|October 15 1905|
|December 10 1905|
|January 14 1906|
|March 4 1906|
|September 23 1906|
|October 21 1906|
|February 10 1907|
|September 22 1907|
|November 3 1907|
|March 22 1908|
|April 12 1908|
If I was to ask you to name cities that have been hotbeds of newspaper cartooning activity, Newark New Jersey would probably come pretty far down on your list. But there have actually been quite a few local features in the papers of that city. Why? Mainly because it is close enough to New York City that, in the old days of exclusive territories for newspaper comics, Newark was frozen out from most of the mainstream strips which were gobbled up by the Big Apple.
Although newspapers in Newark and other cities in the shadow of NYC always managed to make do, usually on a steady diet of B-grade syndicate features, there was an exceptional receptiveness at these papers to local features.
Blog reader Fram, who braves the dark waters of the Google Newspaper Archive in spite of an annoying interface, spotty coverage and buggy digitization, discovered the feature sampled above, perhaps the earliest local feature to appear in the Newark papers.
The Newark Call
began publishing a weekly strip by Louis Kniep in their Sunday edition on or before October 15 1905. (Most of the dates cited in this post will be approximations -- many issues of the Call
are missing from the Google archives.) The strip usually starred animals, though none were nominated for star billing for a long while. The strips are certainly not notable for quality of art or gags -- in fact they are quite firmly in the amateur category. What is notable is the level of cruelty and violence depicted -- Fram aptly described them as outdoing Tom and Jerry
in that department, practically verging on Itchy and Scratchy
Starting in September 1906 a dog named Towser takes star billing on occasion, and kids named Peter, Freddy and Tommy are named more than once. By 1907, though, Towser has been renamed Fido, and Fido he stays for awhile.
Finally in September 1907 Kniep makes a breakthrough and comes up with a consistent star player he calls the Wooden Man. Other than being drawn in a weird blocky way, the substance he's made of doesn't seem to be a major plot consideration, but hey, at least Kniep finally made the effort to develop a running character. The Wooden Man's horse, also presumably wooden, is more memorable than his master -- he sports a belly-side door in the Trojan style.
While Kniep was zeroing in on the comic strip convention of recurring characters, his writing was getting increasingly disjointed. Not that Kniep's work was ever the model of clarity, but some of the strips I perused near the end of the run were downright incoherent. Finally the Call
seems to have had enough and the series ends on or soon after April 12 1908.
So, besides the minor novelty of this amateurish local comic strip lasting over two years, what can we say of interest? Fram offers this nugget -- he did a little digging on this Louis Kniep fellow and discovered that a Newark native by this same name competed as a gymnast in the 1904 Olympics! If it is the same fellow, he was about as good a gymnast as he was a cartoonist. He placed 44th in his best event.