Friday, May 15, 2009
Research in Beantown
So here's a synopsis of what I managed to get done at the BPL. I had a total of 4 1/2 days there, 1 1/2 of which included the able assistance of my wife Judy. As is always the case, I didn't get nearly everything done that I wanted to, but I feel like I managed to hit a lot of the high spots. Unfortunately a few important research items managed to fall through the cracks. It completely slipped my mind to check on the early local versions of Sergeant Stony Craig and Radio Patrol, and I didn't manage to get to the Hearst papers at all. But here's what I did get done:
The very obscure and short-lived Boston Traveler syndicate (which turned out to be called the State Publishing Company) has been at the top of my hit list for a good long while.The syndicate started in November 1908 and began to peter out within a year. However, the Traveler was very committed to comic strips and continued to have in-house strips produced through 1914. The material for their syndicate was pretty darn good, especially when compared with some of the dreck being offered by the big New York syndicates at the time. Unlike some little startups of the day, the Traveler's cartooning bullpen really had no amateur level cartoonists. Although there were few names we recognize I was duly impressed with the quality. It's a shame they couldn't make a go of their syndicate.
They did have a few big names contributing. Of course there was the great C.A. Voight, but there was also Paul Bransom supplying one of his 'bug' strips, a very young Jack Farr and a short appearance by H.C. Greening.
The real workhorse of the syndicate, though, was C.L. Sherman. In addition to several other strips, he produced a semi-daily strip called Amos and Pete that ran six years -- practically unheard of longevity in those days. He was canned by the Traveler for awhile in 1911 when the paper decided to try out syndicated content, but he came back and continued the strip right where he left off when the Traveler came to its senses. He even got a good dig in at the paper right before he was fired. The Traveler had contracted with NEA for their material, and Sherman headlined one of his last strips "NEA Stands For Nothing Else Available". Some editor was asleep when that got past!
When the NEA material arrived, it seemed like everyone got canned for awhile, except they brought on D.C. Bartholomew. He had been kicking around at the Boston papers since the early oughts, and at the Traveler his mission seemed to be to produce something every day or else. They ran him ragged for about a year before he was unceremoniously dumped.
The 1908-1915 Traveler yielded an incredible total of 47 new features to my index!
Got the dates on Jawge, a strip C.L. Sherman did for the Journal after he finally left the Traveller in 1914. The Journal was much less interested in local talent, but they did offer some other oddball syndicated material in this timeframe. Earlier the Journal was mostly bereft of comics content, no big surprise since it was owned by that rotten skinflint Frank Munsey. I checked a small array of reels, though, and I got incredibly lucky. For some reason the paper went comic strip mad for just three months in 1913 and produced four different local strips. That it just happened to be one of the reels I checked is my very favorite sort of serendipity!
Unfortunately I plum forgot that the Journal was an early adopter of the World Color Printing Sunday. Though I think I've filled most of the holes from those early days, I think the Journal was one of the few that ran the full four pages -- much easier to track everything in one paper rather than having to cross-reference.
The Post was scrutinized once again (I've spent some time working on this paper at the Library of Congress as well) and I think I have most of it much better pinned down. There are still a few loose ends but the majority of their local features, which went on into the fifties in a small way, are now indexed properly. The exciting discovery was that the Post ran some Philadelphia North American material in 1905-07 -- but that's not in itself exciting, I've already indexed the PNA. The neat thing was that the Post was running alternative Sundays that didn't run in the PNA itself! For no apparent reason the Post got at least one full page of alternate material. I figured it was to replace something that was Philadelphia-specific running in the NA but when I got home and checked my NA notes that wasn't so. Very weird!
Spent a half-day on the Globe despite the fact that it is in open stacks at the Library of Congress and parts of it are available on Proquest (though not available at any library anywhere near me). The Globe was notorious for buying syndicated features on the cheap (as were most Boston papers) and so they have a lot of oddball material. I also did some spot-checking of the indexing of another researcher who had done a lot of work on the Globe on my behalf. I found to my dismay that his notes leave something to be desired for accuracy. One of these days I'm going to have to index the Globe up to 1912 from scratch to work all the bugs out. I say this not to besmirch him at all -- the Globe is very difficult to index in this period because they have so many one-shots, and their interest in strips is all in fits and starts, so it is a royal pain in the behind to follow accurately.
Although I get my biggest thrill from finding new features, the Globe is a great one for smaller victories. I found end dates for Flyin' Jenny, Miss Cairo Jones, and Private Lives, for instance. Lots of little holes plugged.
Checked it for content, they had no graphics of any kind in the 1909-10 reels I checked. I probably should have hunted further but the paper was too depressing to look at.
This paper, which apparently couldn't decide which name they preferred, turned out to be a real delight, though not for its strips. This is one of the yellowest yellow journals I've ever seen. Screaming lurid headlines, grisly photos, the whole nine yards. Comic strip-wise less interesting though. Through much of their life they took the NEA service. In 1928 they added the strips of the New York Evening Graphic (a perfect fit for them) but the microfilm by that time was only the weekend edition so it was useless in terms of indexing.
Boston Evening Transcript
The Transcript is one of my favorite oddball papers. They were the paper of the little old ladies and snooty rich classes of Boston. They ran a daily genealogy page, the only paper I've ever seen that did that. They also reserved lots of space for book reviews, stamp and coin collecting, yachting news and in-depth stock analysis. Other than a nod to 'real' news on the front page, they were more like a daily magazine than a newspaper. The Transcript added a few daily strips starting in 1933, and they picked some very unusual material. They rarely ran more than 3-4 strips, and they seemed to pick half of them for the old ladies (Cap Stubbs was a favorite) and the other half for adventure-mad kiddies. They ran Robin Hood And Company, The Blue Beetle (the only daily I've ever found that did), Pieces Of Eight, Superman -- all sorts of real blood-and-guts action stuff.
My favorite discovery in the Transcript is a strip called Around The World With Carveth Williams by Prentice Phillips. It's sort of like the early Mark Trail. Mister Williams adventures in the south seas are skillfully interwoven with lots of educational material that succeeds admirably in flowing naturally, not an easy trick. This strip was either done directly for the Transcript or self-syndicated by the creator. The mystery to me is why Phillips settled on such an odd name as Carveth Williams for his title character. I half-expected to find out he was a real adventurer of some sort, but Google came up dry.
Boston Evening Record
A quick survey of the Record had little to offer, mostly NEA stuff. I was able to extract a new earlier start date for Gas Buggies, though.
I'd already taken care of the early Herald Sundays, but the film I was working on (from the Library of Congress and Duke University) had some gaps in the 1901 material. Turns out BPL has its own unique version of the film which fills in those gaps. The reproduction is awful, but I was able to finally put their 1901 section to bed. Unfortunately I forgot that I also had a gap at the end of the 1908 version of the section, so I didn't check that. Humbug.
So that's what I got done in a nutshell. I added a whopping 70 new features to the Stripper's Guide listings, and improved my data on at least that many features that were already listed. Pretty darn good for less than five days of work! I could use another couple weeks to really do Boston justice, but that is one expensive city to visit, and I have many other irons in the fire. Someday...
any tips, anyone?