Monday, April 25, 2016
Obscurity of the Day: John West
Before World War II, it seemed like every new strip put out by the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was touched with gold. After the war, it was a much different story. The syndicate seemed to be completely clueless, and brought out a long succession of stinkers. The Sunday-only strip John West, which debuted on April 7 1946, was certainly one of them. I'd definitely lose a decent size wager if the strip ever appeared outside of a Tribune-owned paper.
Not that John West was a total loser. John J. Olson was an extremely talented artist, whose evolving style over the life of this strip just got more and more impressive. It was the storytelling that seemed to mystify Olson, who tried to do way too much in each strip. Given that he had a mere third-page per week in which to work, his penchant for cutting from one scene to another two, three or even more times in the space of a single strip was enough to give readers a case of whiplash. Olson also had trouble figuring out what he wanted the strip to be about (or too many directives from behind the scene). The strip started out as sort of a jauntily adventuresome hillbilly strip, but then our hero all of a sudden grew up, got involved in hardboiled plots, and eventually ended up concentrating on, of all things, deep-sea diving.
Olson obviously knew his strength was in his drawing. Before the war, he was reportedly an art assistant for Ed Moore and Norman Marsh, and after John West rode into the sunset on November 6 1949, he got a very long-term gig as Dale Messick's art assistant/almost ghost on Brenda Starr.
Sara W. Duke
Curator, Popular & Applied Graphic Art
Prints & Photographs Division
Library of Congress
Washington, DC 20540-4730