Monday, August 26, 2013
Obscurity of the Day: Jack Lockwill's Adventures
Jack Lockwill was produced out of the old nineteenth century dime novel tradition. One popular genre of those hoary publications starred adventurous teenage boys, usually removed from parents' watchful eyes by living at boarding schools. These clean-cut lads were typically spectacular at sports, near-geniuses in the classroom, and looked up to by all their peers. Their sky high sense of fair play, and nosy dispositions, inevitably got them involved in bringing villains of all stripes to justice.
One of the most famous and successful characters of this type was Frank Merriwell, created by the pseudonymous Burt L. Standish. Standish was in reality Gilbert Patten, whose overtaxed typewriter turned out so many dime novels that he had to use a different pseudonym for each of his series. It was said that he wrote 20,000 word novelettes at the rate of one per week for over twenty years.
The dime novel was all but extinct by the 1920s, and because Patten's successful characters were written on a work-for-hire basis, he could not retire and bask in royalty fortunes. In fact, he was still pounding his typewriter to put food on the table. Unable to make much of a splash writing more modern fare, he apparently stuck mostly with his dime novel past, recaptured old successes in various new forms, like comic strips, and later, radio.
One of the projects that he launched was Jack Lockwill's Adventures, a comic strip for the NEA Service. NEA catered mostly to rural and smaller city papers, where unsophisticated readers were likely to welcome with nostalgia a strip that harkened back to dime novels. Jack Lockwill was practically a carbon copy of Patten's greatest success, Frank Merriwell, and so probably found an appreciative audience.
Because NEA sold a blanket service comprising a full menu of features, it is hard to tell if Jack Lockwill was deemed any sort of success for the syndicate. The strip certainly did not take the world by storm, though, as many papers that used the NEA service didn't bother to make space for the new strip.
For what it is, an old school slam bang adventure cum morality play, about a prep school big man on campus, the strip is just fine. Patten, used to writing highly-padded prose, does an admirable job of adapting his style to comic strip conventions. The original artist on the feature, Lawrence Redner, also does a fine job. He uses delightfully dynamic panel compositions, but also manages to inject a bit of 19th century cartooning style into the art, striking a masterful balance between nostalgia and excitement.
Six months into the run, on June 9, Redner passed the art baton on to young George Clark, who had just recently come on board at NEA. Although his lush brushwork would make his later cartoons famous, his work on Jack Lockwill was merely adequate.
Jack Lockwill's Adventures was cancelled after one year, ending January 18 1928. It may well have been Gilbert Patten who was responsible for the abrupt end. Less than two months later, Patten reappeared in the newspaper world, this time writing the Young Frank Merriwell comic strip for McClure Syndicate. Did Patten get a better offer from the copyright holder of Frank Merriwell (Street & Smith, I presume) to return to the fold? Or, more darkly, might they have gotten him back by threatening legal action against Jack Lockwill, which was, after all, a doppelganger of Merriwell?
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples!