Monday, June 15, 2015
Obscurity of the Day: Johnny on the Spot
Here's one of those strips about a guy who can't seem to hold a job. These were pretty common back in the 1900s, and this one generally runs true to form. There are only two things that make Johnny on the Spot sort of interesting. First, his jobs tend to be more unusual than in the typical strip of this kind. Whereas the typical jobs are waiter, clerk, salesman, etc., Johnny at least doesn't go for the mundane -- above we see him impersonating a doctor, operating a lake boat, and as a dog-catcher. What these strips lack in bust-a-gut humor they more than make up for in historical insight. I especially like that the doctor isn't particularly ridiculed for using electric therapy; the gag is purely based on Johnny not knowing how to properly regulate his quack medical device.
The second interesting thing about Johnny on the Spot are the creators. The originator of the series signed himself Kley. Now that immediately sets off alarm bells that it might be Heinrich Kley, the famed illustrator/painter/cartoonist, but wishful thinking aside, there is no way that our Kley is the same guy. Our Kley's cartooning is rather primitive, nothing like the works of the master (warning: link is NSFW).
Mr. Kley drew the strip from March 29 to June 7 1903, and was then replaced by Everrett Lowry, who rarely signed the strip for some reason. He might not have signed at first because he was working at the Chicago Chronicle, but that gig ended in short order, and he continued doing Johnny on the Spot mostly incognito until the end of the series, on March 6 1904.
Johnny on the Spot ran in the C.J. Hirt copyrighted version of the McClure Syndicate Sunday section, and was later reprinted in the McClure sections of 1906.
Thanks to the late Cole Johnson, who provided the scans.
It would seem there's an inconsistant idea of just what a boy hero in a strip could do in Edwardian times, and still have the reader's affection. Somebody like Muggsy could be an all around jerk, but he was always pulling dirty tricks on people we could not sympathize with, like cops, grouchy shopkeepers, or bunco men. I've never seen where we'd be asked to like a dog catcher, seemingly a universal villian in kid's stories.
The NEWARK (NJ) ADVERTISER had, in 1906-7 reached a low point after seventy-four years in business, and in desperation for sales had become a lively, pictures-and-fudgepans Hearst-like paper, and even invested in the new exciting sales booster of comics- in their case, two ready-print sections a week, a WCP issue on Saturday and a McClure on Wednesday, like this one. It didn't help, and the Advertiser sunk below the waves in 1907, now totally forgotten.
They left behind some funnies for us to gorp at a century later, though.