Friday, November 20, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: The Excuse Club
We just visited with Harry "I like big heads and I cannot lie" Lewis last week and here he is again. The Excuse Club was his very first foray into comic strips.
Lewis actually took this feature over from Charles Wellington, who turned it over to him after doing a few installments from February 24 to March 11 1909 in the New York Evening Journal. Lewis then took over and continued the series until February 5 1910, a very impressive one year run when you consider that the strip really only has one rather weak gag formula.
These strips afford me a good opportunity to point out that in the old days the evening papers had a lot of latitude about their subject matter. These PM papers were designed to entertain men on their way home from a day of work. The papers sold on the strength of the day's sports scores, racy and shocking headlines, and a line-up of comics definitely not designed for the tykes who read the Sunday funnies. Notice in the above samples that Lewis is not just obliquely hinting at marital infidelity, he's laying it right on the line. Those sorts of shenanigans generally wouldn't fly in the Sunday funnies, but were perfectly fine in the evening paper. This sort of risque material petered out in the teens and twenties due to a lethal combination of two forces. First was the onset of the mass syndication of daily comics. Sophisticated New Yorkers could chuckle over a racy strip like The Excuse Club, but the rubes out in Sioux City, Tulsa and Sheboygan didn't take kindly to such fare. Strips that didn't offer universal appeal weren't worth syndicating, so they died off. Second was the coming of the car culture -- people who bought evening papers to read on the bus/train/trolley ride home were getting cars in the teens and twenties, and they no longer had the luxury of reading a paper on the way home. With the evening papers dying out, adult-oriented comic strips had no convenient market to capture anymore.