Monday, January 16, 2012


Obscurity of the Day: Kiwi

The kiwi is a flightless bird, so it seems sort of amazing that a strip about one had a very long migration, all the way from Australia to the U.S.

Ken Montone, new to Australia from the U.S., and Brian Kirby, fresh from Great Britain via Singapore and India, both came to the country as art directors at McCann-Erickson Advertising. The two found enough free time to come up with a minimalist comic strip about birds, then called Birdwirds, and sold it to the Sydney Sun-Herald as a Sunday feature in early 1965.

Not long after, both Kirby and Montone left Australia, taking their strip with them. They then sold it in England to the London Daily Sketch.

Then Montone returned to the U.S. and sold the strip to the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. According to Montone the strip was initially tried out in the syndicate's flagship papers, and then was generally syndicated starting on February 12 1968. In the U.S. the title was changed to Kiwi; Montone says this was because the original title was considered "somewhat naughty". (I hate to admit ignorance of anything naughty, but I confess I don't see what's off-color about the title Birdwirds).

Things were tough, though, for the two creators. Kirby tried to immigrate to the U.S., but was unsuccessful. The two creators ended up collaborating long distance, with Kirby living offshore in Barbados. In 1970 the partnership carried on by mail and long-distance calls proved too much, and Kirby dropped out as co-creator of the strip. As Montone tells it, it was the beginning of the end. "By this time, the strip was suffering from a myriad of problems and the circulation showed it. In 1971, CT/NYNS and I parted company".

And thus the Kiwi with by far the longest flight on record became extinct.

Thanks to Ken Montone, who supplied many details about his strip. 

PS -- The co-creator's name is definitely Montone, not Monotone -- my samples from the San Francisco Examiner seem to have been typeset by either a practical joker or a comic strip critic.


Amused by the mis-spelling of Ken Montone's name on the original strip credits...
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