Tuesday, January 29, 2013


Obscurity of the Day: Yankee Doodles

Bicentennial madness hit the nation's newspapers like most any fad -- everyone wanted to get into the act with a feature geared toward either the upcoming celebration or the history of the country. That mania spawned several comic strips whose marketing was Bicentennial-centric. This one, Yankee Doodles, took the same basic tack as the others by using characters associated with the founding of the country -- George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Paul Jones and so on -- in humorous situations. Given that Americans aren't all that keen on ridiculing the founding fathers, the gags could often veer from tepid to mildly offensive. It was a tight-rope walk that I certainly wouldn't wish on a cartoonist.

Yankee Doodles was quite unusual in that three creators were credited, and their credits were first names only. I guess Ben Templeton, Don Kracke and Fred W. Martin weren't publicity-hounds. Although I have never found any definitive information about the division of labor on the strip, the art is in Templeton's style. Kracke does have an art background, so he may have partnered on that in some way, or perhaps Kracke and Martin were both writers. According to a newspaper promo about the strip, the three creators were partners in a Southern California creative consulting firm called Group X.

Yankee Doodles' daily and Sunday run began on July 2 1973, right as bicentennial fever was starting to build. The strip seems to have been picked up by a substantial number of papers. However, as anyone, including the creators and their syndicate (LA Times) could guess, after the bicentennial newspapers jumped ship in droves. The strip was cancelled on August 13 1977, a four year fad run having completed its course. Templeton went on to comic strip success with Motley's Crew, while Martin and Kracke left the world of syndicated strips. Kracke went on to write some popular books about marketing inventions and dabbles in some intriguing (and sometimes quite humorous)  fine art, while Martin's subsequent activities are unknown to me.


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