Friday, April 21, 2006
Obscurity of the Day: Tommy of the Big Top
For some reason John Lehti's delightful Tommy of the Big Top strip never found its audience. The art was wonderful, the stories good, but it just never seemed to take off. Perhaps an early sign of the demise of the story strip?
The strip started 10/28/1946. Young Tommy was living with his older sister, the parents not in the picture for reasons I haven't discovered. Sister, who looks to be a teenager, is being successfully courted by a loathsome fellow, and Tommy wants nothing more than to be out of the picture in case the pair get married.
A circus comes to town and he resolves to join it, and our sample strips show a snippet of that sequence. Continuing this sequence the circus manager insists that the sister give permission for Tommy to join the circus. To keep the story from bogging down at that point, Lehti has good ol' sis acquiesce to the proposal without so much as batting an eye. So Tommy is off on his adventures with the circus.
What I like about the strip is that it tries not to follow the well-worn path of just having the circus as a backdrop for stories about the kid solving mysteries and foiling crimes. The stories (at least as much as I've read of the strip) really try to evoke the exotic atmosphere of circus life, and the adventures are down to earth and believable. The stories very deliberately try to evoke the thrills and mysteries of circus life. In this era, running away with the circus was a standard youthful obsession, and Lehti milks that desire like a real pro by showing kids a highly sanitized but nevertheless exciting view of what a kid might experience if he or she acted on the fantasy.
Tommy of the Big Top ended sometime in 1950 (can anyone supply a specific date?) and Lehti went on to have far more success with his Bible story strip, Tales From The Great Book.
Lehti was born in Brooklyn according to the biography in Goulart's Encyclopedia of American Comics. No mention of his family history.
Tommy was a daily-only strip, so there should be no Sundays. I'll be interested to hear more from you on what those Danes were up to!
Any info you could provide on John's comic strip work would be of great interest to me and the blog readers. One thing that has me wondering is regarding "Facts About The Bible". I still find that running in some papers, so I assume it was sold in batches. Do you know how many installments were done? Is it just reworked versions of "Tales From the Great Book" or was it new material? Is the syndicate, Linage-Plus, your dad's company or a syndicate that he sold the rights to?
Inquiring minds wanna know!
Thanks very much for the additional info about your dad.
A few questions:
1) I haven't seen any "Tales" from beyond 1971. Do you know the specific end date in '72?
2) Did "Facts" gets started pretty much right after "Tales" ended, or was there significant time in between. In my collection I don't have any "Facts" from before the 80s.
3) Is the art and story in "Facts" just sort of rejiggered "Tales" material, or did your dad actually produce new material for this version?
Several sources, including Maurice Horn`s Encyclopedia, writes that Lehti helped Dan Barry with the Dailies in 1948-49.
As late as in 2018, in The Complete Burne Hogarth Dailies and Sundays (Titan Books), Henry G Franke III mention that Lehti worked on Tarzan in the late 1940s.
Other sources tells that Emil Gerswhin was the man that ghosted Lord of the Jungle, when Dan Barry could not do all the work.