Thursday, April 04, 2013
Obscurity of the Day: Book-Taught Bilkins
Here's his longest running series, Book-Taught Bilkins. Chances are you've never heard of it despite the fact that it ran for six years, practically an eternity compared to the mayfly-long lifespans typical of weekday strips in that day. Rigby's weekday strip was the very first continuing series run by the New York Evening Telegram, the surprisingly lively evening paper run by the generally staid New York Herald. The Telegram ran all sorts of oddball strips in the oughts and early teens, some penned by the Herald's major names like Winsor McCay, others by cartoonists who rarely if ever measured up to getting a series in the Herald's Sunday section.
Book-Taught Bilkins debuted on August 22 1904, and for a short while actually flirted with becoming a daily strip. It ran daily from August 27 to September 8, but then faltered, well short of earning a place in histories as an early daily. Presumably because Rigby had so many oars in the water, Book-Taught Bilkins tended to disappear for long stretches -- the two longest were August 10 1905 to March 12 1906 and August 17 to December 28 1906. By May 1907, though, Rigby seems to have settled down, or perhaps the Telegram finally decided to order new material on a consistent basis, and Book-Taught Bilkins ran on a consistent once-a-week basis until the end of the strip on September 13 1910.
The strip itself has a pretty familiar plot for that era. In those days when you could 'send away for our free booklet' to learn how to do everything from car repair to cartooning, much gleeful fun was made of those who did a little 'book-learning' and came away with the idea that they had actually mastered a subject. Mr. Bilkins believes everything he reads, considers himself a self-taught expert in 101 subjects, and suffers the consequences over and over and over.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!
Digression Dept.: the car tires with ads on them in sample #2 are not at all far-fetched -- I recall an antique car show I once attended that had a 1910s-era model whose tire treads spelled out the name of the manufacturer. I thought it was a brilliant bit of marketing, and wondered why the idea faded away. I searched all over the web and couldn't find a show-and-tell picture though. Sorry!
Digression Dept, Next Door Down: the bottom sample from 1910 is referencing Halley's Comet, which was making its transit in that year.