Monday, October 08, 2018


Obscurity of the Day: Kiddie Kapers

Kiddie Kapers may not offer a lot of obvious interest, sporting as it does rather weak cartooning and lackluster poetry, but there is an interesting aspect to this feature. If you're not a real newspaper comics geek, you can go ahead and stop reading now, because I'm not going to be telling you that creator Bill Bailey was the actual guy the famous song was written about or anything exciting like that. No, what I find interesting is that Kiddie Kapers helps to shed some interesting light on a few hole-in-the-wall syndicates.Those not already nodding off, please continue reading.

The feature was originally syndicated by National Cartoon Service, which only had a handful of known offerings. They seemed to have come onto the scene in early 1915 with a short list of three features, and added a few more features later that year and in subsequent years. Their schtick was to number each episode, and sell the material in batches -- this was seen as a useful thing by some small papers that were more interested in filling holes than in running an every day regular comic strip. It also allowed NCS to resell their few offering year after year. Ken Kling's Hank And Pete, debuting in 1916, was the closest thing the syndicate ever had to a success. Kiddie Kapers appears to have been the final new feature offered by NCS, first appearing as best I can tell in February 1918*.

Kiddie Kapers may have been a Johnny-come-lately at the faltering syndicate, but in comparison to their other features creator Bill Bailey cranked out material at a much faster clip if the numbering of the panels is any guide.  By the time NCS seems to have called it quits in mid-1919, the numbering of Kiddie Kapers was already up into the 100s.

When NCS was shuttered, much of their material was sold to another hole-in-the-wall syndicate, called the US Feature Service. That is my presumption, but maybe US Feature Service was actually a more generally named continuation of National Cartoon Service -- I can find no evidence one way or the other. In any case, US Feature Service used the same business model as NCS, numbering their strips and reselling them for years. I used to presume that the NCS material they inherited was sold only in reprints, but further research shows that Kiddie Kapers, at least, was still being cranked out by Bill Bailey for the new company. The numbering on his panels grows to at least the 300s in the newly-categorized "A" series, and at least into the 200s for a B series.

At some point most of US Feature Service's material migrated over to yet another hole-in-the-wall outfit, this one called the Columbia Newspaper Service. Unlike the others, Columbia seems to have never produced any new material -- they merely resold old stock. The date on this changeover is much harder to pin down. Kiddie Kapers seems to have made the transition in 1922, at least that's when it starts appearing with the panel numbers and US Feature syndicate stamps removed, but other features didn't seem to make the transition until later. Either that or Columbia didn't even bother to take the old syndicate stamps off some material.

It is hard to tell just how long Columbia continued reselling their material, because papers that bought these big batches could run them literally years after making the purchase. However, the last year that Columbia advertised their moldy old wares was in the 1930 edition of the Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directory.

* Source: Salisbury Evening Post.


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