Saturday, May 12, 2007


Don Winslow in Radio Guide

Courtesy of Aaron Neathery and his comedy history blog The Third Banana comes this neat two-page Radio Guide article about the Don Winslow comic strip and radio show. Thanks Aaron!

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Friday, May 11, 2007


Sponsored Comics Exposed! An Interview with Howard Beckerman

Howard Beckerman was co-creator, with writer Carl Memling, of the Miss Chipps feature in Family Comics. He contacted me after finding my blog post about the strip. Here's our conversation:

Holtz: You initially contacted me to tell me that my post about Miss Chipps was wrong, that you weren't responsible for the Schoolhouse Rock series. Sorry about the mix-up! I got that piece of misinformation from a website discussing your work.

Beckerman: Although I know the guys who did School House Rock, I wasn't one of them. It may have gotten mixed up with the Sesame Street, the Electric Company and other children's educational spots that I did in the 1970s.

Holtz: Let's see what light you can shed on the mysteries of Sponsored Comics. Was it run by Zeke Zekley or Norman Maurer or someone else?

Beckerman: I dealt with Zeke Zekley and assume that there were others involved but don't recall any names.

Holtz: How many issues of Family Comics were produced?

Beckerman: There weren't many issues of Sponsored Comics. I probably did about a dozen strips. I always felt that the paper was in distribution less than a year.

Holtz: Was it really only available at a few California grocery stores? Was that the intended marketing plan?

Beckerman: As far as I know it was always available in California supermarkets. I assume they would have liked to broaden the distribution in the future.

Holtz: Did the more traditional syndication of some of the features attempted in 1960 (as advertised in E&P) ever get off the ground?

Beckerman: The strips that were used had mostly been those that had been previously turned down by major syndicates. But though they were all done by experienced working cartoonists, I don't think any of them reached the big time. [ed - only Kippy did that we know of]

Holtz: Was Miss Chipps created specifically for Family Comics, and did it have any further life after Family Comics folded?

Beckerman: We had sent it around and got good responses from major syndicates and were in the midst of making changes in it when we got the acceptance from Sponsored Comics. It never appeared anywhere else. Both Carl and I were busy with other pursuits, the usual problem in trying to sell strips. We never returned to Miss Chipps. As a working animator with a family to feed, the steady pay check took precedence over trying to judge the whims of syndicate editors and the uncertainty of that line of work. More power to those that can do it, and also to those who are happy with what they are doing and never think about the possible glories of a syndicated strip.

Holtz: You say you got accepted by Sponsored -- how did you know they existed in order to submit to them? My assumption was that Zekley just sort of got a group of his buddies together to fill the section, but this sounds like they advertised for submissions. Do you recall how you found out about them?

Beckerman: We found out from other cartoonists. Either Zekley contacted people he knew and they passed it on, or the word went out through the National Cartoonists Society. Carl Memling knew local cartoonists such as Gill Fox and David Gantz and several others. I'm sure we heard about it from one of them.

Holtz: Did Sponsored have you do all the 10-12 strips up front in a batch, or did you submit the strips on a scheduled basis?

Beckerman: Sponsored bought most of our sample strips and then I did new ones to meet the deadline, so maybe I did more than a dozen, maybe 20. It's a vey long time ago. What bothered me was that I was just hitting my stride and really enjoying drawing the strip, when the paper was discontinued.

Holtz: Do you recall if they just paid you a flat fee per strip or was there some sort of arrangement based on circulation? For that matter, did you end up getting stiffed on the job?

Beckerman: We signed a contract and were paid a fee per strip. I believe we were paid for everything we did.

Holtz: Do you recall anything in particular about how the enterprise ended -- was it simply a case of not enough clients or was there more to its demise?

Beckerman: I have no idea why it ended. There were many possibilities, including that the stores may have decided not to continue the paper, otherwise I have no idea. Zekely died a short time ago, so I can't tell who would know what transpired.

Holtz: Many of the other Family Comics cartoonists produced two features, one with their name on it, one with a pen name. Do you recall if they approached you to do the same?

Beckerman: No. The guys with two features may have been asked to do that to look like there were more cartoonists contributing, or there was some other obscure reason.

Holtz: Sponsored reappeared with what was apparently a similar section in the mid-1980s (this is second hand - I haven't seen this version). Were you approached for this version? I ask because some of the original creators apparently did new material for this version.

Beckerman: I didn't know about this, but Memling had died by then and there were enough strips around without contacting me. In fact, there are always strips around in drawers and which have never seen the light of day. As I say, it's a tough business.

Holtz: Howard, thank you very much for shedding some light on the Sponsored Comics mystery!

Beckerman: Regarding the Miss Chipps strip, it was wonderful seeing these 1950s drawings again. Carl Memling died prematurely many years ago, but I'm still around. I'm teaching animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I have a website at

So Zekely it is... great to see publishing your research this way works! Cartoonists and family members everywhere, make contact!

I have always been intrigued by 'unsold' comics. As Mr. Beckerman said, every artist had a few. Many have been shown in fanzines through the years. I am aspecially interested in the one done in the late fifties by comic book artists making a last desperate attempt to get into the newspaper business. Some turn up at Heritage, some are lost forever... and I am sure some are still in those drawers...
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Thursday, May 10, 2007


Obscurity of the Day: Zeke Smart

Zeke Smart had a respectable run in the Chicago Tribune Sunday comics sections from March 6 1910 to November 26 1911. The feature was created by A.D. Reed, a cartoonist with a lot of features under his belt in the oughts, mostly at the McClure syndicate. This strip is his next to last foray into newspaper comics -- his last was a very short-lived strip called After Dark in 1912.

Reed had a bad habit of not signing his work, so he may well have done other features that he just never bothered to sign at all. His unfortunate laxity in signing his work may explain why none of the standard comic strip reference works even make mention of him. (I'm sure Alfredo Castelli in Here We Are Again corrects this oversight, but I still haven't figured out how to order a copy of the book on his Italian website!).

Zeke Smart is an unremarkable strip, well-drawn but with standard plots. The sample here today, though, does point out just how much the cartoonists could get away with back then. Can you imagine a syndicate editor today encountering the word 'bugger' in a strip? Break out the smelling salts!


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Wednesday, May 09, 2007


Obscurity of the Day: Lagunagrins

Phil Interlandi is justly famous for his Playboy cartoons, but less well-known for his forays into newspaper work. He did a long-running but curiously poor-selling panel titled Queenie (which we'll cover here one of these days), and today's obscurity, Lagunagrins.

This weekly panel ran only in the Laguna Beach Post, Interlandi's adopted home. The seaside California community was ripe for Interlandi's witty pen, and the panels poke fun at the burgeoning tourist trade, the ever hot real estate market, the amateur artist colony and other aspects of life in Laguna.

I only know of this feature through two books reprinting these cartoons, Lagunagrins (1955) and More Lagunagrins (1962). Unfortunately the books shed no light on just how long the panel ran, so if anyone out there has information I'd love to hear from you.

Here's a link to a site about to Interlandi's marinara sauce (really - I'm not kidding). One page gives a short bio of the cartoonist.


Forget sauces, how about clothes.
Here's Interlandi showcasing his (then) new clothing line.

From a possible new online resource revealed by
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Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Obscurity of the Day: Mrs. Sourgrapes

Now let's see if I remember how to do this. Been talking about Sponsored Comics so long I don't know if I can discuss anything else. Well, here goes.

Mrs. Sourgrapes
(which on this example omits the S) had a short run in the Philadelphia North American Sunday section from June 25 to September 24 1911. It was often left unsigned, but a few strips are signed "Newton-Horn". I don't know who that is, and no one by that moniker shows up elsewhere in my files. I'm going to take a guess, though, and say that it was probably a female cartoonist. We've discussed before how the North American was a remarkably open newspaper to women cartoonists.

If it's not obvious from the context in this sample, the hobble skirt of the 1910s was a floor-length skirt that was so tight at the bottom that it made it impossible for women to take a full walking stride. It was considered the height of fashion for a time until women wised up that the garments were exceedingly uncomfortable and impractical. You'd think the corsets were enough of a cross to bear. Here's a link to a site that gives a short history of the hobble skirt.

This strip was among those that were reprinted by World Color Printing in their sections, and Mrs. Sourgrapes made a brief reappearance there in 1915.


Newton-Horn is an anagram for Norton Hewn... which almost sounds like... Norman Maurer!
Man, that guy REALLY got around!
Hello, Allan---MRS. SOURGRAPES looks like the work of Katherine P. Rice of FLORA FLIRT "fame". Many female cartoonists show up in the North American because the comics editor, the great Frank Crane, seemed to have a fondness for them. Mary A. Hays' strip KATE AND KARL THE CRANFORD KIDS was named so in his honor---Crane's ancestors established Cranford, N.J., in the colonial era. The strip seems to be happening in the eighteenth century. Several femtoonists appear over at W.E.Haskell, another syndicate Crane edited.--------Cole Johnson.
Hi Cole -
I don't agree with the ID of Katherine Rice. Look elsewhere on the blog for a Flora Flirt sample; I see no real comparison between the two art styles (other than both being barely professional level!).

Re Frank Crane, I've always wondered if he was the same person as Dr. Frank Crane the famed essayist. Any idea?

Hello, Allan---I don't think there is any relation between the the two Frank Cranes. The begetter of PAW TOMMYROT was, however, related (cousin?) of Thomas Hart Crane, the novelist who wrote THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE. -----Cole Johnson.
Stephen Crane, of course, but I follow.

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Monday, May 07, 2007


Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics

We had some rather dramatic windstorms on Sunday that took out our power. Everything's back up to speed today, so I'm posting the Sunday comics on Monday this week.

Hi Allan
My name is Cindy Chiang with Heaven Sent Productions. We're currently working on a documentary film featuring the first African American syndicated cartoonist Morrie Turner. We will be at the Comic-Con event in San Diego this year 7/26-7/29.
We're auctioning artwork on Ebay from various artists including Aaron McGruder among many others.
Please check out our myspace website
for more information.
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