Wednesday, October 11, 2017
Obscurity of the Day: Sweetie Pie
The NEA syndicate tried to keep their newspaper clients happy with an array of features, many of which fit into the "me too" classification. Their mostly small town and suburban newspaper clients wanted to look like the big papers, and that meant providing them with features that resembled those in the big leagues.
Sweetie Pie by Nadine Seltzer is a good example of that. The panel cartoon about a little girl premiered on April 19 1954, and it mimicked a number of features then doing well in major papers. First and most obviously, Sweetie Pie is a female Dennis the Menace. The art style owes a lot to Hank Ketcham, too. Other strips to which Sweetie Pie owes a debt are Jimmy Hatlo's Little Iodine, and Lucy van Pelt from Charles Schulz's Peanuts. Sweetie Pie does not succeed in its mission as well as any of these strips, but then an imitation is never as good as the original -- rather like 'artificial jewelry' as seen above.
Sweetie Pie did its duty for NEA but never managed to distinguish itself as anything more than what it was, a "me too". The daily panel ended on May 8 1965, and the feature was transferred to NEA's weekly pony service, Community Enterprises. There it continued to be offered for another whole decade, ending on April 4 1975. The weekly version may well have been reprints for all I know; vanishingly few papers ran it from the weekly service, so it would be tough to figure that out.
The intriguing aspect of Sweetie Pie isn't so much the feature itself but its creator, Nadine Seltzer. She has no other comic strip credits that I know of, so she has been a cipher to me until I chanced upon a 'life sketch' written about her by her daughter and her pastor. It sounds like the lady had quite a tough life -- her younger years read a little like a Grapes of Wrath tale, and it seems a small miracle that she apparently managed to get to Glendale College where she earned an art degree. When she began Sweetie Pie, though, a promo sent out by NEA has her stating that she was a self-taught artist, so that's a bit odd.
The real bombshell in the essay, though, is the statement that Seltzer did not draw the feature: "she was a cartoonist partner with the artist that drew Sweetie Pie, a popular daily panel that appeared in national papers in the 1950’s and 60’s. Occasionally Nadine would ink the artwork, but mostly she wrote the quippy caption."
Why would someone with art training need a partner to draw the panel? Given the low rates paid by NEA, how would that even make economic sense? And most intriguing of all, who was this partner? I'm no art spotter, and I can't even take a wild guess as to who it might be. Although the art is not drop-dead gorgeous, it is certainly more than competent. Did Seltzer get some local pal to do the drawing, or did NEA assign someone to the task?
Well, here's a nutty idea about who it might be. Did you happen to notice that the newspaper from which I took these samples credited not Nadine Seltzer, but Nadine Turner? I checked many other papers, and none I could find offered that version of the credit -- everyone else cited Nadine Seltzer. Seltzer also never to my knowledge went by that name. Is it possible, by some weird chance, that this paper was offering credit to the artist co-creator? NEA did have two artists working for them by the name of Turner -- Les Turner of Captain Easy and Dick Turner of Carnival. Could one of them have been supplying the art on Sweetie Pie to make a few extra bucks on the side? Realistically, probably not. Neither cartoonist worked in this style, though I don't doubt that either could have adapted to it if needed. No, the credit in that newspaper is probably just a mistake, a case of a typesetter getting confused and nobody catching the error. Still, who knows?
It really IS a "me too". I wish I knew who really drew the feature, even though it was probably a staffer at NEA.