Monday, January 01, 2007


Grosse Pointe Comics

D.D. Degg sent me a link to the Grosse Pointe Public Library's site where they have an archive of two newspapers, the Grosse Pointe Review and the Grosse Pointe News. The News is uninteresting from a comic strip standpoint, but the Review ran a number of interesting oddball items that D.D. pointed out to me, and he suggested that it might make good fodder for a post. I couldn't agree more, and here 'tis.

First up is an advertising panel called You Can Learn To Fly (sample in paper of 4/24/41). Newspapers receive all sorts of free material like this from various commercial concerns, and most larger papers just pitch it straight into the circular file. Features like this try to be entertaining while slyly (or not so slyly) also getting a commercial message across. Many small weekly newspapers, those without a budget for purchasing comics and other graphically interesting matter, will run this material as a space filler or to lighten up an otherwise type-heavy page. It's a symbiotic relationship -- the paper gets free filler material, the advertiser gets free newspaper space.

The You Can Learn To Fly series, ostensibly from something called the Flying League of America, is a series of panel cartoons whose aim is to get readers interested in taking flying lessons. It might have been supplied by a light aircraft company, or an association of airfields, or something of that sort. With these types of features it can sometimes be hard to tell.

D.D. points out that one of the panels in this series appears to have a Kirby drawing (the Amelia Earhart head, in the 5/8/41 issue). I agree, and I'd make a guess that it was appropriated from one of Kirby's Facts You Never Knew panels from back in his Lincoln Features days. All of the cartoons in the series seem to be similarly swiped from various sources.

On the same page as many of the You Can Learn To Fly panels you'll also find the panel Mickie Says (sample in the 5/1/41 issue). This was another freebie item, but I do know just where these come from. The Western Newspaper Union newspaper syndicate sent batches of these out free to small papers as an encouragement to take their service (the Review was during this time purchasing their editorial cartoons from WNU). The panel is a spin-off from their weekly Mickie The Printer's Devil comic strip. The comic strip was long dead by 1941, but the panels lived on as a freebie from the syndicate.

Another interesting freebie is Scrappy Sayings (sample in 7/15/37 issue). This panel was meant to advertise the Columbia Features Scrappy cartoon series. But rather than paying for space, they coopted the character in a series of cute panel cartoons. I've seen these running in small papers mostly in 1935, these ones from 1937 could indicate a much longer series (doubtful given the numbering on the panels), or that the Review had these filed away for later use.

One more freebie, this one pretty bald-faced about what they were advertising, is Ex Libris by William Sharp (sample in 7/18/46 issue). This series is by the same artist who did many of the Book-of-the-Month comic strip series (itself a facinating series, with appearances by many excellent cartoonists and illustrators), and, of course, serves as free advertising for the Book-of-the-Month Club.

Getting away from the advertising freebies, we have a bit of a head-scratcher in the historical comic strip series called Michigan and the Old Northwest. This ran from October 4 1945 to July 25 1946 in the Review. The writer, Luke Scheer, also wrote several similar historical series for the Toledo News-Bee, and the cartoonist is the great George Scarbo (here not so great in this hastily drawn feature) who was one of the workhorses for the NEA newspaper syndicate. Milo Quaife, credited here as editor, was a historian of some note.

There are no copyrights on this strip, but Scarbo's participation and the familiar NEA typefaces used make it likely that this was one of NEA's closed-end features, a semi-regular perk provided by the syndicate to its subscribers. I have not previously seen this strip, but the NEA archives at OSU are quite incomplete on these closed-end strips, so it may be one they missed. I notice no other NEA material in the Review, so perhaps this strip was also sent out by NEA as a free promotion to get papers to subscribe to their service.

I saved the best for last. In 1937 the Review took the plunge and ran a full page of comics. They really scraped the bottom of the barrel when they contracted with Van Tine Features to supply their full page of comic strips and panel cartoons. This was a tiny little syndicate, known to have distributed their full page of weekly comics circa 1935-37. I know nothing about them except that they were pretty spectacularly unsuccessful at selling their material. They never advertised in Editor & Publisher, so I don't even know where they were based. The ever-elusive Lincoln Features is practically ubiquitous by comparison.

That Van Tine was bottom of the barrel doesn't mean they were completely without redeeming value. They offered Gene Carr's panel cartoon Here 'n There, a bittersweet social commentary item that continues his classic Just Humans theme from the 1920s. They had Rumpus by Art Helfant, certainly one of the best unsung graphic stylists of the comics page, and they had a strip titled Baron Munchausen by Fred Nordley. This is Nordley's only comic strip as far as I know, and I've never heard of the guy, but my goodness he really has an appealing clean line style.

On the other hand, there's also the awful Bozo And The Baron by Larry Antonette, a pantomime strip that is spectacularly unfunny, and a Chuck Thorndike production called Follies Of The Great that shows that not only can't Chuck cartoon worth a darn, he can't do caricatures either. Ray Hoppman, a perennial dweller in the bullpens of cheapo syndicates, contributes the all too aptly titled Don't Be Like That.

One interesting strip is titled Kitty Kelly and Nellie Shannon. Credited to "Ro", it's the only strip in the lot that uses coninuity, a dangerous thing for a syndicate that was probably selling its pages in batches. The style has all the earmarks of being drawn by a female cartoonist, and the style seems familiar somehow. Perhaps someone who is a more adept art spotter can make an educated guess about the identitiy of the cartoonist.

The Van Tine Features page appears from the beginning of 1937 through June 17. It probably was running in 1936, too, but those papers are, for some reason, inaccessible on the website. Hopefully they'll fix things one of these days and we'll get to see more of Van Tine.

Much thanks to D.D. Degg for unearthing this batch of rare items. If anyone else knows of out of the way spots on the 'net where we can review newspaper archives, for goodness sake don't keep it a secret!

Interesting stuff, indeed. I found "Pocketbook of Knowledge" on page 8 of 7/18/46.

Do you suppose that this was one of those papers that Henry Ford created to "educate" workers?
I looked through the archive.

Recently as of Dec. 2004, Grosse Pointe News has been running a comic called "Grosse Pointe Dogs."
Hi John -
Pocketbook of Knowledge was an odd one. It was obviously a freebie, and a very popular one at that (I've seen it in dozens of papers) but the panel is very good at hiding its purpose. I don't know if it was government issue (sort of reads that way) or something from the banking industry or better business bureau or something. It seems to be touting U.S. commerce in general.

And to Charles, I gave up looking at the News way before then -- good catch. Grosse Pointe Dogs has a website
so I guess they are still semi-active. I'll shoot off an email to them.

If I'm reading the info I have correctly, Van Tine Features was located in New York in 1936-1938 ( They were mostly busy with advertising (readymade advertising materials, one source described it), it seems. A very interesting read for you may be a 1937 lawsuit between Van Tine Features Syndicate and Boyd-Scott Co. on the one hand, and Sam Iger (much better known as Jerry Iger of course) on the other hand: and
By the way, if you can tell me how to turn these long URLs in handy, readerfriendly, clickable links in my comments, I'll be more tahn happy to use those in the future.
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