Monday, January 30, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Campus Clatter
In 1969 college campuses were ground zero for anti-war protests, anti-government groups, drug experimentation, and unrest of just about any kind you'd care to name, So it seems rather odd that the NEA syndicate picked this particular moment to offer Campus Clatter, a daily and Sunday strip which uses that environment for the purposes of light comedy.
Campus Clatter was brought on NEA's roster to replace The Willets, a spin-off of Out Our Way that hadn't really taken hold. The strip debuted as a daily on July 7 1969, and a Sunday was added March 15 1970. The creator of the new strip, Larry Lewis, was a cartoonist in his 40s with a mostly commercial background. He sold NEA on the strip strictly through a mail-in submission, much to his amazement.
Lewis stated that he was able to keep up on the current campus scene because his wife was a college teacher, and his daughter a student. While the strip did make an occasional effort to reflect current events, however, few of the gags would have seemed out of place in a 1930s issue of College Humor.
The strip was further hobbled by having no strong characters; the lead, Bimo Burns, is an everyman with no discernable personality. The strip was pretty strictly gag-a-day, and Lewis liked a regimented group of subjects -- "in a typical week I try to have at least 2 classroom gags, one gag related to sports, one to the administrative end of things, another to social life, and perhaps one to faculty." In fairness, this sort of approach worked very well for Mort Walker, so perhaps Lewis had the right idea.
With Doonesbury taking the comic strip world by storm in late 1970, you have to wonder if Lewis consdered making his strip a little edgier to compete. If he did, he evidently decided against the notion. Campus Clatter stayed true to its roots all through the run, which had Bimo Burns evidently failing a lot of courses so that he could stay enrolled at good old Doolittle College until October 2 1976.
The fathers shared an uncle according to the first appearance making them some kind of cousins. They were probably not first cousins as they didn't seem to know their relationship so uncle probably meant brother of a cousin or something making the father's at best second cousins.
The family had a teen-age son and daughter and a dog.
"Bloom County" was the one that took the Doonesbury spot in the San Jose Mercury -- because of its semi-editorial cartoon status it had a designated piece of real estate between some regular columns instead of the comic page. I developed a perhaps unfair prejudice against Bloom County because it then felt too much like a deliberate Doonesbury knockoff, not helped by an interview where the creator went on about why he was edgier and better. I still suspect the strip owes much of its success to matching the look and feel of Doonesbury when a sub was needed, much as Mallard Fillmore was embraced by editors as the quasi-official "equal time" answer to Doonesbury.