Wednesday, May 16, 2018


Obscurity of the Day: Dog Days / Life of Riley

Dogs are always a good bet if you want to earn yourself a spot on the newspaper comics page. Most everyone loves dogs, even newspaper features editors. That made it a smart move, seemingly, for the McClure Syndicate to accept a new panel cartoon from D.T. Carlisle, titled Dog Days. The panel featured a miscellany of dogs, but there was a definite preference for hunting hounds. Although the panel was first advertised by McClure in 1928, the start date appears to be January 7 1929.

There was little fanfare for the new panel, but it was picked up by some major papers, like the Arizona Republic and LA Times. Small wonder, because Mr. Carlisle had a real gift for drawing dogs, and his humor, while hit-and-miss, landed often enough to keep readers looking forward to the next daily dose.

You've heard me opine often enough in this space that features seldom really take hold unless they have continuing characters. Well, Carlisle seems to have been in agreement with that philosophy, because late in 1929 he phased out his cast of miscellaneous dogs, and began concentrating on an Irish terrier named Riley. On November 25 1929 the title of the panel was officially changed to Life of Riley (though many papers stuck with the original title).

While that might have been a smart move, what came next was most definitely not. After a year of gag-a-day Riley caroons, Carlisle for some reason decided to switch to a continuity format. While the continuity was initially somewhat humorous, it morphed into a half-baked adventure in which Riley and some dog pals ended up on a tropical isle looking for a treasure chest, while sparring with the island's inhabitants, which included goats, parrots and an orangutan, and avoiding some aviators who were looking for the same treasure.

Carlisle had no gift for writing continuity, and even if he did, trying to relate an adventure at the rate of a single panel per day is a dicey proposition at best. It was a complete flop, and his subscribers quickly bailed on him. By the time the panel was cancelled, apparently on October 10 1931, I'd be willing to bet he only had a few clients left. The final panel has Riley being abducted by the orangutan, and I guess living happily ever after.

I have no information on Carlisle except that he had another dog cartoon feature that ran in the magazine The Huntsman, and that one (featuring hunting dogs, of course) was a much-loved feature of that periodical. The cartoons from there were collected in at least two books, both of which are scarce and apparently much sought-after today. Carlisle also produced at least one further book of original dog cartoons, The Ordeal of Oliver Airedale.


I found his full name was Donald Thompson Carlisle and he was born in 1894, possibly making this his earliest published work, at age 10:

He seems to have authored and/or illustrated a few other books, most notably The Ordeal of Oliver Airdale" of which several illustrations are shown her (several screens down):
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