Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Obscurity of the Day: Bugs

The early years of home radio, the days when pop and Junior would sit around endlessly rewiring and tuning their homebrew crystal sets in the evening, spawned a lot of features vying for a place on the newspaper's radio pages. The radio page proved not to be as big a circulation builder as expected because few people really wanted the techie articles that were its staple. Those that were building radios preferred to buy magazines that covered the subject in depth. The features created especially for the newspaper radio pages thus came and went pretty quickly, too. Bugs is one of the longer-lived ones.

NEA offered this once-a-week strip under the initial direction of syndicate stalwart Roy Grove. Grove had a pleasing style and a pretty good sense of humor that was put to the test by coming up with endless variations on gags about building and tuning radios. The strip started on March 12 1924, and Grove signed off on November 5 1925. Irving S. Knickerbocker took up the gauntlet and continued the strip until April 7 1926, when he wriggled out of the assignment by starting a new strip, The Papers Say. Next up at the plate was Charles D. Small, whose Mudd Center Folks panel got the shaft so that he could take over Bugs. After a little less than a year, Small handed the assignment off to George "Swan" Swanson, whose first appearance was on February 16 1927. (Oddly enough, this is the same pair who did the opposite hand-off on the Salesman Sam strip.)

On June 22 1927 a mystery man by the name of Sefcik took over. NEA seemed awfully confused about the creator of Bugs at this point (who could blame them?) -- during Sefcik's short tenure the title bar on Bugs tried to credit, at least once each, every other cartoonist who had worked on the strip.

The credit conundrum just got worse as the strip finally wound down. On August 10 1927 Don Wootton took over, but his strips were credited to Sefcik for the first few weeks! Poor Sefcik finally got his due; all he had to do was quit. Finally someone at NEA decided they'd had enough of this foolishness and the feature was retired on September 7 1927.

By the way, all the dates given above are -- hmm, what's a good way to put this -- 'creative interpretations'. NEA distributed the Bugs strip once a week with their package, but it was up to the client newspaper when they were going to run the feature. Those with weekly radio pages would run it on whatever day that was, those without one pretty much threw it in as space permitted. The dates cited above are all Wednesdays. That doesn't mean I found a paper that ran the strip consistently on Wednesdays, or any other day of the week for that matter. I just picked a good day of the week (Wednesday seems a fine day for a radio page don't you think?) and 'normalized' all the divergent dates I had to use from a dozen or so different papers. Even in comic strips, sometimes you just have to massage the raw data a little.


Hello, Allan---When the very first radio networks formed, the announcers would rattle off all the stations in the chain at the start of their programs, as in the top example of BUGS. When there became just too many stations, NBC simply created their famous three-note chime signature. The joke in the strip of course, is that the boob thought he was picking up all these far-off stations, always an important goal in the cat's-whisker era. ----Cole Johnson.
Ah, I get it! Still not all that funny, but I get the joke now!

Special greetings to the creator of
Stripper's Guide .
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