Thursday, January 19, 2012


Obscurity of the Day: Willie Green

Unlike most of its competitors in Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Record chose not to engage in a circulation race for its Sunday edition based on how many pages of color it could produce. In fact until the 1920s  the paper, which did have very respectable circulation figures, had a relatively staid Sunday edition, often enlivened with only a black and white magazine section designed to appeal to relatively sophisticated tastes.

However, although the Record wasn't awash in color, they did make a nod to running Sunday comics. For over twenty years they featured a half-page homegrown strip in black and white titled Willie Green. This wasn't by any means the only strip they ran, but when it did run it was always clearly the star of the show. Most of the other strips tended to be daily size.

Willie Green, a strip about a mischievous boy, debuted on September 2 1906, penned by a local teenaged cartoonist named Harris H. Brown.  The strip, initially drawn in a very crisp style that you can see in this old blogpost, seems to have been a real hit with Record readers. The strip ran weekly for the next five years, then began to run every second week, alternating with Cousin Sammy Green (a country cousin of Willie) penned by John F. Hart, from December 3 1911 to May 12 1912.

Willie Green disappeared at that point, and other minor strips ran in its place. Eventually even these pretty much petered out. Then as the new year of 1914 rang in, the Record added a Sunday color comic section, courtesy of Hearst's new Newspaper Feature Service syndicate. In addition to the color section, Willie Green came back. This time the strip ran from January 4 1914 to September 3 1916 (today's samples are from this interval). It was during this run that a pair of reprint books were issued through the Frank M. Acton Company. Both are quite rare.

Once again Harris Brown took flight, but again he returned. On November 18 1917 the strip is resurrected yet again, only to stop on July 14 1918. This time Brown was gone for quite awhile, but either the pull of cartooning for the Record was too great, or his luck at other ventures was too bad, because on May 22 1921 he's back. But not for long. This run ended after a bare six months, on November 13. It was in this period, however, that Brown self-published another Willie Green reprint book; perhaps the 1921 run was intended purely as a bit of promotion.

Willie Green then pops up in the darnedest place, as a feature of World Color Printing's weekly children's activity page. I believe these are reprints of earlier material. One has to wonder if Harris Brown or the Philadelphia Record sold them the rights. Anyway, whatever the arrangement was, it didn't last, as Willie Green ran only three times on that page.

The last hurrah for Willie Green came near the end of the 20s, when it made its last gasp as a feature of the Record Junior magazine section for kids. This final run was from January 8 to August 12 1928.

Why Brown did this feature in fits and starts is a mystery to me.  But maybe we'll learn some clues tomorrow when Alex Jay contributes an Ink-Slinger Profile of Harris Brown.


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