Friday, January 12, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Silver Linings
We've discussed the New York Herald Tribune's filler strips before (here and here and here and here for instance), and yes, most of them are pretty bad. One, however, stood head and shoulders above the rest. Silver Linings was by Harvey Kurtzman, for my money one of the greatest cartoonists of the past century. The vast bulk of his work was in comic books, of course -- he was the father of Mad magazine, a guiding force behind the EC war comics, and produced arguably one of the most innovative series ever to appear between the covers of a comic book, the one-pager Hey, Look series that ran in the humor titles of Timely Comics in the 1940s.
Silver Linings is essentially a compacted version of Hey, Look. It shares that wild minimalist art style and constantly breaks the so-called fourth wall as in the second sample reproduced here. It has to be considered a tribute to the myopia of the comics editor at the H-T -- who could be so clueless as to not sign Kurtzman for a regular comic strip series when he saw the first samples of Silver Linings? No wonder the Herald-Tribune never had much success in syndicating their comic strips with somebody like that at the helm.
Kurtzman produced the series for the Herald-Tribune from March 7 through June 20 1948. In that period the filler strip had nine appearances.
Did Harvey had any other newspaper works, or was this one it?
The Herald Tribune comics editor in those days, circa 1946-54, was one Harold Straubing, who remains famous to this day in some older-time quarters of comics circles as the guy who rejected
both Pogo and Dennis the Menace -- though apparently that might
be a bum rap to some degree, and I think he might well have tried
hard to woo and sign Kurtzman.
Whatever else Straubing did or didn't do, he was the guy who shook
the HT out of its long-staid comics worldview (Mr. and Mrs., Peter Rabbit, all that) and vigorously groomed and introduced the postwar adventure stuff -- The Saint, Bodyguard, etc. He finally lost his position over the Sherlock Holmes
strip, which he thought was terrible and objected to buying, thus running afoul (his story, certainly not independently confirmed by me) of some top HT exec who was Edith Meiser's boyfriend at the time.
Interesting guy, actually. He was one of Stan Lee's Army acquaintances and briefly worked at Timely after the war, writing teen-girl comedy stuff, before he landed at HT. At HT, he was one of the witnesses who testified at those legislative comics hearings of that day. Post-HT, he got into
men's mags for a while. Later, known as Harold Elk Straubing, he wrote a number of military history books.
Straubing and his family were close friends of my own family well through the end of the sixties. He was at the Trib when my father began his comic strip, Coogy, which had its run through the year that I was born -- so, I kind of knew him as far back as I can remember. During that same period, his name appears as editor on the covers of Lev Gleason's Squeeks (#s 4-5) both issues of which my dad's work appears (kind of a poor man's Muggy Doo).
I have no knowledge about the strips that Straubing did or did not greenlight for the paper, but Coogy was certainly (initially, anyway) marketed along Pogo lines. I have the promo flyer that the Trib sent to its partner papers where the text more than just implies so; its unmistakable.
It's tough to say why Pogo or Dennis, and even Kurtzman were not retained. Could be the artists had better offers, or that the Trib wanted to stamp some of its own vision into the strips that the artists did not have in mind. Regardless of whether some of his Trib business decisions were lacking, the guy was incredibly bright, and super nice.
And correct, later on, Harold did edit Men's mags, which my father did some writing for. I have a couple posted on my site.