Wednesday, July 05, 2006
Comics of the Smith-Mann Syndicate; Part I
An interesting genre of newspaper comic strips are those that ran in the black papers; that is, newspapers intended to serve the African-American segment of the population.
Most larger cities have a black paper, or did at one time. Some of the biggies were the Chicago Defender, the Pittsburgh Courier, the Atlanta World, the Baltimore Afro-American and the New York Amsterdam News. All these papers dabbled to one degree or another in comic strips, and several of them even syndicated their comic strips to the smaller papers of other cities.
Unfortunately the history of black comic strips is necessarily sketchy. Most of the creators are long dead without having published memoirs or given interviews, and the microfilm records of the papers themselves are in a terrible state. I have done what I could by indexing the material in most of the major papers; but even my indexes are incomplete because microfilm versions of the papers are incomplete, mutilated, or just so badly photographed as to be indecipherable.
The comic strips of the Smith-Mann Syndicate, apparently run with or through the Pittsburgh Courier, have suffered because of the poor microfilm record. The Smith-Mann color comic section is the only such section ever to be attempted for black papers, and the microfilm of the Pittsburgh Courier (at least the version I've indexed), the only paper known to have run it, is missing the majority of these sections. The Smith-Mann color section was definitely offered in syndication, though, so perhaps lurking out there is another paper that ran it, and perhaps in that case it made it intact through the microfilming process. I hope so, but I think the chances are slim.
Over the next week or so I'm going to present all the comics from a rare copy of the section that I recently acquired (only the third I've found, though I've been searching them out for years). The date of this section is August 8, 1953. Our first strip, from the cover page of the section, is Guy Fortune by Edd Ashe. This strip ran from the inception of the section on August 19, 1950 through October 22, 1955. The color section ended in 1954, but the strip continued in black and white after that.