Monday, February 06, 2023


Under The Radar: Muggsy


Being over a hundred years old, Muggsy could certainly qualify as an Obscurity of the Day, but I think he is a better fit for Under The Radar since the strip had an incredibly long run for those days,  two whole decades. 

You may be thinking to yourself, if the strip ran that long, and I've never heard of it, was it some local thing? Nope, it ran in lots of higher profile papers. What makes it utterly forgotten is the fact that it was pretty literally the SAME DARN GAG for its whole long run. The question, then, is why it lasted so long, and for that question I have no answer, but I'd sure like to know why myself. 

Muggsy, as you'll see when you peruse the samples above, is not only the same gag over and over, but the art is clunky to boot. The cartoonist, Frank Crane, came onto the comic stripping scene in 1900 with this full-fledged style of his, and it never grew or changed appreciably over his entire career. 

Muggsy may have only had one joke, but he didn't have only one syndicate. He debuted in the Philadelphia North American on December 1 1901* and ran there until April 20 1902. Crane was actually a much more important player at the New York Herald at this time, and apparently decided Muggsy was too good for the less auspicious comic section of the North American. He moved the strip to the Herald starting there on May 18 1902.

Whether the Herald tired of the strip, or the North American balked at the loss, it remained there only a short period. It ended in the Herald on August 24 1902, and reappeared in the North American on October 12. 

From then on the strip ran consistently, 99% of the time as an interior half-pager, in the North American section, except for one long hiatus from April 15 1906 to August 25 1907, coinciding with Crane taking on some extra work for the Boston Herald with Val the Ventriloquist

Muggsy kept up his ultra-repetitive shenanigans until the Philadelphia North American's Sunday comic section ended on July 4 1915**. At this point Crane went back to the New York Herald, where he tried out several new strips. None of them caught on though, and Crane seems to have retired from newspaper cartooning in 1916, and he died in 1917. 

But even that couldn't keep Muggsy down; World Color Printing bought the backlog of quite a few North American strips and ran Muggsy in reruns from 1916 to 1920, rounding out the total run for this strip to a nice even twenty years.

* Sources: All dates from Philadelphia North American, except New York Herald dates from Ken Barker's Herald index, and World Color Printing info from various papers in my collection.

** A comic section I'd dearly love for my collection -- the North American strip characters all get blown to kingdom come by fireworks.


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Sunday, February 05, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Albert Carmichael


Here's an example of what may be Albert Carmichael's scarcest series, Taylor & Pratt Series #669. These cards all featured fish and they're usually worth a bit of a grin, so I don't know why they didn't sell. The series seems to have been produced in 1910, or at least that's how Carmichael dated them. 

Postcards related to hunting and fishing were quite popular, a quick and convenient way for a fellow on a sporting expedition to let the family at home know he was still alive.


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Saturday, February 04, 2023


Herriman Saturday: May 15 1910


May 15 1910 -- Another Fight of the Century strip, this one featuring Johnson as a huckster, showing off his prize possession.


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Friday, February 03, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Jungle Jingles


Clarence Rigby seemed to be trying to prove himself at the New York Herald, putting out some of his best work there in a short stint 1900-02. During this time he was also producing work for others, but I get the feeling he really wanted to secure his position at the Herald. It's too bad that his series for them, while very well drawn, didn't have much of a spark to make them long-term series. 

Jungle Jingles, a series which consisted of a square of individual panels for each installment, featured  impressionistically drawn animals and a bit of verse for each one. The concept had already been done to death, so despite the lovely drawings (that zebra in particular blows me away) it was doomed to a short run -- not to mention there aren't all that many iconic jungle animals to cover. 

Jungle Jingles ran from July 21 to September 1 1901*.

* Source: Ken Barker's New York Herald index.


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Wednesday, February 01, 2023


The Experiment of Ozark Ike's Whodunits


I love baseball, and my favorite baseball strip, hands down, is Ozark Ike. Ray Gotto's art completely blows my mind, and the stories are entertainingly ridiculous. I even forgive the hillbilly motif, which you just couldn't escape in the 1940s when everyone who could hold a brush was trying to steal even a small taste of the juggernaut that was  Li'l Abner.

Ozark Ike began as a daily in 1945, and it found enough editors who appreciated it that a Sunday was added on July 27 1947. When the Sunday debuted, though, it didn't fold itself in on the daily stories, nor did it start a separate storyline of its own. Instead Gotto had the idea to make it a totally self-supporting feature in which his characters would act out a famous event in sports history, with a gag thrown in for good measure. The feature was titled Ozark Ike's Whodunits

I quite like the idea since it sidesteps the whole knotty problem of setting up separate or blended contiuities with the dailies. And boy is that a major problem. If you run shared continuities, Sundays either become a boring recap of the week's events, or if they advance the plot, you force editors who bought your daily to either add the Sunday, or if they have no room for it, to drop the daily. 

If you go with the separate continuity option, you can be less likely to sell a newspaper on both the Sunday and daily because readers can be confused by the multiple stories they are supposed to follow. Sure, if you're Steve Canyon you can get away with it, but if your strip is struggling to get newspaper sign-ups, adding a Sunday can be a sort of zero-sum game while leaving you with a lot more work. 

So Ray Gotto and I both think his solution is genius, but evidently we are adding up this marketing equation and coming up with the wrong answer. Ozark Ike's Whodunits lasted only about six months, and on February 1 1948 the Sunday was retitled simply Ozark Ike and began running a separate continuity from the daily. 

Did that work out for it? Well, Ozark Ike was never a huge success, but it did garner a pretty decent roster of clients, so hard to say. What do you think is the ideal way to handle a continuity strip on Sundays and dailies? 

PS: If you don't know the answer to the sample Whodunit above, I'm not telling you. It's only one of the most famous events (if it really happened!) in baseball history. So either you're a baseball fan and you know it already, or you couldn't care less.

Easey-peasey, that question. The harder one is to name the pitcher that was the victim.
Charlie Root, of course.
Root always maintained that Ruth never called his shot, because if Ruth had, he would have thrown the next pitch at his head.
Ayup! That's the way they did things in the old days.
It was claimed somewhere that Ruth was actually making a rude gesture at the pitcher, but people close enough to see supported the legend.
There are two things I like about the artwork.
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Monday, January 30, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Pot-Shots


Ashleigh Brilliant, who in my opinion quite handily lives up to his family name, began coming up with witty and wise epigrams in the 1960s, and sold them on illustrated postcards. The postcards sold well, and Brilliant went on to put what eventually became known as his Pot-Shots on other products, and to publish book collections of the material. He also recognized that these would make for a fine daily newspaper feature. The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate agreed, and began syndicating them sometime in 1975. The partnership was dissolved around 1984, and by 1987 or perhaps earlier (they are really hard to track) Brilliant was self-syndicating Pot-Shots. Although Brilliant says on his website that the feature continues to be available, I haven't seen any papers running it in a long while.

An interesting aspect of Pot-Shots is that the cartoons/illustrations are drawn in many styles, everything from classic detailed illustrations to the simplest stick figures. Despite checking several of his books and reading considerable online  material about him, I can't find a single word that mentions whether the illustrations are all clip art or if some are drawn by Brilliant, or by collaborators. 

If many of these drawings are re-used art, as seems pretty certain given the wide variety of styles, this becomes more interesting. Brilliant is an ardent and ferocious defender of his copyrights, which courts have ruled can cover epigrams. (Which reminds me to say that all the Pot-Shot examples above are copyrighted by Ashley Brilliant, the Pot-Shots name is a registered trademark, and the examples shown above are used in the context of a review) So with Brilliant's presumed use of a huge amount of artwork by and presumably copyrighted by others, has he never violated the intellectual property laws of artists himself?

Brilliant decided to stop publishing new Pot-Shots postcards after he hit #10,000 (each postcard is numbered). That means that if a paper had started running the feature in 1975 they could have had a new Pot-Shot every day for over 32 years, and would have had to start offering recycled wisdom around 2007. 



Potshots is carried on the GoComics website. Does that mean the syndicate distributes it as well?

Also, GoComics and Comic Kingdom both carry vintage strips that are no longer being created, from venerable relics to comparatively recent items like Boondocks and Liberty Meadows. Are the parent syndicates offering those to clients, or are they only carried on the websites?
I don't know, and have wondered the same thing. I do definitely know that they carry material on the websites that is not available to paper subscribers (why? I dunno). How one can tell what falls into each category is a mystery.
I know that Calvin and Hobbes reruns are carried on the website and are offered to the international market but not to U.S. papers.
Hello all-
King Features' Comics Kingdom site has a number of vintage strips, but these are pretty much for subscribers to read there. If a publisher wanted to use them, an arrangement could certainly be made, but they aren't actively being offered to clients. There are a lot of top long-time features there, but only a few are still in production, like Beetle Bailey and the Phantom.
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Sunday, January 29, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Little Nemo


Here's another card from the Little Nemo series, copyrighted to the New York Herald and issued by Raphael Tuck as their series #6. The shame is that this series does not feature art by Winsor McCay, but by some lesser artist who apparently copied the scenes from various Little Nemo strips. I've only had one other of these cards on the blog so far, and D.D. Degg identified the original strip from which the scene was adapted. Can someone find this scene in a Little Nemo strip?


It's from the November 3, 1907 issue.
Thanks for finding that Brian! Interesting that the images for the two cards run so far are from such divergent dates; well over a year apart. I'll have to queue up a few more of these. --Allan
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Saturday, January 28, 2023


Herriman Saturday: May 14 1910


May 14 1910 -- Herriman runs the prejudice gauntlet here, calling Jack Johnson -- if I get this right -- a womanizer, a glutton, a scofflaw, a dandy, a money-grubber, a laughingstock, and a pretender to wisdom. All of which, in this cartoon, are looked upon as positive character traits by black mothers. 

Nice job George, hope you slept well after drawing this one.


Jackson as a dandy trailed by worshipful children seems to echo this 1904 Charles Dana Gibson drawing. A deliberate reference to a popular image or were they both drawing on a real-life cliche?
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Friday, January 27, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Howie


Howie Schneider's claim to fame is the popular NEA comic strip Eek and Meek, which ran from 1965 to 2000. But Schneider made other attempts to get into the newspaper strip hall of fame, least successfully with the self-titled strip, Howie

United Feature Syndicate, the big brother of NEA, took the strip on despite finding very few clients, evidently feeling that the popularity might build over time. It didn't, but you have to give them points for giving it a try. Howie is a quasi-autobiographical daily only comic strip about a cartoonist interacting with family and friends, or just waxing philosophical. The strip was very well-drawn, using a more detailed, less cartoony version of Schneider's normal style. Theoretically the strip followed his life day by day (the strip was sometimes subtitled A Comic Journal), so not too surpringly it often portrayed him sitting at his drawing board trying to come up with ideas for his comic strip.

Perhaps newspaper editors couldn't see readers identifying with a cartoonist, or maybe they just saw it as a too-egocentric exercise. In any case, Schneider and UFS gave it a year to catch on, and it didn't. The strip began on November 12 1984 and ended on December 2 1985*.

* Source: United Feature Syndicate internal records


Big fan of Howie Schneider. Had no idea this strip existed (loved "Eek & Meek" and "Bimbo's Circus", tho). Art is definitely more detailed than his other work, but it's very much him.
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Wednesday, January 25, 2023


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Heppner Blackman

Heppner “Hep” Blackman was born in Heppner, Oregon, on April 4, 1882. His birthplace was mentioned in The Oregonian, (Portland, Oregon), January 6, 1907, and his birth date was on his World War I draft card.

In the 1900 U.S. Census, Blackman was the oldest of three children born to Henry and Fanny. They lived in Heppner on Main Street.

The Oregonian profiled Blackman and said:
…“Hep” was the first white boy born in Heppner after the town was incorporated. That occurred in 1882. His dad was Mayor of the town at the moment, so “Hep” was ushered into this world auspiciously. He graduated at the Heppner High School in 1899, and afterward attended the Portland High School; and subsequently took a course in Armstrong’s Business College. Next he studied law at Heppner in the office of C.E. Redfield, and was ready to take his law examination, but had not yet reached the age for eligibility. He worked as a typo on the Heppner Gazette under Colonel John Watermelon Reddington, and in that publication appeared his first drawings. Then he went to San Francisco, where he worked as private secretary for Judge J.C. Campbell for five years, and during the same time studied art under the Partington’s, and, at length, he worked nights in the art-room of the San Francisco Call. Here is where he really got his first important start and began to show cleverness that counted in his comic cartoons and ideas generally. Last February he started on his brilliant series of “epitaphs” on well-known characters in the San Francisco Bulletin, and just three weeks before the earthquake the first of these fine, telling, strong and irresistibly droll “tombstones” was published in the Bulletin. They were running when the earthquake robbed the boy of all he had and all his chance in the Golden Gate city…. 
The 1904 California Voter Registration, at, said Blackman lived at 418 Sutter in San Francisco, California. Blackman was in California when the Arizona Republican, November 7, 1905, published the legal notice for Articles of Incorporation of the Manhattan-Nevada Mines Syndicate, which showed him as a partner. 

After the April 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire, Blackman moved to New York City. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Blackman’s Rawhide Bill ran in the New York World from September 6 to October 24, 1906. The World, September 7, 1906, printed Blackman’s Epitaph of a Live One, which, apparently, was the basis for the series, Epitaphs for Live Ones. According to American Newspaper Comics, Epitaphs for Live Ones ran from November 10, 1906 to August 5, 1907 in the New York Evening Telegram which also published his Rube the Rotten Rhymester from April 12 to September 14, 1907. 

The Oregonian, 1/6/1907

In the 1910 census, Blackman made his home in Fort Worth, Texas at 1011 Burnett. The newspaper cartoonist was married to Irene. Texas Painters, Sculptors & Graphic Artists: A Biographical Dictionary of Artists in Texas Before 1942 (2000) said “Blackman furnished cartoons to the Brenham Daily News between 1911 and 1913.” 

The Star-Telegram, February 4, 1916, reported Blackman’s move to California.
Well Known Fort Worth Cartoonist to California.
Fort Worth, Texas, Feb. 3.—Announcement was made tonight that Heppner Blackman, cartoonist of the Star-Telegram and editor of the “Sunday Sandwich,” a Sunday feature of that paper, would leave shortly for California, where he will enter the moving picture business. He has been with the local paper for several years and enjoyed the distinction of being one of the leading cartoonists of the State.

He has considered entering the moving picture field for several months, but only announced his final decision today.

The Editor & Publisher, September 2, 1916, noted Blackman’s return to Fort Worth. 
Heppner Blackman, formerly cartoonist and Sunday editor of the Fort Worth (Tex.) Star-Telegram, who recently resigned to enter the moving picture field on the Pacific Coast, has returned to Forth Worth to reengage in newspaper work on the Live Stock Reporter and North Fort Worth Sunday News.
On September 12, 1918, Blackman signed his World War I draft card. His address was 203 Martin in San Antonio, Texas. Blackman was described as medium height and build, with gray eyes and black hair. He named his wife as next of kin. Blackman was a first lieutenant

According to the 1920 census, Blackman was a Manhattan, New York City resident at 304 West 31st Street. He was a newspaper writer. 

The Oregonian (Portland, Oregon), April 1, 1928, reported Blackman’s new job.
One Time Oregonian Joins Fox Publicity Staff.
Heppner Blackman Signs Up for Position in Hollywood.
Heppner Blackman, New York city newspaper man and former Oregonian, has joined the publicity staff at William Fox’s west coast studios, Hollywood.

Blackman was a member of the editorial staff of the New York Daily News for more than three years, serving in the capacity of reporter, labor editor and night city editor. For eight years he acted as current event cartoonist and columnist on the Fort Worth, Tex., Star-Telegram, and has worked at various times on the staffs of the New York American, International News service and on San Antonio, San Francisco and Los Angeles newspapers.

He is a son of the Henry Blackman, internal revenue collector of Oregon, Washington and Alaska during one of the Cleveland administrations.
In the 1930 census enumeration, newspaper writer Blackman and his wife lived in Los Angeles, California at 320 Alvarado. 

The 1940 census recorded Blackman in San Francisco where he was a WPA writer. His address was 1080 Post Street. He earned $900 in 1939. 

He had the same address when he signed his World War II draft card. Blackman’s employer was the WPA at 260 Market Street. His description was five feet eight-and-a-half inches, 190 pounds, with gray eyes and hair.

The 1950 census counted Blackman and his wife at the same address. He had no occupation. 

Blackman passed away on March 13, 1951 in San Francisco. The Heppner Gazette Times (Oregon), March 22, 1951, reported his death. 
Former Resident Passes
A short note from Abe Blackman in Portland informed this paper that his brother, Heppner Blackman, passed away in San Francisco March 13 at the age of 68 years. Hep will be remembered by the older residents hereabouts as the family resided in Heppner many years. His father, the late Henry Blackman, was associated in the mercantile business with Henry Heppner, the town’s founder. Hep took up cartooning as a career, working on papers in Texas and other southern states, later engaging in commercial art work in Los Angeles and San Francisco. He was a cousin of Harold Cohn of Heppner.
Blackman was laid to rest at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park


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Monday, January 23, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Epitaphs For Live Ones


Heppner Blackman seems to have only pursued newspaper cartooning in New York City for a short period, but he penned one quite interesting feature in his short foray there, plus a few that are less memorable. Epitaphs For Live Ones was a series of cartoons in which we see famous peoples' final resting places along with a humorous take on what might be chiselled thereon.

The weekday series was done for the New York Herald, but only one episode was printed in that morning paper, on September 7 1906. After that the series was moved to their evening paper, the Telegram, where it ran from November 10 1906  to August 5 1907. 

If you're wondering who the bewhiskered chap above is, James Bryce was appointed Britain's ambassador to the United States in 1907 at the time of this cartoon. He was also a noted historian, and had earlier written a very influential book about the U.S. titled The American Commonwealth. The epitaph Blackman came up with seeks to wring humour out of all these aspects of this accomplished fellow, and succeeds for an audience more than a century removed in producing mostly head-scratching. 

Come on back on Wednesday when Alex Jay will enlighten us more about Mr. Blackman's life story.


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Sunday, January 22, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Grace Drayton


 I find the cards in Drayton's Reinthal and Newman series to generally be very funny, but this one ... ? Sorry, I don't get it. Oddly the cards we've run for the past three weeks feature gags or elements that challenge my limited intelligence, so I guess I'm doing an unintentional sub-series of Wish You Were Here. I imagine I could keep this up and show you just how consistently dense I can be. 

But I digress. This Reinthal & Newman card is number 497, while all the other cards I've featured so far were numbered in the 100s. Guess Drayton was brought back to do a later series, because I daresay she didn't produce 400+ card designs for them.


The gag is probably something along the lines of the poor girl doesn't care if the rich girl gets ice cream, so long as she gets ice cream too. Frosty dairy novelties are the great equaliser.
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Saturday, January 21, 2023


Herriman Saturday: May 13 1910


May 13 1910 -- If you have been following Herriman's work lately, you only need to read the first panel; you can easily fill in the rest yourself.


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Friday, January 20, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: P.J. McFey


 Charles Barsotti was a well-respected, inventive and prolific magazine gag cartoonist, best known for his regular appearances in The New Yorker and Playboy. But Barsotti obviously pined for a dependable and ongoing gig, so he tried to break into the ranks of the newspaper cartoonists a number of times. 

The last attempt I know of is with the strip P.J. McFey, which was picked up for syndication by the LA Times Syndicate. This strip was a gag-a-day affair starring a put-upon corporate drone who has to deal with the strange behavior of the executives, the tech people and the marketing folk. It sort of sounds like Dilbert, but what was missing were the consistent and strong personalities, as opposed to basically generic gags that happen to use a few of the same weakly defined characters. 

The daily and Sunday strip debuted on January 12 1986*, and within six months Barsotti wasn't even sticking with his initial direction, now sometimes having McFey appear as just a generic 'everyman' figure, sometimes abandoned to being a background object in a gag having nothing to do with him. Barsotti even started dropping him altogether from the Sunday strip, as can be seen in the samples above. 

P.J. McFey didn't make it to the first anniversary mark, killed by mutual consent between syndicate and creator on December 13 1986. The day after that, a major profile article about Barsotti appeared in the Kansas City Star, and the strip was discussed:

“Mickey Mouse is kind of an icon,” [Barsotti] says. “It shows you these things can work.” The “things” are cartoon characters. One of Barsotti’s that won't is PJ McFey. “I just hate to say it,” Barsotti said one evening not long ago. If he wouldn't, then Lou Schwartz of the Los Angeles Times Syndicate would. “In the wonderful world of comic strips, ‘PJ McFey’ has had his run.” Officially, the last of the strips died yesterday but Barsotti had stopped drawing about two months before. The strip, in which McFey, a middle-aged, middle-class office worker, wrestled with life's demons, never hit stride. At the end it ran in about 30 papers, including The Star, “Doonesbury” appears in about 750. “I'm very upset about it,” says Barsotti, kneading a blackened eraser between his fingers. “It was obvious to everyone else I had too much to do, although I don’t think I sloughed off.” Work was winging out of his house via Federal Express sometimes seven days a week. He was doing drawings for the magazines, plus cartoons for his daily and weekend spaces in USA Today and USA Weekend, plus seven McFeys in 2 to three days. In coming up with the name, Barsotti pulled the PJ from PJ Clarke's, a watering hole in New York. The Mc was an add-on but the “fey” derived from the more positive meanings of that word, such as being clairvoyant. In the end, it fit the preferred use of the word: “Fated to die soon.”

* Source: Editor & Publisher article, November 23 1985.


I recall it happening in later installments of "Sally Bananas", an earlier Barsotti strip. Sally hardly appeared except for occasional appearances, instead featuring her niece or random side characters.

It's a shame "Sally Bananaas" never took off. I thought that strip was fun.
I enjoyed seeing these examples of the "P.J. McFey" Sunday strip. They make me curious about the daily version of the strip.

Have you run across any interesting dailies on this -- perhaps strips featuring the title character?

-- B. Baker
Here's a bunch of random dailies I found. Much of these are from later in the run, although some of them still feature the main character -
Thanks for the help Brubaker. I notice that your samples also tend to veer kinda sharply away from the stated subject of the strip!
Wow, thank you, Brubaker!

I agree with Allan -- even given these good examples of the daily strip, it's still difficult to focus on McFey. I look at these and wonder, "Gosh, what was this strip supposed to be about?"
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Wednesday, January 18, 2023


Toppers: Laura


Felix the cat, one of the biggest of the early animation stars, made the transition to newspaper comics in 1923 with King Features. The strip, which was credited to animation studio head Pat Sullivan, was mostly ghosted by Otto Messmer for the first two decades of its existence. 

When Hearst strips began carrying toppers, Felix was unusual in that it didn't go through a few different test run top strips before settling on one for the long run. Felix added the strip Laura as its first topper on June 6 1926* and stuck with it for nine years, finally changing to a new strip after the Sunday of June 16 1935**. 

While many toppers reused old characters from the creator's oeuvre, Laura seems to have been a brand new creation. The strip starred a parrot who quickly learns bits of speech from her owners and repeats them at inopportune moments. The strip was pretty much a one-joke affair for its entire existence, but the gag was pulled off with originality and playfulness that kept it from getting too stale. 

According to some online sources, Laura, or a parrot that resembles her, was later incorporated  into some of Felix's film shorts.

* Source: Philadelphia Record

** Source: Washington Star


I've seen lots of the Felix cartoons from 1919-37, and though a parrot may show up in one along the way, there never was a role built up for it. That was pretty much one of Felix's character traits; he was Chaplinesque; he was homeless loner.
If you read the early dailies (began 1927) you will see for many months, they are based entirely on aepisodes in specific, named, actual animated films. That eventually stopped, and that was really the only time the strips made a point of identifying with the screen version. Just as well; the strip outlasted the films by many years.
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Monday, January 16, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Switchboard Sally


Hard to believe that King Features would offer a third-rate strip like Switchboard Sally*, the theoretically humorous tale of a hotsy-totsy, smart-mouthed hotel telephone operator. In the 1920s the Hearst organization had the Premier Syndicate imprint in which to throw this sort of junk up against the wall to see if it might stick, and why this did not get flung there I dunno. 

Even junk like this can be interesting, though, and in this instance it is the creators who are memorable. The author of Switchboard Sally was H.C. Witwer, who must have been dashing off this tripe purely for the quick buck. Witwer was a popular and prolific writer who made a name for himself with humorous novels, magazine stories and movie screenplays. He was obviously engaged to write the strip purely for the name recognition. Apparently Witwer didn't care much about the potential damage to his reputation. 

The artist is the notorious Wesley Morse, who would later win everlasting infamy as the king of the Tijuana Bibles, those x-rated eight-pagers sold under the counter at the corner store in the 1930s-50s. Switchboard Sally gives him ample opportunity to work on his female figure drawing, for which I must admit he had a knack. It's everything else in the strip that he seems to not have an interest in fleshing out; the strip mainly features blank backgrounds and the most minimal props necessary. 

Switchboard Sally seems to have debuted on June 15 1925**, and was pretty much a gag-a-day affair. Since the gags weren't very good, there were also some half-baked storylines that went nowhere, so if you disliked the gags you could also be annoyed by the ill-conceived continuity. The latest I can find the strip running is January 2 1926 in the San Francisco Examiner, where daily strips came and went as quickly as mayflies -- can anyone supply a later end date?

One minor footnote is that the strip was advertised as being by Russ Westover in the 1925 E&P listings; obviously this was a typo.

* At least one paper ran it as "Sally of the Switchboard"

** Source: Philadelphia Daily News


I never made the connection that Morse was one of the "Tijuana Bibles" artists, but looking at the drawings I can see the resemblance. One of the more wholesome creations Morse was involved in were those "Bazooka Joe" comics that came with the bubble gums.
"It drives me nuts when artists/letterers put quotation marks around dialogue in balloons."
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Sunday, January 15, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Charles Lederer


Here's a card from Charles Lederer, dated 1906, but presumably published in 1907 since it is a divided back. No maker is credited but it is likely to be the Monarch Book Company, which published his other cards of this same style. 

These Lederer cards all offer gags using wordplay and slang. This one, I have to admit, mystifies me. If there's some slang meaning to "king full" I don't know what it is; in poker it would be a full house with kings high, but what that would have to do with a gag about drinking I dunno. Little help?


There is a drinking game called Kings that involves a playing cards, but I don't think this is in relation to this.
This may be explained by a joke that seems to have been popular in the early 1890s. I find it in several newspapers. The gist of it is there some King who gets drunk and beats his three wives. He gets taken before a judge who exonerates because "a king full always beats three queens". I suppose "a king full" means what in today's poker we'd call a full house, probably with kings.

That's my guess. It's a stretch, though. I don't find it after 1891.

I also wanted to look through some slang dictionaries of the period. Thought I had them bookmarked somewhere on my machine, but can't find them.
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Saturday, January 14, 2023


Herriman Saturday: May 12 1910


May 12 1910 -- Herriman adds a little colour to this article about the worldwide reactions to the appearance of Halley's Comet.


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Friday, January 13, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Mr. Grouch


Hy Gage produced a lot of comic strips over a long career, primarily for the Philadelphia papers. He worked most closely with the Philadelphia Press from 1906-1913, where his headline strip was Mrs. Rummage the Bargain Fiend. His secondary strip was this obscurity, Mr. Grouch

Mr. Grouch is just that, a pruny old fussbudget who is certain he knows best, and flies into a tantrum at the drop of a hat. Inexplicably, he has a gorgeous young wife who puts up with his anything but loveable antics. 

As with all of Hy Gage's work, the cartooning seems quite basic and flat yet shows a command of action and expression that really amps up the humour. Gage could take a tired old gag and make it worth seeing anew purely for the treatment he gives it. 

Mr. Grouch ran in the Philadelphia Press weekday editions from May 24 1906 to August 30 1907, then was graduated to the Sunday funnies section and ran there from September 22 1907 to February 26 1911. 

The Philadelphia Press also apparently had an agreement with the McClure Syndicate to share material with them in 1908-09. While McClure chose from the Press lineup mostly Gage's #1 strip, Mrs. Rummage, and Hugh Doyle's John Poor John to pad their sections, Mr. Grouch also made occasional appearances. 


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Wednesday, January 11, 2023


Toppers: Old Doc Yak


The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was a johnny-come-lately to the world of toppers, but when they finally caved in to peer pressre in late 1930, their cartoonists behaved much as those at other syndicates and many just revived one of their old strips as the new bonus attraction. 

Before Sidney Smith became one of the most widely known and richest cartoonists in the world for his huge smash hit The Gumps, he had already been a mainstay in the Tribune Sunday section for years with, among other features, Old Doc Yak. The strip starred ... yes ... a yak. But Doc had very few yak-like properties; his schtick was mainly speeding around in his jalopy, Old Number 348, trying to collect on his doctoring bills, coming up with money-making schemes, or jousting with his son, Yutch.

Despite Old Doc Yak being a Tribune reader favorite, in 1917 Smith came up with the idea for The Gumps, and he felt so strongly that it would be a big success that he actually had Old Doc Yak lose his house to The Gumps when they took over the daily strip. In 1919, with The Gumps obviously the wave of the future, Yak sold his Old Number 348 to them in his final Sunday. The virtual handshake to turn over the reins to the new kids in town was completed.

 So when Smith was called on in 1930 to add a topper, Old Doc Yak was taken out of the mothballs Starting with the Sunday of December 7 1930, half-hearted strips like that above were grudgingly added. They certainly didn't have the magic of the original Doc Yak strips, and Smith used his clout with the syndicate to finally dump the topper a little over three years later. The last Old Doc Yak topper ran on February 25 1934. Until long after Smith's death The Gumps Sundays were never again saddled with toppers. 

If Old Doc Yak sounds intriguing to you (the original, not the topper), head on over to Barnacle Press, where they have a substantial collection of Old Doc Yak strips, including the dailies which are (IMO) the most fun.


Hello Alan-
For many years, I've heard that most of the Chicago Tribune characters were devised by Colonel Paterson himself, and the artists just followed instructions, whether they had much interest or not, but would be guaranteed strong backing by the powerful syndicate. That would explain so much mediocrity over there.
Could the Gumps have started out that way, and that's why Doc Yak had to give up his home and belongings in what seems almost like a surrender ceremony?

My time machine's on the blink again, so who can say. But Smith was an unadulterated comic genius, no two ways about it, and if Patterson had the idea for a comedy - adventure - soap mashup that's all well and good but in lesser hands than Smith's it probably would have gone nowhere. In fact it did, because there were somewhat Gumps-like strips earlier on that rate only obscurity status.

In fact I've always been a little mystified by Goulart, Horn et al claiming that The Gumps was groundbreaking, the first continuity strip, etc etc. In fact there was darn little continuity in the strip early on, and it followed a path well worn by other 'family' strips that employed light continuity. Seems like it's more that it rang a bell with the Trib readers, and was available just as the Trib syndication sales force was waking up and beginning to knock on doors.

Obviously, the ChiTrib strips often would gravitate to sudsy continuities after establishing themselves as gag-a-days at the start. Guess Roger Bean was the first daily soap opera family melodrama, but the Gumps was the first really well distributed big syndicate one, and that changed the comics world. It was a new and exciting formula, especially for editors, as it proved a compelling hook to sell tomorrow's papers with. Note that Toots and Casper was changed to become a knockoff of the Gumps beginning in the early 20s.
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Monday, January 09, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: The Pranks of Pantomime Pete


I've always said that if I got to go back in time to interview just one cartoonist, it might have to be Roy W. Taylor. Taylor worked at just about every major paper in New York and Chicago, so just imagine the stories he could tell. Taylor had a lovely clean style, and if his gags were not really top-notch you tended to forgive him because his strips look so gosh-darn inviting. 

Today we feature Taylor's The Pranks of Pantomime Pete, a strip that he did while on a stint with the Chicago Tribune (though you can bet he was submitting material elsewhere at the same time). Walter Bradford pretty much dominated the Trib's funnies section in the first half of the 1900s, but Taylor, in his short stints there in 1901-02 and 1905-06, gave him a run for his money. Unfortunately they both kinda got the bum's rush in 1906 when the Tribune decided to have a bunch of German cartoonists produce the majority of the section. 

The Pranks of Pantomime Pete ran from December 3 1905 to April 29 1906; in the latter part of the run the strip only appeared sporadically (... darn Germans). If you have a hankering for the whole run of Pete, albeit in living black and white, head on over to Barnacle Press for the full monty.


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Sunday, January 08, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from J.R. Williams


Here's another postcard from J.R. Williams, this one featuring two city slickers (I think) debating the better way to mount a horse. Why the second fellow speaks broken English is a mystery to me -- it seems to have nothing to do with the gag. 

This card is W-530 of the second series of Standley-May Out Our Way cards.


I think they're both supposed to be Chinese.
Just the character on the right is supposed to be Chinese; he's the replacement for the earlier tall, large footed black guy that was the bunkhouse cook/washer/handyman for so many years.
It would seem Williams eased him out in favor of the Chinaman, but it would seem he never prepared well, because not only does the new fellow's appearance fail to make him distinctly Chinese, (What kind of duds are those?), JRW has a poor grasp of what Pidgin patois sounds like.
In other panels using him, Williams forgets entirely to attempt any dialect at all.
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Saturday, January 07, 2023


Herriman Saturday: May 12 1910


May 12 1910 -- May is a good time for Herriman to be dreaming about a pennant run fot the local Pacific Coast League teams. Once the season gets rolling all thoughts of glory will be filed away as "just wait 'til next year!"

In fairness the Vernons did have a decent season, coming in with a positive win-loss record, they were just way outclassed by other powerhouse teams. The Angels, though, stunk up the joint. They did manage to not to end up as the worst team in the league; the laughably bad Sacramento team saved them from that dishonour.


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Friday, January 06, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Mommy


Here's a panel that seems like it should have succeeded, if only because it offered a different perspective than just about all the other stuff editors could buy in the mid-50s. The panel Mommy was about a stay-at-home mom, and unlike glamourpusses like Alice Mitchell and Blondie Bumstead, she seemed pretty real -- she was overworked, overtired, not at all amused by her kids' 'cute' antics, and never wore high heels and pearls to do the vacuuming. In short, here was a panel that would appeal to all the newspaper readers who fit that mould, which was most of the middle-aged women of the developed world. 

So what could go wrong? It certainly wasn't the art, which was by Arnie Mossler who offered up a more than competent 1950s modern and vibrant style. And it wasn't the gags by his wife Ann Mossler, which hit more often than not, and came across as real, not manufactured by some cigar-smoking gag-writer. At this point I'd be giving the stink-eye to the syndicate, which being the New York Herald-Tribune, with the most infamously inept sales force of all the majors, would seem like the obvious place to point the finger. But to my surprise when I look around on, I see that the panel started with what appears to be a healthy enough client list, and those clients didn't all get shed early on. In fact, it isn't until a good year and a half into the run before the clients start dropping like flies. Why? I just don't know. It's a head-scratcher. 

Mommy began on March 21 1955* and ended just about exactly two years later, on March 30 1957**. Arnie Mossler had several syndicated features before and after this, but Mommy was the only occasion on which he teamed up (or at least credited) his wife Ann.

* Source: San Fernando Valley Times

** Source: Tampa Times


My first reaction to it, while just scrolling down and reading the panels, and before you posted your puzzlement, was that it was simply unpleasant. Nobody is smiling, there is no evidence of love or affection, there is no fun displayed. "Mommy" is haggard, unhappy, clearly overworked and we never even see her husband. It's a portrait of mid-50s middle-class misery, and I am reminded of my own mother, who ultimately attempted suicide. It's as lightweight as an anvil.
I agree. It’s not fun. Makes Baby Blues look like an old family sit-com.
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Wednesday, January 04, 2023


Can You Identify the Mystery Cartoonist?


The Stripper must be getting old and addle-pated, because I feel like I should know who this is. This sports cartoon ran in the February 6 1928 edition of the Atlanta Georgian, a paper that I just clipped up for its cartooning content. As I was clipping this cartoon out, I was just assuming it would be by Feg Murray. But then I looked at the scrawl of a signature, and that sig sure isn't his. 

The style seems sort of familiar, in a generic sorta way, and this was no minor local cartoonist since he was syndicated by King Features, but my neurons refuse to fire properly. Help!


It reminds me of Quinn Hall.
What do we make of this 1938 swipe, seen here? A possible lead?
Mark -- If there were no sig I could easily be convinced this is Quin Hall. But Quin had a consistent sig he used, so ... ?

Paul -- If Sords swiped it, he could have saved us a lot of trouble and added an "apologies to" line.

There is a signature. Just under 'th new champ' looks like a Q to me. DanB
Looks like Will Gould to me.

Will Gould is another good guess based on him being a sports guy for Hearst at this time. But he also had a very identifiable signature (block letters enclosed in a box on box arrangement), and the sig on this cartoon is nothing like that.

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Monday, January 02, 2023


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: William Reusswig


Henry William Reusswig Jr. was born on July 22, 1902, in Somerville, New Jersey, according to his World War II draft card. 

The 1905 New Jersey state census said Reusswig, his parents and older brother were residents of Bridgewater Township of Somerville, New Jersey at 154 Cliff Street. His father was a druggist. 

The 1910 United States Census recorded Reusswig, his widow mother and brother in Utica, New York at 371 Genesee Street. His mother was a vocal teacher. 

According to the 1915 New York state census, Reusswig’s mother had remarried to Norton J. Griffith who owned a canning company. The family of four were Utica residents at 8 Greenwood Court.

In the 1920 census, Reusswig was at the same address and had a half-sister. 

Reusswig graduated from Amherst College in Massachusetts. He was in the class of 1924. 

The 1925 New York state census recorded the family of five in Utica at 1102 Parkway. Reusswig’s occupation was “art league school”, probably in New York City. 

The Central New Jersey Home News (New Brunswick, New Jersey), November 8, 1927, reported Ruesswig’s upcoming marriage. 
Reusswig to Wed in New York Church
New York, Nov. 8.—St. Agnes’ Church in New York City will be the scene of the wedding on November 15 of Henry William Reusswig, twenty-five, an artist, a native of Somerville, the son of Henry and Edith Norton Reusswig, and Miss Martha Louise Sawyers, twenty-two, also an artist, who has a studio at 360 West Twenty-second street, New York City. The couple obtained their marring license here yesterday. Mr. Reusswig’s present address is 215 West Thirteenth street, New York City. Miss Sawyers was born in Corsicanna, Texas, the daughter of Alie and Inez Sawyers.
On November 16, 1927, Reusswig married Martha L. Sayers in Manhattan, New York City. Evidently they honeymooned in Europe. On December 30, 1927, the newlyweds were aboard the steamship American Banker when it departed London. They arrived in the port of New York on January 9, 1928. The passenger list said their address was 360 West 22nd Street, New York City. 

Reusswig was a self-employed artist in the 1930 census. His address was 110 East 84th Street. 

Reusswig painted many pulp magazine covers. Redbook, January 1934, published a photograph of Reusswig at work. His illustrations for “We’re All a Year Older” begin here

On August 26, 1937, Reusswig and his wife arrived in San Pedro, California from Yokohama, Japan. 

The 1940 census enumeration counted Reusswig and his wife in Manhattan, New York City at 71 East 77th Street. 

On February 15, 1942, Reusswig signed his World War II draft card. His address was 434 East 52nd Street in Manhattan. Reusswig was described as five feet nine inches, 172 pounds, with brown eyes and hair. He enlisted in the New York Guard Service on June 24, 1943 and was assigned to Company B, Seventh Regiment. 

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Reusswig, in 1944, drew the Book-of-the-Month adaptation of Paris Underground by Etta Shiber. He started Book-of-the-Month’s Tarawa by Robert Sherrod and completed just six strips. The remaining eighteen were by John Mayo. Both series were from the King Features Syndicate which offered Reusswig the opportunity to document the war in Europe. So, Reusswig left Tarawa and packed his bags for Europe. Apparently Reusswig’s full-page drawings began on August 13, 1944 in the Pictorial Review of several newspapers. During the series, Printers’ Ink, June 29, 1945, published an advertisement with a photograph of Reusswig.

Reusswig was mentioned in The Greenwood Library of American War Reporting Volume 5 (2005).  Reusswig returned to the U.S. on December 25, 1944 at Washington, D.C. He flew on an Air Transport Command plane. 

In early 1945, Reusswig went to the Pacific Theater to continue documenting the war for King Features. Apparently his first set of drawing appeared August 5, 1945 and last set November 11, 1945 (below). 

On September 22, 1945, Reusswig and his wife, Martha Sawyers, were aboard the S.S. Topa Topa when they departed Calcutta, India. They arrived in New York on October 20, 1945. She was a WAC captain and war correspondent for Colliers in India. 

The 1950 census said Reusswig and his wife lived in Manhattan, New York City at 434 East 52nd Street. He was a freelance magazine illustrator.

Reusswig passed away on June 22, 1978, in San Antonio, Texas. An obituary appeared in the Victoria Advocate (Texas), June 23, 1978. 
Graveside services for Henry V. Reusswig, 76, San Antonio artist and writer, will be conducted in Hillside Cemetery at 3 p.m. Friday. The Rev. John II. Bert, pastor of Grace Episcopal Church, will officiate. Burial will be under the direction of Freund Funeral Home. 

Mr. Reusswig died at a San Antonio nursing home Thursday. He was a member of the Illustrators Club and the Artists and Writers Club of New York City, the National Academy of Fine Arts and Phi Delta Theta. 

Mr. Reusswig, a graduate of Amherst College, was born in New Jersey, July 22, 1902, son of Ernest and Edith Reusswig. He married Martha Sawyers in New York City in 1927. Survivors are the wife; a sister, Mrs. Aurelia Batty of Arlington, Va., and a brother, Norton Reusswig of New York. 
Reusswig was laid to rest at Hillside Cemetery

Further Reading and Viewing
Field Guide to Wild American Pulp Artists
Internet Archive, Reusswig credits and illustrations


Martha Sawyers, Reusswig's wife, was also a successful painter and illustrator. While an art student in New York an attack of wanderlust led her to move to Bali, where she painted the Balinese people. A gallery exhibit of her portraits led to a job as an illustrator of "Asian subjects" for Colliers magazine. During WWII she painted morale posters. She and her husband continued wandering the Far East and collaborated on two illustrated books. Here's a biographical outline at the Cuero (Texas) Heritate Museum:
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