Monday, September 12, 2011

 

Obscurity of the Day: The Nut Club



The Nut Club is interesting on a couple levels. First of all, there's the cartoonist. Until I devoted more than the minimum of brain cells to the issue, I had identified this F.R. Morgan chap as the same Fred Morgan of Dolly the Drummer and Philadelphia Inquirer editorial cartooning. Well, F.R. is indeed a Fred, but there are two Fred Morgans. And to even suggest that Fred Morgan, editorial cartoonist of the Inquirer, would stoop to such ephemeral productions for second-rate syndicates is, when given some thought, utterly ludicrous. Alex Jay has produced profiles on both of these Freds and they'll be presented here in subsequent posts.

The other interesting thing about The Nut Club is the syndicate. Western Newspaper Union, provider of boilerplate material to rural papers, really didn't get into the comic strip game until the 1920s, so to find a comic strip series from 1913 distributed by them was quite a surprise to me. It sure does make me wonder if there could be a lot more WNU comic strip material from the 1910s lurking out there. Nice to know that they were putting prominent copyright tags on their material, though, so I don't have to start worrying that they produced material that I've credited to other syndicates.

But there's even more to the syndication. The early strips in this series were copyright by Joseph B. Bowles and ran in the Chicago Daily News. Bowles ran an eponymous newspaper syndicate in the 1900s-10s which specialized in short articles about science, history and the like. Comic strips seemed to be way out of his line, and the Chicago Daily News certainly had no need of his wares between having their own cartooning staff plus whatever they wanted from Associated Newspapers. Why they ran The Nut Club (and a second strip named Butch) from Bowles is a mystery. Bowles' only other comic strip connection is that he brokered a deal between George Peck and the Philadelphia North American to do a Peck's Bad Boy strip back in 1906-07. So how and why did Bowles, WNU and the Chicago Daily News, all based in Chicago, come together for this one comic strip? Wish I had an answer to that. It's certainly not like F.R. Morgan was a huge draw that brought rivals together to capture his genius.

So, some interesting stuff going on here, perhaps the least of which is the actual strip itself. Not that it was a bad strip, mind you. In fact it's pretty funny. I especially like the membership applications, with questions like, "Number of Bats in Belfry ____". The strip ran from February 10 until about November 1913. Several papers have been found running the strip into 1914, but I think they're all late. The Racine Journal-News has a relatively consistent run that ends on November 4.

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