Tuesday, April 16, 2013


Obscurity of the Day: Ma

One of the more interesting side roads in the annals of 20th century newspaperdom is the saga of Cornelius Vanderbilt IV. He was born into the hyper-wealthy Vanderbilt family, but was ostracized by them for his interest in journalism. The Vanderbilts, frequent targets of reportorial skeleton-rattling, hated the press, and when young Vanderbilt decided to get into that business the family shut him out of their lives almost completely.

Vanderbilt fancied himself a crusader, and his papers tiptoed a fine line between muckraking and plain old sensationalism. Vanderbilt quickly created enemies for himself and his papers, and the newspapers found it hard to sell advertising space. Not only that, but as new kids on the block in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Miami, the Vanderbilt papers found it nigh impossible to purchase syndicated material.

That brings us to the CV Newspaper Syndicate, which was created in an attempt to offset the cost of having to generate comics and columns in-house for the papers. Unfortunately, though the CV Newspaper Syndicate actually had some rather intriguing material on offer, there were few if any takers. The newspaper fraternity was not interested in doing business with the young upstart.

Today we focus on Ma by Ray Hoppman, one of CV's offerings. It's not a classic by any means, but Hoppman had a knack, in my opinion, for writing genuine, warm and realistic humor about his typical American family. The art is adequate, though one has to wonder about some rather odd details -- Ma and Pa's eyeglasses look like they might be predecessors of the X-Ray specs advertised in comic books, and daughter seems to live in a perpetual high wind, her head looking like a radiator cap ornament.

Hoppmann definitely had talent, but he usually worked for second-tier and low-rent operations like CV. Perhaps he had personal issues of some sort. We'll get to know Hoppmann a little better towmorrow, with Alex Jay's Ink-Slinger Profile.

Pinning down the running dates of Ma is tough, because the Vanderbilt papers are mostly, or perhaps even completely, unavailable on microfilm as far as I know -- a real tragedy. What we can piece together is based on a few bound volumes and loose issues in collector's hands. We think the strip began in May 1923 (this from a Fourth Estate piece), and ran at least until July 1924, based on L.A. Daily News issues owned by Cole Johnson.


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