Wednesday, January 09, 2008
Obscurity of the Day: Philo Vance
Here are a few really bad samples from microfilm of the very rare Philo Vance comic strip. It was distributed by Bell Syndicate and seems to have been released between two more popular series of the same genre, Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu.
These Bell series were notable not only for their fan-favorite characters but also their very short stories, rarely running more than a month long. Without much chance for character and plot development they make for pretty dull reads though collectors seek them out because of the famous subjects.
Philo Vance was an amateur detective created by S.S. Van Dine. Vance, a a foppish man about town appeared in a series of bestselling novels. The character was popular enough to have many of his tales adapted into movies, some starring the great William Powell (unfortunately missing his Thin Man better half Myrna Loy in these outings).
The only paper I've found that ran Philo Vance is the Atlanta World, a black daily newspaper whose microfilm, as you can tell from the quality of the scans, is in awful shape. The World ran only two stories - The Insurance Mystery (story E) and The Skull Mystery (F), each 24 strips. F seems to have been the last in the series, leaving 4 stories unaccounted for. The strip was credited to Van Dine, of course, but he almost certainly had nothing to do with these productions. The name signed to the strips is R.B.S. Davis who is a complete mystery to me.
Providing running dates for any of these Bell mystery series is tough because the strips were sold in batches. Some papers ran them late and out of order, and very few newspapers stuck with the series all the way through. Philo Vance is a particularly tough nut to crack because it is far rarer than the other two series, and the more popular Sherlock Holmes and Fu Manchu series weren't exactly running in a lot of papers themselves. My guess that this strip was meant to run between the other two (which would have it starting around April 1931) really isn't borne out by the tentative running dates I have for the other two strips, but as I said, they ran in very few papers, seldom as a complete series, and frequently out of order. If someone has made a study of this trio and would like to compare notes I'd love to hear from you.
I think you're absolutely right saying that Van Dine had nothing to do with it. Even if all the original books (but the last) start with a "dramatis personae", it seems suspicious that the two known comic stories titles aren't "The [...] murder case" but "The [...] mistery", given that all the 12 Vance novels have as title "The [...] murder case". It seems to me that the stories weren't "translations" of Van Dine books. And this is very different from the two O'Mealia strips (SHERLOCK HOLMES and FU MANCHU), that were strictly based upon original novels (and had no ballons).
BTW in 1931 Van Dine had written only his first 5 Vance novels.
My reason for lumping the three together, despite the artistic and source differences you point out, is that they're all mysteries, appeared in the same timeframe, used those story letters, and in the World at least the Fu Manchu series started at the end of the brief Philo Vance run.
So there's a Vance novel titled THE COLE CASE?
I never heard of it (but I'm not a PHILO VANCE expert).
I have read all 12 Vance novel (if they're really 12) and no Coles in them.
Titles (as I know it) are:
1. The Benson Murder Case (1926)
2. The Canary Murder Case (1927)
3. The Greene Murder Case (1928)
4. The Bishop Murder Case (1928)
5. The Scarab Murder Case (1929)
6. The Kennel Murder Case (1932)
7. The Dragon Murder Case (1933)
8. The Casino Murder Case (1934)
9. The Garden Murder Case (1935)
10. The Kidnap Murder Case (1936)
11. The Gracie Allen Murder Case (1938)
12. The Winter Murder Case (1939)
When the strip presumably, started only first 5 novels were already written.
Maybe THE COLE CASE was a Vance short story or was a S.S. Van Dine novel with with other characters?
In this second option, the cartoonist, having no more Vance novel to adapt, started adapting Van Dine (no Vance) novels.
Can you give us more info about it?