Tuesday, July 18, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Spur Line
Bud Sagendorf may only be my third favorite creator of the Popeye comic strip Thimble Theatre, but that still puts him in heady company (E.C. Segar and Bobby London come in at #1 and #2, for the record). He really knew how to channel the Segar way of writing, and his drawing was sort of a scrubbed-up version of Segar's down-and-dirty bigfoot cartooning style. I dare say that if you showed the average man or woman on the street a Popeye drawn by any of the strip's creators, Sagendorf's would be chosen as the iconic one.
It only makes sense that Sagendorf was a natural on Popeye, since Segar employed the young cartoonist as an assistant in his studio. When Segar got sick, I'm guessing the only reason Sagendorf was not chosen as his successor was because he was so darn young (about 22) that he wasn't taken seriously as ready for the big time on such a valuable property.
Sagendorf was instead employed by King Features as the cartoonist in charge of many Popeye licensed products, and eventually became the main artist and writer of the Popeye comic books. It wasn't until 20 years after Segar's death that Sagendorf finally was assigned to the newspaper comic strip. In the interim, Sagendorf did manage to create his own newspaper strip, a fun little wacky fantasy about a fellow who runs his own railroad. The strip was well-written, full of slapstick and bizarre situations, following directly in the footsteps of Segar.
Spur Line, however, was doomed from the start. Sagendorf signed on with the Associated Press to produce the strip, and their comic strip syndicate division was running on fumes by 1954, when Spur Line debuted. AP's strips were folding at a constant clip, fueled by creators who couldn't afford ink for their brushes, much less feed a family, with the pittance they were making.
Spur Line debuted as a daily-only strip on February 15 1954, and came to the end of the tracks on April 2 1955. The feature appeared in very few papers -- not many of those dogged few newspapers still taking the AP feature service made room for the strip. That's at least partially because Spur Line doesn't seem to have been a 'drop in' replacement for another AP strip that was being cancelled. That was the normal way AP dealt with ending strips, and made it simple for subscribing newpapers who didn't have to have to redesign their feature page -- one goes out, one goes in. For Spur Line, papers would have had to make room or drop some other strip.
For more on Spur Line and a longer run of strips (including the introductory week), see this post at Ger Appeldoorn's Fabulous Fifties.
PS: If the above strip samples seem to be missing something, it's because the newspaper I scanned these from, in a fit of pointless fiddling, scratched out the syndicate stamps, the dates, and Sagendorf's signature in each one. Sigh.
A major feature of that show was an officially abandoned spur line, separated from the main railroad but kept in operation by a retired engineer and fireman using an ancient engine. Every so often the crusty troubleshooter from the main railroad would try to close it down.