Monday, January 21, 2019
Obscurity of the Day: Mr. O. U. Absentmind
Before John R. Bray cemented his place in history as an animation pioneer, his previous success was pretty well limited to a stint on the well-received Sunday strip Little Johnny and the Teddy Bears. When that series ended in 1909 it seems that Mr. Bray used his pay to buy a small farm, and gave his occupation as farmer to a census-taker.
Farming apparently wasn't immediately profitable, and to keep the bank account healthy he penned the series Mr. O.U. Absentmind for McClure starting on October 17 1909*. This series was obviously done purely for the paycheck. The absent-minded character had already been done to death in the early comic sections, and Bray offered us nothing unique in his take. The gags are shopworn when they do work, and often don't work at all. In the above sample, for instance, the florist has been given no direction to send a funeral wreath, so why would he? With two minutes of thought Bray could have straightened out the gag so that Mr. Absentmind gives the wrong impression to the florist -- because, ya know, he's absent-minded.
The art on this feature is actually quite fine, but that's because Bray has swiped all his characters from William F. Marriner. Granted, that was a common bit of larceny in those days, but Bray had already shown that he could get along just fine in his own style.
The dismal Mr. O.U. Absentmind lasted a long time in one of the secondary McClure sections, proving that the syndicate really didn't care much what they used to take up space. Readers were blissfully relieved of it after November 26 1911*, except when they ran an unused or reprint strip much later, on February 28 1915**.
* Source: San Francisco Chronicle
** Source: Washington Herald