Thursday, October 30, 2008


Obscurity of the Day: The Clownies

NEA Sundays seldom fit into our obscurity category, but The Clownies is a notable exception. This rare addition to the NEA list ran in very few papers -- it almost seems as if it was an extra offering not included in the standard package. In fact, even the NEA archives at Ohio State University are missing this strip. I used to think that these Sundays might have been pilfered from the syndicate bound volumes, but as I've come to see just how rare these Sundays are I wonder if they were never bound in to begin with, much like other oddball items like the NEA Christmas strips and such.

The Clownies seems to have started sometime in 1931 (earliest I've found is October 11 but take that as a start date at your peril) as a sort of Sunday adjunct to the daily kiddie story feature The Tinymites. Both The Clownies and The Tinymites were being produced by writer Hal Cochran and cartoonist Joe King at the time. The Clownies started off as a full page feature without a topper, but gained a half-page companion called Animal Cracks sometime around mid-1932.

Joe King's art was serviceable but The Clownies turned into a real graphic knockout in April 1933 when the fabulous George Scarbo took over the art chores. Scarbo was a real workhorse of the NEA bullpen, but he lavished great attention on The Clownies and Animal Cracks when he took over. I apologize that the only sample I had in reach for this essay was a Joe King production, so you'll have to take my word for the quality of Scarbo's work on the feature -- it is definitely worth seeking out.

Scarbo also brought new life to the activity panel Comic Zoo that ran as a sub-sub-feature of Animal Cracks. Whereas Joe King usually produced uninspired panels like the one above, Scarbo's version of the panel was so delightful that it survived the end of The Clownies page (my latest is June 25 1933) . Comic Zoo was brought back in 1936 as the topper to the Out Our Way Sunday, and Scarbo produced that delightful feature for almost thirty years more.

As you can tell by all the prevarication above, I'd be more than delighted to hear from anyone who can supply more definitive running dates for this feature and its topper.


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