Tuesday, August 09, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Tempus Todd

Tempus Todd didn't last long and it sure didn't run in many papers, but it does mark a rather important milestone in the history of newspaper comic strips, even if it's lead wasn't really followed for, oh, about 60-some years after its appearance in 1923. It is the first comic strip for mainstream (read 'white') newspapers that treated black characters as more than caricatured buffoons, half-wits and layabouts. Although the characters in Tempus Todd do speak in stereotypical dialect, they are most definitely written as 'real people'. They are also not drawn in the standard balloon-lipped inky-faced stereotype.

The basic idea is that Tempus, the lead, is a cab driver. At first the gags are mainly about his fares, but as you can see from the samples above he soon gets into more involved plots. Unfortunately the strip didn't have long to mature. It only ran (as best as can be determined), from April 16 to September 29 1923.

The strip was written by Octavus Roy Cohen, who had good name recognition in the twenties because he was a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post, specializing in tales of black folk. The art was handled by H. Weston Taylor. Taylor was a prolific book illustrator in the teens and twenties, including several of Cohen's novels. He also pops up much later as a comic book artist, but this is his only known newspaper comics credit. The daily grind of newspaper work doesn't seem to have suited him well. At first his art on the feature is sort of a bargain basement version of E.W. Kemble, but the quality varies widely. Later in the run Taylor seems to really be dashing the stuff out -- the art gets pretty darn basic near the end.

The syndication of Tempus Todd is a bit mysterious. At first the John F. Dille Company is credited, but by September, at least in the Oakland Tribune, there is a credit outside the strip to the McClure Syndicate. On such a short run feature a syndicate change seems rather unusual, and I wonder if the Tribune credit is a mistake.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the sample images!


I know Gosden and Correll didn't do "Sam 'n' Henry/Amos 'n' Andy" until the late twenties, but the vibe of this strip *does* seem familiar...

(Ands is it kismet that Cohen actually wrote for "Amos 'n' Andy" in the mid-forties?)
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