Under Toad Pictographs”. They were wildly popular and within four years Beck had twenty-two cameras and a staff of nearly sixty.

One of the only remaining original Under Toad Pictographs
 


Alberto “Cutter” Guardalabene
c. 1872

This enterprise was to be soon cut tragically short, however. Alberto “Cutter” Guardalabene, a young member of the burgeoning Milwaukee mafia, was perusing a collection of “Under Toad Pictographs” with intent to buy when he identified one of the women as his sister by a scar on her ankle. Furious, he jumped Beck on downtown Van Buren St., fought him, and stabbed him in the throat (though not before losing an eye in the process). Beck, still conscious, refused medical attention and died in the street. Due to his numerous aliases, Beck’s true identity could not be legally asserted and he was buried in an unmarked grave somewhere in the Washington Park area. So as to stop any further distribution of the offensive photo of his sister, Guardalabene burned down Beck’s houses and offices. Guardalabene, who remained a prominent gangster for years (as the infamous “One-Eye Guard”) stated in 1911 that Beck was without a doubt the “meanest, scrappiest son of a gun I ever had the pleasure of killing”.

In 1873 with Beck dead and all employees much too afraid to take up operations once more, Under Toad Pictographs was officially closed and soon sunk into obscurity. It would be over three decades before the name was resurrected.

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