Monday, March 28, 2016
Obscurity of the Day: Gabby
Before William Ritt began penning the successful Brick Bradford strip for Central Press Association, he was the ghost-writer for another syndicate property, the Frank Merriwell's Schooldays strip. That feature was straight out of the dime novel tradition (literally, that's where the character started in 1896). Merriwell was a sterling youth, excelling at every sport in high school, a great pal to all the other fellows, and the target of every schoolgirl's desire (chaste desire, please, this is the nineteenth century we're talking about). In other words, the kind of guy everyone loves to hate. But somebody must have enjoyed reading about this terminal over-achiever, because the dime novels, and then the strip, did pretty well.
Apparently, though, it finally dawned on someone at CPA that it was silly to pay licensing fees for Frank Merriwell when William Ritt could just write the same baloney about some new unlicensed athletic young gentleman. Thus in 1934, Frank Merriwell gave way to Chip Collins Adventures, a strip that I guess differed only as much from its predecessor as would keep the lawyers at bay.
Oddly, though, the strip had few takers. Maybe the Frank Merriwell name really was worth something after all. But the folks at CPA obviously didn't think that was the problem. Thus, on July 27 1935 Chip Collins was sent packing, and on Monday the 29th yet another gifted young athlete took his place. The new strip was titled Gabby, and here the kid was a hayseed who had a rocket pitching arm. His gift got him into a fancy college, where (big surprise) he excelled at all sports, was a great pal to all the fellows, and the target of every schoolgirl's (chaste) desire.
This time the art was provided by Joe King, a fellow who drew so well it really is a shame that he had a silly name. I love his sketchy fat line and his painterly spotting of blacks. Unfortunately, the William Ritt scripts were more of the same that had already killed Chip Collins. Gabby lasted a mere three months, hardly time enough to unpack his bags at the school dorm. Apparently Ritt was caught unawares when the syndicate pulled the plug on Gabby, as the final week of the strip (shown above) is a delightfully screwy attempt to end the strip in some sort of logical manner, which succeeds only in being utterly bizarre.