Friday, February 19, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Can You Solve the Mystery?

In 1983-84 the Meadowbrook Creations book publishing company hit upon a successful series with Can You Solve the Mystery, aka Hawkeye Collins and Amy Adams. The young adult books contained short stories in which a pair of pre-teen sleuths solved crimes. Hawkeye was a quick-sketch artist whose drawings, reproduced in the books, contained all the necessary clues for the reader to solve the crimes. The books were all credited to one M. Masters who was more than likely actually Bruce Lansky, the head of the publishing company.

For reasons unknown the book series sputtered out after a dozen or so installments, but meanwhile the concept was transferred to a newspaper strip distributed by News America Syndicate. The concept seemed like a winner -- each mystery played out in just a single week of dailies, and a separate mystery was presented in the Sunday pages. Editors certainly couldn't resort to their usual refrain about stories being too long on this strip!

The pressure to produce two new mysteries a week seems to have been a little ambitious for the creators, though. Whereas in the books there was at least a little room for a storyline to develop and clues to be strategically placed, the newspaper strip was a real 'wham-bam-thank you ma'am' sort of affair. In the sample above, for instance, I really don't see how anyone could be expected to solve the mystery themselves (or maybe I'm just not good gumshoe material).

The series began on August 5 1984 with two veterans at the helm -- Jim Lawrence supplied the stories and Fran Matera the art. First to bail on the project was Lawrence, whose last daily was October 20 and last Sunday November 11. This was his last newspaper strip credit, after which apparently he went to work for the computer game company Infocom writing scenarios for text adventure games.

After Lawrence left Matera took solo credit for a short while -- whether he supplied the stories or the writer just didn't take credit I don't know. Soon, though, a new writer came to the rescue, none other than the possibly hypothetical M. Masters, author of the books. He/she/they got credit on the dailies starting November 26 and the Sundays on December 16.

In May 1985 another shake-up occurred. Fran Matera disappeared and was replaced by Duane Barnhart. At the same time the M. Masters credit disappeared from the dailies. Until the end of the series on December 29 1985 Barnhart apparently produced the daily alone while Masters supplied the scripts for the Sunday only. Adding to the confusion are a smattering of Sundays (and probably dailies, too) which are uncredited and feature some seriously amateur art. Among those dates are May 26, June 23, October 6 and October 13. You don't need Hawkeye Collins sketching clues to know that this creative musical chairs act spelled doom for the series. Can You Solve the Mystery ended on December 29 1985 with only a handful of clients gamely sticking with it until the end.


There was a similar series based on another set of children's books just before that, with art by Frank Bolle.
Yes, I remember it too!
It was Donald J. Sobol's ENCYCLOPEDIA BROWN, syndicated by Universal Press in the Seventies.
It was written by Elliot Caplin (with art by Bolle).
Encyclopedia Brown is on tap next week -- stay tooned!
Thanks a lot for this tidbit of trivia! I wasn't even aware there WERE dailies! I commented on this on my blog, which talked briefly about this comic here:
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