Monday, September 25, 2023
Obscurity of the Day: The Old Pueblo
In the modern era of newspaper comics a local strip, drawn for a particular newspaper, is very rarely run in the Sunday colour comics section. Why? Because the production of those sections is (for reasons I admittedly do not comprehend) usually farmed out to big companies like Eastern Color Printing and Greater Buffalo Press. When newspapers do that, I'm guessing, the logistics of having these companies insert custom material like a local strip is either costly or just impractical. (Anyone in the newspaper production biz care to weigh in on this?)
So in 1975, when the Arizona Star placed a historical epic strip titled The Old Pueblo on the cover of the Sunday comics section, that was a very unusual occurrence and one to be highly commended. The strip ran for 52 weekly installments, from January 5 to December 28, telling the history of Tucson from prehistoric times to the present. The creator was Johnny Bain, a Tucson history buff and cartoonist.
Bain's strip unfortunately suffers from production problems, worst in the early episodes like those above. Colouring is a bit of a mess, and the art doesn't seem like it was quite production-ready. But credit to Bain and the Star, they stuck with it for the entire year's worth of strips, improving as they went along, and even issued the completed series in booklet form at its conclusion.
Bain seems to have kept up his art career at least until the mid-80s when I lose track of him. However, as far as I know he never did another newspaper strip.
Sunday, September 24, 2023
Wish You Were Here, from Little Nemo
Here's our next Little Nemo card. If the anonymous artist who created this is playing true to the strip, this must be a scene from 1906 I think -- Dr. Pill's very patriotic colour scheme later was changed to a palette of muted blues.
Can you find the source panel? Or is our anonymous artist coming up with his own scene?
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Saturday, September 23, 2023
Herriman One-Shots: December 29 1901
The others represented on this page are Hy Mayer (bottom two-panel), Mark Fenderson (left middle), and A.D. Reed (right 4-panel strip). The well drawn gag cartoon at the top middle is initialed W.L. That's not a McClure regular I can think of. Other possibilities that fit the initials are William H. Loomis (here's a sample of his work) and Will Lawler; the latter doesn't usually draw like this, so what do we think of Loomis as our mystery artist?
Labels: Herriman One-Shots
Friday, September 22, 2023
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Ric Estrada
... Judges for the competition were: Miss Adele Glasgow of Market Place Gallery, Roy LaGrone Art Director of Pageant Magazine, Ric Estrada, instructor at Famous Artist[s] Schools and Mel Tapley, Amsterdam News cartoonist. ...
Mormons slate an open houseTwo original productions will be featured at an open house entitled “Patriots, Prophets and Punch.” Friday, April 30, at 8 p.m. at theA humorous reading on “America’s Prophetic Destiny” will feature actors in the parts of Abe Lincoln, Ben Franklin and Brigham Young. The work has been written by Ric Estrada of New Rochelle, a writer and cartoonist on the team which creates the Superman Family comic books, and Jim Larkin, an independent television producer. ...
… To illustrate the situation, take the predicament of Ric Estrada of Tuckahoe, who in the past two weeks has been taken on a financial roller coaster ride by his local bank. Through the miracle of modern computer technology, the bank first made Estrada, a commercial artist, a pauper with a $30 million overdraft, and days later wealthy beyond his wildest dreams.… A teller at the bank examined his account and found he was $30 million overdrawn. The manager laughed and promised to rectify the error.… Several days later, his wife, Loretta, went to the bank and received a statement showing they had a $30 million balance.… But, Estrada remains unruffled by the entire affair. “It keeps changing from day to day,” he said. “But I’m sure they’ll get it worked out.”
in book illustration, advertising, political cartooning, comic books, and in animation as a storyboard director. Ric’s most rewarding professional assignment was illustrating the 1980 edition of The New Testament Stories published by the LDS Church. Ric wrote articles for Dance Magazine and Famous Artist’s Schools, screenplays, several novels (unpublished) and completed his personal memoir only months before his passing.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Wednesday, September 20, 2023
Selling It: Along The Milky Way
I don't know which ad company sold Along The Milky Way, but they sure sold the heck out of it in the late 30s and 40s. The panels were drawn in a nice grease-pencil style by Gretchen Philips, who we met once before back in a 2007 post; she was the original artist on Style Smiles.
The earliest I can find Along The Milky Way appearing is in July 1939*, but according to a short article about Philips that ran in the Kearney Daily Hub (September 22 1939), she had been drawing the feature for two years by that point.
The panel seemed to be geared to approximately a weekly schedule, though of course once the backstock had built up the sky was the limit for an ambitious dairy. The last I see the panel being used is in 1948**, but that material could well have been years old by that time.
There's an interesting postscript about this ad panel. Around March 1942 the panel gained a new subtitle, Dairy Tales, a new artist, a continuing cast of kids, and a very different style. Here's a sample:
The art was sometimes signed with a scrawl that looks like "Cobb", but my bet is that these panels are the work of Ferd Johnson, assistant/ghost on Moon Mullins. His fingerprints are all over that art.
Why the panel got such an extreme makeover is anyone's guess, but it apparently didn't go down too well with many of the dairies buying the ads. Some dairies stopped running the panel and others used or re-used Gretchen Philips panels. The Dairy Tales version of the panel came and went like a flash -- the latest I can find it running is in May 1942.
* Source: Indiana Evening Gazette, Hanover Sun.
** Source: Palm Beach Post.
Labels: Advertising Strips
Monday, September 18, 2023
Obscurity of the Day: Foolish Ferdinand
William F. Marriner's output was prodigious, and an amazingly high percentage of it was just like today's obscurity, Foolish Ferdinand; playful strips about kids getting up to relatively innocent shenanigans. Marriner's giant-headed kids are a breath of fresh air for comics sections in which the typical kid comic strip star was rotten to the core and more dangerous than an angry badger.
For the Philadelphia Inquirer Marriner penned this long-running series, Foolish Ferdinand, off and on from December 29 1901 to February 21 1904. Sometimes a longer title was used, The Fortunes of Foolish Ferdinand, and the series was quite scattershot in its appearances as Marriner often turned out one-shots instead for that Sunday section.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan.
Most fearless, badass animal on Earth.
Cole assumed the Inquirer might have started syndicating their material sometime in 1903, when they started putting things in regular size categories. Obviously the above sample would have only appeared in the Inky, but also at some time, Ferdinand would have been in client papers.
What are your thoughts on when they went national?
The last Inquirer offering that was a full page was 28 September 1902. Henceforth, to the day they closed the doors on the project, all Inky strips are the rigid,uniform half-pagers that they were always to be seen in for the next twenty-odd years.
Sunday, September 17, 2023
Wish You Were Here, from Rube Goldberg
Here's a real Grade-A, cream of the crop example of Rube Goldberg's Foolish Questions. These gags, which were also collected in book form, were issued as postcards by Samson Bros. as Series #213. The publisher seemed to pick the ones that got the postcard treatment more or less at random, and some are, I hate to say, kinda stinkers. But this is Goldberg going over the moon.
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Saturday, September 16, 2023
Herriman One-Shots: December 22 1901
Herriman gets a plum spot, the front page of the 1901 Christmas edition of the McClure comic section, and a full page to boot. Unfortunately I really don't think he did much to take advantage of it. The gag is pretty thin, and his drawing, though very energetic and wacky, is also pretty darn amateurish. Eddie Eksergian's work comes to mind; I wonder if Herriman was an admirer of his?
Interesting that McClure, which had a few heavy-hitter artists on tap in this era, chose Herriman to supply this special holiday front page.
Labels: Herriman One-Shots
Friday, September 15, 2023
Obscurity of the Day: Father's Day
Father's Day is one of the earliest newspaper strip entries (the first?) to feature divorced parents and their kids. While the strip was a flop, it seemed to open the floodgates of cartoonists taking a whack at the subject with their own features. Syndicates obviously felt it was a potentially lucrative niche because they have offered a goodly number of these strips over the years. The only problem is that none that I can think of had much success. Am I forgetting a succssful divorcee strip?
You can certainly turn the sadness and pain of divorce involving kids into humour; after all, some definitions of comedy boil down to 'tragedy happening to someone else.' But basing seven gags per week on this aspect of life seems to me like overkill. As a subplot to a strip with other gag-inducing aspects, sure, but Father's Day and its many followers seem to be a bit one-note.
But you have to give Father's Day some points for creativity. You might expect the first entry of the genre to offer a pretty vanilla version on the subject, but Father's Day has a decidedly odd take, offering us the rarity of a father who has custody of the kids. Odder still, dad is a struggling writer who is always broke, so he's living off the child support supplied by his ex-wife. This is all good comedy fodder, but at least to this reader just perusing a few weeks of this strip has me actively contemptuous of the strip's star for being such a pathetic drip loser.
Father's Day was created by the husband and wife team of Nancy and Mario Risso. Although unstated in the promos I've found, I'm assuming this wasn't the first time at the altar for them, otherwise, why pick this subject? Apparently Nancy was the artist, Mario the writer. Both are creditably done, with pretty good gags and breezy art emblematic of the era. As far as I know, this was the Risso's only foray into syndicated comics, but they also collaborated on a few books.
United Feature began distribution of the daily and Sunday strip on May 4 1981*, missing an obvious gimmick of having the strip start on Arbor Day. The strip did not sell well and came out of the gate with a modest client list. No doubt due to the repetitive subject matter, by the time the strip was retired on January 2 1983 finding a paper running it is like searching the mailbox for a child support check before the due date.
PS: If strip #2 has you scratching your noggin, here ya go ya young whippersnapper. Or ya forgetful old coot.
* Source: All dates from United Feature Syndicate internal records.
Wednesday, September 13, 2023
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Jon L. Blummer
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles
Monday, September 11, 2023
Obscurity of the Day: The Sea Hound
What do you get when you offer a comic strip that adapts a not particularly popular radio series? Go to the head of the class if you guessed: a not particularly popular comic strip.
The Sea Hound debuted on radio in mid-1942. The 15-minute daily kid's program offered a sea-going story about a crew of heroes who sail around Central and South American waters foiling Nazi plots. If this sounds a little beside the point to the war that was going on, it really wasn't. The United States was terrified that Germany would develop these close neighbouring countries into allies. The government's answer to this threat was the Good Neighbor Policy, part of which was a charm offensive to show how much the people of the U.S. loved and valued their neighbours to the south.
The Good Neighbor Policy was waged in various avenues, but the most visible to Americans was the media -- movies and radio shows that presented Central and South America in a positive light were encouraged and funded through government agencies. One small tendril of the Good Neighbor Policy was the radio show The Sea Hound. It didn't so much matter whether kids actually liked it or not, it was introduced on the radio at least somewhat as a propaganda tool.
The Sea Hound is a ketch that seems only to ply the waters of the Caribbean and South Atlantic for the purpose of hunting Nazis. At the helm is Captain Silver, ably assisted by his Chinese friend (servant?) Ku Kai, displaced cowboy Tex, and their dog Fletcha (literally a sea hound). A toy tie-in extravaganza that never panned out had the Sea Hound carrying a plane called the Sky Hound, and a powerboat, the Spray Hound.
While the radio show might have been created for less than the pure-hearted reason of entertaining the kiddies, the few shows I've listened to seemed genuinely exciting and well-written, if a little cheesy production-wise. The writing quality probably has a lot to do with Fran Striker, better known as the creator of The Lone Ranger, who also wrote scripts for this series. Striker could churn out good material at a tremendous rate, and though The Sea Hound was not his bread-and-butter, his touch seems evident. It probably has a lot to do with his involvement that the show managed to outlast the war and the Good Naighbor Policy, not going into drydock until 1951.
In addition to his radio shows, Fran Striker also wrote The Lone Ranger comic strip for King Features. It is probably this connection that explains why The Sea Hound, not an obvious candidate for adaptation into a comic strip, was attempted. Striker was not only a good writer, he also was a whiz at reusing material, so as far as he was concerned those radio shows were ripe for adaptation to print -- a payday for him with little effort involved.
King Features probably should have known better, but they gave it the go-ahead. The daily-only strip debuted on October 2 1944* with art provided by "Jon". This was Jon L. Blummer, who had worked on The Lone Ranger strip for a short stint in 1939 in addition to credits on Hop Harrigan and several other short-lived features in the 1930s. Despite having a very attractive style Blummer's art career was primarily spent providing material to pulps and comic books. He just never lucked into being associated with the right newspaper strip property to make this his career. Why on this strip he preferred not to take a proper credit is unknown; he certainly did excellent work on it.
The high quality of the strip notwithstanding, King Features had practically no luck selling it. With a daily comics page already filled to overflowing with Nazi saboteurs getting their comeuppance, yet another strip plying the same waters was of practically no interest. There was also that slightly off-putting smell of Good Neighbor Policy propaganda that may have rankled editors.
The Sea Hound comic strip limped along on a clientele mostly of Hearst-owned papers until June 29 1946**, when Captain Storm and crew literally sailed off into the sunset.
* Source: Indianapolis News (and by the way, the samples above are the first weeks of the strip).
** Source: San Antonio Light, courtesy of Jeffrey Lindenblatt.
Sunday, September 10, 2023
Wish You Were Here, from Gene Carr
Here's a 1907 Gene Carr postcard from the Rotograph Company; this one bears the inscrutable (not to mention almost faded to oblivion) number 241/6.
One-o-cat (aka catball, one old cat, etc.) was a sort of simplified version of baseball. In fact, some claim that it is one of the precursors of that game, With just a pitcher, batter, catcher, and a fielder or two, it was simple enough to appeal to kids who played it just like you see -- on the street, with any old stick for a bat and whatever ball might be at hand. Or, in the case of Carr's game, a small loaf of French bread?!?!?
Labels: Wish You Were Here
Saturday, September 09, 2023
Herriman One-Shots: December 1 1901
In the early McClure Sunday comics sections it was fairly typical to include a half-page or more of single panel gag cartoons. Sometimes these were on a common theme, but in this case, from the section of December 1 1901, they are half miscellany, half Christmas gags.
Herriman gets off a pretty sly gag in the upper left corner, making you think a moment before getting the joke. Not a very nice gag for poor Tubbsy, but these were not the days when humour was strained through a very tight sieve of inoffensiveness.
Along with the Herriman entry we have an interesting array of cartoons by other creators. In the middle top tier a gag by Hy Mayer that is quite impenetrable today to 99% of us, me included prior to a Googling session. In 1901 when most families outside of big cities had a horse, a double-ring was commonly understood to be a somewhat cruel gag bit. This type of bit made it pretty darn uncomfortable for a horse who didn't follow orders; evidently horses that pulled streetcars were notable for being a bit unwilling, hence the joke.
At the upper right we have a cartoon by Frank Crane. In order to decode this one you need to know that New Orleans was pretty well known as a source of quality molasses.
The lower tier has two gags by that master silhouette cartoonist, Jack K. Bryans. The one on the left can leave a lump in your throat if you are paying enough attention -- these poor slum kids want to believe in Santa, but are used to finding out he bypassed them each Christmas. But hope springs eternal.
Labels: Herriman One-Shots
Friday, September 08, 2023
Toppers: Know Your Navy, Know Your Merchant Marine, Know Your Sports
Our headline above says "Topper" but today we've got a feature (or rather, three of 'em) that sort of bend the definition. To me a topper is generally a separate strip or panel included with a feature that, when discarded, helps to allow a paper to run the feature in various different formats. Know Your Navy/Merchant Marine/Sports doesn't fit that definition because I know of no format for Mickey Finn in which it has the function of being a 'drop panel' to assist in reformatting. With Mickey Finn, if you run the Nippie topper, you also get Know Your Navy/Merchant Marine/Sports, and if you drop Nippie, that extra panel goes away with it. In other words, that panel has no particular function except to make Nippie a five panel strip instead of six.
This sort of feature is certainly not unique to Mickey Finn -- Dick Tracy's Crimestopper's Texbook and Heathcliff's Kitty Korner come to mind. This type of feature probably deserves its own name, but what would that be? Lagniappe feature appeals to me, but I imagine that would send a lot of people scrambling for the dictionary.
Anyway, since I lump this stuff in with toppers in my book, and I know of no industry term for it, let's call it a topper and plow on.
Mickey Finn's main topper, Nippie - He's Often Wrong, ran with the Sunday strip from 1936 to 1946. For almost all of its life it was a three-panel single tier affair, but on November 14 1943* it was upgraded to two tiers and the Know Your Navy panel was added, offering weekly factoids about that division of the armed forces. Since this is during World War II, there's no mystery about its appeal. Why in particular Lank Leonard picked that service branch, however, is unknown. Perhaps he looked around at all the other strips that had military components and decided that the Navy could stand a little more of the spotlight.
At the conclusion of the war Leonard decided to change the focus. He renamed the panel Know Your Merchant Marine on September 9 1945** and began covering that somewhat obscure public/private naval service.
The Merchant Marine panels no doubt told readers much that they did not know, but Leonard tired of it quickly. On December 16** the panel was refocused again, this time under the title of Know Your Sports. Panels explaining sports rules offered little to fascinate readers and the feature was dropped entirely on April 21 1946***. Nippie reverted to a single-tier affair, but it too would be dropped just three months later. From then on the Sunday Mickey Finn offered no toppers.
* Source: Atlanta Constitution
** Source: New York Mirror
*** Source: St. Petersburg Times
Labels: Topper Features
Wednesday, September 06, 2023
Obscurities of the Day: Clown Alley and Longshots
Some newspaper features hope to become classics of the form, to be recalled with wistful nostalgia by nonagenarians and collected in sumptuous complete hardcover editions for collectors. Others are just -- quite literally -- created to take up space.
Such was the inspiration between this pair of features, Clown Alley and Longshots. Somehow Universal Press Syndicate got together with the Philadelphia Inquirer on a redesign of their Sunday comics section, and it was noticed that on a page with four quarter-page strips, which by the 1980s were actually a little shy of a true quarter-page tall, that a thin slack space was left. Universal Press saw this as a skinny opportunity and went to Bill Hinds to create content (how I hate that term) to fill it up. Hinds came up with Clown Alley and Longshots, both a page wide but each less than two inches tall. Each offered a weekly gag shoehorned into the odd space.
The Inquirer, rather than use their overly tall pages to run three quarters and one third-page comic feature, which would have incurred no additional cost to them, went along with this solution that put money into the pockets of Universal and Bill Hinds each week. That's what you get and that's what you deserve when you call in a consultant who has motives of their own.
Not that there's anything really wrong with Hinds' panels -- they do a pretty admirable job of gagging up this weird space. And Hinds was probably happy for the opportunity since one of his existing features, According to Guinness, had just cancelled its daily panel. But when Universal offered these new features to other newspapers there were few if any takers. After all, how many papers are going to buy Sunday comics features for the technical convenience of their compositors? It was a solution to an obscure technical problem, one that already had alternative free solutions due to the wide range of Sunday comics formats provided by the syndicates.
Longshots and Clown Alley both debuted in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 21 1987 and ran there for over four years until July 28 1991, victims of the Inky's next section revamp.
As a kid I remember ads in the Sunday comics, sometimes but not always in comic form. Del Monte soda, for example, briefly had a parody superhero serial, Delbert Montague. Also remember strips like "Li'l Abner" being weirdly reconfigured to accommodate larger ads, which I now remember as tabloid page size dropped onto a broadsheet.
At some point Sunday comics ads faded away (although I recall writing sales materials for them at the Mercury News into the current century).
Monday, September 04, 2023
Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Charles Biro
Medal WinnersThe winners of medals for last term’s advanced art classes have finally been selected.The Alexander medal, for five [sic] draftsmanship in elementary representation, will be awarded to Charles Biro. Charles is continuing his art in high school, and will probably take up art seriously after graduating. ...
Brooklyn Girl Betrothed to Queens Song WriterMr. and Mrs. Anton Biro, 147-02 Grand Central parkway, North Jamaica, announced the engagement of their eldest son, Mitchell [sic], to Miss Ceil Bayer [sic], daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Bayer of Brooklyn, at a formal dinner.Young Mr. Biro is a well-known song writer. Among the guests were Charles Biro, sketch artist for the Van Beuren Film Corporation of Manhattan, Mr. and Mrs. Lou Biro of Beechhurst, Miss Contia Biro of Brooklyn, Mr. and Mrs. Isadore Jacobwitz of Flushing-Hillcrest, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer Luther of Brooklyn and Al Koenency of Brooklyn.
Among the co-conspirators at the range with Mr. Melchior were cartoonists Ham Fisher of “Joe Palooka” fame and Charles Biro, who left the fate of Pee Wee, Scare Crow and the other “Little Wise Guys” in midair to don his starched chef’s cap and apron. The latter costume, gay with red and black inscriptions, was worn by members over their conservative business suits. It was designed by fellow member and assistant chef of the day, Russell Patterson, the illustrator….Bill of fare for the evening (selected by Mr. Biro):Anchovy twistsMint julepsPetite marmiteWild duckling with sauce smitaineWild riceWhole glazed cranberriesMixed saladFrench pancakesDemi tasse
Pat the pilot. Grade 6. Eleanor M. Johnson, editor-in-chief. Editorial board for the revised series, William E. Young & others. Illustrated by Charles Biro. (New Reading Skilltext series) Appl. author: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc., employer for hire. © Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc., 12Jan61; A502070.
Pat, the Pilot. Editorial review board: Murray Anderson, Millard H. Black, Evelyn B. Taylor & George R. Turner. Illustrated by Charles Biro & Bill Mohler. Columbus, Ohio, C.E. Merrill Pub. Co. 88 p. (Merrill reading Skilltext series) Based on the original Reading Skilltext series. NM revisions. © Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co.; 4Sep70; A228925.Pat, the Pilot. Editorial review board: Murray Anderson, Millard H. Black, Evelyn B. Taylor & George R. Turner. Illustrated by Charles Biro & Bill Mohler. Teacher’s ed. Columbus, Ohio, C.E. Merrill Pub. Co. 88 p. (Merrill reading Skilltext series, grade 6) Based on the original Reading Skilltext series. NM revisions. © Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co.; 4Sep70; A228926.
Labels: Ink-Slinger Profiles