Monday, October 05, 2015
Obscurity of the Day: Barnum was Right
It seems to me that a comic strip creator, if he or she can do nothing else well, ought to at least be able to follow their own self-imposed rules. In other words, if a comic strip creator does a strip about a little girl, they can't just change her into a little boy for a day. Charles Schulz can't have Charlie Brown berate Lucy for snatching away the football, Calvin can't start paying attention in class, Garfield can't purr contentedly in Jon's arms, and Dagwood can't flirt with the gals in the office.
Once you make up the rules of your feature, you've got to stick to them. It's really not that hard. But for Fred Locher, who had a long career as a newspaper cartoonist, even this basic requirement seems to have been beyond his capabilities. In the short run 1917 strip Barnum Was Right, the self-imposed rule is perfectly simple. Based on the title, our protagonist must be revealed in each strip to be a sucker, as of the "one born every minute" variety. How hard can that be?
In the top strip above, Locher executes the rule perfectly. The strip not only obeys the rule, but frankly, the message about the treadmill of life is really quite effective and, dare I say it, touching!
But then Locher blows it. In the next two strips, our little mensch is in one case revealed to be uninformed about a train schedule, which is unfortunate to be sure, but certainly doesn't make him a sucker. He would be a sucker if some smart-ass had told him to wait for the bus there. But that's not what happened.
In the last example he has lost his key, which perhaps makes him an idiot. Then he is snagged by a suspicious cop, which makes him very unlucky. But neither of those things makes him a sucker.
There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the gags, though they're about as weak as Gandhi after a long fast. They're just not right for this comic strip. If Locher couldn't abide by his rule, he should have just changed the name of the strip. Howzabout They'll Do It Every Time or It's a Great Life if You Don't Weaken. I like the ring to those, and they fit the spirit of the strip.
Locher did this sorry excuse for a strip for Hearst's Newspaper Feature Service for an undetermined amount of time in 1917. I have only seen isolated examples that ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin in September of that year.