Wednesday, September 28, 2016


Toppers: Little Stanley

Bell Syndicate was a latecomer to offering toppers on their Sunday strips. For the most part they didn't start until the early 1930s, and Fontaine Fox's Toonerville Folks was one of the last holdouts. Since Toonerville Folks was one of the syndicate's big cash cows (along with Mutt and Jeff), it may be that they politely requested that Fox add a topper, and were just as politely turned down for awhile.

Assuming he really did, Fox was certainly right, at least artistically, to lobby against the topper. When he finally did accede to the syndicate's wishes, it was pretty much the death of his full-page Sunday strip. When Little Stanley debuted on April 3 1932, featuring a character who had been appearing occasionally in the daily panel since the 1920s, the Sunday Toonerville Folks was now offered in two formats -- tab page with topper, or half-page broadsheet without topper. Although it was technically possible to print a full by blowing up the tab version, as I've seen it done on occasion, I'm guessing the syndicate didn't even offer it that way, and the newspaper that was dead set on running the strip as a broadsheet full had to handle the technical aspect of that on their own.

On the other hand, the new format seemed to really give the Sunday strip a boost in newspaper subscribers. So maybe Fox thought it was just dandy. Considering that I have heard rumors that Fox did not touch the Sunday, leaving it instead to his assistant Ted Clark, maybe he was pleased as punch that the full page Sunday was a goner as long as it meant nice big royalty checks.

Whether Fox saw Little Stanley as a fiscal boom or an artistic bust is a question we'll probably never answer. But I do know that it didn't stick around very long. Almost exactly four years later, on April 5 1936, Little Stanley was banished. But that made no difference to the way the Sunday Toonerville Folks was offered -- it remained a half/tab offering until the World War II, when it began to be offered  in third-page format as well.


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