Monday, October 09, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Doctor Funshine
In the 1960s there was a major push to get kids interested in science. Would have been nice if we had wanted to stimulate the creation of future scientists purely for the betterment of mankind, but mostly it had to do with beating those darn Commies into space. Whatever the reason, science was now being billed as cool and fun, and the image of the nutty professor was giving way at least a little to the image of scientists as blazing a bold path into the future.
Most social changes end up being reflected on the comics page, and the popularization of science was no exception, spawning features like Our New Age and Frontiers of Science. At the San Francisco Chronicle, Bill Weber came up with a feature that was much better suited to stimulating the imagination of the kiddies -- he got them directly involved. Doctor Funshine debuted there on December 10 1961, and featured science experiments that kids could do at home. It sported delightful '60s modern' art, a host who looked like an impish Albert Einstein, and really top-notch writing. Sometimes the science experiments were offered in a relatively straightforward manner, but the Doctor really shined when they were couched within a mystery or problem-solving tale, like the top example above. Having Doctor Funshine get out of traps via the creative use of science really brought the topic to life. Who knows, maybe the creators of the TV series MacGyver were SanFran kids of the 60s.
Weber's strip was originally carried only by the Chronicle, but eventually the decision was made that Chronicle Features, their syndication arm, would offer it to others. Doctor Funshine went national on February 10 1963, and picked up a modest but respectable number of clients. Strangely, the Chronicle itself stopped running the strip in 1964, though I can't imagine why. Maybe this was the writing on the wall that the strip was not going to make it, but it did run at least into 1966 elsewhere. The latest I've seen it is March 27 1966 in the Arizona Republic, where it had been demoted from the Sunday section onto a weekly kids' page.
I think Bill Weber's creation was absolutely delightful, but maybe it would have done better in some other form -- a book series, maybe? I guess it just wasn't flashy enough to compete against Peanuts and Beetle Bailey in the Sunday comics.
When i was in the business, things like Doctor Funshine were sold to editors convincing them to carry educational features to show they, and their papers were good citizens.