Monday, April 04, 2016


Paper Trends by Jeffrey Lindenblatt: A Gabby Investigation

[Guest blog contributor and longtime research collaborator Jeffrey Lindenblatt weighs in on what happened in the 1930s with Central Press Association, and why the end of Gabby was a turning point in the syndicate's history -- Allan]

Last week Allan picked for his Obscurity of the Day the strip Gabby, syndicated by the Central Press Association. The strip lasted only three months, from July 29, 1935 to October 26, 1935. What is interesting is that this strip was the last one of the Central Press Package. Let me explain: back on March 1, 1930 King Features bought the Central Press Association. Hearst bought this organization for many different reasons. That is for a different article but we are going to focus on the comic branch.

In 1930 many small town papers could not afford and/or because of exclusivity could not get their hands on many famous comic strips. So some services would offer a complete page of comics, and Central Press was one of them. They would offer regular comic strips (Etta Kett, High Pressure Pete), panels (Among Us Girls, Old Home Town), sports panels, features and editorial cartoons. The most famous and most successful of the “blanket services” at the time was NEA, home of Boots and her Buddies, Freckles and his Friends, Wash Tubbs and a host of others. Covering the news angle, the most famous would be Associated Press, who by the way entered the comic business later that month in 1930. After buying any of these packages, the newspaper editor would decide which features would be run be in his paper. If he decided to run all the comics he would have a full page and a few features to appear in other parts of the paper.

At this time Central Press produced five daily comic strips: Etta Kett, High Pressure Pete, Muggs McGinnis, Goofey Movies and Big Sister. Most newspapers, if they filled up a page, would run the five dailies and the sixth spot would include two different panel cartoons. Later on they could replace the two panels with a sixth strip. This would happen in 1933 with the introduction of Brick Bradford. When Brick Bradford debuted you would have three possibilities: it could take the sixth spot, appear in another part of the paper, or could not appear at all.

Another way a strip would debut is when one strip was discontinued and replaced by a new one. This is what happened with Gabby. Here is a timeline for Central Press’s 5th spot comic strip:

Goofey Movies – ends on October 11, 1930

Swifty – October 13, 1930 – July 18, 1931

Frank Merriwell’s Schooldays – July 20, 1931 – July 14, 1934

Chip Collins Adventures – July 16, 1934 – July 27, 1935

Gabby – July 29, 1935 – October 26, 1935

So what replaced Gabby? Presumably a new Central Press strip, right? No, because things had changed by 1935. Central Press was now an arm of the Hearst Corporation. At this time Central Press would not generally produce any new comic strips except for some short-run self-contained strips. By March 29, 1937 all the remaining strips were to change copyrights to King Features. King by this time was ready to use their own name to sell to both major papers and small town papers.

I set out to answer the question of what happened on the following Monday in those newspapers that ran Gabby to its conclusion. In the past I’ve done this sort of research at local libraries and on the internet. In this case I’m using the newspapers that are available on On that service I was able to find 11 newspapers that still ran Gabby on October 26, 1935.

In two of those newspapers, which did not previously run Brick Bradford, they picked it up as the replacement for Gabby. In four newspapers they did not add anything, just moved another comic strip from outside the comic section to the comic page. This happened when that newspaper did not run only Central Press strips. In one case the dropping of Gabby gave the opportunity for the paper to drop more Central Press strips in order to fit more NEA strips.

Last Inspector Wade strip, 5/17/1941

The four remaining papers, which were running a complete Central Press comics page, replaced Gabby with their first King Feature strip, Inspector Wade. This also happened in many newspapers in the tri-state area that were running a complete Central Press comics page, because The New York Telegram was running the complete NEA package and no paper in the near area could run any NEA strips -- the other cheap alternative for a blanket service.

Inspector Wade had debuted only five months earlier. It did not appear in many major Hearst papers because they preferred to run King’s Secret Agent X-9 and/or Red Barry. Those papers did not need a third detective strip. Most other papers would run either Dick Tracy or Dan Dunn for their detective fix. Thus Inspector Wade found his home in small town papers until May 17, 1941.

In the early 1940s, small town Central Press papers would be the home of the syndicate’s remaining strips, plus King Features ‘B-strips’. Those would later include Felix the Cat, Mandrake the Magician and a host of others. It is interesting to note what replaced Inspector Wade when it was cancelled in May 1941. King Features definitely had a plan for newspapers that ran Inspector Wade all the way to the end. When Inspector Wade’s last story ended on May 17, 1941 they had another detective strip waiting in the wings, ready with a new story starting on the next Monday. The replacement strip had debuted seven years earlier and it had one of the biggest promotional pushes at that time. It was clearly an ‘A-strip’ at that time, but in the following years it had many different writers and artists so by 1941 it had definitely fallen into the ‘B-strip’ category. That strip was Secret Agent X-9.

Secret Agent X-9, new story begins, 5/19/1941

Although I did not find any newspapers that elected to take it, it would seem there was a definite alternative in mind for papers that did not select Secret Agent X-9. Surely it is not a coincidence that Brick Bradford, in the middle of a story, decided to run a recap strip on that very same day.

Brick Bradford, recap strip, 5/19/1941

--Jeffrey Lindenblatt


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