Wednesday, January 30, 2008


Obscurity of the Day: Bible Stories

You won't hear me say this too often, but Dan Smith may well have been to good an artist for newspapers. His delicately detailed realistic rendering usually turned to mud when subjected to the treatment of a high-speed newspaper press. When Smith was afforded a large enough format to really shine it was generally for cover and interior illustrations in Hearst Sunday magazine sections. The interior black and white illustrations are breathtaking, the color covers less so (Smith understood that bold colors were supposed to be the star of the show and considerably simplified his drawing style).

Here is Smith's only 'standard' comic strip, Bible Stories. He did some continued magazine cover series and occasionally contributed to Hearst's daily romantic cartoon series, but this is the only one I know of in daily strip format (though it was a weekly).

Bible strips came into vogue starting in the 1920s when cartoonists began to look for niche subjects for their wares. There were radio strips for the radio page, romance cartoons for the womens page, sports strips for the sports page. Religious strips for the weekly church pages were a natural, and quite a few came and went over the years.

Dan Smith's Bible Stories was one of the less successful entries in the market (by the way, it never actually ran with that title - it was only used in marketing). In Hearst's San Francisco Examiner it started on June 10 1933 and ran until August 31 1935. Smith handed off the creative chores to Don Komisarow for the final month and a half of the run. The stories were generally short and the art (if a newspaper actually managed to print it clearly) was spectacular. Here are the stories titles; dates are from the Examiner which evidently didn't run the series strictly according to Hoyle since the proof dates don't match up properly (revised later, see below):

Life of Samson, Strong Man of the Bible : 6/10 - 7/22/33
The Story of Queen Esther : 7/29 - 9/30/33
The Story of Joseph : 10/7 - 12/23/33
The Story of Ruth : 12/30/33 - 1/27/34
The Story of David : 2/3 - 6/9/34
The Story of Solomon : 6/16 - 7/21/34
The Story of Jezebel : 7/28 - 9/1/34
The Story of Salome : 9/8 - 10/6/34
The Story of Elijah : 10/13 - 11/3/34
The Story of Jael : 11/10 - 12/8/34
The Story of Abraham : 12/15/34 - 3/9/35
The Story of the Holy Child : 3/16 - 4/6/35
The Story of Moses : 4/13 - 7/6/35
The Story of Noah : 7/13 - 8/31/35 (by Komisarow)

The examples displayed above are from proofs. I regret that there is absolutely no way to give you a sense of Smith's art through these scans, but computer monitors, just like newspapers, do no justice to the art of Dan Smith.

A big tip of the Stripper's triregnum to Cole Johnson who provided the samples.

EDIT 10/31/19: Further research uncovered a complete run of this strip in the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, in which the dates match proof dates,  and adds a second story by Don Komisarow. Here is the revisedstory list and dating: 

Title Start Date End Date # Strips
Life of Samson, Strong Man of the Bible 3/4/33 4/15/1933 7
The Story of Queen Esther 4/22/1933 7/1/1933 10
The Story of Joseph 7/8/1933 9/23/1933 12
The Story of Ruth 9/30/1933 10/28/1933 5
The Story of David 11/4/1933 3/10/34 19
The Story of Solomon 3/17/1934 4/14/1934 5
The Story of Jezebel 4/21/1934 5/26/1934 6
The Story of Salome 6/2/1934 6/30/1934 5
The Story of Elijah 7/7/1934 7/28/1934 4
The Story of Jael 8/4/1934 9/1/1934 5
The Story of Abraham 9/8/1934 10/27/1934 8
The Story of Cain 11/3/1934 12/1/1934 5
The Story of the Holy Child 12/8/1934 12/29/1934 4
The Story of Moses 1/5/1935 3/30/1935 13
The Story of Noah (Komisarow) 4/6/1935 5/25/1935 8
The Story of Jacob (Komisarow) 6/1/1935 8/24/1935 13


Hi Allan;

What an interesting blog you have!

I just stumbled upon it and have to say your description in the article is really quite compelling, I can feel your passion for this kind of art.

I am amazed at the detail work on the large left panel of “The Story of Solomon”.
My fave is panel 1 of the David strip. The oxen really jump off the page on the proof sheet.

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