Thursday, April 15, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Oliver's Adventures

I have Gus Mager down for no less than 34 different newspaper comics features, which if not a record comes pretty darn close. While Mager is best known for his 'monk' strips, including Sherlocko the Monk who eventually morphed into the long-running Hawkshaw the Detective, Mager crossed genre boundaries with ease.

In 1926, after a string of disappointingly short-lived features, Mager came up with Oliver's Adventures. While it is undeniably an obscurity, it actually ended up being one of Mager's longer-lived series. Mager probably saw the popularity of Little Orphan Annie, which was quickly gaining national prominence, and had the rather obvious idea of swapping her out for a boy. It was, at least as legend has it, coming full circle since Harold Gray supposedly first proposed his classic strip as Little Orphan Otto. Ron Goulart also notes the similarity, both in art and story, between this strip and another early adventure entry, Phil Hardy.

Plucky little Oliver roamed all over, finding friends, enemies, thrills and spills everywhere he went. Being a boy, he avoided some of the over-the-top saccharine sweetness of Annie, and generally played down the "li'l philosopher" angle of Gray's creation. For cartoonist Mager, who generally gravitated toward humor material, it was an impressive turnabout. Although he couldn't really compete with other adventure strips in the art department (he brought a bigfoot sensibility to the production), the adventure material is exciting, well-researched and deftly plotted.

Although reported start dates for Oliver's Adventures are all over the map, many claiming as late as 1928, the strip began in May 1926 as evidenced by an announcement in Editor & Publisher (anyone know the exact date?). The McNaught Syndicate distributed the daily strip throughout its life to a relatively small but loyal list of papers.

Mager found a more comfortable (and probably more profitable) berth in 1931 when Rudolph Dirks offered to have him revive Hawkshaw the Detective as the topper to The Captain and the Kids. Mager took the job but wisely kept on with Oliver as a fallback position, a choice that worked out well for him when in 1932 Dirks had a contract dispute with United Feature Syndicate. For the better part of a year both Dirks and Mager were off the Sunday strip, with Bernard Dibble subbing, while they negotiated with United. In 1933 the dispute was settled and Mager returned to Hawkshaw.

Mager kept up appearances with Oliver's Adventures for well over a year more, still hedging his bet on Hawkshaw. On May 21 1934 he changed the name of the strip to Oliver and his Dog for no obvious reason (the direction of the strip didn't change) and then, apparently satisfied that Hawkshaw was going to survive, Oliver's Adventures was discontinued on October 22 1934.


Do you have a list of the top cartoonists with the most different comic features?
My first thoughts were Herriman, Goldberg, and (probably foolishly) McCay.
Would I have come close with any of those guesses?
Hi DD --
I did a creator cross-index for the book which includes both credited and uncredited appearances. I was so focused on just getting it ready for deadline I never did go back over it to look for the cartoonist with the most credits. I'll check into it and get back to you.

OK, went through the cross-index. Goldberg isn't even in the running, neither is McCay. Herriman has a very respectable 38 features to his name. But the winner, with a whopping 55 features is .... going to be anonymous 'til the book comes out! Only two creators top the 50 mark, another 4 are at 40 or above.

When did the practice of putting a typeset episode title above a strip end?

Bhob @ Potrzebie
Hi Bhob --
That's a question Jeffrey Lindenblatt researched awhile back. I THINK he told me that a few strips continued to supply them right up into the 60s and 70s. And if you count Zippy the Pinhead, they are still done for at least one strip!

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