Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Obscurity of the Day: In the Rough

Apparently our own Alex Jay, contributor of those great and revealing Ink-Slinger Profiles, is a golf fan. He suggested that we add some Stripper's Guide pomp and circumstance to herald The Masters, which I'm told will be starting tomorrow. Personally, I can't imagine how anyone could get excited about golf when baseball season has just begun, but then, y'know, different strokes for different folks and all that sort of guff.

So today let's look at my personal favorite golfing strip, In The Rough. As I said, I'm not a fan of the game particularly, and I wouldn't know a mashie from a niblick if i got smacked in the head by one. However, back in the dim days of yore, when I was just a comic strip collector a-borning, I would occasionally purchase a run of dailies from the small pile for sale at Jim Ivey's Cartoon Museum. I remember the scene -- I had pretty well picked over the cache of daily runs, and all that remained was a year's run of Pam, that rather badly-drawn soap opera strip, and a year's run of In The Rough. Not being into golf, I'd avoided that one; but given the last remaining alternative, I put the In The Rough run in my day's shopping basket.

What I found was that I really enjoyed the strip. I discovered that Howard Freeman, the cartoonist, was quietly masterful at both writing and drawing. There's nothing flashy about In The Rough, which chronicles the adventures and misadventures of Doc, a fanatic golfer. However, the drawing perfectly serves the gag, never calling attention to itself, but always adding to the humor with subtle details of panel composition, body language and expression. The writing, too, never calls attention to itself, but there is never a wasted word, nor a bungled gag. The pacing, especially, is superb -- it sometimes puts me in mind of later strips like Peanuts and Doonesbury where novel pacing became an important part of the strip's language. Look at sample #3 above (Doc waiting around in a snowstorm) -- that sort of slow cadence pacing, with it's implied long pauses between panels, is seldom if ever seen in the era of In The Rough.

Unfortunately, while In The Rough had a respectable run, from April 18 1927 to April 19 1934, it never appeared in many papers. You can certainly understand why. How many papers can boast a large enough golfing readership that such a strip, which will presumably be ignored by most non-golfers, should use up valuable space?

In The Rough also suffered from poor distribution. It was first syndicated by Cosmos Newspaper Syndicate, a tiny (and rather mysterious) outfit just before it bit the dust, then switched to McClure, which was no powerhouse in those days, and finally settled with the Ledger Syndicate, which I think took it over only because it was a favorite of Philadelphia Public Ledger readers.

Tomorrow, Alex Jay reveals some really surprising information about Howard Freeman in his Ink-Slinger Profile.


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