Monday, March 24, 2008
News of Yore: Syndication Contract Contest
By James L. Collings
Five gifted artists this week received one of the finest Christmas presents of their careers. They were named winners in United Feature Syndicate's $10,000 Talent Comics Contest.
Thomas Okamoto, 39-year-old freelance advertising designer of El Monte, Calif., won first prize of $5,000 with his "Little Brave," a daily pantomime gag strip about a young Indian boy.
Second-place honors and $2,500 went to Bill O'Malley, 52, ex-newspaper artist now free-lancing out of Carmel, Calif., for "Reverend," a daily pantomime gag strip featuring a young clergyman.
Third prize ($1,500) was awarded George Booth, 29, of Cold Spring Harbor, Long Island, N.Y. Mr. Booth, former Marine who was born in Cains-ville, Mo., created "Spot" for the contest. It's a daily panel concerning a lovable mutt who acts like a member of the family.
Coming in fourth and fifth, respectively, each for $500, were Bob Kuwahara of Larchmont, N.Y., and John Whitaker of Memphis, Tenn.
Mr. Kuwahara, 53-year-old freelance artist who does work for Paul Terry, submitted "Marvelous Mike," a continuity strip centering around a precocious youngster who offers merriment and wisdom to the family circle.
Mr. Whitaker's "Sam's Supermarket" is a panel focused on urbania's contribution to humanity, the supermarket. Mr. Whitaker, 27, is a sales representative for Delta Airline.
Contracts for All 5
All five have been signed to contracts, according to Laurence Rutman, UFS vice president and general manager, who said there were 480 entries in the contest.
"We are delighted with the results," he said, "and believe we have succeeded in finding new talent. Yes, we plan to run another contest, say in the next two to three years. It would be impractical to do it annually."
Mr. Rutman added that the syndicate hopes to release the five winning products, individually and not in package form, shortly after Jan. 1. "It all depends on when we get their material," he said.
Mr. Okamoto, is a native of Kent, Wash. After one year at Sacramento Junior College, he attended Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles, following with a job as staff artist in the Walt Disney studio.
He then taught art in Colorado. In 1943, he served in the Army as a master sergeant in military intelligence, and when he was discharged in 1947, he went to Art Center School in Los Angeles until 1951. After a stint as an advertising agency art director, Mr. Okamoto became a freelance advertising designer. He is married and has two sons, Deems and Eric.
Mr. O'Malley at one time worked on the San Francisco Call-Bulletin and the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune as a cartoonist. He has four books to his credit.
Batchelor's Summer Sub
Mr. Booth in 1953 served as a vacation substitute for C. D. Batchelor of the New York Daily News, and while he was a Marine he was cartoon editor of Leatherneck. He got his schooling at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts.
When the contest was first announced on May 7, 1955, on this page, Mr. Rutman said:
"The market is glutted with adventure strips. We want to find new approaches and ideas, with emphasis mostly on humor. Apart from getting upcoming talent, we hope to have an answer soon to those who have been criticizing the pulling power of the comics."
Emphasis on Humor
It's impossible at this time, of course, to predict the quintet's pulling power, but at least Mr. Rutman has achieved half the goal: the three strips and the two panels emphasize humor.
"We're happy they do," Mr. Rutman said. "That's what the business needs."
[all five features did indeed get syndicated -- "Reverend" wins, by far, the longevity award with a just shy of six year run; "Spot" ran less than a year. Most importantly, this E&P article proves that I wasn't suffering from early onset dementia about "Marvelous Mike" winning a contest -- well, okay, it didn't actually win. Close enough. Thanks to Jim Ivey who dug this article out of his files!]