Friday, August 21, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: Monk Sez
My, my, my, those folks out in San Francisco do like their horse-racing. Of course we all know A. Mutt, later Mutt and Jeff, started in that fair city as a betting tip strip, but here's another entry from that burg in the same genre. Monk Sez, also known as Ride With Monk, had a nice long run in the San Francisco Examiner from January 1937 to July 11 1942.
The panel was by someone who signed himself only as Jackson. I don't know who that might be, but he did a creditable job on both the art and the picks. You'll recall that poor Mutt was a pretty consistent loser -- Monk on the other hand didn't do too bad at all.
Talking out of ignorance here, but I'm guessing the feature ended when the war put an end to horse-racing for the duration?
Right upstairs, as the sports used to say.
In the words of Oliver T, "I want some *more*, sir"
Early Mutt & Jeff featured lots of horse betting predicaments, and for many years Mutt featured a ticket sticking out of a pocket with two numbers---his play on the Daily Double that day.
Thursday, August 20, 2009
News of Yore 1950: Kevin In, Mitzi Out
Kevin the Bold Captures Mitzi's Art and Story
Kevin The Bold, valiant fighter, skilled swordsman, champion of the oppressed, is the dashing hero of a new Sunday color comic feature of that name which NEA Service will introduce Oct. 1.
The artist is Kreigh Collins, creator of the current NEA Sunday comic, Mitzi McCoy. With the introduction of Kevin The Bold, whose adventures are laid in 15th Century Ireland, Mr. Collins returns to the field in which he made an international reputation — the field of costume illustration.
The story of how Mr. Collins went back nearly five centuries for his new hero is perhaps without precedent in the comic business, says Ernest Lynn, NBA feature director. It was the outgrowth of popular approval of two episodes in Mitzi McCoy, each of which gave the artist an opportunity to display his great flair for period art. The first was a story dealing with the history of the Irish wolfhound. The second subtitled "The Christmas Story," told the story of the birth of Christ. This was released at the Christmas season last year.
At Editors' Request
In each instance Mr. Collins used the device of having Stub Goodman, one of the leading characters of Mitzi McCoy, narrate the story to a young boy, Dick Dixon. And in each instance fan mail greatly increased. Several editors urged period illustration on a regular basis.
So with the release of Sept. 24, Mitzi McCoy enters a new phase. This release forms a bridge into the new story, taking the readers from the 20th century town of Freedom, U. S. A., to the sea-coast of 15th Century Ireland. This time Stub Goodman narrates to his young friend the story of "The McCoy Legend," dealing with the ancestors of Mitzi McCoy, among them the beauteous Moya McCoy. Thereafter Mitzi McCoy merges its identity with Kevin The Bold and on Oct 15 the feature formally assumes the name of its new here.
Mr. Collins' new protagonist enters the story masquerading as a shepherd. His exploits in routing Barbary pirates who have made a slave raid on the Irish coast earn him the title of "The Bold." In subsequent adventures the action moves to other parts of the world, with Kevin accompanied by a great Irish wolfhound, Rory, ancestor of Tiny, a prominent character in Mitzi McCoy.
Mr. Collins, who was born in Davenport, la., in 1908, received his art education in Cincinnati and Paris. He began his career at 19 and since then has succeeded at almost every type of illustration— murals, landscapes, portraits, and book, magazine and advertising art. He lives in Ada, Mich.
Labels: News of Yore
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: And He Did
And He Did seems like a pretty unassuming bit of fluff, but when viewed in the context of the era in which it ran I think you've really got to hand it to the creator for his vision.
The earliest appearance of And He Did I've found is in the December 8 1913 issue of the Philadelphia Record. The strip was syndicated by Associated Newspapers, that newspaper co-op that shared material between a half-dozen or so papers. I can't tell if And He Did was actually a Philadelphia-born strip for sure, but I think it was. The creator, who signed himself only "Hen", is, I believe, J.C. Henderson. The strip ran until at least October 1917, and I suspect that it ran longer (unfortunately my files of the paper run out at that point, and other Associated clients didn't run it this long).
So, to paraphrase the elder Bush, what about this vision thing? Well, many of the strips of this era were big unwieldy things, usually overloaded with long speech balloons and gags that practically suffocated under all the trimmings applied by the cartoonists. Just look at yesterday's obscurity for a typical example of gag bloat.
Henderson used many of the standard gags that you'd see related in 5 or 6 panels with 100 or more words of copy, but he'd do it in just two panels, and the second one was mute except for the title! Henderson's approach prefigured what many cartoonists wouldn't figure out until space constraints finally forced them -- as Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit.
Any impression as to whether the Herald was running its daily material late? I'm always suspicious of the timing in those western papers in the early days.
Thanks for the info, though, I'll make a note of that in the listing for the feature.
By the way, I completely forgot to say in the post that a second run of the feature was through the Keystone Feature Service. That run was approx. 1921-26. Cole Johnson thinks this run, which was unsigned, was probably the work of Joe Doyle.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Obscurity of the Day: Why All Men Are Not Married
Here's another entry from Charles Wellington, who was filling newsprint at quite a clip at the New York Evening Journal in the late oughts to early teens. This series is about one of the more over-used subjects of the era, the horrors of matrimony. This sort of thing must have been a favorite with the fellows on their way home from work, though, because the evening papers were rife with this sort of wife-bashing.
Interesting to note that this series, which went by the title Why All Men are Not Married in the Journal, was run by the title Gee, Ain't I Glad I'm Single in the Boston American, whence these examples come by the good graces of Cole Johnson. Perhaps that was an undocumented alternate title (I didn't do the indexing on that year of the Evening Journal) or perhaps in Boston somebody didn't like the original title, which is admittedly a bit of an odd phrasing.
In the Evening Journal this series ran June 17 to August 20 1909.
Monday, August 17, 2009
A Cautionary Tale from the Creator of Snapdragon
Since you are a "curator of comics facts", I thought you might like to know a little bit about what I went through when I created Snapdragon. I will warn you in advance that it's a bit wordy and lengthy, so if you decide to just skip it and hit the delete button, I won't be offended:
Now you've piqued my curiosity, and I'm going to have to figure out the exact dates that Snapdragon was in the papers. It all happened a long time ago, so it's kind of lost its importance to me. It was fun while it lasted, but it sure did feel like I had walked under a ladder and broken a mirror towards the end!
The entire experience was rather bizarre, and not like most syndication stories that I've heard from other cartoonists. The comics editor I dealt with directly was a gentleman named Bob Ferguson, and I really enjoyed working with him.
It had been my dream to have a syndicated comic strip since I was a little boy. For a couple of years, I bombarded every syndicate I knew of with submissions. When one got rejected, I just came up with another one and sent it in. I did mass mailings, sending each one out to everyone, since I knew there was a long period of time where they were reviewed and competition for syndication was tough.
Eventually, I went from receiving form rejection letters to actually getting hand-written notes from Bob. Then, one day, the phone rang. I had submitted an idea for a strip called "Justin Case", which was about a lawyer. Bob told me that it was going to the final stage, and that the next day a combined editorial/sales meeting would decide whether to take mine or one by another cartoonist. He said he was pushing hard for mine to be the one they chose.
The next day, I got a call. They had chosen the other strip.
But Bob was really encouraging, and he told me to keep trying ... that he could see I had the potential to do a strip for Tribune. Then, he said, "If you can just come up with something that's completely different from anything else that's out there, we'll buy it."
Easier said than done, but I accepted the challenge. I had noticed that when I doodled for fun, quite often I would draw a little dragon or an aging wizard. Since it was obvious to me that I enjoyed drawing those characters, I figured I should try to put them into a strip, since I would (hopefully) have to draw them for years to come.
Then, as I started working on some rough ideas, I tried to figure out a way to make it different than the standard fare that was in newspapers at the time. The thought occurred to me that since comics are a visual medium, I could make the dragon talk in pictures. That would turn it into a combination of a puzzle and a comic strip. Some days it would just be a normal joke, but whenever the little dragon spoke, the wizard could interpret what he said for the readers at the end, since everyone knows wizards can talk to animals.
As soon as that idea hit me, the ideas just started to flow. Literally in two nights, I drew up two weeks of dailies and two Sunday panels. I was so excited with the concept that I over-nighted it to Tribune the third morning, which was a Friday.
When I got home from the Fedex office, I called Bob (breaking all of the standard rules for submissions!). I told him that I had just sent him an idea that was different from anything else he'd ever seen, and that I was excited about it. Then I explained that since I had established a relationship with him at that point, that I would give Tribune "first look". But, I wanted an answer quickly. I told him that if I didn't hear anything positive from them by the following Friday, I was going to mail it out to all of the other syndicates because I was sure someone would buy it.
He laughed and said, "Well, you certainly sound confident. I'll call you after I get it."
The next Monday morning, about half an hour after my package arrived at his office, Bob called. He told me NOT to mail it to anyone else, that they were over-nighting a development contract to me!
Everyone involved seemed quite confident that it was going to be a hit. We rushed through the development stage, and then it launched. Unfortunately, a lot happened in the middle of all of those events.
I was later told that just as the launch occurred, the salesperson handling east coast sales had resigned and gone to another syndicate. I do not know if that is true or not, but it certainly seemed to be, since the strip did really well out west and did not do "diddly" east of Colorado.
I was also told that editors were balking at the basic premise of the strip, saying it was too difficult for most readers to grasp. They wanted me to run a disclaimer on the bottom of each daily, explaining the concept over and over to the readers. I refused to do that, for a couple of reasons. One was that I thought it would be insulting to the readers, inferring that they couldn't comprehend such a simple idea. The other was that it would have taken up too much room in a medium that is constantly shrinking anyway, and has resulted in too many strips having to be just "talking heads".
Then I was told about the practice of newspapers buying strips but not publishing them. I think one of those was in Orange County, California but at this point in time I'm not sure.
When I originally submitted the strip, I had intended it to be aimed at an adult audience, something that everyone reading the paper could enjoy. But Tribune was looking for a unique "kid's feature" at the time, and asked me to aim it at a younger audience. I probably should have held my ground on that one, but I caved and said okay.
So, I did always feel like I had "dummied it down" a bit and do regret that. And "US Acres" debuted around the same time. It was also aimed at children. With Jim Davis' name attached, and a television show built around that strip, mine didn't stand much of a chance to survive.
It was difficult to do a strip when I also had to work at a full-time job during the day to pay my mortgage and eat. The deadlines were grueling, and even though it was a labor of love, I never felt like I had been given the time I needed to make Snapdragon the great strip that it had the potential to be.
Whatever really went on, I don't know. But the feature ended up dying an early death, and that was that.
I was worn out by it all at the end, and moved into the field of educational publishing for many years. It was, for some time, quite lucrative and fun. But, these days I have issues with the way the contracts have changed, and how little it now pays.
So I've returned to my roots and have begun doing single panel gag cartoons again. I've always loved doing them, and it's how I got my start when I was only in the seventh grade in elementary school! My work now appears in a myriad of "Complete Idiot's Guides" and other publications.
I may one day take pen in hand and try another shot at syndication, but I'm not sure. For one thing, newspapers are vanishing rapidly these days, and continuing to shrink their use of comics. Age is a factor as well. Most syndicates don't want to see submissions from a slightly older than middle-aged guy, and I've been told that by a few of them (in spite of the fact that historically, some of the finest comics ever created were dreamed up by a cartoonist in their forties or fifties).
In the meantime, my life is quite full and blessed. I live in a remote area of the mountains of North Carolina in a little cabin in the woods. I sell enough of my cartoons to put food on the table, pay the rent and have gas in my truck. I spend a lot of my free time out digging for gems at old abandoned mines, and have a house that looks like a combination of a mineral museum and a library (I have a weakness for old leather-bound books, too).
I'm not sure if the pressure of constant deadlines from syndication would be a good thing now, since I am so content. But….it's in the blood. I still have the "itch" to do it. I don't think that will ever go away.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics
Labels: Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics