Monday, September 28, 2015
Obscurity of the Day: The Mighty Bunyan
That legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan seems like a perfect subject for a newspaper comic strip, so it is actually a little surprising that it took until 1949 before someone brought the idea to light. The Mighty Bunyan, by Clyde Yeadon, debuted on January 2 1949 in a short list of northwest state newspapers, distributed by Bell Syndicate.
Clyde Yeadon didn't have a particularly distinguished career as a cartoonist, but you've got to give him points for coming up with the idea for a Paul Bunyan strip, and then hanging onto his brainchild tenaciously until he brought it to fruition. Based on newspaper and Editor & Publisher articles, we know that Yeadon had put together his likely one-man operation of Paul Bunyan Productions* shortly after the end of World War II. He tried to sell a Paul Bunyan cartoon in various forms, and may have self-syndicated an early version of what later became The Mighty Bunyan to a few Michigan papers (unfortunately I cannot come up with any direct proof that it really happened). He did at least get a few individual cartoons published featuring his character.
Though Yeadon's cartooning is pretty raw, Bell Syndicate evidently saw the hustle the man was willing to put into the strip, and probably figured it was worth a chance. Yeadon was a real go-getter, and probably did more to sell the strip than Bell ever did. Things were a little rocky from the start, though. After announcing the start date of the strip as October 11 1948 in E&P, something seems to have gone awry, because the actual start date ended up being the aforementioned January 2 1949. A Sunday strip, announced to start with the daily, ended up debuting on February 13, probably with the Milwaukee Journal as the only taker. When the Journal lost interest and stopped printing the Sunday on May 8, that appears to have been the swan song for it.
Soon Bell Syndicate too was losing interest in the strip. Starting on July 25, the strip no longer included the Bell Syndicate copyright slug, and seems to have been self-syndicated by Yeadon's Paul Bunyan Productions from then on.
The strip's storyline, after a breakneck run through the classic legend, diverged into new stories devised by Yeadon. Unfortunately, he was not all that comfortable with telling a story in short daily spurts, and his plots tend to jump all over the place with storytelling gaps from one strip to the next. In fact, reading the strip you constantly have the feeling that every second strip must have gotten lost in the mail.
While Yeadon obviously delighted in adding to the Bunyan legend with appropriate and theoretically entertaining stories, they were, quite frankly, not very well told. So despite his heart being in the right place, his market was limited mostly to newspapers that he probably sold to personally. The strip continued with its short client list until December 9 1950.
Tomorrow tune in again for Alex Jay's Ink-Slinger Profile of Clyde Yeadon.
* That's incorrect. Yeadon was assisted in the marketing of his Paul Bunyan cartoons by a promoter named Les Kangas, who was made president of Paul Bunyan Productions. This information is from Kangas's son, Les Kangas Jr.