Thursday, March 12, 2020

 

Jeffrey Lindenblatt's Paper Trends: The Three Hundred for 1980 -- The Biggest Winners and Losers

Looking at the changes from the beginning of 1979 to the beginning of 1980, we see a pattern developing. Both Doonesbury and Hagar the Horrible continue their big gains again this year as they did last year. Doonesbury gained 15 papers this year while last year it gained 8,  making an impressive total of 23 papers in the past two years. Hagar the Horrible gained 13 papers this year while last year gaining 12 papers making a total 25 papers. Those gains pushed these two strips into the 4 and 5 position on the total leader chart.

Panel cartoon Family Circus gained 12 papers, pushing it closer to take the top panel cartoon crown form Dennis the Menace. Also, the newer panel Ziggy gained an impressive 9 papers.

The three year old Shoe strip gained 11 papers making it the most successful strip that started in 1977.

An old timer, Wizard of Id, gained 8 papers. Garfield began its climb adding 7 papers. Even Peanuts, already in a huge number of papers, gained another 6.

Also showing excellent gains were Annie, Beetle Bailey, Guindon, Lockhorns, Marmaduke and Winthrop, each gaining 4 papers.

Many papers continued to have little faith in new strips, showing that the off the cliff performance of Best Seller Showcase last year was no fluke. The Rookie of the year of 1978, Winnie the Pooh, lost the most papers with 15. Other new story strips were also big losers: World’s Greatest Superheroes lost 11 and Incredible Hulk lost 6 papers.

The NEA package features were also hit hard with the following strips losing a bunch of papers: Berry’s World was down 12, Short Ribs lost 9, Our Boarding House down 8 and Alley Oop lost 6 papers.

Other big losers were They’ll Do It Every Time with 9, Archie and Dunagin’s People with 7, Dennis the Menace and Miss Peach with 6.

Three story strips lost 6 papers each. Steve Canyon for the last 2 years has lost 6 papers each year. Rick O’Shay lost 6 papers, but in that case many replaced it with Stan Lynde’s new strip, Latigo. Star Hawks also lost 6 papers too, but only some for the new science fiction strips -- half of them were replaced by either Buck Rogers, Star Trek and Star Wars, while the other three were just dropped.

In the past three years following the history of Star Hawks it seems to have never been a success for the syndicate. Starting with only 6 papers, hitting a high of 9 at the end of 1978, and falling to 3 at the beginning of 1980. Star Hawks has a very popular following in the comic book world, being published in Menomonee Falls Gazette, Comic Reader and Amazing Heroes (That was the first place I saw the strip) and being reprinted not by one company but three companies over the years. It has a nice cult following but it failed as a newspaper feature. A good golden age comparison would be Dick Moores’ Jim Hardy; it was not one of United’s successful strips, lasting only six years, but had a very successful run in comic books.

In the section about the rookies of 1979 we discussed that this was the last year of the new adventure strips. After three years of gains we will now start to see the slow demise of the genre, leading to today when we are now down to 5 dailies and one Sunday strip. So, starting with this year we are going to go year by year and see the end of a great genre.

Title # of Papers Change since Last Year
Amazing Spider-Man 55 +1
Alley Oop 51 -6
Dick Tracy 50 -4
Star Wars (new) 50 +50
Steve Canyon 48 -6
Buz Sawyer 37 -5
Captain Easy 34 -4
Mark Trail 25 +1
Phantom 25 +2
World’s Greatest Superheroes 23 -11
Latigo (new) 22 +22
Steve Roper and Mike Nomad 22 -4
Kerry Drake 20 N/C
Rip Kirby 14 -1
Buck Rogers (new) 13 +13
Star Trek (new) 12 +12
Brenda Starr 11 N/C
Incredible Hulk 11 -6
Annie 11 +4
Joe Palooka 10 -1
Conan the Barbarian 9 -3
Encyclopedia Brown 8 -2
Flash Gordon 5 N/C
Rick O’ Shay 4 -6
Star Hawks 3 -6
Mandrake the Magician 2 N/C
Modesty Blaise 2 -2
Popeye 2 +1
Brick Bradford 1 N/C
Secret Agent Corrigan 1 N/C
Tim Tyler’s Luck 0 N/C
Jeff Hawke (Ended) 0 -1

The total came to 581 slots for story strips, up from 532 slots last year. This will be the last time the adventure strip total would go up from a previous year.

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Interesting that the three new strips were Star Ward, Star Trek and Buck Rodgers: two movies and a TV show. I remember after Star Wars came out space operas were all over the movies and TV.
 
Aside from a flurry of sci-fi properties, it looks like adventure and soap were already dying off. I remember a flashy, trumpeted reboot of Terry and the Pirates that flamed out quickly; likewise an ambitious and historically scrupulous version of Zorro. The latter was published in book form; what read well as a graphic novel felt like a doomed concept for a daily strip (many months given to returning a murdered native's body to her people).

Current survivors are overwhelming extremely old titles, some lavishly executed (The Phantom, Dick Tracy and Prince Valiant) and some less so (Apartment 3G in its final years, and lately Mark Trail looks worrisome). Others have gone into reruns.

Do these old adventure strips have much of a client list, or are syndicates underwriting them to keep those franchises marketable? The old radio networks would sometimes run a series without a sponsor, out of hopes of attracting one and perhaps holding onto a time slot.

And on a semi-tangent, do individual strips make much money off paid internet exposure? I subscribe to both Comics Kingdom and GoComics, and wonder how annual fees are divvied up among creators. Is it enough to make a strip with zero print clients worthwhile?
 
First of all, thank you to Jeffrey for compiling this information. This is great stuff.

Second, shouldn't "Apartment 3-G," "Mary Worth," and/or "Rex Morgan, M.D." be in this table of story strips, too? Or were none of them carried in any of the sampled newspapers in 1979?
 
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Wednesday, March 11, 2020

 

Jeffrey Lindenblatt's Paper Trends: The Three Hundred for 1980 -- The Rookies

The year 1979 will go down in history as the last year of the adventure strip. In that year five adventure strips made their debut, which is the last time that many would begin. Of the five strips, three were science fiction, one western and one an adventure strip revival following the adventures of an orphan girl. There was also the very successful debut of a comedy soap opera strip in the tradition of Gasoline Alley.

The most popular of these new features was a science fiction strip based on what was the biggest money-making movie of all time. Star Wars debuted with 50 papers. The strip that debuted in second place would become one of the most successful comic strips, Lynn Johnston’s For Better or Worse, which debuted in 38 papers. Coming in third is a tie between two strips, John Darling and the western Latigo, which both premiered in 22 papers.

Here is the rookie strip breakdown:

Title # of Papers  Syndicate Overall Rank
Star Wars 50 Los Angeles Times 23
For Better or Worse 38 Universal 35
John Darling 22 Field 58
Latigo 22 Field 58
Buck Rogers 13 New York Times 78
Levy’s Law 13 NEA 78
Star Trek 12 Los Angeles Times 82
Annie 11 Tribune 84
Drabble 8 United 104
Prime Time 8 Tribune 104

Other notable new strips were No Comment with 7 and Dupont Circle with 6. Strips that had 5 or less were Albert Herbert Hawkins, Shambles, Copps and Robberts, Sergeant Renfrew (a Canadian strip), Zeus, Howie and Murphy’s Law.

Also very interesting is the debut of a panel feature that would become one of the most successful of the 1980’s and 1990’s, yet it did not even have one paper in our survey! That was Gary Larson’s Far Side.

We have been ranking rookie strips starting with the year 1977. So, how are these new strips doing compared to all the strips in syndication? Let’s take a look:

Title # of Papers Syndicate Overall Rank
Shoe (1977) 59 Tribune 17
Amazing Spiderman (1977) 55 Register and Tribune 21
Star Wars 50 Los Angeles Times 23
For Better or For Worse 38 Universal 35
Winnie the Pooh (1978) 31 King 44
World’s Greatest Superheroes (1978) 23 Tribune 57
John Darling 22 Field 58
Latigo 22 Field 58
Garfield (1978) 21 United 63
Zoonies (1977) 16 NEA 70

Now let’s do a decade round-up. Here are the top 10 strips that debuted in the 1970’s:

Title # of Papers Syndicate Overall Rank
Doonesbury 112 Universal 4
Hagar the Horrible 99 King 5
Frank and Ernest  89 NEA 9
Shoe  59 Tribune 17
Amazing Spider-Man  55 Register and Tribune 21
Star Wars  50 Los Angeles Times 23
Funky Winkerbean  43 Field 31
Tank McNamera  39 Universal 34
For Better or For Worse  38 Universal 35
Heathcliff  38 McNaught 35

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

 

Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Bill Sakren



William “Bill” Sakren was born on September 15, 1902, in Russia, according to his World War II draft card at Ancestry.com. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Sakren was the oldest of four children born to Benjamin and Fanny. The census said Sakren’s father, a brass finisher of gas lights, emigrated in 1906. The rest of the family followed in 1907 except for the youngest child who was born in New York. The Sakrens lived in Brooklyn at 2018 Bergen Street.

According to a 1954 passenger list, Sakren became a naturalized citizen in May 1914 in New York City.

The 1915 New York state census recorded the Sakrens in Brooklyn at 1565 Park Place. The 1920 census had the house number 1567. Sakren was in college.

The Morning Herald (Hagerstown, Maryland), November 11, 1959, said Sakren was “a graduate of Pratt Institute in New York and the Julian and Collarassie Academies in Paris.”

In the 1925 New York state census Sakren, an artist, continued to live with his parents whose address was 180 Lott Street in Brooklyn. Sometime after the census Sakren went to Paris to continue his art studies.

A 1927 issue of Town & Country mentioned an “exhibition of paintings by William Sakren, February 23–March 7.” On November 15, 1927 he returned aboard the S.S. Olympic to New York City. While in Paris he met aspiring artist Roy R. Neuberger. Neuberger became a financier and collected art including work by Sakren which was catalogued in The Neuberger Collection: An American Collection; Paintings, Drawings, and Sculpture (1968).

William Sakren
An acquaintance whom Mr. Neuberger met in Paris in 1927, Sakren is a commercial artist who has created the cartoon character Mortimer Mudd. He presently lives in Connecticut.

Sakren was not yet been found in the 1930 census.

American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Sakren created Mortimer Mum for the George Matthew Adams Service. The strip ran from April 15, 1935 to September 10, 1938. Sakren and his strip were mentioned in the New Orleans Item (Louisiana), March 23, 1936.

A cartoonist and a newspaper publisher were among the passengers aboard the S.S. Atlantida of the Standard Fruit company which docked at the Desire street wharf this morning. Will Sakren of New York City is the creator of mortimer Mum, a syndicated feature. he plans to stay at the Monteleone hotel. …
Sakren traveled to Europe again. He returned from Le Havre, France and arrived in New York City on September 25, 1937.

On February 27, 1940 Sakren departed Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. His ship the S.S. Carrillo arrived in Philadelphia on March 4. He returned in time for the 1940 census enumeration. Sakren’s residence was 404 East 55th Street in Manhattan, New York City; the address was the same in 1935. He was a self-employed artist.

Sakren signed his World War II draft card on February 16, 1942. The address and occupation were the same. His description was five feet four inches, 150 pounds with brown eyes and black hair.

The Connecticut, Divorce Index, at Ancestry.com, said Sakren married Marjorie [Rosay] in April 1946 in Connecticut. They divorced February 22, 1971.

On October 30, 1954, Sakren, his wife and two sons, Paul and Jared sailed for Plymouth, Great Britain. Their home was Kent Hollow, New Preston, Connecticut. The Sakren family departed Naples, Italy, on February 15, 1955. Eight days later they arrived in New York City.

In the 1950s and 1960s American Newspaper Comics said Sakren created the series It All Depends (1952); Blitz Brothers (1959) also known as Innocent Bystander, The Payoff, and They Never Change (February 26, 1962); Opinion-Wise (1963) which was replaced by Walter (1965).

Sakren also worked at Johnstone and Cushing which produced advertising comics.

The New Yorker magazine published two Sakren cartoons in its January 10, 1977 and May 30, 1977 issues.

Sakren passed away November 13, 1991, in Kent, Connecticut, according to the Connecticut Death Index at Ancestry.com.


—Alex Jay

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Monday, March 09, 2020

 

Obscurity of the Day: Mortimer Mum




Gag cartoonist Bill Sakren had a string of syndication series that never really went much of anywhere in the 1950s and 60s, but long before that, in 1935, was his debut on newspaper comics pages. The young Sakren jumped into the deepest end of the pool, offering a pantomime daily feature called Mortimer Mum through the George Matthew Adams Service. Writing pantomime gags is tough, and doing six of them a week is a task not to be taken on lightly.

Sakren did a creditable job with this feature about an odd little man who gets into crazy situations, but Sakren's timing was incredibly bad. Mortimer Mum debuted on April 15 1935*, which put it in competition with two pantomime juggernauts, Henry and The Little King, both of which debuted in 1934 and caught fire right out of the gate.

Mortimer Mum limped along with a small client list until September 10 1938** when Sakren threw in the towel. The syndicate immediately began selling the strip in reprints, but that didn't last too long. I've found them running into 1940.

The normally reliably Ron Goulart says in his book The Funnies that this was a Sunday-only strip, but  it was definitely a daily, and if there was a Sunday version, I haven't seen it.

* Source: Boston Evening Transcript
** Source: Wilkes-Barre Times-Leader

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There were several others in the pantomime field, "Adamson's Adventures"(or "Silent Sam" if you prefer), the Swedish import, was here starting in the early 1920s, and Frank Tashlin's "Van Boring" was in place starting in 1934. In Fact, the New York Evening Post carried Mortimer Mum and Van Boring on the same page, for a while.
It's hard to keep a strictly "silent" character going. Even Henry once let out a howl of pain from a Bee sting. (1935). Sakren came to depend on another character to carry the ball, that being "Gabby", a tall, loud-suited guy with glasses, sort of a Walter Catlett type, who did lots of talking.
I wonder if Mortimer Mum was the inspiration for "Mr.Mum" of later decades.
 
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