Wednesday, September 20, 2017


Mea Culpa! The Perils of Comic Strip Research Using Microfilm

Last week I did a post on the New York World strip The Bad Dream that Made Bill a Better Boy. According to my book, in which I quote from Ken Barker's World index, the first installment of the series was penned by Gene Carr, but then William Steinigans took over for the rest of the series.

While prepping my post I went to, which has the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as one of their digitized microfilm offerings. The Post-Dispatch was the other flagship paper of the Pulitzer organization, and that paper runs the same comics sections as the World (with occasional exceptions due to one or the other paper running an ad). It seemed odd to me that Steinigans, no slouch for coming up with his own ideas, jumped onto a Gene Carr idea, and then ran with it for so long. I thought it was worth checking out that first installment. When I did, I found this image:

As you can see, the microfilm has turned most of the last panel of the strip into dark mud. No signature can be seen. So, I thought, Barker was fooled into thinking that the strip was by Carr because it sort of looked like an adjunct to his almost-full page Romeo strip. Is the art by Carr, I wondered? It does have Carr's signature big flat faces with large circles for eyes. However, Steinigans does sometimes draw those same types of faces, though he generally prefers 'dot-eyes'. Since some characters in the strip have dot-eyes, I felt my art ID as Steinigans was reasonable, especially considering the highly unusual circumstance that would have occurred if Carr had handed off the strip to Steinigans after a single installment.

Unfortunately, all that brain juice I expended led me straight to the wrong conclusion. Enter Pierre-Henry L'Enfant, who read the post and came to the rescue. Showing why real honest-to-goodness newsprint is so important for the effective study of newspaper comic strip history, he sent me an image of the real page, not ruined by the microfilming process. Here it is:

If that is too small, here's a close-up of the strip in which the signature is more legible:

So it turns out that Barker had it right. Apparently the World microfilm he was working with afforded a slightly better view than did the Post-Dispatch digitized film, and far from being the fooled one, he hit the nail on the head, leaving the dunce cap perched quite squarely on my head. So I herewith offer my apologies to the late Ken Barker, and my heartfelt thanks to Pierre-Henry L'Enfant, who set me straight.

L'Enfant also sent me the next several installments of Bad Dream and some gorgeous 1906 4-color examples, and I herewith offer you a look-see as well. Thanks Pierre-Henry!!

8/27/1905, first Steinigans episode











When Barker made his list back in the 1970's, he was using a NY World microfile, so maybe he was right all along because the file was clearer to begin with. Just a thought.
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