Tuesday, October 03, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: The Late, Late War
Fred Fredericks, later to find success as the long-time artist on Mandrake the Magician, tried at least three times to break into the comic strip big time by leveraging his interest in American history. His first attempt was The New Jersey Patriots, which he self-syndicated with limited success circa 1959.
That strip seems to have gotten the small syndicate Adcox-Lenahan interested in him, and he offered them a historical strip of an entirely different stripe, a gag feature about the Civil War. I wonder what anyone could find to laugh about regarding a war that was responsible for the violent end of over a half-million American lives, but then again I also find the popularity of Hogan's Heroes mind-boggling. It's not that war cannot be the subject of humor (Bill Mauldin's Up Front comes immediately to mind), but The Late, Late War seems far too jaunty, too cartoony, about it for my taste.
Whether my opinion is shared by the nation's newspaper editors I don't know, but The Late, Late War was spectacularly unsuccessful for some set of reasons. In fact I am amazed that the feature got beyond the sales stage with what was apparently a vanishingly small client list. After thinking for many years that The Late, Late War might well be a myth, I finally found a short run in the Hayward Review, and Alberto Becattini says that it also ran in the Elizabeth Daily Journal. No one to my knowledge claims that it ran longer than a few months, so my run in the Review, from June 6 to August 27 1960 may well be complete.
Fredericks regrouped from the failure of The Late, Late War and came up with his third American history strip, Under the Stars and Bars, which was also about the Civil War and distributed by Adcox-Lenahan. The new strip took a serious tack, relating the historic events of the war, but also failed to ignite a lot of newspaper interest.
As for the overly cartoony nature of "The Late Late War", It was after all, a hundred years on, and amidst all the anniversaries then unfolding, it would seem like a harmless enough thing to kid along. Look at the strip our fellow correspondent DD Degg cites- Short Ribs all history gags. Recall a panel called "Our Ancestors"? same thing. If we can laugh at the brutal Ancient Romans, or the ruthless Conquistadors, or the bloody Mongol hordes,Fredricks's whimsical Civil war bunglers can't offend anyone. At least they shouldn't. We've been kidding the civil war a long time. Tonight on TCM they showed "The General". That was a funny film, a comedy epic. It's over ninety years old. If we can't see the humor in history, then I guess they'll have to cancel "Hagar".