Monday, May 28, 2018
Obscurity of the Day: Our Fascinating Earth
Robert Ripley sure did start something with Believe It or Not, and a favorite Ripley-style panel variant was to concentrate on interesting tidbits about the natural world. William Ferguson's This Curious World is the undisputed king of the sub-genre, but long after he retired, Philip Seff decided to take a whack at it with Our Fascinating Earth.
Seff did not really start out well by placing his new panel cartoon with Copley News Service, which had near-zero success in selling their comics and panels to newspaper clients. Our Fascinating Earth was further hobbled by starting out as a thrice weekly feature (editors hate having to figure what plugs that spot in the other three issues each week).
The panel seems to have first appeared in October 1977. The art was initially supplied by John Petri Brownfield, a friend of Seff's, who chose to go by just 'John Petri' in the panel's credits. Brownfield didn't stick around for very long, and was replaced by David Baer II in July 1978. Baer seems to have been up for more work, because it was about this time that the panel frequency was increased to five times per week.
Seff and Baer were undoubtedly chafing at Copley's ineffective marketing of their feature, and in August 1979 they were able to sign a contract with a true big-time syndicate, Field Enterprises. At this time the panel graduated to a 6-times per week daily. Field also advertised a new Sunday version of the panel, but the offering doesn't seem to have been successful, as I've never seen a Sunday from the Field Enterprises stint.
Our Fascinating Earth only lasted for about two years with Field, and its next stop was a giant step down, to Syndicated Newspaper Service. This transition seems to have occurred around July 1981.Surprisingly, the panel actually seemed to gain clients with this new hole-in-the-wall syndicate. In fact, at the beginning of 1983, the panel actually gained a Sunday version that ran in several high-profile papers. Strangely, though, it only lasted a few months (at least that I can track). I can only find it running from January 10 to February 21. In a weird timeline, Our Fascinating Earth changed to a self-syndicated daily feature on February 1 1982, almost a year before the feature's former syndicate marketed that Sunday strip version.
In May 1983, David Baer II left the strip and was replaced by Mel Chadwick, who was a principal in the design firm of Smith, Chadwick and Wellons. Three years later his partner, Chuck Wellons, would begin sharing credit for the art. It is unknown what the division of duties was, but they were definitely not above getting anonymous help. In a 1983 interview, Pam Densmore said that she contributed eight panels per month of the workload at that time.
With Seff, Chadwick and Wellons at the helm, Our Fascinating Earth proceeded smoothly year after year with a small client list until 2005. A few reprint books were published in the 1990s, and a website for the feature seemed to promise live-action educational videos and other products to come. Those plans probably dissolved in 2005 when Seff's wife Nancy passed away. She had shared credit on the reprint books, but not on the panels themselves. Philip Seff died in 2016 at age 92, having succeeded admirably in one of the toughest gigs around -- successfully self-syndicating a newspaper feature.