Friday, August 06, 2010


Obscurity of the Day: Sgt. Preston of the Yukon

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon began as a radio show in 1939 on Detroit's WXYZ, the same station that came up with two other successful genre crime-fighters, the Green Hornet and the Lone Ranger. In this show Sergeant Bill Preston and his faithful dog Yukon King fought evildoers for the Northwest Mounted Police in the wilds of the Yukon Territories, enthralling kids on the radio for almost two decades before switching to TV where he only lasted a mere three seasons.

Nothing more was heard of Sgt. Preston, whose TV cancellation seemed to be his permanent retirement, until 1981 when Lone Ranger Television Inc., the owner of the Preston brand, flush with the excitement of a Lone Ranger revival, decided to try their luck with Preston. Unfortunately the somewhat outdated story of a Northwest police officer failed to garner much interest. The best they were able to do was place a comic strip with the beyond-obscure Inter-Continental Press Syndicate. The new strip started in a tiny number of papers on September 20 1982.

Art on the strip was by the ever-superb veteran cartoonist Don Sherwood and the writing was by Stan Stunell, of whom I know nothing [NB: see comments below -- evidently a real person, though perhaps not the actual writer of the strip]. If the name's a pseudonym that's a good thing because the writing is almost unbelievably awful. Stories make little sense, characters pop up and disappear constantly for no reason, and up to four different (incoherent) stories are being juggled at any given time.

For many years I thought the Sgt. Preston strip was just a legend, one of those features that never actually got off the ground but yet was talked about as if it did -- syndicate sales brochures were the only evidence I ever saw for it. It wasn't until recently that I came across a run of the strip in the Seattle Times that finally turns this phantom strip into a reality. However, a few mysteries still remain:

* the strip was advertised as daily and Sunday, but I've never found a Sunday. I think there must have been one, though, because there are always story gaps between the Saturday and Monday dailies.Did the Times, or any other paper for that matter, print them? [NB: I have since found a few Sunday samples of the strip; unfortunately they are just clippings and I can't tell which paper they are from]

* the strip ends in the Seattle Times on March 16, 1983, a Wednesday, with a 'The End' announcement and a story wrap-up using pasted up art from old strips. It would be VERY odd for a paper to end an ongoing feature on a Wednesday, so I assumed this final strip was from the syndicate and did indeed signal the demise of the strip. Yet the feature was advertised in the 1983 E&P Syndicate Directory, not issued until months later. I also found original art advertised on the Comicartfans website that appears to be later since none of the strips is from a storyline in my Times run. The repro is too blurry to tell dates with certainty, but I think they are from July. What is weirder, though, is they seem to be set in bygone days, not the modern setting of the strips I have.


I had seen a couple of reproductions of individual Preston strips, but I thought they were demos for an unsold feature. I'm amazed that the strip actually appeared...and in the Seattle Times, which should have known better!

Sherwood exhibits the same bravura work that made "The Partridge Family" comic book such a success.
Why is it that when an old character is "revived", the chore is always given to someone has to tamper with the established, perhaps even beloved, aspects of the property? Here we see how Sergeant Preston, stalwart, grown-up Canadian Mountie, has been altered for the target audience of all modern poop culture: Now he's an American kid, with a hot young chick, and cool toys aplenty. (What's an ALASKAN cop doing crossing the border? Isn't the "Yukon" of the title over in sovereign Canadian territory?) I wonder if they had left it alone, it might have recieved a flicker of interest in Canadian papers, eh? -----Cole Johnson.
So Sgt. Preston got the Terry and the Pirates treatment ... or was it the other way around? Yes, I remember those old issues of The Partridge Family comic that Sherwood drew. Even at seven I knew that Shirley Jones was the only good thing about that show ... Anyway, I'm impressed by the work here. Even in 1982 strips were pretty small, and I have to tip my hat to Sherwood for making this more than just another talking heads strip. It's obvious that he put a lot more work into the strip than it was probably worth.
I have the original art for a September 20, 1983 Sgt. Preston of the Yukon comic strip. It contains a SUV-like vehicle.
Bill Kost: 9/28/12
Stanley Stunell

Stunell, Stanley January 24, 1930 - November 24, 2011 Stanley Stunell 81, passed away peacefully on Thanksgiving Day, November 24, 2011. He was born Jan 24, 1930 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Stan was raised in England and Scotland and served in the British Royal Navy. He moved back to Chester, Pennsylvania with his mother in 1949 and then to Los Angeles in 1959 where he met and married Mildred Risk, who survives him. Stanley was vice-president, head of the film division at Wrather Corporation. He resigned in 1983 to design and build a 50 foot sailboat, which he sailed through the Panama Canal to the Mediterranean, on which they cruised for six years. In 1992 they returned to live on Bainbridge Island, Washington before moving back to Southern California. In addition to his wife, he is survived by two sisters-in-law, Mary Shook and Terry Zeoli and husband Gene. Stanley was a devoted uncle to seven nieces and nephews and their spouses, and six grand nieces and nephews. A memorial will be held in January.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on December 16, 2011
Stan Stunnell was head of film and licensing at Wrather. Whiole I was at The Nostalgia Merchant (177-84) we obtained the rights to all of the Wrather film holdings (Lone Ranger, Lassie, etc.) for the home video market. Stan was a gracious individual, but I am doubtful about his credit as the writer of the Preston strip. While he was a savvy negotiator, he never exhibited or even mentioned doing or exhibiting any talent for writing any script of any kind for the Wrather-owned characters. Further, the obit mentioned that he "retired" from Wrather. That isn't the way I heard it and I heard it from Stan.
He was of course the Wrather executive who gave Clayton Moore a hard time in 1979, forcing him to give up the maskin his personal appearances.
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