Saturday, November 25, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: The City Fairies

Here's a sample from one of the many continuing features that ran on the back page of the Minneapolis Journal's children's section. The Journal initially used this section as a substitute for a Sunday comics section, and it was popular enough that it continued running long after a proper Sunday comics section was finally added to the paper in the late oughts.

The City Fairies series ran July 17 through October 2 1910, with dreadful poetry by Constance Wright accompanying delightful drawings by Tom Foley. This series was the only time that Wright contributed to the page, whereas Tom Foley was the artist on many of their series over the years.

I had to replace the original typefont on the page because for some reason they used a really tiny point size, much too small to have any chance of legibility at screen resolution - sorry but my replacement is not all that much better at low resolution.


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Friday, November 24, 2006


News of Yore: Chester Gould Bio

Gould Renews with Tribune-News Syndicate
Editor & Publisher, 11/25/39

Chester Gould, creator of the detective feature strip, "Dick Tracy," the modem Sherlock Holmes, celebrated his eighth
anniversary with the Chicago Tribune - New York News Syndicate by signing a five year renewal contract with the syndicate last week.

Back in 1930, Chet Gould decided there was a field for a hard-hitting, honest police character who "gets his man." His conception of such a character was the outgrowth of the "roaring twenties," during which law and order were at a comparatively low ebb.

Now in More Than 160 Papers
Originally planned as "Plain Clothes Tracy," the strip title was changed to "Dick Tracy" when it was submitted to Capt. Joseph Medill Patterson, publisher, New York News, in 1931. Capt. Patterson, who saw great possibilities in such a strip, liked it and hired Gould. The strip was launched in the Chicago Tribune and New York News as a Sunday color comic on Oct. 4, 1931. A daily continuity was added the following week. Today, "Tracy" appears in more than 160 newspapers in the U. S. and abroad.

Among Tracy's many devoted followers are the country's leading law enforcement agents, including J. Edgar Hoover, head of FBI; Col. Homer Garrison, director of the Texas State Police; and Eugene M. McSweeney, commissioner of public safety for Massachusetts and in charge of state police. The strip has been voted "tops" in several newspaper polls and reader interest surveys and has appeared as a movie serial, along with being dramatized over the air. Dick Tracy is also one of the few cartoon strips ever to appear on exhibition in a major art gallery.

Keeping Tracy a human character, true to his environment, is Cartoonist Gould's chief problem. He has often placed his hero in many a realistic police situation. For this Gould has been severely criticized sometimes by readers who like their heroes meek in muscle but strong in mind. Gould answers his critics by explaining that gun play and brawls are necessary in a police strip. "Few police officers in real life go unarmed or escape physical encounters with criminals in their fight against crime," said Mr. Gould in a recent interview with Editor & Publisher.

As to any unfavorable influence on the juvenile mind, Mr. Gould recalls that kids played "cops and robbers" long before a police cartoon feature was ever thought of. Primarily a symbol of law and order, Dick Tracy is not the type of officer to play ostrich and at the same time help to solve the crime. Every episode is designed to show how the criminal weaves his own web of defeat and eventually shows himself up to the reader for what he really is - a menace to society.

Stresses Action, Pursuit, Deduction
"I try to keep the detective deduction angle the main theme of underlying interest," explained Gould. "Pursuit, deduction and action are the three ingredients that I stress in the various episodes dealing with Tracy's adventures."
From a technical standpoint, Gould endeavors to show by pictures rather than words what actually happens. By keeping his drawings as purely pictorial as possible, Gould is able to reduce the amount of space ordinarily given over to "balloons" in comicstrips.

He is as enthusiastic as ever about Dick Tracy, although he admits that sometimes he has to scratch around considerably for new ideas. Like so many other Tribune-News syndicate cartoonists, Chet Gould credits Captain Patterson as being the guiding genius behind his work. His encouragement and ideas for new situations have helped him tremendously, Gould stated.

Born in Pawnee, Okla.
As for Dick's creator - Chester Gould was bom and schooled in Pawnee, Okla. While attending high school, he took a correspondence course in cartooning and later landed a berth on the old Tulsa Democrat. He quit that job a few months later and spent the next two years at Oklahoma A. & M. College. In 1921, Chet returned to art, becoming sports cartoonist for the Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman. Another young cartoonist on the same paper at that time was George Clark, creator of "The Neighbors" and "The Ripples." Neither dreamed they would be working for the same syndicate 18 years later.

Gould's next move was to Chicago. After graduating from Northwestern University in 1923, he enrolled for night courses at the Chicago Art Institute. He worked for the Chicago Evening American prior to conceiving his idea for drawing Dick Tracy.

He is married and lives with his family on a farm near Woodstock, Ill. His hobby is criminology. Most of his spare time is spent with Chicago police, touring the FBI offices in Washington, D. C., studying crime detection at Northwestern's crime laboratory, or visiting mid-western penitentiaries.


It's a fine profile.

But, it's was the Detroit Free Press that debuted Tracy on October 4, 1931. The New York Daily News started the daily a week later, on October 4! The Chicago Tribune picked it up later.
I meant October 12, 1931, that the New York Daily News started the dailies!
It wasn't the Detroit Free Press where Dick Tracy premiered on October 4, 1931, but the Detroit Mirror which folded in the 1930's. The Detroit Free Press still publishes, but has not carried Dick Tracy since the early 1990's.
Sorry folks, meant to put a footnote about the inaccuracies. Yes, the Sunday starts in the Detroit Mirror 10/4/31, the daily starts in the NY Daily News 10/12/31.

Sorry I meant about the Detroit Mirror that started Tracy first, instead of the Free Press.
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Thursday, November 23, 2006


News of Yore: Thornton Burgess Bio

While Thornton Burgess was never directly involved in newspaper comic strips, his most famous creation, Peter Rabbit, was a long-running comic strip. His own fame came from writing newspaper text stories about his woodland characters. These daily newspaper columns were illustrated by Harrison Cady, who was also responsible for drawing the Sunday strip version until 1948.

Nature Stories Won Fame and Fortune for Thornton Burgess

Creator of Peter Rabbit and Farmer Brown's Boy Has Entertained Millions of Children ... Writing Career Covers 27 Years

By Marlen E. Pew, Jr.
Editor & Publisher, 12/2/1939

The newspaper business has a way of producing specialists, those experts on politics, medicine, science, music and the arts, but among all of them there is none more valuable than the champion of entertaining children. Perhaps the greatest journalistic exponent of this specialty is Thornton Waldo Burgess whose daily writings appear in more than 40 newspapers through the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. When he finishes his 10,000th story, he says, he will retire.

For the last 27 years he has been pounding out dramatized facts of nature for the enjoyment and education of children. In all he has written 8,725 stories for his newspapers and has had 80 books published which together have sold more than 5,000,000 copies.

Makes Home in Springfield, Mass.
Needless to say his prolific production has brought him fame and fortune. He is unparalleled as a writer of nature stories for children. Yet, Thornton Burgess is a quiet and unpretentious man, living comfortably in a modest, typically New England home in the park section of Springfield, Mass.

Thornton Burgess was born in the little Cape Cod town of Sandwich, in Barn Stable county, Mass., on Jan. 14, 1874. He was still a baby in his mother's arms when his father died. Consequently, when he was old enough he had to go to work. Because he could not afford to join in with the other boys at their games, he spent what little idle time he had walking through the woods and fields. He became so fascinated by nature that he decided to make it his life's study. On Dec. 1, 1895, he heard that the Phelps Publishing Company in Springfield needed an office boy and he took the job. In the 12 years that followed, he worked hard and made rapid progress. He learned how to write and how to edit copy. He finally became an editor of Good Housekeeping Magazine. Meanwhile, he had not given up his interest in nature, but continued it with ever increasing eagerness.

Eventually the inevitable happened; he merged his two strongest interests and he was successful almost overnight.

Told Stories to Son
Like so many things which prove to be the most important, the writing of nature stories just came to Burgess naturally, unconsciously, like flying to a bird. He had married in 1905 and was the father of a son. In the evenings he held his son on his lap and told him of the fascinations and mysteries of nature. When the boy went to Chicago to visit his grandmother, each night after work Burgess would sit down and write one of these stories to be mailed to his child. All the stories were based on "what Old Mother West Wind had told him."Fortunately, the boy's mother kept the stories and later returned them in a batch to Mr. Burgess.

One day he showed them to a friend in the advertising business who read them with great interest and asked if he could borrow them for a few days. In less than a week, Mr. Burgess received a letter from Little, Brown & Co., publishers, asking for all the stories he had written on nature, with a view toward making them into a book.

With a feeling of skepticism, he mailed the 14 stories he had written. These, too, were accepted and the publisher asked for two more to complete the volume. "I went up to my room," he recalls, "and wrote the remaining stories that evening and sent them off. I felt as though I owned the world."

The book, "Old Mother West Wind," hit the bookstores in 1910 and was an immediate success. The publisher clamored for material for another book. But Mr. Burgess' answer was, "I am sorry, but I have written myself out. I have not another nature story in me." But somehow the ideas which Mr. Burgess thought he had exhausted continued to shape themselves and before long, less than a year, parents were scrambling for a copy of "Mother West Wind's Children." The ideas have continued to come so fast that his publishers have been printing his books at the rate of more than two a year.

In 1912, an important event for the future of the young writer happened. He lost his job through the sale of Good Housekeeping. Since that day he has devoted himself to his nature stories and has never worked for anyone but Thornton Waldo Burgess.

Competes with Own Early Work
However, as a business man, Mr. Burgess is and never has been an Andrew Carnegie. Just after he found himself without a job, he went to New York where he signed a contract with the now defunct American Newspaper Syndicate, an organization then owned by New York Globe, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Bulletin, Kansas City
Star and Chicago Daily News. When he affixed his name to the document, he failed to notice the omission of one word and, consequently, for the last 20 years he has been his own strongest competitor. He says that when he signed the contract he thought he was giving the syndicate the right only to first prints of his writings. The word "first," however, did not appear in the agreement. He did not discover the omission until he left that service to become associated with the Herald Tribune Syndicate in 1919. Since that time, he says, some newspapers have been buying stories which he wrote when he first was syndicated.

Can't Compete with Self
"Those early stories are still being printed in some newspapers, he says, "and at a rate so low that I cannot even compete with myself. At one time my stories were appearing in more than 80 newspapers but because of my rivalry with myself, that list has been reduced to 40 papers." He said that the Springfield Republican.and the Montreal 5tar have been printing his stories (the currently written ones) for 20 years.

Since signing with the Herald Tribune syndicate he has turned out stories at the rate of from none to 12 a day, according to his frame of mind. He has never rewritten a story in his life, he says, nor has he failed to complete one.

"Some have taken longer than others, that is true, "he says, "but they all are finished. I never labor on a story. If the idea doesn't come, then I forget the whole thing. I try something else, anything else, and presently I will return to a half-written story, run it back into the typewriter and finish it in a jiffy."

Stories Built Around Facts
But there is far more to the method of Mr. Burgess' writing, which has singled him out of the thousands who have tried to write similar stories, far more than the intangible genius of the man. He has a basic policy, one which holds true to everything he has written.

"Each story I write," he says, "is built around a fact. There are stories on the appearance of animals and on their habits. I also draw on the mystery of animal life, a mystery which we will probably never penetrate. When I write a story about the white tail on a rabbit, it is more or less meaningless to little children. But when I say that Peter Rabbit has a white patch on his trousers, then they remember." Simple, certainly, but educational too.

It is Mr. Burgess' particular ability, his thought and simple kindness which have made him the nature champion he is. It was this combination of ideals which caused Dr. William T. Homaday, director of the New York Zoological Society, to say, "Any man who can find his way into the hearts of a million children is a genius. If he carries a message of truth he is a benefactor. Thornton W. Burgess is both."

Through his writings, Mr. Burgess has become an expert in the study of zoology. He has learned the color of a herring's eyes. He has learned that deer eat trout, and thousands of other facts which have 'built up his knowledge of his subject. As a boy he wanted to be a naturalist. Today he is vice-president of the Massachusetts A.S.P.C.A., vice-president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and a trustee of the Boston Society of Natural History. Through his Green Meadows Club, which was built up through his newspaper stories, he has established bird sanctuaries covering more than 8,000,000 acres. He is recognized throughout the entire zoological profession as a writer of fact.

As a boy he wanted to go to college. Today he holds a degree of doctor of literature from Northeastern University. But all these honors have come to Mr. Burgess as he worked over his daily stories. He wanted them, true, but he did not consciously pursue them. They came to him as pleasant surprises. There has always been, in addition to his respect for fact, one motivating power behind his writing, one which more than any other took him over the top. It has been his love for children. Everything he has written, he says, has been directed toward their pleasure.

Most of his mail is from youngsters. Many of the letters are simple and immature, but they tell a child's story and Mr. Burgess reads them with keen interest. Most of them are addressed to him in care of the syndicate or the particular paper in which his stories are read, but many others to "Peter Rabbit's Godfather, U. S. A.," or to "Farmer Brown's Boy, Green Meadow." His telephone rings on an average of six times a day with calls for help for a sick animal. He answers them all.

Last week in the middle of the night, he was aroused by an excited man who wanted to know how to remove a skunk from his cellar. The next day a woman called to find out what she should do to cure her parrot of a cold. Mr. Burgess does not have to advertise; he tells people that he will help just by the way he writes.

His whole philosophy on writing can be summed up in one simple thought:
"I write for the education and entertainment of young people; tragedy comes soon enough into the life of a child." With such an ideal, Thornton Waldo Burgess was not made to fail.


Very interesting and informative post, I always thought that Beatrix Potter wrote Peter Cottontail. I had never heard of Thornton Burgess untill i read this post.
Hi Daphne -
Think you're mixing up Peter Cottontail with Peter Rabbit - two different characters.

Yep thats exactly what i did.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: Wisewinkers

The Boston Globe maintained a mostly homegrown Sunday comic section well into the teens, and one strip, Billy The Boy Artist, ran until the 1950s. Today's obscurity, Wisewinkers, wasn't quite that long-lived, but it did manage a very respectable run from July 9 1905 to April 6 1911. The creator, James J. Maguinnis, patterned his strip pretty closely on Buster Brown, complete to the long soliloquy in the final panel. The ever-naughty child, however, didn't have a dog - he had a talking horse named Wisewinkers. The horse even got top billing over the ersatz Buster.

Maguinnis did a slew of features for the Globe over the decade of the oughts, plus one short-lived strip that ran in the Philadelphia Press. What he did before or after is unknown to me, except that I have a dim recollection that he did some work for one or more of the big humor magazines in the 1890s. Perhaps someone more attuned to the Puck-Judge-Life triumvirate can set me straight.


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Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Algrove Publishing

One of the best reprint projects you're ever likely to see is also one of the hardest to buy. Algrove Publishing, apparently based out of Canada, has produced a wonderful series of books reprinting the classic panel cartoons of Out Our Way and Our Boarding House. Due, I assume, to the unlicensed status of the reprint project, they've been keeping a very low profile.

There is only one book of Our Boarding House available, a complete reprinting of the year 1927. Out Our Way, though, is available in a series of 12 volumes. There is one thick sampler volume and 11 smaller volumes that reprint favorite J.R. Williams series titles; six of the classic machine shop Bull of the Woods series, plus one U.S. Cavalry book and a series of four featuring cowboy subjects.

The quality of the reproduction is uniformly excellent. The source material is obviously scanned tearsheets, but the material has been so expertly and thoroughly restored that you could be fooled into thinking that original proof sheets were used. And, of course, I shouldn't need to tell anyone here that Gene Ahern and J.R. Williams' work is well worth your time. Personally I'm more of a Major Hoople fan, but the style and wit of J.R. Williams, especially in his lovingly written Bull of the Woods cartoons, is classic stuff.

As I said, these reprint books are obviously unlicensed by NEA. There is no acknowledgement of the syndicate in the books, and the copyrights have all been removed from the strips. It's really a wonder that these volumes haven't already fallen victim to a United Media lawsuit, so if you want these books you might want to do it quickly. I can find only one source for the books online, at a hardware supplier called Lee Valley Tools. Here's a link directly to the books, since they can be a challenge to find even once you're on the site. I placed an order for the complete set and the books arrived at my door within a few days, so I'd classify the company as eminently safe to order from.

I'm a bit conflicted over recommending books that attempt to skirt the copyright laws. I think that the syndicates have every right to get a cut of the profits from reprint projects like this one. However, given that NEA hasn't licensed these popular features for reprinting in over 50 years, I'm going to take a wild guess that the syndicate is being unreasonable in their license fees. I'm going to hope that the folks at Algrove Publishing have at least tried in good faith to strike a deal with NEA, and were rebuffed or simply couldn't afford to do things above board. I've certainly heard plenty of horror stories from publishers whose jaws dropped at the ridiculous fees that syndicates sometimes quote for material that will only sell to a small group of fans.


hey allan-

thanks so much for the very complex answers! sorry i haven't posted back earlier.. i'm poking around italy with my wife for a couple of weeks and am away from the internet.. i hadda check in tho. thanks again!
I have purchased at an auction some cartoons by J.R. Williams, Bull in the Woods with a copyright NEA Inc. When were these done and how can I find a value on them. Thanks,
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Monday, November 20, 2006


Stripper's Guide Q & A

Q What is the story with single color or duo color Sundays? How did this come about and what percentage of papers ran these versus full color? Did the cartoonists provide the tones for these versions?

A Four color printing is a royal pain for newspapers. Each color printed on a page requires that the paper be run through the press, and that means that for four color printing the paper has to run four times. Not only that, each time the pages are run through they must be given a little time to dry to prevent smudging, and great care must be taken on each run to make sure that the paper runs through exactly 'on register'. That means that each of the colors is overlaid on the page to agree with the positioning of the previously printed colors. Failure to do this correctly results in a page that prints 'off register', a problem you've certainly seen where one or more colors print outside of the area where they're supposed to go.

Until the 1920s it was a practically universal practice to print one side of the broadsheet in full four color glory, and to cheat on the other side, printing two, three, or even just a single colored ink. This shortcut would be hidden from the newspaper buyer by always making the less attractive side the inside of the section. Major papers would tend to just drop down to two or three color, while smaller papers often went so far as to print interiors in monocolor.

In the 1920s this practice started to fall out of favor, but even into the thirties and forties many newspapers, even the major papers in big cities, took the shortcut on some interior pages. The Boston Globe, for instance, kept printing some pages in mono-color right up into the 1950s. However, most papers dropped the practice by the mid-30s.

From the cartoonist's perspective the number of colors was important in that they were responsible for producing color guides. Rarely did cartoonists produce a fully colored version of their strips for the print shop. Rather they would, either on their original art or on a black and white proof, indicate which colors were to be used where by means of splotches of color or color code numbers. For instance, if George McManus was producing a color guide for a Bringing Up Father strip, he would indicate only once per page that Jiggs' vest was to be colored red. The bullpen employee or colorist in the print shop was left with the responsibility when making the color proofs of making sure the vest was properly colored red in each panel.

Until the 1920s, when newspapers started going away from the previous standard of full color on the outside, 1-2- or 3-color on the inside, cartoonists did color guides based on the number of colors that would be used for their strip in the home paper. For instance, I have a Bobby Make-Believe Sunday from 1918 that was evidently slated to appear on an inside page of the Chicago Tribune, and Frank King colored the art all in shades of tan. This would have been given to someone who would use it to produce a two-color proof (black and tan). A proof would also probably have been made for one-color printing, where the tan shades would get substituted with tones of grey, and only a single proof would be used to produce the page. However, as far as I know, there would have been no proof made that utilized three or four colors, so a client paper was limited on that strip to printing it in the interior pages of their section. They could, of course, substitute a different color for the tan, but if they wanted to print the strip in more colors, it would be up to them to make up their own custom proofs.

By the twenties, though, this practice seems to have died out. All Sunday strips, as far as I know, received the full four color treatment in syndicate proofs. There would have had to be proofs made for 1-2- and 3-color versions, but I can't recall having ever seen examples. In any case, by the 20s there was no longer much thought put into producing less than four color proof, whereas in the 00s and 10s a great deal of effort was made at some syndicates to make these shortcut versions make the most of the colors that were used.

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Sunday, November 19, 2006


Stripper's Guide Q & A

Q When did papers start mixing comics from various syndicates in their sections rather than just picking up one syndicate's roster?

A I am always amazed at how early this happened and how popular it was even early on, and even with smaller papers.

The first multi-syndicate comic section I know of is the Philadelphia Inquirer in 1898. They produced their own material and supplemented it with comic strips from the New York Herald. This was even before the concept of comic strip syndication really even existed, a business that didn't get rolling until 1901.

In 1901 we have the McClure Syndicate starting their preprint comic sections, and that opened the floodgates. Hearst began to market Sundays outside of their own papers, and they met with success immediately. They were followed by other papers, whose success at first was more modest, but gained momentum in the next few years. There was also the World Color Printing company in St. Louis which started producing material locally in 1901, but by 1903 were beginning to sell their preprint sections outisde the area.

Most major papers across the country started their color comics sections in the first few years of the twentieth century, but at first most used either homegrown material exclusively, or subscribed to the Hearst or McClure section. Even then, it wasn't uncommon to find a mix. You might get Happy Hooligan or Buster Brown on the cover of the section, and local material for the rest.

It was in the 1904-06 period that mixed syndicate sections began to really take hold. As papers phased out their local material, it wasn't at all uncommon for them to mix a page of McClure, a couple pages of Hearst and a page of Pulitzer. I know of two reasons that his happened. First, strongarm tactics. It is known that the Hearst people would actually threaten to start a competing paper in a city, but intimate that those plans might be shelved if the existing papers would purchase their syndicated material. This practice is documented in the book King News (indispensible on your bookshelf, but always keep in mind that Koenigsberg was not above improving a story at the expense of facts).

The other reason, and the more common, for the multi-syndicate sections was to deny the material to other newspapers in the area. If the Chicago Tribune, for instance, contracted the New York Herald for their Sunday section then no other paper in their territory could use it, because these contracts were based on territorial exclusivity. If the Tribune, then, contracted for several syndicate's output, they effectively denied that material to all other Chicago papers. The Trib didn't actually have to run all of the material in their paper, they just had to pay the contract. The Tribune did in fact print a page of Herald material and a page of Pulitzer material, with the rest being their own homegrown strips (which they in turn syndicated!). For all we know, they may have contracted with even more syndicates, and just didn't bother to print any of their material. In fact I suspect that they also took McClure's "A" section but just didn't use it. Other Chicago papers were left to scramble for uncontracted syndicated material, much of it inferior, or produce their own homegrown sections, a much costlier alternative.

Unfortunately, my very favorite example of early multi-syndicate sections is lost somewhere buried in my notes. There was a midwest paper, which one I can't recall, that actually printed material for five syndicates on Sundays back in about 1906-07. I recall the sections well, because they gave me quite a laugh. The front page was Hearst, the back cover was Pulitzer, and the interior was a page of McClure and a page of World Color Printing. This was supplemented with a black and white page of Chicago Daily News material in their magazine section. I pity the other papers in that town!

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