Monday, April 03, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Cynical Susie
|'Becky' Sharp and LaVerne Harding|
|'Becky' Sharp and LaVerne Harding (reprint run, 1938)|
|'Becky' Sharp and LaVerne Harding (reprint run, 1938)|
|'Becky' Sharp and uncredited Bernard Dibble|
|Signed Bernard Dibble, Sharp uncredited but still reads like her work|
With the exception of their flagship strips, Tarzan and Fritzi Ritz, United Feature Syndicate in the 1930s seemed to have a real tough time placing their Sunday offerings. Strips like Peter Pat, How It Began, Alice in Wonderland and today's obscurity, Cynical Susie, had few takers. In order to cut their losses, UFS's Sundays of the mid-1930s were resold as package deals. In 1936-38, you'll find many of their Sundays appearing in re-runs, usually as tabloid section offerings from smaller newspapers. I don't know if UFS was offering these as pre-prints, but there is some circumstantial evidence that they were. Specifically, the sections often sported national ads featuring these all-but-unknown characters. In 1938, to muddy the waters even further, UFS sold off all this backstock to World Color Printing. WCP offered these same mid-1930s strips into the early 1940s. Good news, then, to readers who really liked these strips, as they could conceivably see their favorite examples run three or more times over the years!
First offered by UFS in 1933, Cynical Susie was one of the least popular of UFS's Sundays, even though it offered some absolutely delightful animation-inspired art by LaVerne Harding. The problem was the writer, who signed herself Becky Sharp. She had pretty good funny ideas for her strip about a Hollywood child actor, but she couldn't seem to get the hang of writing comic strips. Her storytelling is very jerky, uncertain and unfocused, leaving the reader more confused than entertained. It would have been smart for UFS to offer Harding her own strip and drop the writer, but that unfortunately did not happen.
Becky Sharp was for a long time a mystery writer. She even managed to fool the usually unerring Cole Johnson into thinking she was a non-entity, just a pseudonym for LaVerne Harding. Finally, though, the Cartoon Research blog has uncovered her identity via a contract they found for the strip. She was Helen Sharp, who worked under the moniker 'Becky', perhaps as an homage to the character in Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Unfortunately that's still the sum of our knowledge of Sharp, unless she is the same person as a Helen Sharp who penned a number of romance novels in the early 1970s.
On the other hand, LaVerne Harding is no mystery at all, but rather quite well-known in the animation community. She is one of the first female animators, worked at Universal under Walter Lantz starting in 1932, and had a long career in film and television animation. You can read more about her career at several posts on the Cartoon Research blog, at the Animation Resources blog, at Tralfaz, and on the Rarebit Animation wiki. Her extensive animation credits are listed on IMDB.
Getting back to the strip itself, United Feature first advertised it in 1933-34 as a Sunday and daily, then in 1935-38 as a Sunday only. Since I'd never found a daily, I assumed that part of the package was a no-go. However, the Cartoon Research blog has discovered a Cynical Susie daily. Odd thing is, it appears to have not been distributed by UFS, but rather was a local feature of the Los Angeles Daily News, which attempted to syndicate the strip themselves (proof of that here). According to this post it began as a single panel feature which started in 1931, and graduated to a daily strip at some point -- perhaps the News thought it would sell better as a strip? Also according to that post, when Sharp and Harding were signed by UFS they were expected to create two sets of dailies each week -- one for the News, one for UFS. That I frankly find hard to believe -- national syndicates do not normally allow creators to keep producing a feature for their local paper; the paper would now have to buy the feature from the syndicate. Supposedly Harding balked at having to produce twelve dailies every week, and whatever the details of the problem, that may have been the end of the daily strip.
Even without having to produce a daily, by 1935 Harding was reportedly feeling overworked. As she became more important at the Lantz studio, and her responsibilities there increased, I imagine the hours she was putting into adapting Sharp's bad scripts into Sunday pages was starting to seem a waste. Since Harding would have been sharing her syndicate royalties two ways for a strip that wasn't selling well, those checks were probably starting to look pretty paltry, too.
With the new material and reprint runs appearing simultaneously, it is hard to tell when Harding left the strip, but I think it was probably with the releases of September 1935. Once Harding's name was dropped from the masthead the art was no longer credited. However, it is obvious that UFS bullpenner Bernard Dibble took over the art reins, and in fact in 1936 he started to slip a 'BJD"or 'DIB' signature into the final panels on occasion. My guess is that the 'first-run' strip ended as early as December 1936, or as late as August 1937. Becky Sharp may have left the strip around March 1936, when her credit was dropped from the masthead, but the writing still seems like her clunky style.
Sorry for the late reply, but here is the comics page for the June 8th, 1991 edition of the the Elyria Chronicle Telegram. The date is at the far right of the page.
You'll find what I believe to be the very last "Big George!" daily at the bottom, next to "Dennis the Menace".
Is it La Verne or LaVerne?
Is it Tony Di Preta or DiPreta?
Is it TAD or Tad Dorgan?
Is it D.D.Degg or D. D. Degg?