Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: Ted's Object Spelling Lesson

The premise of Ted's Object Spelling Lesson is simplicity itself, and I promise that if you try to read more than a couple at a sitting you'll find your eyes starting to get heavy, but I suppose in weekly doses it doesn't pall. Every strip (or at least everyone I've read) conforms to the exact same rythm of presenting young master Ted trying to learn his spelling, and the two words (always two) come to objective life and pull some sort of prank on him. The story always unfolds exactly the same way, with word #1 introduced in panel 1, coming to life in panel 2, word #2 introduced in panel 4, and so on. The whole thing is so mechanical that I think a decent programmer could write the code to spit out an infinite number of scripts for the strip.

However, it was not a proto-Univac but Fred Nankivel who was the author of this comic strip that appeared in the Philadelphia North American from 8/23/1908 to 5/30/1909. Nankivel kicked around the comic strip biz for about a decade, and this was his longest running feature. He went on to New York in the teens and did a strip each for Hearst and Pulitzer, but he was much more successful in the children's book illustration business, and is well-known in that genre.

Fred is often confused with Frank Nankivell, who is a different guy. I do recall reading somewhere that they were indeed related (brothers?) despite the different spelling of their surnames. Frank also dabbled in strips, but made his mark in newspaper and magazine illustration.

PS: This is my 400th blog post. Pardon me while I pat myself on the back. I hope I haven't been as boring and predictable as ol' Ted up above here. I'm going to be traveling for the next few days, so blog posts will go up if and when I get a chance. Be back for Christmas day for sure.


Comments: Post a Comment

Tuesday, December 19, 2006


Stripper's Guide Bookshelf: Art Out of Time

Dan Nadel's book, Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries 1900-1969 (Abrams 2006, ISBN 0-8109-5838-4, $40.00) is a delightful romp through some of the more obscure nooks and crannies of comic strip and comic book history.
An apt title for the book would have been "Oddball Stuff I Really Like", because that's exactly what Nadel presents. Luckily the author has excellent taste, and most if not all of the material presented is well worth your perusal. While quite a few of the comic artists presented certainly don't qualify as the unknowns claimed in the book title (Milt Gross, Dick Briefer and T.E. Powers, for example) , others presented are certainly well outside the bounds of the typical cartooning fan's knowledgebase.

Nadel takes the smart route and has the pictures do the talking -- there's a short introduction in the front and a dozen or so pages of biographies in the rear. In between we get almost 300 pages of oddball and obscure comics, all blissfully unencumbered by any pseudo-scholarly appreciations, deconstructions, or psychoanalyzing. Ah, bliss!

I'll refrain from presenting a laundry-list of the artists and titles presented because I think much of the joy of reading the book is in discovering the treasures as you work your way through it (I imagine provides a complete list for those of you who don't like surprises). However, I do have to mention a few that merit special attention. Nine Slim Jim Sunday pages are included, and if you've never had the luck to meet up with this almost unknown classic you're in for a treat. Unfortunately, Nadel prefers the versions drawn by Ray Ewer and Stanley Armstrong to the original by the great George Frink, but to each his own. Eleven Sunday pages of Charles Forbell's Naughty Pete are printed, an obscure strip that is, in my opinion, one of the greatest achievements of comic strip art ever committed to the page. On the comic book side, Nadel prints an episode of Stardust The Super Wizard (Fantastic Comics, 1940) that is one of the most bizarre things I've ever read.

The reproduction of the material is a mixed bag. With a few exceptions Nadel has chosen to simply photograph the pages of the newspapers and comic books and present them without any retouching or cleaning. While this makes for a wonderful feeling of closeness to the source material (you can practically smell that great old paper aroma), it seems to me that it may go too far when we find the occasional page with a darkened brittle fold line in the middle, a dirt smear, or an obtrusive address stamp marring the art. More unfortunate still is that without some help from a retoucher some of the newspaper strips are practically unreadable, at least to these 40 year old eyes. These strips were lettered with a particular reproduction size in mind, and when they are reduced the word balloons and captions just turn into a sea of alphabet soup. At least three presentations definitely fall into the category of practical illegibility - Dauntless Durham, The Explorigator and Hickory Hollow Folks, and several others are also a challenge to the peepers. That being said, keep in mind that to reproduce some of these strips at a nice size, or to do all the necessary retouching, would probably have put the price of the book through the roof. So ya gets what ya pays for.

But minor quibbles aside, this is a book that will bring joy to any cartooning fan. I can pretty much guarantee that you'll see things you've never seen before, and you'll be left hoping for the day when Art Out of Time Part II will be published.

A purely personal commentary: Dan Nadel at one time came to me looking to purchase certain materials for this book. Being that he has impeccable taste, and a yen for extremely rare material, the pearls that he wanted came at great price, and he pretty quickly decided that it would be far more advantageous to him if he could just borrow the materials gratis. The first time he suggested this solution to his problem I politely but firmly declined, and his several subsequent requests were met with silence.

Nadel is not the first to come to me with requests for borrowing privileges, and he won't be the last (he may qualify as one of the more persistent, though). Anyway, I'd just like to explain to any who have the same idea in mind that I do not under any circumstances lend anyone material free for publication. First of all, I paid good money for the items in my collection (my wife would likely change the characterization good to insane), and I hope someday to have the option of selling it, perhaps even at a profit. Having this material reproduced in book form necessarily lowers its resale potential, so by lending it I'm taking a financial hit. Anyone want to buy a run of Li'l Abner dailies? Yeah, I thought not.

Second, if you are using my material in order to produce a book, article or some other product that you hope to market for your profit, then why should I lend you something for free that you are, in the end, going to sell? You wouldn't expect me to bind the book for free, right? So why should I loan the material that fills the book for free?

Finally, there's the very real chance that loaned material might just disappear or be destroyed. I knew a collector, now deceased, who consented to loan his complete run of an extremely rare and valuable comic strip to another collector so that it could be made into book form. Today that run would be worth tens of thousands of dollars, and even then it was nothing to be sneezed at. The person who received the loan of those precious pages is well-known in our community, a name we all know, and one who would presumably not want to damage their reputation. However, this irreplaceable run was not returned, all requests were ignored, and no amends were ever made for its 'loss'. I won't let that happen to me.



ok, I'm kidding.

Interesting post- I picked the book up recently but haven't been able to sit down with it with travelling, holidays and work all piling up on me. the day after christmas is already reserved for a reading tho.

I appreciate your conundrum in wanting to see study of strips rise, but being loath to loan rare materials for all of the reasons you list above. I do have to say that the devaluing of a run isn't always guaranteed.... by reprinting and thereby raising the awareness of a strip, you can actually increase demand. i've been looking for Naughty Pete tearsheets since i saw reprints in (i think) the smithsonian book of comics. I never knew to look before. (at least five years, and I've STILL never found any copies by the way). With stuff like lil abner, lil orphan annie, etc (in fact with most dailies i'd imagine), reprints could definitely kill the market.

and, I know firsthand that you spend the $$ acquiring materials since i first became aware of you and your project when you bought 2 feet of Sunday comics off me!

congratualtions on reaching the 400 mark!

Hi Tim -
Points taken, and I have to agree with you on the daily versus Sunday part. Reprinted dailies are practically unsellable, but with Sundays at least the original tearsheets have the bonus of (usually) being larger than the reprinted versions, and thus a market, albeit a smaller and pickier one, remains.

And certainly it behooves us to show folks a sample or two of strips -- that whets the appetite, whereas a complete reprinting sates it. If I didn't have that philosophy then this blog would be graphic-free!

Oh, and don't feel bad about not finding a Naughty Pete for your collection. Neither have I. I've only seen them on microfilm, and now, Nadel's book. They are tremendously scarce.
Post a Comment

Monday, December 18, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: Funny Fables

Ed Kuekes main claim to fame is the comic strip Alice In Wonderland, which ran in 1934, and then seems to have been sold in reprints at least through 1938. That classic but short-lived strip was syndicated by United Feature. Kuekes also is credited with a daily panel titled Do You Believe that was syndicated 1955-62 by Lafave Syndicate, but I've never found a sample of that feature. Anyone?

Other than those syndicated titles, Kuekes only other strips were ones that he did for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Here we have Funny Fables, a delightfully drawn Sunday strip that was shoehorned in to a quarter page space in the PD's magazine section. It is known to have run in 1935, but I don't have specific dates yet as I'm still indexing the PD material from this era.


Do Mort Williams and Family by Hayle or Dan Dearson, Freedom's Son by Walter Galli mean anything to you?
Sorry, means nothing to me.

I recently bought the first issue of a 1940 magazine called Friday. A tabloid sized magazine, whoch was sold folded with a cover on the folded side, so at first it looks like a normalsized magazine. The first issue was published march 15 1940 and promised weekly issues after that. How many were published I don't know. The publisher was D. S. Gillmor later known as a cmic book publisher and one of the two editors was Lev Gleason, also later know for his comics work as a writer and editor. The magazine was fact-based with a hint of satirical entertainment and was meant to present the case for the United States non-involvement in the war. It was pro-union and anti-war and promised to show up the pro-war propaganda in the other media. It also included a weekly comic page, consisting of two black and white comic series, drawn in a way to resemble a sunday paper comic page. Mort Williams was two tiers with a large drawn title head, whoch almost seems like a third tier. Dan Dearson was three tiers. Hayle turns up in one of the Mad magazine imitations of the late fifties. Walter Galli lead me here when I googled, because he is mentioned in one of your search lists - I just couldn't find which, although google says it's the B-list. Galli has a pretty but boring style, that has a Bill Elder-like quality to it. Not a bad comic artist as far as I can see.
Walter Galli knocked around the newspaper strip industry in the 30s, and was syndicated at least twice, with "But It's True" and "Stranger Than Fiction", both Ripley's type panels. E&P directories also credit him with "Oddities" and "Big Little Things", neither of which I've ever found in print.

Post a Comment

Sunday, December 17, 2006


Obscurity of the Day: Polly, the Cap'n's Parrot

Here's a really short run strip from the Sunday Philadelphia North American. Polly, the Cap'n's Parrot ran from 3/29 to 5/24 in 1908. The cartoonist was George F. Payne, and he must not have thought much of this effort, because he only signed one or two of the strips -- our sample here is one of those he neglected to sign. This is Payne's only known comic strip credit. Kind of a shame that Payne didn't stick with it; his artwork shows a lot of promise. The gag on the other hand was the sort of thing that already had cobwebs on it in 1908.

I wonder if George was related to Charlie Payne, who had many long-running comic strips in Philadelphia papers before hitting the bigtime in New York with S'Matter, Pop.


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]