Friday, July 24, 2009


Obscurity of the Day: Buttons and Fatty

For years and years Buttons and Fatty was the marquee strip of the Brooklyn Eagle's children's section. When it made its bow on December 26 1909 it was just titled Buttons and it was a pretty nondescript feature about a sweet but inoffensively mischievous kid. In 1913 his buddy Fatty gained title billing as well.

Al Zere, who did a lot of features for the Eagle over the years, was at the helm until March 24 1918 when he went off to serve in World War I. The Eagle made a pretty big deal over his going, giving the kids regular updates on his tour of duty with Uncle Sam. The strip was handed over to Hal Merritt who kept up the franchise until December 15 of that year. When Merritt left the strip went on hiatus until Zere returned from Europe to a hero's welcome. He started rewarming his chair at the Eagle and the strip was revived on July 13 1919. But Zere must have been restless because he left again, this time without any fanfare. His last Buttons and Fatty strip ran December 5 1920.

A new cartoonist took over the following week, and Zere was quickly forgotten by the kids. M.E. Brady introduced long involved continuities into the strip (see the above for the tail-end of one) and the Eagle started having good luck syndicating the new more robust strip. Throughout the 20s and early 30s Buttons and Fatty was a popular adornment to the new Sunday kid sections that were becoming quite popular at papers around the country. Brady, who always signed himself "MEB", stuck with the strip for the rest of its life except for one short vacation in 1925 when fellow Eagle stalwart Phila Webb spelled him for a month (June 28 to July 26 1925).

The downfall of the strip came when it was reformatted at the beginning of 1933. For over 20 years the strip had been a tabloid page, a perfect fit for the kid sections that had sprung up at papers all over the country. On January 8 1933, though, the Eagle changed it to a full newspaper page and the feature immediately disappeared from all those client newspapers. Perhaps the Eagle gave up on the syndication business temporarily, or maybe they were too dense to provide a tabloid format to their clients, but in any case they drove a stake through the heart of that strip. The strip continued until June 17 1934, but it was a dead man walkin' for that last year and a half.


It's amazing how many strips I've never heard of that had a pretty respectable lifespan. I realize that 24 - 25 years is small change when it comes to syndicated strips, but in any other world that would be pretty darn good, breakout hit or not.
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