Monday, September 09, 2019
Obscurity of the Day: I See by the Papers / Wilbur
Prolific gag cartoonist and sometimes newspaper cartoonist Bo Brown came up with a winning idea for a daily panel in I See by the Papers. Brown would take a newspaper story, come up with a whole slew of cute little gags on the subject and set them all in a busy three-column panel cartoon. The Register and Tribune Syndicate agreed that the idea had merit, and apparently started syndicating it in 1944*, though the earliest samples I've been able to find are from 1945.
The panel could of course run on the comics page, but it was also a nice bit of comic relief perfectly at home on the op-ed page. It could even be easily personalized by changing the title to match your paper, i.e. I See by the Tribune, or I See by the Times. I certainly like the idea, but apparently my opinion was shared by few newspaper editors, who ignored the offering in droves.
Bo Brown was probably making enough money with his magazine cartooning that I See by the Papers became a liability, taking up more time than it was worth. He quite the feature on March 6 1946**, but the syndicate evidently felt there was still some rubber on the tires of I See by the Papers, and they replaced him with Bill Ruble, another magazine gag cartoonist.
Ruble gamely stuck to the Bo Brown model for awhile, but then he or the syndicate decided that they might have more luck selling the panel as a two-column. That change occurred around the beginning of 1947, and Ruble could no longer follow the model, having lost a significant percentage of his drawing real estate.He changed the panel to a single gag format, and the newspaper headlines were now there only as a sop to the name of the feature.
Ruble started featuring recurring characters; first Aunt Gertrude, a wacky spinster, and then a fellow named Wilbur (in the bottom panel above, though unnamed in this early appearance). As 1947 wore on, Ruble came to rely on Wilbur almost every day. Finally, I believe it was probably on September 1 1947***, the title of the panel was changed to Wilbur and the newspaper headline angle was dropped completely in favor of generic gags.
None of these changes did anything positive for the feature's circulation, but Ruble soldiered on with Wilbur for almost two years; the latest I can find it running is June 18 1949****.
* Source: Collection of Gordon Campbell.
** Source: Washington Post.
*** Source: Provo Herald. I am unable to find any paper that changed the title on that specific date, but based on the panels themselves I'm pretty sure that this is when the official title change occurred.
**** Source: Indianapolis Star.