Friday, July 12, 2024

 

Selling It: The Joe E. Brown Grape-Nuts Club

 


Grape-Nuts, the cereal whose ingredients include neither grapes nor nuts, tastes like tree bark and will chip teeth if you don't let it soak in milk for an hour before choking it down. So imagine yourself as a Madison Avenue ad-man finding out that you're supposed to convince people to buy this stuff. Once you realize that New York skyscraper windows don't open and you can't escape the assignment through timely death, you accept that you actually have to come up with an ad campaign to sell war surplus shrapnel as food. 

Since you are one of those rare admen who has a conscience, you don't cook up a campaign claiming that this boxed gravel comes out the other end as gold bars. No, you do what desperate advertisers do when they want to make consumers buy a truly awful product -- you ignore the product entirely and merely associate it with something people do like. In the case of Grape-Nut Flakes, the ad-man called on one of the most well-liked fellows in Hollywood, Joe E. Brown, to shill for this goop. 

Brown was a major Hollywood star, and in the 1930s was instantly recognizeable to anyone living outside a hermit's cave. He was funny, he was friendly, and his image was squeaky clean. And best of all, his stardom in 1936 was starting to teeter a bit, and so he was open to the idea of plastering his puss all over the nation's newspapers, even if it was to sell horse-feed to humans. 

The Joe E. Brown Grape-Nuts Club was advertised in 1936 with a series of about a half-dozen or so comic strips that appeared both in colour Sunday comics sections and in black-and-white weekday paper editions. The ads offered a lapel pin, plus photo or ring, to any kid who could convince their parents to buy a single box. But of course once the kids were in the club, presumably more goodies would be offered in exchange for additional box tops. 

The art is very nice, and my guess is that it is provided by Darrell McClure. However, I do notice that the faces often have a decided Milton Caniff flavour to them, even if the rest of the art doesn't reflect that sensibility particularly. So c'mon you art-spotters, offer your opinions. Are we looking at Caniff, McClure, or am I way out in the weeds here?

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Wednesday, July 10, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 10

 



September 21 to 23 1911. And unless you have access to the Pittsburg Leader, you'll never know if that lion ate poor Bobby, because this is the end of our series!

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That was the most ridiculous, preposterous thing I have ever read.
Thank you.
 
The boy must have scampered away once again… after all, he went on to become a big star for Vitagraph… “with pretty girls galore and a band of famous frolickers in a line of comedies that are screams”.
 
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Tuesday, July 09, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 9

 



September 18 to 20, 1911

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Monday, July 08, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 8

 



September 14 to 16, 1911

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Sunday, July 07, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 7

 




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Saturday, July 06, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 6

 




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This kid can’t even take a leak without falling into disaster!! Johnny Hazard would be the only adult that can keep up with this breakneck pace
 
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Friday, July 05, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 5

 




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Thursday, July 04, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 4

 




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Wednesday, July 03, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 3

 




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The other day, I was rewatching the 1956 cartoon "The Faithful Burro and the Old Sourdough" about a uranium prospector being menaced by Indians and thought how odd that well into the 20th century, pop culture still portrayed present-day Indians as savages chasing whites with tomahawks. Here's another example. The trope even turned up in a 1969 "Lucy Show" episode. I wonder when it was finally put to rest?
 
The correct title of the cartoon that Doug remembers as "The Faithful Burro and the Old Sourdough" is "Uranium Blues", a Farmer Al Falfa Cinemascope Terrytoon. It was the final theatrical cartoon for Farmer Al, who had been making cartoons since 1915.
 
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Tuesday, July 02, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 2

 




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Now, that is sure a cliffhanger.
 
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Monday, July 01, 2024

 

The First Adventure Comic Strip: Bobby the Boy Scout, Day 1

 



For Hogan's Alley magazine issue #10, published around the turn of the century, I wrote an article tracing the origins of the newspaper adventure comic strip. Starting from what are often thought of as the firsts, Buck Rogers and Tarzan (which in an amazing coincidence started on the same day in 1929) the article worked the true origin backward in time. 

Any serious comic strip fan can probably name a few precursors to these popular strips, but I like to think that I surprised one and all by tracing the form back almost two full decades to 1911. It was on August 21 1911 that the Pittsburg Leader, a comparatively minor paper in that city, offered its readers a new homegrown comic strip, Bobby the Boy Scout. The Leader probably couldn't afford much syndicated material, so they picked a fellow out of the art bullpen and dumped the job in his lap. F.E. Johnston was a cipher to me then, but Alex Jay has since fleshed out his bio here in an Ink-Slinger Profile. As a cartoonist he was no more than adequate, and working at a second rate paper in Pittsburgh for most of his career ensured that his name would be forgotten in cartooning lore. His important contribution, unheralded in his own time and instantly forgotten, would be hidden in the microfilm record for the next eighty years. 

It was pure serendipity that prompted its rediscovery. I was in Pittsburgh on other business and carved out a half day to visit the Pittsburgh Public Library. My primary target was to view the microfilm of the Philadelphia Inquirer. I had already indexed the early years of the paper in the State Library at Harrisburg, but I found that the microfilmer of that version had consistently left comic sections off the microfilm after about 1916. I hoped that the version housed in Pittsburgh would include those later Sunday sections.  

As it turned out, this library had a copy of the same version of the Philadelphia Inquirer microfilm. Disappointed but with a few free hours on my hands, I decided to do some spot-checking of the modest selection of papers the library had on microfilm. I spent a lot of time, mostly wasted, on the major Pittsburgh papers, finding little of interest in them. Then just for the heck of it, I pulled out a few representative reels of minor Pittsburgh papers, including the Leader. And there it was, this very unusual comic strip about a Boy Scout. It was immediately obvious that this was no typical comic strip of the 1910s, but rather one that was based on blood-and-thunder dime novels and cliffhanger movie serials. Little did he know it but Mr. Johnston had created a new genre of comic strips, one that wouldn't get rolling outside the pages of the Pittsburg Leader for many years. 

Bobby the Boy Scout is not an outstanding adventure strip by any means, but it does pre-figure the rules for the genre. It is a story with a sustained narrative from day to day, it has characters confronted with real perils, and it is not played for laughs but is intended as a serious story. It even goes the normal adventure strip one better in that Johnston had a self-imposed rule that there must be a cliff-hanger situation at the end of practically every single strip. While that makes the story absurdly melodramatic at times, and outright ludicrous on occasion, you have to doff your hat to his ingenuity. 

What is also amazing about Bobby the Boy Scout is its longevity and consistency. In an era when the typical daily strip ran its course in a matter of months or a few years, and many still weren't dailies at all but just ran on miscellaneous weekday schedules, Johnston's strip ran over six years as a true daily. And its end, on November 21 1917, may have only been because Johnston's health was failing. He would die a little over a year later. 

In Hogan's Alley I was only able to show a few examples of the strip, and they had to be run at very small size. Not much for readers to sink their teeth into. I did make some quite decent photocopies off the microfilm back then, and recently came upon them in the stacks. So now after just a short wait of 20-plus years, I'd like to present to you the first month of Bobby the Boy Scout, which will be run here over the next ten days. Because the captions are quite hard to read on these copies, I have added better quality printed captions underneath them.

 

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Just a bit of unnecessary context-- Pittsburgh native Andrew Carnegie, one of the richest men in America at the time, funded many expeditions to the western states in search of the most spectacular dinosaur fossils they could find. In 1899, they found a new species of long-necked saurapod that was officially named Diplodocus carnegii. Carnegie's Pittsburgh museum put it on display in 1907, and it quickly became an object of civic pride. Nicknamed "Dippy," casts of the dinosaur skeleton were quickly made and exhibited at museums around the world. Our Pittsburgh hero naming his dog after a long-extinct dinosaur is not as random as it seems!
 
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Sunday, June 30, 2024

 

Wish You Were Here, from Gene Carr

 

Here's a Gene Carr postcard, issued in 1907 by the Rotograph Company. Some cards of this series were topical cards for various holidays, but this one simply celebrates boyhood summertime fun. This card is designated 242/7 in practically invisible red ink at the lower left hand corner.

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Saturday, June 29, 2024

 

One-Shot Wonders: The Bully and the Beasts by Clarence Rigby, 1895

 

By 1895 the New York Herald did have colour printing capability, but they tended to use it for things besides comics. So here then is a Clarence Rigby strip from the Herald of August 4 1895, run in glorious black and white. This strip offers a fascinating glimpse into the still-evolving conventions for comic strips. I'm not going to tell you to what it is I'm referring; you'll have to read the awful captions to figure it out. Great drawings, though!

I suppose there is a question worth posing -- was the convention being broken here pretty much established by 1895, and Rigby was just a little slow on the uptake? I'm tending to think he might be a little behind the curve...

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Well gee, maybe today it's not encouraged to have animals tortured in such awful ways. Do I win the prize?
 
I'm guessing that the convention that is not being followed is the layout. Today, the first four panels would be stretched across the top row, and the next four underneath. He has the second panel under the first, the fourth under the third, and so on.
 
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Friday, June 28, 2024

 

Obscurity of the Day: The Red Creek School

 

There were plenty of kids caught trying to play hooky from school in the early newspaper comics, so when the great George Frink cast his eye on that hoary old plotline, he decided to shuffle the deck. What if those kids, rather than playing hooky, kept the schoolteacher from getting to the school? Then not going to school is no crime -- there's no school to go to!

George Frink was the undeniable king of the Chicago Daily News cartoonists, and he created many weekday series there from 1901 to 1915. The Red Creek School was just a passing fancy, lasting only from May 22 to July 24 1906, but it had Frink's signature boisterous and subversive energy. In each strip the boys, dubbed the Redskins Three, put their combined intellects up against that of the teacher, Professor Whack, and inevitably came up the victors each time.

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This looks like the format you see in a lot of Beano/Dandy/Knockout comic books put out in England throughout the first half of the 20th century.
 
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Wednesday, June 26, 2024

 

Toppers: Flag Facts and Fables

 

Before World War II it seemed like the Chicago Tribune had the Midas touch when it came to introducing new Sunday comics features. After World War II things took a 180 degree turn, and everything they tried fell flat on its face. Wild Rose, Ned Handy, Surgeon Stone, John West, Dawn O'Day ... the list of failures goes on and on. But there's no mystery in what had changed. Joseph Medill Patterson, the guiding hand behind the greatest pre-war Tribune comic strips died in 1946, leaving the shepherding of new features to his hand-picked successor, Mollie Slott. Unfortunately she just didn't have his unerring grasp of what newspaper readers wanted to see on the comics page. Patterson seemed to know what readers wanted even if those readers themselves did not yet know what that was.

Slott had been heading the syndicate for almost eight years before she could finally tally a hit Sunday strip, and it was a very unlikely success, too. The Old Glory Story debuted in February 1953 in what was originally slated to be a limited run series. Artist Rick Fletcher and writer Athena Robbins were going to tell the story of the creation of the U.S. flag and that was to be the end of it. But features editors really took to the strip and by popular demand it was turned into an ongoing series encompassing the complete saga of the founding of the country. The strip then branched out far and wide to tell other dramatic stories from American history. 

The strip was originally formatted only for half pages but once its popularity grew the syndicate knew that a third page option was going to be needed to keep clients happy. On December 13 1953* the third tier of the half page strip was changed to a topper, Flag Facts and Fables. This allowed papers to drop the topper to get their third page option. 

The topper offered factoids about early US flags, state flags, and military flags. This was a naturally somewhat limited subject, and after about a year it was decided that The Old Glory Story would thenceforth be offered only in the third-page configuration. Flag Facts and Fables was last included on November 21 1954.

*Source: Topper running dates from Syracuse Post-Standard.

 



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Monday, June 24, 2024

 

Obscurity of the Day: Fun with Fenwick

 

Ian Fenwick was an accomplished British cartoonist who in the 1930s was published in Punch and other top flight venues. When Britain went to war Fenwick went all in, campaigning in North Africa and Italy while still producing wonderfully droll cartoons now on mostly military subjects. 

His fame didn't really spread to the U.S., but somehow the editor of Hearst's Pictorial Weekly got wind of his work and liked it very much. The Sunday magazine insert began a series of weekly cartoon pages featuring his work, titled Fun With Fenwick, debuting in their August 6 1944 issue. 

Tragically, Fenwick never got to enjoy his new notoriety across the pond. At the time Pictorial Weekly was preparing to show off his work he was behind enemy lines assisting the French resistance. He was killed in action one day after his first appearance in the magazine. 

Due to the circumstances of his death, the news took awhile to filter through to the Hearst people in New York. The weekly Fun With Fenwick ended with the September 3 1944 issue, and perhaps due to wartime secrecy, there was no explanation offered for the feature's disappearance. 

Here is a good capsule bio of Fenwick which highlights his lovely covers for some P.G. Wodehouse novels. It also provides links to more detailed information.

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Sunday, June 23, 2024

 

Wish You Were Here, from Harry Hershfield

 

Harry Hershfield did only one postcard series that I know of, and it featured his famous creation Abie the Agent. Each card offered a cartoon of Abie along with a gag using his trademark New York Jewish argot. For reasons unknown these cards are quite hard to find. Maybe because they fail to offer a copyright to International Feature Service?

The "Kabibble Kard"s were published by the Illustrated Postcard and Novelty Company of New York. The cards are undated, but based on the cartoon of Abie, I would definitely place them in the 1910s, as Abie's look changed a bit by the 1920s. This particular card is marked "658/2" whatever that means. Series 658 card 2 perhaps?

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That is a rare card, and that Abie is definitely the earliest version of him.

It must have been painful for him to go around with a twisted foot like that.
 
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Saturday, June 22, 2024

 

One-Shot Wonders: A Frank Nankivell Page Border, 1897

 

The inside pages of 1890s newspaper comic sections were often full of written jokes with the comics artfully, or inartfully, scattered about the page. This example is an interior page from an early New York Journal Sunday comic section, January 3 1897. Frank Nankivell offers an impressive page border with dozens of cartoon figures cavorting about. The large upper middle strip is by someone who, I swear this is what I see, signing himself Badfish. The middle two panel strip is unsigned. The panel cartoon at the bottom is quite badly printed, but I think it might be by E.W. Kemble. 

As was normally the case with these interior pages, only limited colours were used. In this case it seems to be two - green and red. Not using black as one of your colours might have seemed like a good idea, but I doubt that even when hot off the press with nice white paper that pages like this were easy on the eyes. Having yellowed over the century plus since, I had a heck of a time teasing out the detail from this page to make it even somewhat legible, so apologies for it being hard to read.

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"Badfish" is probably Bodfish (I only know the name because there's a town in California called Bodfish, after someone named that.)
 
Don't you think the second cartoon might be by Bodfish as well? Both are very skilled in facial expressions and otherwise. He might have been a specialist in snapping tree gags.
 
Is this the first "Man stranded on a desert island with a single tree" cartoon?
 
On further investigation, this must be New York artist William P. Bodfish, of whose art there are numerous examples out there, e.g.:
https://www.invaluable.com/auction-lot/william-bodfish-1865-1894-american-arrival-waterc-6-c-0ce46c1a7e

He seemed to use again and again the same composition, going diagonally from front to back, usually left to right.
 
Thanks for the ID!
 
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Friday, June 21, 2024

 

Obscurity of the Day: What's The Use?

 

Hard for me to believe that we've not offered George Westcott a moment in the spotlight yet. He penned a goodly number of series for the New York Evening Telegram from 1905 to 1911. Oh, well, I suppose that would be the reason ... finding tearsheets of Evening Telegram material is like discovering a double-yolk egg -- it happens, but it's a mighty rare occurrence. The paper's material was offered in syndication, but it is so rarely seen I'd guess that there was little effort put into marketing. 

I don't know much about Mr. Westcott. A few tidbits have surfaced, though -- in 1905 when he debuted with the Telegram he was supposedly just 19 years old. He graduated from Yale with honours. He claims to have penned and published a duplicate of Charles Dana Gibson's famed "The Eternal Question" before Mr. Gibson did his. All these factoids come from a promotional piece done for Evening Telegram features in 1907, the only bit of marketing I've ever seen. 

Today we look at What's The Use?, an inspired bit of off-the-wall slapstick and wordplay that should whet anyone's appetite for more of Mr. Westcott's offerings. Sadly, this is the only decent sample I have to show -- the rest in my files are blurry microfilm prints. In each installment the unnamed fella in the stove-pipe hat corners some unlucky mark and proceeds to rhyme his way into their bad graces, generally ending up physically assaulted. The feature ran on occasional weekdays from April 25 to September 12 1910.


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The Buffalo Courier Express, May 26, 1955, carries his obituary. His full name was George Edwin Westcott, Jr.. Between 1941 and 1955, he was the editor and publisher of the Waterville Times (Waterville being a small town in Oneida County, in north-central New York). The obituary mentions work he did for the New York Herald ("where he turned out 600 sketches of Wall Street figures in the early 1900s") and also notes he did work for Judge. Waterville was his home town, having been born there on April 13, 1881. His WWI draft registration card lists him as a commercial artist, working on his own account and for R.H. Macy & Co. Apparently, in 1902, he did win a prize in elementary anatomy at Yale's School of Fine Arts. The 1920 Yale Alumni directory (available on archive.org) lists him as being a non-graduate of the School of Fine Arts, class of 1902, having attended 1901-1902.
 
Thanks for the bio EOCostello!
 
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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

 

Selling It: National Health Agencies PSAs for 1964

 








The National Health Agencies was an umbrella organization for medical charities. It was created in the mid-1950s along with several other umbrella organizations to raise money from government employees. It was created to simplify fundraising from these employees, who had before been bombarded with many campaigns for many different organizations. In practice, of course, it just created a new layer of bureaucracy in which money intended for charitable purposes was swallowed by middlemen. Unlike the more familiar United Way, which was eventually disgraced by financial scandals, as far as I know the NHA was never outed for hinky finances. The NHA was eventually renamed Community Health Charities, and then all these organizations were further conglomerated as Combined Federal Campaigns.

Cartoonists and their syndicates were sometimes tapped to do PSA art for charitable organizations, and in the 1964 NHA fund drive many contributed panel cartoons. Above are some of the panels produced for that drive.

Here's an easy quiz for you -- just name all the characters above. I can't imagine Stripper's Guide readers not acing this quiz, but in case you're stumped just hover your cursor over the image that has you beat, and read the file name, where all will be revealed.

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It's rare for PSAs to ever be original artwork, The ones King Features produced years go were also existing material, usually random panels from already published strips from somewhere in the last few years before. Sometimes they seemed rather poorly chosen and the new word balloons had to really contort to make sense in the context of the charity's message.
 
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Monday, June 17, 2024

 

Obscurity of the Day, Revisited: Terry and Tacks

 



Well, once again your senile ol' Stripper cleaned up some mouldy oldies for Obscurity of the Day only to find out that it already got featured here, in the case of Terry and Tacks a decade and a half ago. Oh well, as the popular saying goes, a happy life depends on a new dose of Terry and Tacks every decade or so.

So let's see if I can tell you anything about the strip that wasn't covered back when my blog was just a wee little infink. Hmm...

Okay, here's sumthin ... Joe Farren pretty much disappears off my radar after the 1910s, and it turns out that's because he got a job in the New York Times art department in the 1920s -- no series comics coming out of there of course. And a decade later I found a sports cartoon penned by his kid, Joe Farren, Jr. Who he was working for I dunno, looks like a grade-Z syndicated thing, an evergreen panel about Joe Louis. 

Factoid the second ... I think I've now nailed down the reprint runs of Terry and Tacks in the World Color Printing sections. How about July 15 1923* to March 15 1925**, and October 6 1929 to June 22 1930***. Dates have been 'normalized' to Sundays as some of these papers printed their Sunday sections on other days.

* Source: Pomona Progress

** Source: San Luis Obispo Tribune

*** Source: Mexico Intelligencer

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The February 11, 1964 New York Times has a very brief obituary for Farren, Sr., which mentions "Terry and Tacks." It notes he did work for the Boston Post, Boston Globe and Boston Herald, the last-named being a sports cartoonist. Joseph A., Jr. is mentioned as having survived him.
 
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