Monday, August 10, 2015
Obscurity of the Day: Finney of the Force
After a few false starts on the syndicate train in the early 1920s, F.O. Alexander got a more satisfying ride at Western Newspaper Union starting in 1925. WNU was a syndicate that specialized in supplying content to small rural papers, mostly weeklies. They had begun offering a few cartoon items in the late 1910s, and in the 1920s they slowly began to expand on those offerings. In July 1925 they began offering Alexander's Finney of the Force, a whimsical strip about a sweet-tempered Irish cop. Finney's beat was a predominantly Irish neighborhood, and most of the cast speaks in dialect. Sometimes that dialect, at least in the way Alexander writes it, can be a wee bit impenetrable, but the occasional lapse in understanding rarely gets in the way of the gentle humor. Although Finney did actually fight serious crime on occasion, Alexander generally kept the tone very light.
Sometime in 1926, probably late in the year, WNU tried offering the strip as both a daily and a weekly. The daily version is very hard to come by, but seems to have lasted until about 1929 before the experiment was scrapped. As best I can tell, Alexander inserted some light continuities in the daily, and typically saved a standalone gag strip for the weekly version.
In 1931, Alexander was offered the gig of continuing Hairbreadth Harry for Ledger Syndicate after the death of Charles W. Kahles. While Hairbreadth Harry was not exactly a major A-list property in 1931, it certainly was running in more major city papers than Finney of the Force did, or could ever hope to given its syndicate. Alexander jumped at the chance.
Although Alexander's name was penned onto the Finney strips until November 1931, for several months before that the art had slowly but surely taken on a new look. The new artist, who would not be given credit until April 1932, was Ted O'Laughlin. His version of Finney was a little more mundane, a little less sprightly, than Alexander's. Finney's grump of a wife was now featured more often, and the strip began to read like The Bungle Family in strips where Finney was at home.
Although Ted O'Laughlin would be credited on the strip until its end in July 1938, the art goes through at least one if not more stylistic changes that would seem to indicate that other hands were stirring the pot during those years.