Monday, March 21, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Stanley Steamer

In the 1960s computers and robots were already very much on the public mind. The common wisdom was that they were going to replace us in all of our jobs, then they'd take over the world, and that eventually they would see mankind for the second-raters we are and exterminate us as a lower life form. Luckily it turns out that they're just turning us into inert blobs, too busy playing video games, updating our Facebook pages, tweeting and making blog posts to bother having an actual life. Thank goodness we dodged that bullet.

In 1965 John Somerville took a different tack in Stanley Steamer. He chose to portray robots as cute and cuddly, and featured a happy-go-lucky little steam-powered robot in the starring role of his strip. Stanley is the creation of Mr. Fink, a sour little genius who has no end of trouble getting his robots to perform the way he wants them to.

The strip really had a lot going for it, and I'm surprised it wasn't a hit. It was syndicated by impresario Lew Little, whose stock-in-trade at the time was to pick up a strip that he liked, sell it to a few papers, and then shop it around to the major syndicates as a success story already in progress. At the same time as he was shepherding Stanley Steamer, he was doing the same with Tumbleweeds and Wee Pals, so he definitely had an eye for picking winners.

Unfortunately Stanley Steamer doesn't seem to have caught the fancy of any of the major players, and the strip, which began on November 29 1965, made it into 1966 but no farther. I don't have an end date for the strip; my latest samples are from April, but it was advertised in the 1966 E&P Syndicate Directory, so I'm assuming it lasted at least into the summer months, if not longer.

Edit: The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ran it to the end, on November 19 1966. Thanks to the tag team of Mark and Cole Johnson for dredging that out of the memory banks and checking the microfilm!


I don't have the ending date of this strip, though reading it daily in the Philadelphia EVENING BULLETIN, I do remember the final installment; Stanley bids us adieu, riding on the back of a crowded, open bed truck, heading into a junk yard, where I suppose he'll be torn asunder and recycled.
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