Friday, July 07, 2006


Smith-Mann Syndicate III: Don Powers

Here's page three of our Pittsburgh Courier section featuring the adventures of Don Powers by Sam Milai. Milai was was one of the mainstays at the Courier; he did comics for them from 1937 through at least the early 1960s (his work appeared there until the early 70s but the later material was most likely reprints).

In this strip Milai shows himself to be a fan of George Wunder; many of the faces are drawn in Wunder's distinctive style.

Don Powers is yet another strip that was created especially for the color section - it started with the first issue August 19, 1950 and ran through the end of the color section in 1954. The strip then continued on as a black and white daily style feature until November 1, 1958.


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Thursday, July 06, 2006


Smith-Mann Syndicate part II: Torchy in Heartbeats

Jackie Ormes' Torchy in Heartbeats hits on all cylinders as an interesting obscurity. Ran in a black newspaper, written and drawn by a woman, and the subject is romance. That's like the unassisted triple play of rarity in newspaper comics. Torchy in Heartbeats started with the color section on August 19, 1950, and outlasted the color section by a while, ending September 18, 1954. The strip also had a paper doll topper called Torchy Togs, which here in our example was bumped in favor of an ad (the ad is pretty interesting, though).

Jackie Ormes created her Torchy character much earlier in a series titled Torchy Brown in Dixie to Harlem. This strip ran in the Pittsburgh Courier 5/1/37 - 4/30/38. Ormes' longest-running series, though, was a humor panel titled Patty-Jo 'n' Ginger - that one ran in the Courier for over a decade starting in 1945.

The ad for Black and White Soap is a typical example of the preaching that went on in the black papers of the time. All through these papers -- not just in ads -- were constant reminders to use good manners, dress properly and generally behave in a manner that reflected well on the black community. Most papers took the philosophy that good manners were vital in the cure for the racism endemic to the U.S. This preaching went out of favor in the newspapers by the 60s, but was harped on constantly before that. Quite a few comic panels in the black papers had this as their subject matter, for instance As Others See Us and Folks We Can Get Along Without.


Hi, Allan!

It's been years (since that reprint in Nemo No. 28, in fact) that I've wanted to see this strip in color. Thank You! I still hope somebody will reprint this someday.
I never knew this woman or her comic strips existed. As an African American woman, it was a such a treat to read about her during her pioneer years and then to come across her comic strip. Thank you for posting this up Allan! A rare fine indeed that I will be sure to share! I would also love to see this reprinted some day. :-)
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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.


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Saturday, July 01, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: The New First Reader

Here's an example of the very first continuing series that the Chicago Daily News used on its daily comics page. As I've mentioned before this paper was an important pioneer in daily comics and syndication.

The New First Reader is a take-off on the rhyming primers used in elementary schools back in those days. You'll surely recognize the type - it's a gag that Mad magazine has been using for half a century, even though this sort of school book was already pretty well extinct by the time that magazine premiered. The Daily News feature began on June 22, 1900, with the first installment drawn by K.E. Garman. Garman signed himself 'Gar' throughout his cartooning career - it took some serious sleuthing to uncover his identity. Starting with the second installment the art was credited to a fellow who signed himself Newman (or something like that - the signature was always really small and tough to decipher).

The New First Reader ran regularly on the comics page, ending on 9/30/1901 after a very respectable run in that era of features that seldom ran more than a dozen times.


You said: "You'll surely recognize the type - it's a gag that Mad magazine has been using for half a century, even though this sort of school book was already pretty well extinct by the time that magazine premiered." Can you substantiate that comment? I am currently writing an article on Mad (and it's imitations and precursors) and would like to use this sample. Frank Jacobs was the writer who usually did these things. Weren't the books they were based on still around?
Well, I confess that I am no expert on primers. All I can say is that as far as I know, the type of rhyming morally instructive primer being imitated was a product of the 19th century, maybe up to the 00s and 10s. Certainly by the 50s, the 'Dick And Jane' type books were the norm in schools. They may have employed rhymes in some versions, but they were no longer the type that sought to teach the child a moral lesson - the newer primers were meant to have at least a modicum of reading appeal to encourage children to want to read, so they told simple stories and dumped the Sunday school sermons. On the other hand, maybe the 'sermon' type were employed in religious schools much later; I wouldn't know about that.

It's more likely that both Garman and Jacobs were satirizing the McGuffey Readers, which were in huge circulation from the mid-1800s until Dick & Jane took over in the late 1950s/early 1960s. The ones they're mocking are the Primer level and the first reader.

You can still buy McGuffey Readers, but as far as I know you can only buy an entire set of them (7 volumes) and it's over $100. Perhaps you can get individual copies via used book websites or eBay.
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