Thursday, April 22, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Francis the Talking Mule

Here we have a bumper crop of Francis the Talking Mule, the first three weeks of the strip straight from syndicate proofs, courtesy of that famed purveyor of goodies, Cole Johnson.

The phenomenon of Francis began in a series of  novels by David Stern. The books were first published in 1946, and a series of seven films began in 1950. The plot device seems almost as tasteless as the later Hogan's Heroes -- the first movie is set during World War II in Burma, and has Donald O'Connor escaping from the Japanese in the jungle aided by a bad-tempered talking mule. Making light of fighting the Japanese in the jungles of Burma may seem a bit bizarre now, but apparently returning vets were delighted to look on the lighter side of that bloody conflict.

The Francis movies were wildly popular and so the concept was translated into a daily comic strip that began on May 5 1952. The strip was distributed by United Feature Syndicate and drawn by Cliff Rogerson. Although David Stern got the official writing credit, Alberto Becattini tells me that the strip was actually written by Frank Thomas.

As popular as Francis was on the big screen (and later on TV as his doppelganger, Mr. Ed), newspaper editors seemed less than enthused about having him on their comics page. Reading these first three weeks of the strip I'm at a loss to explain why -- the strip looks great, the gags are alright and the storyline looks to have a lot of comedic potential. Perhaps Francis just got lost in the glut of TV and movie tie-in features that were popping up all over at this time. Or maybe Cole found the fatal flaw when he pointed out to me that everybody in this strip is either spitting or sweating profusely. I hadn't noticed it at first, but now it puts kind of a yucky spin on the whole production.

Francis got his discharge papers from the funnies page on November 28 1953, a year and a half after his debut. The movie franchise, on the other hand, lasted until 1956.

Here's the partially animated movie trailer of the first film and a short scene from the first Francis movie.


great stuff. I have some of these lying around, but this is a great quality run.
Rogerson also did a panel titled TeeVee Laffs that was put out by McClure Newspaper. I have seen it from 1961 to 1966.
TV Laffs ran 1957-1985, but I suspect 1980-85 might have been reprints or a possibly unsuccessful marketing effort.

I found some of those tf laffs, but they don't hold a candle to Channel Chuckles by Bill Keane.
If you’re not the man to answer this, I don’t know who is. I recently posted a question about the history of comic strips in connection with a post on my crime fiction blog about Max Allan Collins’ novel Strip for Murder.

Here’s the question, if you’d care to take a look, and I look forward to some pleasant reading on your blog. (I caught the tail end of “Bringing Up Father” and “Our Boarding House” in my early youth.


Detectives Beyond Borders
"Because Murder Is More Fun Away From Home"
His question is "When did comics turn to crap?"...Inelegant and presumptuous too. Even if all you know from the history of comics is from this blog alone, you'd see that there's been "crap" amongst the strips from the outset. Maybe Mr. Rozovsky believes there's nothing but Crap anymore, and there is a finite start date to this era. Instead of making a guess, I'd like to remind him that Crap is in the eye of the beholder. You will recall not long ago that Alan stated that he believed "Little Iodine" to be among the worst ever, yet that one never bothered me. There are strips I can't stand, but have lasted decades and still have great popularity, so it's a matter of personal taste.
Thank you, Grizedo, for so elegantly and economically stating your thoughts, which mesh perfectly with mine. I too feel that the question is ridiculous. There has been a mixture of crap and great stuff from the dawning of the newspaper strip era until now. To lump such great current offerings like Zippy the Pinhead, Doonesbury, Cul de Sac, Retail (just a few of my current faves) in as 'crap' shows an ignorance of the subject which led me to not even bother answering.

Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]