Saturday, June 16, 2007


Herriman Saturday

Herriman Saturdays continue with these three cartoons, originally printed on September 2, 3 and 4th, 1906. The first apparently revisits that train wreck incident alluded to in previous cartoons, and the others concern the Gans-Nelson boxing match. As a bonus, we get for no additional charge some of the worst poetry ever committed to type.

The highly touted fight, held in the Nevada hinterlands to escape anti-boxing laws, had the box-office appeal of pitting a fan-favorite boxer, Battling Nelson, against one of the greatest fighters of all time, Joe Gans. Gans was black, and any interracial boxing match was big news in those days. Nelson was considered to be over-matched, but Gans was coming into the twilight of his career, and may have already been ill with tuberculosis (he would die of the disease just a few years later). The grueling fight lasted 42 rounds, and was finally won by Gans on a foul, a low blow by Nelson. The foul call was amazing because black fighters were rarely given the benefit of a clean fight in those days. Referees made it a habit to turn a blind eye to dirty tricks by white fighters against black fighters.

Battling Nelson has a cartooning connection, by the way. He was involved in a very public and stormy love affair and marriage with newspaper cartoonist Fay King later on.


Your place has become my first port of call on a saturday.
I have a xerox of tad's cartoon for the Nelson-Gans fight... There is a resonance between that and the herriman for same, the big close up I mean.
must fetch it out of my files and post it.

I did a post about Tad a few days back if anyone is interested

Eddie Campbell
James A. Fleming was run down by Santa Ana Trolley - one of “The Big Red Cars” that can be seen on “Who Framed Roger Rabbitt” - on 1906 AUG 30. On AUG 31 Coroner Trout was accused of “Unfairness” for immediately declaring at the inquest (held at the Morgue) that the death was due to a simple accident without responsabilities of the Pacific Railways.
So Fleming is surely the man in the coffin of the SEP 1 cartoon Allan put on the blog last week: a freshly happened casualty and not an old one as I thought.
Best, and thanks for the scans
Another nice set of images. Thanks again. The little fellow with the big hat who is walking with Nelson is Tex Rickard, the fight promoter. Gans-Nelson was his first big success. He went on to promote most of Jack Dempsey's fights during his championship years.

Joe Thompson ;0)
Thanks Alfredo and Joe - I'm sure I speak for all that we really appreciate any and all sense that can be made of these cartoons!

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Friday, June 15, 2007


Obscurity of the Day: Old Bill

For the Old Bill fans out there, let me set one thing straight right away -- I'm not calling Bairnsfather's Old Bill character an obscurity, rather the obscurity is this newspaper series.

Okay, now we're starting on the right foot. For those of you not in the know, Old Bill was a character created by Bruce Bairnfather, a British soldier, during World War I. Bairnfather's trench-drawn cartoons were run in British newspapers and quickly became a huge hit -- much in the same way as Bill Mauldin's did here in World War II. The first reprint book of the Old Bill cartoons, titled Fragments from France, was a huge international bestseller. After the war Bairnsfather continued drawing his Old Bill character and it remained popular in Britain through the 20s and 30s.

In an attempt at rekindling Bairnsfather's popularity in the States several syndicates tried distributing Old Bill cartoons here over the years. They were, without exception, syndication failures. Our subject today is the first of those syndication attempts, this one by Bell Syndicate. This one is exceedingly rare -- I'd heard of its existence from a Bairnsfather researcher awhile back, but had never seen it with my own peepers. However, just the other day I happened upon the series while indexing the Philadelphia Record. It was a weekly panel that ran there from August 1 1920 to January 30 1921 (of course it might have run longer elsewhere).

I chose a few of the better cartoons to run here as samples, but the problem with the series was its British sensibility - quite a few of the cartoons in the run are written about peculiarly British subjects in a peculiarly British way, making them all but unintelligible to an American audience. This even though the first cartoon in the series (the first cartoon above) seems to be indicating that Bairnfather was either in the U.S. to create the series, or at least was creating these cartoons specifically for the American market. A mystery, that!


Hi Allan, thank for posting the old Bill strip. Some more info:

“Old Bill” was created in the cartoon known as “The Better ‘Ole” for the English “Bystander” magazine of Xmas 1915.

The Bairnsfather cartoons were first published in the USA by “The Bellman” around 1917. Many of them were published as sample of Bairnsfather’s art in various American newspapers (e.g. the “Chicago Tribune”, 1917 JAN 27, “Cartoons of Bairnsfather”).

- A first series of Bairnsfather cartoons, with rotating titles of which the most recurring was “American Fragments” was syndicated by “The New York World”’s Press Publishing Co. from 1918 JAN 20 to 1919 ? ?. Cartoons in half-tone from the “The Bystander”, set in European trenches.

- A second series is the Bell Syndicate you uploaded to the blog. I have samples as early as 1920 APR 25. “The Hartford Courant” announced the beginning of the series on May, 23, 1920. The cartoons come from the English magazine “Fragments”, and feature a home-set version of OB and his family (wife and son OB jr): the war was in fact over. It’s possible that Bairnsfather did some special panel for the American market: he was often in USA to follow the theatrical version of “The Better’Ole”. And in fact….

- A third series “Old Bill’s Adventures in America” was drawn by Bairnsfather especially for the American audience. It was in strip form, and was released by King Features Syndicate from 1923 DEC 24 to sometime in 1924.

- A fourth series alternatively “Old Bill and Son” and “Somewhere in England” with half-tone cartoons set in WW2 from the English magazine “The Illustrated” was released by Bell again from 1940 FEB 4 to 1942. See article in your blog “Bell Acquires ‘Old Bill’". The article contains an error by the chronist “of yore”, as he says that Bell had already published OB in 1914; impossible because neither the character nor Bell existed at the time: in fact Bell published it in 1920.

Last but not least:

- A fifth series of cartoons/illustrations were made especially by Bairnsfather for “Star and Stripes”, circa 1943.

Hi Alfredo -
Thanks much for the additional info! Do you recall the papers where you got the dates for the 1st and 3rd series?

Regarding the first, I've indexed the Evening World and they weren't there. Was this one of the few series that they ran in the Morning World?

The 3rd and 4th series I have documented, but I've seen them all running under just the "Old Bill" title. The Bairnsfather researcher I corresponded with said, if I remember correctly, that some papers titled the 4th series "Old Bill and Young Bill".
Hi, Allan. The beginning of the 1st series for JAN 20 was announced in the “Boston Globe”, 1918 FEB 17. It is posssible that the cartoons ran in the Morning World, and franky I don’t know: in fact I found them on the “Boston Globe”, and they bring the “Press Publishing – New York World” Copyright.
The third series was announced by "The Hartford Courant" on 1940 FEB 4. I found the titles “Somewhere in England” and “Old Bill and Son”. Maybe newspapers changed the titles. You can see samples of the above cartoons on the PDF I sent you some two weeks ago.
Best – Alfredo
Hi Alfredo -
Thanks again for the info; I was interested in your source for the third (King) series from 1923-24. BTW, I see access to Proquest was quite the boon for you! :-)

Best, Allan
Hi Allan,
for what concerns the 3rd series - "Old Bill in America" - the main source was the old "Stripscene" magazine - alas, I don't have the issue at hand - and some hard clippings I found. My main source isn't Proquest, but www.newspaperarchive,com
Alas, strange as it may seem, every time their "improve" their interface (now they're unfortunately "impriving" it again) things grow more complicate and difficult to get.
A presto - Alfredo
Hi Alfredo -
I agree about newspaperarchive. This latest 'enhancement' seems to have broken the search function all but completely. It's been weeks since I've been able to get useful results from searches.

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Thursday, June 14, 2007


News of Yore: Harold Gray Profiled

Orphan Annie Says: "Keep Your Nose Tidy''
By Philip Schuyler, 1950

Orphan Annie, the little girl of Harold Gray's comic strip, has one fixed idea. It is simply this;
"Keep your nose tidy!"

Annie arrived at this philosophy by sticking her nose into other people's business for nearly 27 years. Even at the start, in the Pall of 1924, in Chicago, in the "age of innocence," she was wise beyond her years.

Harold Gray became 30 years older than his creation last Jan. 20 [sic]. Looking back from this 57th birthday over the years, he opined that his own philosophy coincid­ed closely with Annie's. If there has been any moral behind the multifarious adventures experi­enced by the ageless orphan, it might best be summed up in that same inelegant expression, "Keep your nose tidy!"

Life As It Is
Mr. Gray, the Kankakee farm boy, now a plutocrat, but to his way of thinking "damned little changed by the years," hopes there has been no moral at all. In writ­ing and drawing the strip, he has aimed to picture life as it is. He has studied humanity.

After the farm, he was graduated from Purdue, worked on the pa­per for a while in Lafayette, Ind., began his long association with the Chicago Tribune in 1917.

In the Gray strip, Annie is the constant foil. Life flows by her like a river while she stands still. Floating on the tide are both the good and the bad. Annie sizes them up, but does not try to change them.

"God deliver me from a re­former, even an honest one," Mr. Gray ejaculated the other day. "I dislike preaching, and missionaries of any kind. I don't mean religious missionaries exclusively. They are bad enough. Worse, in my opinion, are communistic evangelists, or evangelists of democracy, or the capitalistic system."

Against Butting In
"Why can't we leave each other alone? Butting into the other fel­low's business is a prime cause of trouble, misery and war.

"There are eternal verities easy enough for all to learn: tell the truth, work hard, save your money to be independent; in short, 'keep your nose tidy!' And that's enough."

The millions who follow "Annie" in the more than 275 daily and Sunday papers pay off the author artist handsomely; pos­sibly for constantly mirroring the composite mind of the multitude.

The Gray income runs at about $130,000 a year. He says he has to work hard from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. seven days a week to keep paying his taxes to Uncle Sam. The 25-room Georgian mansion his comic creatures bought on Sasco Hill at Southport, Conn., was re­cently appraised at $750,000.

It's up for sale. The Grays have bought another place across the bay from the present four-acre estate. The new 10-room house would just about fit in the living room at Southport, but it is set on 22 acres of land. A farm-born boy, Harold likes land. But doesn't like farming, and doesn't farm.

The Roving Kind
The Grays like to keep on the move. If it isn't from one house to another, it is in their Lincoln touring the United States or Can­ada. One summer they went abroad. But they prefer this side of the Atlantic, and "the long brown road, leading wherever you choose."

Mr. Gray's roots are deep in America. One ancestor migrated here from England in 1640. On his mother's side, an Ebenezer Gay was a Colonel in Washing­ton's army. His father's family came from England in the 1830's.

Mr. and Mrs. Gray have no children. Their Siamese cat, "Loa" (the letters of little Orphan Annie) is called "Kitty." Mr. Gray's mother is living with them now. She is seriously ill, and that keeps them all at home.

The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate makes Mr. Gray keep a three months' supply of strips ahead. On a trip, if he gets behind, he'll "hole up" at a hotel for two or three days and catch up. His cousin, Bob Leffingwell does the lettering and puts in some of the backgrounds. Bob also has his own two strips, "Little Joe" and "The General." [actually, "Ze Gen'ral", and it was the topper to "Little Joe"] Bob's and Harold's mothers were twin sisters. Bob is unmarried and lives in Fairfield, Conn.

His Only Collaborator
When Harold is in Southport, Bob comes to work every day at the Gray's. They have two desks there in a book-lined study. Both can and do work while a radio blares. Television proved too dis­concerting, and was banished up­stairs. Bob is Harold's only collab­orator, if you can call him that. Harold thinks no one can illustrate another person's ideas as well as the originator.

"I'm no artist," he insists. "I've never gone to any art school. But I know what I want and do the best I can. Bob does the dirty work."

It's while traveling that Mr.Gray gets ideas for Annie's adventures. The author calls himself "gregarious, not a party-going man, but a guy who likes people and likes to talk with them." He stores up memories of the people he meets and the stories they tell. He doesn't take notes. Nor does he use the material he gathers very soon. Rather he lets it ferment in his mind.

"Once," he recalled, "I had Annie mixed up with some fellows selling newspapers, high pressure stuff. I felt entirely satisfied and complimented when Max Annenberg, the circulation manager, called up and said, 'that's exactly the way it operates, that's real. How did you know about it?' "

Always Objective
On their trips, the Grays go incognito. He rarely visits a newspaper office, doesn't make speeches. The only time he does stop off at a newspaper is when he wants to get some low-down from the reporters, for whom he maintains a vast respect.

"Like reporters, I try to be objective, to write and draw things as they are," Mr. Gray told me.

"Oh, I glorify a little once in a while, perhaps. Sometimes my gangsters have hearts of gold. But I have crooked politicians and honest ones, snobs, wastrels, gamblers, kind-hearted and cruel people, foolish and wise all living and fighting together, usually in a small town."

Right now the small town is Puddle, up in the hills. The leading character. Mayor Bons, is not particularly pleasant. He's never earned a nickel for himself, but thinks he's hot stuff - a composite of different people Mr. Gray has met. It turned out that he appeared to be very real to one man in Boston, who threatened suit.

The syndicate's lawyer called. "Where did you get that name, Bons?", he wanted to know.

"Don't you see?", said Mr. Gray. "It's snob spelled backwards."

"I'm writing the angry Mr. Bons a really good letter," the lawyer said, "and that's all I wanted to know."

A common trick with Mr. Gray is to spell a name backwards. He doesn't like to use ordinary names, because he's bothered enough by people who all the time are recognizing themselves in a strip, and write in about it. Some 20 have threatened suit. Only one, however, ever took the case into a court. On Mr. Gray's advice, the syndicate refused to settle, and after several years of asking vainly for $10,000 for a damaged reputation, the plaintiff dropped the whole thing a short time ago.

The continuity that led to this suit concerned an OPA ration board head and the similarity of names of a Gray character, symbolical of a snoop, and of an OPA man in Connecticut.

Other people enjoy identifying themselves with Gray's true-to-life characters. Such a one was a Miss Clare Treat, head of a home for incorrigible children in Iowa. Mr. Gray had never met anyone by that name when he gave it to a terrible head of a girls' home. The Iowa Treat was delighted.

Who Is Annie?
In the case of Annie herself, no one knows who her lost parents were, or at least no one is telling. Capt. Joseph M. Patterson, late editor of the New York Daily News, and Harold Gray were the obstetricians at her birth. Mr. Gray was on the Chicago Tribune at the time. He had been working with Sid Smith, helping him draw "The Gumps." The Captain wanted a new strip for the News.

"Make it for grownup people, not for kids," the Captain advised. "Kids don't buy papers. Their parents do."

Mr. Gray was enjoying his job on the Tribune. Most of all, he liked to roam Chicago streets with other newspaper men, stopping at their hangouts for a late snack.

One early morning on the streets, he caught sight of a little gamin, quite evidently in the so-called age of innocence, wise as an old owl.

"I talked to this little kid, and liked her right away," he recalled.

"She had common sense, knew how to take care of herself. She had to. Her name was Annie. "At the time some 40 strips were using boys, as the main characters; only three were using girls. I chose Annie for mine, and made her an orphan, so she'd have no family, no tangling alliances, but freedom to go where she pleased. "Patterson and I worked over the first strips together. We kept clear of violent action, such as kids like, kept our story as close to life as we could."

Thus was Annie born, never to grow up, although some of today's readers are grandchildren of the first who followed the strip.


Where and when was this published, Allan?
Hi Mike -
It was published on the Stripper's Guide blog on June 14, 2007.

Oh! You mean before that. It was in E&P sometime in 1950 (clipping's been refiled already).

Editor & Publisher, February 24, 1951 Page 12.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2007


Obscurity of the Day: Railroad Red

Railroad Red, the tale of a railroad company detective, was a delightful strip, well-drawn, full of action and fast-paced. It is also uber-obscure, having appeared in only two papers that I've ever found (Detroit News and Arizona Republic, specifically). A lot of newspaper editors really missed the boat not buying this one. Considering the number of people still looking for these strips 60-some years later (they really appeal to railroad aficionados), the strip's lack of success is a real mystery.

Railroad Red was distributed by Bell Syndicate as a daily and Sunday strip. It was first advertised in the E&P syndicate directory in 1940, but no one has yet found it starting any earlier than February 24 1941. The strip failed to make its first anniversary, ending on December 21 1941.

The creator was a fellow by the name of Beaumont Fairbank. There was a cartoonist at the Brooklyn Eagle in the teens who signed himself Fairbank with the same style of signature, but I don't know for sure that they're the same person. However, according to John Malcovsky in an article in The Funnies Paper, the art was actually handled by David Marshall - I don't know if I buy this since I've never seen an example signed by him. In any case, the art, which has a wonderful Joe Shuster feel to it, is a delight.

What a shame that ol' Red didn't stick around longer.




Love to see more. Can you post the entire series?

Seriously, Allen, the larger view doesn't appear when I double-click the graphic.

Thanks for finding and posting this LOST Jem.
Hi John -
Sorry, I only have a few samples, and this is the only one that's easily accessible at the moment.

Is anyone else having trouble seeing the full-size image? It's working ok for me.

And Jay Maeder writes privately to say that the strip also ran in the Miami Herald -- thanks Jay!

I can't see the image either. Might need to reupload.
Okay, I reuploaded it. Is it working now?

Works great now.

One of the reason's for the "Wha-huh?' was that this is the first strip built around a railroad that I've seen. Lots of avation strips, but trains must have been passe by the '30s and '40s.

Thanks again.
Yup, not too many train strips out there. Only other one that comes to mind that's not super-obscure is "Spur Line". And it's pretty darn obscure.

Certain logic to it, tho. Drawing trains in the space of comic strip panels would be tough.

Thanks for posting this and other obscurities!!!
I agree. There seems to be only the two RR strips.

I think I might have a copy of the entire run of Spurline and I have some RR Reds in daily and Sunday strips. I will have to research my notes and strips to see why I made that statement in an article that someone had me write. In addition, I think I can name other papers that RR Red appeared in.

Thanks for bringing both obscurities to light. I am still looking for the original strip or copies of same in order to complete the story line and share it with others.
This comment has been removed by the author.
Beaumont Fairbank was indeed the creator and did the art for Railroad Red. How do I know? He is my Great Great Grandfather. I have one of his sketchbooks and a few of his strips. To your reference of the Brooklyn Eagle, it's quite possible that it was him. His sketchbook contains quite a few drawings of Brooklyn, Bayshore and Rockeville Centre. Thanks for posting this!
Hi Ryan -
Thanks for posting! Can you tell us anything more about your g-g-grandpa's career? I for one really think he had a great style and wonder what he was doing between the two times he pops up on my radar -- in the Brooklyn Eagle 1912-17, then doing Railroad Red in 1941. Surely someone as talented as he was has other credits!

Best, Allan
I don't know of any other mainstream works that he created. However, I do have several pencil drawings including a sketchbook from the late 1800's as well as an oil-on-canvas railroad painting that is signed.
I've tried to find any other reference to Railroad Red but to no avail.
Do you have any further information about David Marshall - and the Railroad Red strip? He's my husband's father, and I'd love to provide him with more information!
David Marshall made a career of writing about model and real railroads. A review of one of his books begins: "David Marshall. Model Railroad Engineering (1942) Marshall was the model railway editor for Popular Science."
Some stories attributed to Marshall in the late 1930s:
Though I can find nothing connecting him to Railroad Red.

Fairbank was a railway artist before Railroad Red. Here's a 1938 cover by him:

Toward the bottom of the front page of The Mount Vernon Daily Argus is a piece promoting the February 24 debut or Railroad Red in that paper.

And the February 24, 1941 strip from that paper:

I recently acquired a Beaumont fairbank drawing that had been part of a comic strip collector's sketch book from the 40s.
On January 27, 2020, most, if not all, of the strips were uploaded to Facebook in “The strip collectors swap group.” Here’s some information I gathered from those strips:
It appears that the daily strips are from the Patterson (NJ?) News, and the Sunday strips from the Baltimore Sun.
The daily strips started on February 24, 1941. The first 24 were numbered (#1-24), with the first dated strip appearing on March 24.
The Sunday strip started April 6. The April 13 strip as a “2” at the bottom of the last panel, but none of the other Sunday strips are numbered (if, indeed, the “2” means it’s the 2nd Sunday strip).
The last daily strip was from Friday, September 19. I don’t know if the Saturday strip exists, or just wasn’t uploaded.
The Sunday strips continue to October 26. The last panel of the last Sunday strip has Railroad Red being fired.
Reading the last several Sunday strips, I don’t see any obvious omissions that could be caused by lack of daily strips.
I am late to comment, but I found he was in the Washiington Star as well. Mail me for samples.
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Tuesday, June 12, 2007


Comic Book Experts - Can You Help Us?

I'm currently corresponding with a researcher who, as part of an ongoing project, is trying to track down some background material on the Smith-Mann Syndicate. This is the syndicate that produced the color comics for the Pittsburgh Courier newspaper from 1950-55, a national paper for black audiences (you'll find a series of posts about this comics section in the blog archives for July 2006).

I always assumed that the Courier was administering the Smith-Mann Syndicate in-house, but this researcher has found a very interesting and informative article in the July 21 1951 issue of Editor & Publisher that shows otherwise. But, as usual, when we learn new information it just creates a new set of questions. I believe that, unlike me, some of you folks are comic book experts, and we're hoping someone with that background can shed some light on Ben B. Smith and John J. Messman, both of whom apparently were in the comic book business in the 1940s.

We're also looking for any information on the Carousel comics section, of which we've never seen a copy. It was advertised in E&P 1951-54. Just a wild guess, but I wonder if this was also known as the Arrow Family Comic Weekly, an insanely rare preprint Sunday section that ran in only one known paper in 1953. The roster of features dovetails rather well.

Here's the article that prompted the questions:

Smith-Mann to Launch Comics Supplement
by Erwin Knoll

Carousel, an eight-page tabloid comics section with a set of entirely new comics, will make its entrance into the syndicate field this fall.

Intended primarily for the general group of smaller newspapers, Carousel will be distributed in mat form or as a pre-printed four-color supplement.

Distributors of Carousel will be Smith-Mann Syndicate, New York, established 18 months ago by Ben B. Smith and John J. Messmann. The syndicate prepares a weekly comics section for the Pittsburgh Courier and distributes several weekly and semi-weekly columns.

According to Mr. Messman, the syndicate's aim in establishing Carousel is "to supply a top-notch 4-color comics supplement to papers which previously could not afford it because of prohibitive costs or because top features were not available in their areas."

The supplement will include 11 features covering the major comic strip categories, including secret agent adventure, science fiction, sea adventure, historical romance, private eye, fairy tales, jungle adventure, a page of puzzles and games and three "fact" panels. All features will be written in the Smith-Mann office and farmed out to cartoonists for the artwork only.

As for advertising in Carousel, Mr. Smith pointed out that "we are not going in with the intention of soliciting advertising. If advertisers wish to buy space, however, we will sell it and share the profits with the participating newspapers."

Mr. Smith's experience before entering the syndicate field includes ten years' work in distribution and general management of comic magazines. He originated the Negro comics supplement which Smith-Mann services to the Pittsburgh Courier.

Mr. Messmann is also a veteran of the comic book field, and utilized the comic strip technique in an education program conducted for the UN information office.

I checked Jerry Bails' Who's Who web site and found the following that may help:

Name and vital stats
MESSMAN, ERIC JON (editor; writer)
Pen names
Print Media (non-comics)
Writer: Novels: Romances; Westerns; Adult Books
Various features (own/) 1950-55 through Smith-Mann Syndicate > 50 51 52 53 54 55
Various features (own/) 1955-58 through Eric Jon Associates > 55 56 57 58
Comics Studio (Shop)
FUNNIES INC. (wr/) c1943 > 43
Text (wr/) c1942-c46 > 42 43 44 45 46
CAPTAIN MARVEL JR. (wr/) mid 1940s > 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49
DON WINSLOW OF THE NAVY (wr/) mid 1940s- > 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51
GABBY HAYES (wr/) late-1940s > 47 48 49
TEX RITTER (wr/) c1950 > 50
Text (wr/) 1947 > 47
TOM MIX (wr/) late-1940s > 47 48 49
HUMAN TORCH (wr/) c1943 > 43
SUB-MARINER (wr/) c1943 > 43

Studio personnel
MESSMAN, JOHN (wr/) c1943 > 43

my best
-Ray Bottorff Jr
Hi Ray -
Thanks very much for the Bails info! I wonder which name is right -- Eric Jon Messman or John J. Messman? My bet is on the former, since the Smith-Mann Syndicate definitely was renamed Eric Jon Associates later.


My name is Eric Jon Messmann. (you have my named spelled incorrectly) My father John Joseph, created Eric Jon Associates, which was named after me. In his later years, he went by Jon J Messmann, using my middle name, however his first name was John. Some of his close friends even called him "Eric Jon". He passed away a little over 4 years ago.
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Monday, June 11, 2007


News of Yore: Promoting the Funnies

The 1920s and 30s were the golden age of comic strip promotion. Newspapers ballyhooed new features in large display ads, new storylines in established strips got news coverage, and newspapers were peppered with advertising reminders of the fun to be had on the comics page. The vast bulk of this marketing blitz was instigated by the syndicates. Marketing materials for new strips and old were constantly being created and distributed to client newspapers.

Then came World War II and paper shortages - a time when newspapers didn't have the luxury of using limited space on promotion material. Seeing that their promotions weren't being used, syndicates began to get out of the habit of producing it. After the war the syndicates didn't get back in the habit. Yet newspapers now wanted to promote their new acquisitions and ongoing features. The following articles, from 1950, discuss the situation.

Since then matters have gotten far worse. Today syndicates don't seem to produce any promotion material at all - at least I can't recall the last time I saw any in a newspaper beyond perhaps a little one-column notice of a new feature. This is yet another case of the syndicates, and newspapers too, letting their features languish in the back pages, printed begrudgingly and without interest.

For instance, if the tiny sizes weren't enough of a problem for story strips, the failure of syndicates to produce regular promotions, like ads recapping the latest developments in the current story or announcing the start of a new adventure keep readers from having a place to jump in and try reading the strip.

One has to wonder if strips would be a more vital part of the newspaper today if the syndicates and newspapers took more of an interest in stirring up interest through promotions.

Syndicates Called Lax In Promotion Activities
By Jane McMaster, January 1950

Syndicates are hurting them­selves by failing to provide ade­quate promotion material for their features, in the opinion of various members of the National Newspa­per Promotion Association.

In letters solicited by NNPA Secretary Frank Knight, a cross-section of PMs [promotion managers] suggested:
(1) Syndicates in supplying too little material too late (or not at all) sometimes "kill" big promo­tions already planned by the pa­pers;
(2) By not stating their case well for newspaper readers, who after all have the last say-so about features, the syndicates are miss­ing out on one of the best ways of keeping a feature sold.

Ballyhoo That Fizzled
A Kentucky promotion man gave this expose of a dilemma in­volving "a top feature from one of the high-ranking syndicates;" "For reasons peculiar to our set­up, this was a feature we wanted to do a lot of talking about. The contract was signed three weeks before it was to begin. Two weeks were burned up trying to get some material from the syndicate and then we received one three-column mat and a biographical sketch which was written in 1935 or thereabouts. The picture of the personality in the ad was a head silhouette that simply failed to print despite all we could do with it. We called the syndicate and asked for a glossy photograph and they had none. The result was that what we had planned as a big promotion fizzled into a bare announcement in type that so-and-so would begin on such-and-such a date."

Another newspaperman who had to write three letters to get some glossies from a syndicate (after the first request he had re­ceived mats, wrong size) com­plained: "Too often, it seems to me, syndicates look upon newspa­per publishers and editors as the men they must reach and sell, when really continuing sale of their features must reach beyond the newspapermen right down to the readers of the syndicate fea­tures. We are one paper, at least, which takes feature polls to learn what's what, and our editors get one vote right along with every­one else.

"Of course, it is true that the newspaper must be sold on a fea­ture in the beginning but, after a sale is made, the salesmanship target is the public."

One PM urged a job "at least as good as the sales brochures." Once the items are sold, he com­plained, "promotion falls to next to nil."

Promotion Kits Suggested
Several newspapers suggested that syndicates compile promotion kits on each feature they sell, give the kit to the paper at the time of sale and keep the kit up to date by addition of material. Cost to the syndicates might be an added-in item in the price of the feature to the newspaper, it was pointed out.

A desire for advance notice on new continuities and new angles in features was strongly indicated. Said one PM: "Usually, I find out about it (a new angle) in reading the strips. Then it is too late to do anything with special events or promotions."

Another suggested "that promo­tion material prepared by the syn­dicate to sell new clients be given to old clients as well."

PMs would also like to be noti­fied in advance: when a feature is to be discontinued (to avoid running promotion ads just before a feature is withdrawn); and when a feature is taken on. Actually, of course, the managing editor who buys the feature should noti­fy the PM but sometimes he doesn't in time to launch good promotion.

While some papers stressed that promotion material should be "well written," others write their own stories and request mainly salient facts about the author or cartoonist, his past experience, etc. Papers that use promotion as-is urgently requested short pithy stuff, for boxed or front-page teaser use.

Different Material Asked
Many PMs seemed to feel something should be done about mats and photos but the size of the papers affected requirements. Larger papers were more desirous of getting good glossies so they could make up their own ads. ("We don't like to use silhouetted heads and art work full of curly-cues which most syndicates seem to still consider the latest word," one PM wrote. "May I suggest the art work embellishments that gen­erally accompany syndicate mats be eliminated," said another.) Sev­eral requested, in addition to por­traits, action shots, or photos of the author in front of a back­ground highlighting the subject matter of the feature.

One paper suggested that syn­dicates keep a ready supply of mats of assorted sizes (from 1/2 to
two col.) of authors and artists and panel characters. Another PM suggested that "whenever pro­motion material is sent out it be accompanied by mats." A third be­lieves "if a set of half dozen ads were sent by syndicates whenever a new story phase or new charac­ter is introduced in strips as well as general ads to use week in and week out, the syndicates could garner a tremendous amount of free advertising space and KEEP their particular feature sold."

Personal Appearances
PM of a larger paper suggested that syndicates might maintain a list of regular name cartoonists and writers for personal appear­ances in conjunction with newspa­per promotions. (The fee, if any, should be well within promotion budgets, he said.) The paper also could use: wax recording of the author's voice, supplied at cost, for radio promotion; one-minute films, showing the artist or author at work, for television.

Syndicates Answer Complaints on Promotion

By Jane McMaster

A complaint by newspaper pro­motion men that syndicates aren't providing adequate promotion ma­terial for features drew a pretty human re­sponse from syndicates. "They couldn't mean us," individual syn­dicates said. "They must mean some other syndicate."

But an informal poll of about 15 syndicates turned up some real problems in connection with their promotion activities. Some blame, syndicates suggest, lies at the door of newspapers, themselves:
1. Newspapers hardly ever send tearsheets to show how and what promotion they use. This is a deterrent to syndicate pro­motion planning.

2. Newspapers may be lax in routing of the material. Promo­tion material is definitely fur­nished, sometimes in great va­riety and quantity. In most cases it goes to the managing editor. (Where a newspaper designates a person other than the promotion man as the proper recipient, the syndicate doesn't regularly mail duplicates to the PM because of the expense.)

3. Syndicates say they're eager, willing and able to help promo­tion men in general and with spe­cial projects, if newspapers will advise what they want, in ad­vance.

King 'Goes Overboard'
Promotion Manager John Ma­son of King Features objected to what he called "a ringing in­dictment of syndicate promotion that didn't separate the sheep from the goats."

"We go absolutely overboard in trying to help the promotion man­agers," he said, showing an ex­pensive advance brochure for "The Cisco Kid," new comic.

Other launching tools on all new King comics: a half-page intro­ductory layout, at least 10 teaser and follow-up ads, biography and picture of creator, truck poster and tack card ideas. Glossies as well as mats are provided.

King prides itself on coopera­tion in special promotions. A Philadelphia paper, for instance, recently requested a booklet on learning to box, tied in with "Big Ben Bolt." The promotion de­partment prepared a booklet (in­cluding some firsthand advice from Gene Tunney and illustrated by the strip's cartoonist) and gave it to the paper at cost. The pa­per offered it to readers for 10 cents.

Advises Direct Contacts
Mr. Mason's suggestion to pro­motion men: "Establish direct contact with the syndicate pro­motion manager. Outline your plans and decide how the syndi­cate can help." He also suggests that better liaison, promotion-wise, among the newspaper's ex­ecutives might pay: "We often have to send out material two or three times because the managing editor or publisher loses it in the shuffle or fails to pass it along. Special reader promotion that we often include in the regular pack­age (of feature proofs) never reaches the promotion manager's desk."

Mr. Mason thinks promotion men might read the strips in ad­vance and thus spot new twists in time to plan promotion.

Promotion Manager Robert Sloane of the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate said: "We have plenty of promotion. Biog­raphies are constantly being brought up to date. We have all the basic material and are con­stantly filling requests."

Doubts Extra Pay
Mr. Sloane didn't think editors would be willing to pay an added cost for an elaborate promotion kit on each feature, a plan sug­gested by one newspaper promo­tion manager.

Manager Mollie Slott of Chi­cago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was baffled by one PM's suggestion "that promotion material prepared by the syndicate to sell new clients be given to old clients as well." Miss Slott said she had tried that and had received letters from newspapermen saying, "We've already bought your fea­ture, why do you keep sending us this stuff?"

"I was afraid I was sending out too much," said Miss Slott.

News of CT-NYNS features is provided in a weekly newsletter recently started by the syndicate.

General Manager Laurence Rutman of United Features Syndi­cate commented: "It's a real prob­lem. We have gone all out in preparing promotion material from time to time and found later that few newspapers used it. I don't see how any syndicate could turn out promotion stuff day after day and expect it to be used.

"We fully realize the problems of editors," Mr. Rutman con­tinued. 'We try to keep our pro­motion up to a standard that war­rants being used without turning it out wholesale."

Newspaper Responsibility
General Manager H. R. Wishengrad of Press Features and Overseas News Agency said syn­dicates should offer every coopera­tion to newspaper promotion men, but, he pointed out: "When a newspaper takes on a feature, it has a proprietary interest in that feature. The primary responsi­bility for continuing promotion of that feature rests with the news­paper."

Manager Robert Hall of Post-Hall stated: "Actually, because of the restrictions in newsprint and the fact that many newspapers have not wanted lavish promotion, many of us have not offered large promotions like we used to do. We have checked and found out that only a small, amount was used."

"I think newspapers could use much more promotion than they do," Mr. Hall added.

Promotion Manager Jack Gamble of NEA Service said NEA-Acme has always supplied a variety of promotion and in­vited specific requests.

Editor-in-Chief Elmer Roessner of McClure Newspaper Syndi­cate: "I have long felt the syn­dicate business is one of the worst offenders in the promotion line. We are improving in our promo­tion here but I feel guilty that we are not doing more."

McClure sends out an initial packet of material on a feature. But Mr. Roessner doubted whether managing editors would take the time to keep the packet up to date by adding follow-up promotion material received.

Tell Them What's Wanted
President S. George Little of General Features Corp. said three or four persons, all former newspapermen, work on the syn­dicate's promotion.

"We try to get all the back­ground material—in good news­paper promotion form," said Mr. Little. "We are very careful to get right on top of any request for help in promoting features."

General Manager Henry P. Martin of the Des Moines Regis­ter and Tribune Syndicate said the syndicate will now step up its promotion. "We have been as promotion-minded as any syndicate in the business," he commented, "but I think in some instances we are all a little lax."

R & T has done a special pro­motion job on the Chicago Daily News foreign service, giving edi­tors a packet every three months containing behind-the-scenes in­formation on the correspondents, the newsplay accorded various sto­ries and up-to-date biographies.

All in all, it's a good time for PMs to state their cases further: tell each syndicate exactly what is wanted.


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Sunday, June 10, 2007


Jim Ivey's Sunday Comics


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