Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Obscurity of the Day: Ken Stuart
The Frank Jay Markey syndicate was basically a one-man operation (that would be Frank himself, natch). As far as I know, the only real success for the firm was Mr. Markey's own column, which was not even by any means a blockbuster. Still, the syndicate operated for many years in the 1930s and 40s, so the cash flow must have been at least modestly positive. Markey liked comic strips and dabbled in a few releases. Their biggest mark in that realm was talking Rube Goldberg into syndicating Lala Palooza through them in 1936, but the strip was another commercial failure for Rube, who by then seemed to chafe at being the wild and wacky funny cartoonist.
Markey's only foray into serious strips was in 1947 with Ken Stuart, written and drawn by Frank Borth. The daily-only strip debuted on Spetember 8 1947*. Borth was primarily a comic book cartoonist at this time and it shows in this strip, which is very much like the lower-end comic books of the day. When I say that, I mean that the art looks rushed and the stories tend to be action-packed but rather dopey. Why did Borth squander this chance at the big time, the dream of most comic book cartoonists? Probably it is because Borth was making so little money off it that he was trying to juggle it along with a heavy schedule of comic book work to pay the bills.
The strip is about a sailor, Ken Stuart, who owns and operates a sailboat for hire. The adventures come with his clientele, who get him into all sorts of jams. Military maritime strip Don Winslow of the Navy was a success, but civilian boating adventures were tried several times in comics, never leaving much of a wake. The earliest I can think of is Coulton Waugh's Dickie Dare, which took to sea under Coulton Waugh's watch and pretty much never looked back. In the 1950s there was Marlin Keel, and in the late 1960s, Kevin the Bold changed focus to become Up Anchor. While some of these strips ran for a long time, none were exactly syndication powerhouses.
Markey and Borth gave Ken Stuart plenty of time to catch a strong wind in its sails, but the strip remained stubbornly becalmed. After a year and a half, they reluctantly pulled the plug and let the ship go down. The final strip was April 30 1949**.
* Source: St. Petersburg Times
** Source: Boston Globe