Thursday, August 15, 2013
Obscurity of the Day: Caesar Bonaparte Smythe
Before selling this feature, cartoonist Milt Youngren had apparently been kicking around at the Chicago Tribune, producing a classified ad strip I haven't unearthed (Want Ad Wanda/Rambling Through the Want Ads). He jumped (or was kicked off) that ship and landed at Editors' Press Service, where Caesar Bonaparte Smythe debuted on December 20 1926. The strip about a smart-ass ne'er-do-well looked like it might have possibilities, though it was hampered by a main character who was a bit off-putting (hey, that didn't seem to hurt Andy Capp). Cole Johnson, who supplied the samples and has a pretty near full run of the feature in syndicate proof sheets, offered this perspective:
Milt Youngren was basically a utility cartoonist, doing ad work, comic books, big little books, and ghosting under a variety of styles. During his long career, found time to do a couple of strips, among them this obscurity, Caesar Bonaparte Smythe, which was supposed to have an accent on the 'Y', for Editor's Feature Service.
The initial proof sheet, dated Nov, 26, 1926, shows the first six strips as intended for release on Dec. 20 to 25. It tells us that "This new strip will replace Oz Bopp-Pippin Junction in our comic page. Releases of Oz Bopp will cease December 25." The next sheet has no dates at all (the only one like that), but the first strip is a "Happy New Year" gag, leading one to assume it was supposed to run on Monday, Jan. 2, 1927. This might mean that somehow I'm missing Dec. 27 to 31, but why the undated sheet? The first few weeks are given roman numerals, which are all out of order. The first with a real date drawn on it is Friday, Jan. 28, 1927. The last episode I have is July 16,1927, in the middle of a continuity.
In this strip, Youngren tries hard to channel his inner Frank Willard. The star, a penniless bum, is randomly chosen by a mysterious wealthy man named Beezle to become his travelling companion. His love interest is Betsy Van Gulp, niece of Sophie Van Gulp, an old battle-axe type, and they all live in the swanky Giltedge hotel. Not much really happens in this verbose strip, basically concerning the two mens' efforts to impress the women, with lots of butt-kicks and black eyes for our uncouth hero.
Good bad or indifferent, Youngren didn't have much time to generate a loyal clientele. The rug was pulled out from under him almost immediately when Central Press Association, another syndicate, bought up the small outfit. Evidently CPA had no interest in Caesar Bonaparte Smythe, so the plug was pulled on the strip on July 16 1927, just seven months after its debut, in mid-story.
Youngren then reportedly did another classified ad strip (Cholly the Classified Kid), this time at King Features, but it too has never surfaced.The next feature that Youngren definitely did get syndicated, Fair Exchange, wasn't until a decade later.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples!
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