Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Obscurity of the Day: Texas History Movies
In 1926 news director E.B. Doran of the Dallas Morning News came up with an idea to tell the story of his state in comic strip form. What better way to get kids interested in the history of Texas than to tell its story in a lively, entertaining way with cartoons? He grabbed staff writer John Rosenfield Jr. to pen the strip, and artist Jack Patton, who was on staff at the Morning News' sister paper Dallas Journal, to draw.
The general concept was not completely new, but it was very young. J. Carroll Mansfield's popular Highlights of History pre-dates it by several years. However, Doran's baby is, as far as I know, the first educational history feature to limit itself to a specific subject like this. Strips and panels about state and local history would proliferate in the late-1920s and 1930s, but this appears to be the first of that particular breed. And not only is it a first, but it could arguably be called the best executed and certainly the most enthusiastically received of all that would follow. Rosenfield and Patton did a superb job of bringing history to life, enough that kids may have actually liked reading the strip, as hard as that may be to believe.
From the beginning, the strip's purpose of educating kids was pushed hard. The strip debuted on October 5 1926, shortly after the new school year had begun, and there is evidence that it was used as a teaching aid in Dallas classrooms right from the start. The Morning News also ran a contest in which kids could win cash prizes by answering questions about Texas history, questions that could easily be answered by kids who were clipping out the strips as they ran each day. The strip was so associated with schools that it even went on hiatus during the 1927 summer break.
Texas History Movies ran for a total of 428 daily episodes, ending its run at the conclusion of the 1927-28 school year on June 9 1928. The strip was so detailed in its coverage of Texas history that this large number of episodes only got it current up to 1885. According to the creators this was by design, "Here the cartoons end abruptly, not because there was nothing else worth telling, but because the things that happened after that make dull pictures; albeit, fascinating reading."
This, however, was by no means the end of Texas History Movies. In 1928 two different collections of the strip were published in book form. One was a complete reprinting by the P.L. Turner Company, the second an abbreviated version published by Magnolia Petroleum. The Magnolia version was printed in huge quantities and handed out free to school children, and was made part of Texas school curriculums. Eventually, in a large number of different printings over the span of decades, the publishing count reportedly went well into the millions. Even today, may Texas old-timers fondly recall the days when reading a comic book in class was not against the rules, at least in this one case.
Most of the information in this post comes from Weldon Adams, a comics researcher who works at Heritage Auctions in Dallas. I met him recently when I delivered a truckload of material to be auctioned there (more about that soon). You can read more about Texas History Movies, including a chronology of the reprint books, at Previews World. Adams also gave a talk about the strip, which is on youtube. Part 1:
and Part 2:
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