Wednesday, October 04, 2017


Toppers: Dizzie Lizzie

It took a long time for Gene Byrnes, the creator of the very successful kid strip Reg'lar Fellers, to get on the topper bandwagon. While most Sunday strips had gained toppers by the late 1920s, Byrnes resisted until 1934*. He could do that sort of thing because he owned the copyright to his strip, and if a syndicate wanted him to do something he didn't want to do, he could easily shop his feature to another distributor, something he did regularly, especially in the 1920s.

In 1934, though, the pressure to do a topper finally became great enough that Byrnes conceded. A lot of that pressure would have been in the nature of plain ol' dough-re-mi. A Sunday that could be split up into two halves was very attractive to newspapers, for two reasons. Number one is that it gave them the opportunity to replace one feature with a lucrative half-page ad, and number two is that the 'feature count' wars were on, and a strip and its topper counts as two features. So on the masthead, where a paper wanted to wow customers by saying their comic section had "50 Great Features", they got two (or even three) for the price of one in a full page strip with topper(s).

Anyway, back to Reg'lar Fellers. Many cartoonists when forced to do a topper looked back at old series they had done, and resurrected one for the topper. Byrnes, who had lots of those under his belt, went a different way. He reasoned that his snails and puppy dog tails-fueled boy strip should offer something from the distaff side to even things out. And though he did three different toppers over the ensuing life of Reg'lar Fellers, every one of them featured a girl as the star.

Dizzie Lizzie, featured today, was the second of those three strips. It debuted on August 11 1940, replacing the long-running Daisybelle. And in a classic case of burying the lede, I'll finally get around to telling you that Mr. Byrnes' involvement with this topper was minimal or nonexistent, and the feature seems to be a wholly original work of a Byrnes assistant ... the great George Carlson (read much more about Carlson here at the Comics Journal).

Although some say that Carlson was ghosting the whole output of Reg'lar Fellers at this time, I don't see his hand as strongly in the main strip. Perhaps that's simply because he was obeying the restrictions of following Byrnes' style. Dizzie Lizzie, though, is pretty pure Carlson, complete with strong graphic design and wacky gags. Early strips in the series are extremely striking (see samples in  part 2 of the Comics Journal article), while later ones, like the example above, have toned down a little, maybe at the behest of Byrnes.

Sadly, Dizzie Lizzie didn't last all that long. It appears to have ended around August 1942 (exact date unfound thus far) when the Reg'lar Fellers Sunday was revamped into a half-page/tab set-up. As best I can tell, no topper would be used until February 1944, when a new girl strip, Zoolie, was added to make a convenient set-up for papers wanting to run Reg'lar Fellers at a third-page size.

* not counting Draw It Y'Self, a small panel offering that could arguably be considered a drop panel as opposed to a topper.


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