Wednesday, June 01, 2016


Obscurity of the Day: Samson the Strong Man

I'm ashamed to admit that I succumbed to an annoying habit of the historian -- that of assigning vast importance to a bit of minutia. Like the archaeologist who claimed to have uncovered an entire lost civilization based on a pottery shard, and the paleontologist who declared the discovery of a new breed of dinosaur based on a single toe bone, I descibed Samson the Strong Man in my book as "an early superhero prototype."

Obviously that is not true. As you can see above, yes, Samson is really, really strong, impossibly so in fact. But does he really have super powers? Nah, course not. Our cartoonist is just using poetic license to make the point that this guy is strong. Nor is Samson a hero by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, he's kind of a doofus, which is sort of the gag.

Therefore, I apologize for trying to make something important out of Samson the Strong Man. It is,  in fact, pretty darn unimportant by most measures. The strip appeared in the New York Evening Telegram once a week, on Fridays, from February 10 to June 23 1905. You needn't doubt that Telegram readers would much rather have seen the great Winsor McCay, the definite star cartoonist of the Telegram at the time, one extra day per week instead.

The cartoonist, who signed himself just 'Thorndike', had a couple short series in the Evening World in 1904, and then contributed this and one more series to the Telegram in 1905. He was a pretty good cartoonist, but never really caught on to the mechanics of writing a comic strip. I'm sure no one missed him much when his strips ceased to appear. He did, however, continue in cartooning, and we'll learn more about that tomorrow, as Alex Jay has managed to sleuth out Thorndike's identity for an Ink-Slinger Profile.


This is a guy that could lift train tracks above his head in service of protecting a baby...seems like a page out of Superman's playbook if you ask me:
Hi Todd -- I'd certainly enjoy saying that my original proclamation in the book should stand. However, I think we'd both agree (since you have such a great batch of samples over there at your website that I was able to review) that the particular strip you linked to was not really typical of the series. Usually Samson was just creating a big mess, or being a bull--Allan
Dern keyboard -- that last word should be bully. --Allan
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