Wednesday, August 17, 2016
Harry F. O'Neill evidently loved writing and drawing his long-running western strip Broncho Bill, because I've never heard of him using ghosts or even assistants. What little I've read of the strip (and that is quite little, because I really don't relish westerns) reads like the creator is having a great time putting his cast thorugh their paces. Despite his devotion to it, though, the strip never really caught on in a big way. Which is strange because in 1928 when it debuted it was (as far as I can think of) the first serious western strip, which should have given it a big leg up, and it certainly did serve up the sort of slam-bang, shoot-em-up action that kids loved. It was popular enough, though, that United Feature opted to add a Sunday page to the feature in 1933, debuting it on September 24. In order to do the Sunday O'Neill was faced with the task of coming up with a topper strip to go along with his main strip.
Oddly enough, it would seem, he came up with a topper strip that had nothing to do with cowboys 'n' injuns. Instead he drew on his own younger life, which involved a stint doing acrobatics in circuses and Vaudeville, and came up with Bumps, a humor strip about a young acrobat/clown in a traveling circus. It was a pleasant enough feature, and was another smart choice for O'Neill because kids were crazy for circuses back then. Stories about their inner workings were sure to please, and O'Neill did a fine job of taking his readers behind the scenes, while letting the gags just sort of trail along as sort of a small bonus.
By 1939, though, O'Neill was evidently tiring of Bumps. The artwork was starting to look rushed, and he sent the circus gang on a long sea voyage (!). In every installment of that continuity I half-expect the ship to sink with all hands in the last panel. Well, that didn't happen, but O'Neill did drop the topper on February 11 1939, giving Broncho Bill the whole tab/half broadsheet page. As far as I can tell there never was a full broadsheet page of the strip, so I assume that truly was the end of Bumps.
PS -- in my book you'll find me claiming Bumps lasted until sometime in the 1940s -- oops -- time to get the White-Out!
PPS -- if there are any really devoted fans of Broncho Bill out there, maybe you know when the Sunday changed into reprints? It was definitely reprints from 1938 in 1944, the last year I've found it appearing, but I'm unsure when new material stopped being created.
Labels: Topper Features
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