Wednesday, March 18, 2015
The Comic Strip Series of General Features Syndicate
Of course, the star of the bunch is The Little Major, by none other than Bob Kane. Kane, of course, would just a few years later create that comic book icon, Batman.
|First General Features Syndicate page, 3/19/37|
Couple interesting things about The Little Major. First, I was unexpectedly impressed at Kane's humorous cartooning style. He shows a real adeptness at it, which was certainly absent, in my opinion, in his illustrative style. I gather from Kane's memoirs that in this period he considered bigfoot cartooning to be his strong suit, and I certainly agree with him based on this strip. In fact I'd say that Kane might have made a successful career in this genre had not Batman relieved him of the need. His gag writing, on the other hand, is pretty clunky. To his credit, he doesn't seem to just reuse old gag lines, but maybe he should have. He certainly shows no gift for writing a punchy gag.
|General Features Syndicate page, 4/16/1937|
Other interesting thing about The Little Major is that I wonder if this could be a poke in the ribs to Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson. At about the same time Kane was drawing this strip, Wheeler-Nicholson was one of his bosses in the comic book world. As Kane relates in his memoirs, the Major sweet-talked him into doing a lot of work that he never got paid for, and maybe this strip was Kane's little stab at revenge.
One additional odd point about The Little Major, and one that we'll be revisiting for many of these features. The annual E&P listings for the General Features Syndicate line-up seemed to not be able to settle on a creator's name. In the case of The Little Major, Bob Kane was credited each year until 1942, when someone named Thomas Fogarty got the nod. This might simply be a typo, or Kane might have finally told the folks at General to quit using his name to sell reprints. I have no idea who this Thomas Fogarty might be, other than a pen-name picked from a hat.
|General Features Syndicate page, 7/16/1937|
Bob Kane was a complete unknown in 1937, but that wasn't true of Larry Whittington, who contributed Daisy Daily and Dotty Dawn. Whittington was the original creator behind the Fritzi Ritz comic strip, though he had lost the job to Ernie Bushmiller less than three years into the run. Whittington being the one creator in the bunch with at least a slight claim to fame, his strip usually got pride of place at the top of the page.
Though Whittington's brief heyday was long over, his ability to draw cute girls was undimmed. The gags in Daisy Daily and Dotty Dawn were nothing memorable, but the art was still top-notch. The strip is definitely the most attractive of the line-up by far. Be sure to read Alex Jay's Ink-Slinger Profile of Larry Whittington, coming soon -- the guy had quite an interesting life!
Moving on, we have Betty Brighteyes by Bill Seidcheck. This strip is one of those that trades on the bubble-headed blonde stereotype, but the art is good, and the gags, though showing a bit of grey hair, are well-staged. Seidcheck has no other credits of which I'm aware, but his art and gag-writing were definitely pro level. Alex Jay will be telling us more about him in an Ink-Slinger profile, as well.
|General Features Syndicate page, 9/10/1937|
Moving on again, we get a sports strip (actually most often a panel with multiple vignettes) called The Sports Parade. It's tough to offer a good sense of the quality of the art, because the reproduction on this feature is pretty uniformly awful. Almost every strip has large dropouts along the bottom. At first I thought this was the fault of bad press work at Hastings News, because The Sports Parade usually ran at the bottom of the page. But I found the strip exhibiting the same problem even when it was run at the top of the page. Apparently the more intricate linework of the strip, or some other quality of it, had the fellas in the print shop totally stymied.
The content of The Sports Parade is non-fiction, offering 'amazing' facts about various sports figures. Sometimes the panel veers into Ripley's freak territory, but more generally it offers impressive statistics and portraits of the greats of yesteryear.
The creator of The Sports Parade is given only as 'Tap'. Based on the name, this could be Melvin Tapley, a cartoonist who worked for many years in the black newspapers, often the Amsterdam News. He sometimes signed cartoons simply as 'Tap' and the style is not too dissimilar to his. If that guess is right, this is a rare early appearance of a black cartoonist in a mainstream newspaper. However, there are a few clues that are at odds with that identification.
|General Features Syndicate page, 11/26/1937|
First is the copyright notice of 1936, in which Chuck Thorndike is given credit. To me this art does not at all resemble Thorndike's, but it is interesting that his name comes up. As I discussed yesterday, I believe that Van Tine Features and General Features Syndicate are somehow closely related, but this is the only creative name the two share (Thorndike was the artist on Van Tine's Follies of the Great).
Finally, there is my opinion that the art on The Sports Parade does not so much look like Mel Tapley's or Chuck Thorndike's, but rather like the work of Jerry Iger. Iger had some pretty noticeable quirks, and I see some of them here -- the dead round eyes and the outlined balloon lettering being the most telltale. Maybe Iger did the cartoony bits, and someone else did the more illustrative style portraits? I hate to bring Iger's name into it, though, as that is quite a can of worms. Why would Iger be working for this outfit when he was busy with his own shop? Could he have been reselling them material already used by Eisner-Iger on other projects?
|2/11/38, a few strips missing in this edition|
Looking at the E&P syndicate directories, the credits for The Sports Parade are an interesting but uninformative mess. In 1937 and 1938, the creator was listed as Tap Goodenough (more about that last name shortly), then Tap Goodnuff in 1939, Taper Tapper in 1940, and S.C. Begg in 1942. All except for S.C. Begg are obviously variations on the same pseudonym, but that Begg fellow is a complete mystery. Another pick-it-out-of-a-hat creator name, like The Little Major got in 1942?
Moving on to the next strip, we have Bing and his Buddies. This one is a turkey that works the very well trodden subject of wiseacre kids. If you know Freckles and his Friends, or Just Kids, or Reg'lar Fellers, you know what you're in for here, except those strips are positively Shakespearean in their profundity by comparison.
|2/18/1938, a few strips missing, and one strip printed separately|
In the original 1936 copyright notice, Bing and his Buddies was credited to Edward Brenner. However, the strip itself ran under a byline of Goodenough, which you'll recall from the E&P listings for The Sports Parade. A more detailed review of the strips reveals that Mr. Brenner did indeed sign a couple of the early strips, and the style was different than the later ones signed Goodenough.
Goodenough seems likely to be (another) pseudonym of Tap, or whoever was the creator of The Sports Parade. The styles match pretty well. Of course, the E&P listings once again serve mainly to confuse. In 1937 the creator was given as Tap, which makes for a good start. But in 1938 the creator is listed as Ed Brennon, then in 1939 Edward Brennen, then Edward Brennan in 1940 and Ed Brennan in 1942. Why they had so much trouble with Brenner/Brennan's name is anyone's guess, but considering he only produced about 3 or 4 strips at the beginning of the run, why in the world were they offering him credit at all?
|I believe 2/25/1938 represents the last new material the syndicate distributed|
Bringing up the rear, we have Oddities of the News, another of the ubiquitous copies of Ripley, of which at least one was seemingly a requirement for every syndicate. This feature was credited and signed by someone named Al Boon. That's not a name that means anything to me, so let's check our secondary sources.
According to the 1936 copyright notice, the creator was Dic Lacalzo. Also a name that means nothing to me; I have someone signing a 1926 Wheeler-Nicholson strip 'Dic', and there was a Dic Loscalzo who drew terrific cartoon drawings for Ruth Roche's children's book Chimpsey at Play (1945), in a book series called Action Play-Books closely associated with our pal Jerry Iger.
|Hastings News played catch-up, printing these strips on 3/4 and 3/11/1938|
I guess it doesn't matter much, because that's the only reference we have to a name anything like that. In the E&P yearbooks, we have Alex Boon in 1937, Al Boon in 1939 and Al Blum in 1942 (the strip was only listed for those three years). That last one had me wondering if this was actually Blumey (Abraham Blumenfeld), who wrote Van Tine's Don't Laugh - Superstitious Beliefs. However, Alex Jay went off in a different direction with this alphabet soup of names, and came up with at least an equally possible scenario for the actual creator. You'll have to wait for him to weigh in later, though.
Well, that's it for my overview of the General Features Syndicate comic strips. Stay tuned for Alex Jay's Ink-Slinger Profiles on a number of these folks. Before I close, a final note of thanks to Art Lortie, who brought this exciting discovery to my attention. Thanks Art!
FWIW Dept. - I ran across that Bob Kane / Thomas Fogarty listing when I pulled all the strips and looked up references> But I came to the conclusion Fogarty was real and not a Kane pseudonym [or fake].
Besides the famous Thomas Fogarty (1873 - 1938), who this is obviously NOT, I have a New York Times obituary and 1934 class listing for the Free Art Schools of the National Academy of Design in New York that hints at his ID. In 1934 he earned Honorable Mention in Drawing Room Life (Day class - figure) and later taught at the Pratt Institute.
Other graduates of Nat'l Academy of Design include [at different times] Alex Blum, Henry Boltinoff, Carl Burgos, Irwin Hasen, Tom Hickey, Everett Kinstler, Irv Novick, Carl Pfeufer, Mac Raboy, Frank Robbins, Al Stenzel and George Tuska.
His obituary is at obituary at http://www.nytimes.com/1989/04/15/obituaries/thomas-fogarty-jr-painter-73.html
I'll send you the clipping from the award presentation.
But Alex Jay assures me that he is finding biographical info about this guy too, so bottom's up I guess!
Well, the artist that looks to me to be a dead ringer for Jerry Iger, is apparently REALLY a person named Tap Goodenough. I gather he just shared a style with Jerry Iger (maybe they took the same cartooning correspondence course?). I wrote my post assuming that was a pen-name. Evidently not. Alex Jay will be following up soon with an Ink-Slinger Profile.