[Comics researcher and sci-fi fanatic Art Lortie offers a guest post today, about obscure aviation strip Wanda Byrd. But he doesn't just write about it -- he offers you a download of the entire run of the strip, which he laboriously gathered from online archives! He has gathered other interesting strips this way as well, so maybe if you give him some encouragement, he might contribute more of his material -- hint, hint. Thanks Art! -- Allan Holtz]
And it might even be complete! Its hard to tell! :)
Wanda Byrd was one of the first aviation strips, trailing only [I
think] Tailspin Tommy (taxied down the runway 5/21/1928), Skyroads
(took off 5/20/1929) and Scorchy Smith (full of hot air on 3/17/1930).
This can all be blamed on Charles Lindbergh, of course, who begat a
whole slew of other flying fools like Smilin' Jack (10/1/1933), Terry
and the Pirates (10/22/1934), Ace Drummond (2/3/1935), Barney Baxter
(9/30/1935), Hop Harrigan (first in All American Comics #1, 4/1939)
and Flyin' Jenny (10/1939); plus possibly a whole bunch more I've
overlooked. But she was almost certainly the first female flyer!
Connie (3/11/1929) an early aviation strip, and though I haven't read
it in a while, I recall all she did was get all gussied up and go aloft
on a date or something, never taking the throttle?
promos and strips start on June 30,
1930 from the Rome
(New York) Daily Sentinel
that I grabbed from the
gawd-awful Fulton Postcards
The good thing about these early strips at Fulton, though difficult to find with that !@#$%
search engine of theirs, are of great quality -- and freakin' HUGE! I
actually shrunk them slightly to get down to a 4000-pixel width! Plus
the Rome papers carried the individual strip chapter titles that I love
Sadly the Rome well went dry on January 24, 1931 and I had to
switch to a paltry 1200-pixel width (and no titles!) from the Harrisburg
. I also had to use the
Harrisburg paper as a fill-in around New Year's, 1931, when the Rome
paper either didn't publish or it wasn't scanned by Fulton-folk.
Other papers I know that carried the strip are the New York Tribune
[of course], the Minneapolis Journal and the Los Angeles Times -- none
of which I have access to.
There's also some question as to when the strip ended. Harrisburg
removed Wanda from their main strip page on May 23, 1931, but -- to
their credit -- ran 2 additional strips buried amidst the whiskey and
cigar ads on the 25th and 26th just so her faithful readers -- both of
them! -- knew our heroes survived yet another fine mess they found
But Jeffrey Lindenblatt in American Newspaper Comics
says Wanda and her male companion,
Chesty Cabot [nowadays that would be HER name!] fought the good fight in
the Trib until June 13, 1931, a Saturday, which -- if the 15-day / 13
strip shift in its reported start date is real -- then I might actually
have all the strips except 3-4!
Its not a great strip by any means, full of racial stereotypes, a
plot ripped off from AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and bad art -- but its
historically important. Out of curiosity, I decided to find out
something about the creators. And that turned out to be more interesting
than Wanda and Chesty.
Writer Evan J David turned out to be the real deal. He was a former
editor of Flying magazine who had a regular column there keeping the
readers abreast of World War I aerial developments. In 1923, when his
wife was unexpectedly dying, the combined resources of the civilian and
military air forces [such as it was at the time] struggled to get him
home in time. He had a later tragedy in the 1930's when he was the
driver in a Massachusetts hit and run that killed 2 people, and seems to
have gotten off by marrying the only other surviving witness, who then
couldn't testify against him.
But he also wrote aviation fiction for many magazines and
non-fiction on flight and Arctic exploration for the Saturday Evening
Post which saw numerous reprints in Australia, who, according to
articles I pulled at the Trove website, was considered the go-to guy for
info on the fledging air industry.
The artist, John M Grippo, was a more difficult search -- but
only because it was really Jack-of-all trades Jan Grippo hiding under a
pseudonym. Yes -- THAT Jan Grippo :)
Jan / John was born December 15, 1906 in Beacon, NY, and parlayed
his training at the New York School of Design into an early career as a
cartoonist for the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate. He also worked on a
strip called either Judy Gallant or Captain Smith - Space Adventurer
that I've been unable to find under any rock. If it is indeed called
Space Adventurer, you can rest assured I'll be bribing librarians from
coast to coast to find it!
In 1937 he took Horace Greeley's advice and went west, to
Hollywood, where between gigs as a stage musician [he taught Veronica
Lake to do the card tricks in This Gun for Hire], he worked as an agent,
with Billy Conn, the world light-heavyweight champion, and Leo Gorcey
and Huntz Hall of the Dead End Kids as his main meal tickets.
The Dead End Kids were hard-core street punks in the films Dead
End and Angels With Dirty Faces, but Grippo decided they'd have more
commercial success as comedic good-hearted kids who get into trouble. So
he formed Jan Grippo Productions, sanitized and renamed the group the
Bowery Boys and produced 24 successful films. He died March 12, 1988 at
the age of 81.
Art Lortie, who is now working on the SF Barney Baxter, Tailspin
Tommy, the African American space adventurer Neil Knight, the totally
bizarre Peter Pat and a couple of my "SF in All the Wrong Places"
entries, before returning (finally) to Brick Bradford.