Monday, January 07, 2008


Stripper's Guide Index Q & A

Thanks to all who sent questions and comments on the Stripper's Guide Index application preview. Here are my responses to your input. We'll start out with the contents of the SG Index, then go on to technical and publication matters.

Q Does the index get into the related subjects of cartoonist biographies, syndicate histories, etc.

A The index doesn't try to provide biographical information. You can track the movement of cartoonists from one paper or syndicate to another through the titles they created, of course, but as far as birth and death dates, details on their personal lives, no. Maybe in another few decades!

Regarding syndicates, though, I have been maintaining a document of vital statistics on syndicates for the the past dozen years that I update as I find info. This has not yet been published in any form. It will presumably be included with the Stripper's Guide index, probably as part of a help system.

Q Does the SG index cover ghosts, assistants, staffers, etc.

A When I get information on ghosts and assistants I usually include that in the notes for the associated strip. Since you would be able to search in the Notes field you should be able to find such information. Ghosts generally do not get a credit in the Artist and Writer sections, which are pretty much reserved for those who 'officially' worked on the features.

Q How do you handle weekly and other frequency strips?

A Weekly strips have their own frequency category. There's also "Less Than Daily", pretty much reserved for the quasi-daily strips of the 1900s and 1910s. For even more oddball frequencies, like three or five times per week, they get tossed into a catch-all "Other" category with a note detailing their specific frequency.

Q Why is the Slim Jim sample you showed in the video missing part of the newspaper name in the masthead? Are you editing these out?

A No. I scanned that Slim Jim because I thought it was kind of interesting that when this preprint section went through the presses they somehow lost part of the masthead. Goes to show how little these guys cared about getting it right that they didn't bother to scrap that batch, or try running it through a second time.

I never intentionally obscure copyrights or anything like that -- those who do such things seem to be laboring under the fantasy that removing the copyright puts the subject into public domain. Doesn't of course.

Q Would you like me to send you information for the index? (asked specifically about ghosts)

A All information is, of course, gleefully and gratefully received. I assume if you don't say otherwise that when you send me data that you are consenting to have it cited in the SG index. All data used in the index is credited to the contributor.

I should insert the caveat, though, that not all data will necessarily be used -- most importantly reports of strips not currently in the index. As most of you know, the SG index guarantees against phantom features by not listing anything that I haven't seen with my own widdle eyeballs. I'm glad to take reports of previously unknown features and will add them to my research list, but I need sample tearsheets (photocopies and scans are fine) to add it to the list. Originals and proofs don't pass muster as they're no guarantee that the feature ever made it into print.

Q Will there be any way to search for features of a certain type, say paper dolls, sports strips, black cartoonists, etc.?

A In the current version there is no subject index so I must give a qualified no. For paper dolls a search of the Notes would most likely turn up a reasonably complete list since I usually note such features. A search for black cartoonists would have to be done by searching the syndicate names for "Chicago Defender", "Pittsburgh Courier" and so on, then using those results to further search for those creator names from other mainstream venues.

There is actually a subject index in my working database. Unfortunately the idea for it came to me at least 6 or 7 years into the project and the information recorded therein is woefully incomplete. I keep intending to go through the whole title list and fill in subjects but it is a daunting task, and there are lots of features that, years after initially indexing them, I wouldn't have a clue as to their subject matter.

Q Does the index include panel cartoons, editorial cartoons?

A Panel cartoons are included as long as they are from a series. So you will find Grin and Bear It, Briggs panels, Life's Like That, Dennis the Menace and a kazillion other panel features in the index.

Editorial cartoons are not included. I consider them a separate subject unto themselves. Gotta leave something for other researchers, right?

Q Did you say 7000 titles?!?

A Yes, but I'm afraid I was gilding the lily. I'm actually at 6710 at the moment. On the other hand, if you count alternate titles I'm at 10,244.

Okay, that about does it for content questions. On to techie stuff:

Q Regarding fair use are there any pros or cons with that issue in regards to which format would be legally more manageable?

A I don't believe there is a difference in legal terms between a book and a software application as regards fair use. One way or another you're republishing the copyrighted work of others. Based on my reading the fair use doctrine should cover me for a single example of a given feature. The further I get away from that the murkier the waters become. Of course the syndicates make things easier by not bothering to renew their copyrights on most strips. But as I've said many times before, just because a syndicate doesn't have a legal leg to stand on doesn't mean they can't take me to court and generally make my life miserable.

Q Why not make the data open source/free?

A Maybe it's the tens of thousands of hours I've put into it, maybe it's the tens of thousands of dollars it has cost me for research trips and purchasing materials. Although I have absolutely no hope of recouping such outrageous expenses it sure would be nice to get some small remuneration for those efforts. Besides, my wife would kill me if I gave it away. For the past 12 years she has gotten exactly one vacation where the destination wasn't predicated on the contents of its local library. I've been feeding her a line of bull all along that there was going to be at least a little payoff for all that.

Q Will the application work on a Mac?

A I'm not a Mac guy but I was under the impression that the later versions of that OS could run Windows-based applications. Am I misinformed?

Q Why not make the application a web-based application?

A That would definitely be a great solution. Problem is I'm not all that well-versed in writing web apps. I can stumble along a bit with HTML, Perl and Javascript, but the time it would take me to learn enough about web-based databases, subscriptions, interfaces, security and all that jazz is substantial. Between trying to run my software business and ongoing SG research I just don't have the time available to put that together. I was able to write this new SG app in one long weekend -- a web app would take months of research and development.

Q How about implementing a way of doing searches within searches?

A A neat idea, though I don't know that the database really has enough layering to make that a really powerful feature. I've tried to implement a very basic sort of that 'drill-down' functionality by saving your searches so that you can fine-tune them. I'll let that idea roll around in the ol' noggin and see if any sparks fly.

Q Consider multiple sort options. Instead of the initial database being sorted only by title, the ability to change the database in order to sort by year, artist, syndicate, et al would be nice.

A That would be possible to implement, but I don't know how it could be used to any great effect within the context of the application. If the index were to be published in a book I had every intention of doing cross-reference indexes sorted by syndicate, creator and start date.

I would definitely like to come up with a way of sorting the index without regard to upper/lowercase, spaces etc. I have it doing the sorting that way when printing hardcopy but haven't come up with a way to do it (easily) in the app. That's something I would definitely want to implement before the release though.

Q Consider some ability to export information to allow limited exports of search results or checklist generation. You can create tags to protect your copyright.

A Factual data, which of course is the bulk of the index, is not copyrightable. No one can own facts (thank goodness). For that reason I have reason not to allow exports, because once the data is just in the form of a list of titles and dates I can lay no legal claim to the work. Not allowing exports gives me at least some semblance of control over its dissemination. By the way, it's for that reason that there are some ringers in the data just in case anyone gets any bright ideas.

Q Consider the ability to add more than one thumbnail, especially with strips that had multiple artists over the years.

A With multiple artists I think fair use might well cover multiple samples. Not sure how I would set that up in the application but it's just a matter of expending some brain juice on it. I'll see what I can do.

Q Would the index be released letter by letter as it was years ago?

A No, the whole index would be released.

Q How about instead of referencing only your blog postings in the app you reference any website that discuss or reproduce samples of a given title?

A Sounds great but that would be a huge project unto itself. How about a button that will automatically open your web browser and do a Google search for the title? That shouldn't be too hard to implement.

Finally we come to the biggie. I mentioned in the video that my real dream was to have the index published in book form. I said that I was prepared to back off from that dream because Stripper's Guide research continues indefinitely and that provides no obvious stopping point at which to publish.

I was surprised and thrilled to find practically every commenter saying that they would really like to have the index in book form even if it needs to be updated on occasion. Well, if a book is what I want and a book is what you want then I'm going to give a serious reassessment to the subject.

A lot of you mentioned print-on-demand (lulu and the like). I'm willing to go that direction but only after at least approaching some 'real' publishers with the project. A book publisher can do a far better job of production on the book than I could, and comes with a marketing engine that would hopefully put the book onto a lot more bookshelves than it ever could going the self-publishing route. For instance I see libraries as an important venue for a book edition and I seriously doubt that librarians are combing through lulu looking for reference books.

So in the end we've come full circle. The release of the SG index application is now officially on hold and I'm going back to the original plan of submitting the book to publishers (the application, by the way, would presumably be released along with the book, so it's not that I'm abandoning it). Now all I have to do is write that brilliant book proposal that makes the publishers beat down my door. Stay tooned...

Ringers? Oh, Allan, please say it ain't so! The ringers that Overstreet have had for years in his listings have long since been discovered by collectors and folks down the line will eventually parse your work for them too.
The problem is that your hard work is more than a commodity. Its more than that. It is a source of historical research that will be used and judged by your peers and future scholars for decades. The moment you include poison pills into the data to protect your monetary claims to the information, is also the moment that you help make your data suspect for all future scholars. The question will become for someone using the data 50 years from now, which is real and which is fake? What you have done is a historical and scholarly achievement, which is for posterity as well. Don't undercut yourself with future researchers.

For the Mac question, the new Mac's run on Intel processors in which can run Windows software. I run the old Stripper's Guide myself on a Windows emulation program. If someone has an older Mac or does not have such software, they will not be able to use your software.

As far as web-based software. If you don't know how or have the time to write it yourself, how about inquiring from folks who do and have them write it for you? And it might not have to cost you anything either and here is how... The Grand Comic-Book Database project (, has a tech list that is full of computer and software savvy people/comic fans who have been working on a new schema for the database. All free, all volunteers. There has to be plenty of folks who love the Stripper's Guide who also could help you write the program you want as a web-based model in no time at all. The right programmer could probably knock it out for you what you want in no time. The problem will then becoming web hosting, and that is an entirely different matter long-term. But that is more an issue of money and bandwidth at that point.

Yeah for a book copy! My only fear might be the price!

my best
-Ray Bottorff Jr
Hi Ray -
Regarding the ringers, for reasons that I'll keep mum about they're perfectly obvious to anyone actually reading the listings -- they're only going to act as gotchas if someone was copying the material en masse.

By the way, there originally weren't any ringers. They were added when it became obvious that some subscribers to the old version of SG were distributing it to others.

Re Macs, thanks for the info. Perhaps the application could just be recompiled for 'native' Mac use. I don't think the MSVC compiler has a Mac equivalent using common calls but I'll look into it.

AAAAEEE!!! I'm one of the people who suggested Lulu thinking you'd release the darn thing now at a reasonable price, Alan! Really, you will not find a publisher who will do any editing on this for you, and it will have an exorbitant price. Ask John Lent about his experience with his bibliographies if you don't want to take my word for it. A full set of his 10 bibliographies will cost you about a grand and a half. If you can export the data, you can self-publish.

Hi Allan,

I'm a bit late into this conversation, but I have a suggestion or two.

Perhaps you could publish the printed index in sections (for example, A-C, etc.) and sell them with 3-hole-punches that can be put into a Stripper's Guide binder that you could also sell. That way you would reduce the price to the buyer, who could purchase the index bit by bit and it would also allow you to make updates to it and sell the updated pages separately. It would probably reduce the initial printing cost as well since there would be no covers.

Good luck! I look forward to seeing the index in print. You've done an amazing job.
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