Saturday, March 07, 2015


Herriman Saturday

Friday, September 18 1908 --The "Solid Three" take a kick from the Fred Opper comics icon, Maud the Mule, which Herriman draws so well you'd think it was by Opper himself. 

The situation in a nutshell: County commissioners Patterson, Eldridge and Wilson, dubbed the "Solid Three", put together a bond issue for the county and sold it off, probably to favored friends, at a high interest rate. They did this without proper public meetings and without going through the normal channels to determine a fair interest rate. On discovering this breach of the public trust, Angelenos were, not too surprisingly, up in arms.


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Friday, March 06, 2015


Sci-Friday starring Connie

Connie, August 7 1938, courtesy of Cole Johnson. 
Follow the Connie story every Friday here on Stripper's Guide.

This is the final sci-fi Connie story we have available from Cole Johnson. If anyone out there can contribute scans of another complete Connie story (later than 3/26/1939), or can offer another sci-fi strip to take its place on Sci-Fridays, I'd be delighted and grateful to hear from you! Note that we elitists at Stripper's Guide do not generally use digital microfilm material here on Stripper's Guide, so we would need sharp 300-600 dpi scans from newspaper tearsheets or syndicate proofs. 


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Thursday, March 05, 2015


Obscurity of the Day: Ecolo/Jest

If you are 50 or older, Jose Jimenez probably needs no introduction. The Hispanic alter-ego of comedian Bill Dana was pretty darn funny to us in those days when certain racist caricatures were still considered perfectly acceptable prime time fare on TV. Here's a taste:

Around 1970 Dana was getting enough heat from Hispanic groups who were offended by his character that he decided it was time to retire it. To his credit, Jose was his bread and butter and had made him a household name, so that wasn't an easy decision.

Though Dana continued in comedy, he never recovered the level of fame he had in the 60s. In the early 70s he also got interested in ecology, though, and started doodling cartoons on the subject. He showed them to a friend at the Honolulu Advertiser, and somehow they ended up in the hands of the LA Times Syndicate.

The minor problem that Dana was completely and utterly inept as a cartoonist (he later admitted as much) didn't seem to bother the LA Times Syndicate. They seemed to think that the combination of Dana's name recognition and the timely subject matter would grease the skids and have newspaper editors lining up to sign on. Why they didn't assign Dana an artist collaborator, seemingly an obvious solution, is anyone's guess.

Here's the spin the syndicate applied in their promotional material:

The stark art form of Ecolo/Jest sometimes leaves it visually to the reader's imagination to fill in his own local area that also would be affected if people refuse to care about their natural resources.


He [Dana] admits to not being a professional artist, but his ideas more than make up for it. 

When you have to apologize for your cartoonist's lack of ability twice in a promo, that should really tell you that the marketing game plan just might need a little tweaking.

Historian Mark Johnson, who supplied me the initial proof that this obscure feature ever made it into newspapers, takes Ecolo/Jest with a dose of levity: "Is this the worst syndicated panel? The scribbling over the art, as if every single one was a reject, was a nice touch."

In fairness, Bill Dana certainly had his heart in the right place. But to expect newspapers to pay for stick figures and scribbles every day, with a message that droned on a single note, certainly took a lot of chutzpah.

Ecolo/Jest debuted with LA Times Syndicate on June 21 1971, possibly after a trial run in the Honolulu Advertiser or Star-Bulletin (Dana says it started as a local feature, but cites each of the Honolulu papers in different venues). According to Dana, the feature started out with a pretty healthy client list of over 75 papers. Subscribers weren't sticking with it, though, and on March 13 1972, seeing that the subject matter might be too thin to support a daily cartoon, Dana renamed the panel Head/Lines and varied the cartoon to comment on additional issues besides the environment.

The change in direction didn't help, because the panel seems to have succumbed on June 10 1972. Apparently Price/Stern/Sloan Publishers didn't get the memo, because they offered a book reprinting the cartoons that year, issuing it after the panel had ended. Dana apparently still has a batch of these books, because on his website he offers his fans personalized copies.

One odd footnote to this story is that Price/Stern/Sloan issued another Dana book, titled Clean Air, Clean Water and other Memories in 1991. Almost twenty years after the end of the series, Dana teamed up with cartoonist Rick Penn-Kraus to redraw some of the cartoons from the original series, plus a selection of new ones.


The clip of José Jimenez shown is actually the first time the character was performed, on THE STEVE ALLEN SHOW in 1958, where Dana was a writer/ ensemble cast member.
The JJ character was so poular in the early 1960's he had several fan clubs, and his own sitcom in 1963/4( "The Bill Dana Show"), where he played a bumbling bellhop at a swanky hotel. Jonathan Harris ("Dr. Smith") was the humorless manager and Don Adams played the incompetant house detective. I really liked it when I was a kid, but in more recent viewings, it's pretty bad.
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Wednesday, March 04, 2015


The Syndicated Features Corporation Puzzle

Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 is often cited as the source that said Will Eisner and Jerry Iger formed a business called the Eisner and Iger Studio, that was also known as the Syndicated Features Corporation. I have been unable to find any evidence to support that claim. The business name, Universal Phoenix Feature Syndicate, is mentioned in two books about Eisner.

In Bob Andelman’s book, Will Eisner: A Spirited Life (2005), he wrote:

As the workload rapidly increased—Eisner & Iger created the Universal Phoenix Feature Syndicate to distribute their creations globally—they hired other artists and parceled out the assignments to a young but immensely talented (and fast) stable of artists. The bull-pen continued the books in whatever style Eisner established….
Will Eisner: A Dreamer’s Life in Comics (2010), by Michael Schumacher, said:
The Eisner & Iger company had been around only a few months when the two partners, buoyed by the early response to the company, decide to create their own comics syndicate. Universal Phoenix Features Syndicate, initially designed to handle foreign clients…quickly found a market in the United States…
In an interview with the Cubic Zirconia Reader, Jerry Iger referred to the syndicate as Universal Phoenix Features.

The founders of the Eisner and Iger Studio never called their syndicate business Syndicated Features Corporation.

The Syndicated Features Corporation produced a Sunday color-comics section with eight strips: Adventures of Nervy Nerts by George Scott; Adventures of the Red Mask by George West; Happy and His Pappy by Kin Platt; The Jamms by Crawford Young; Jigger by Gus Jud; Peggy Wow by Ray McGill; Pop’s Night Out by Dick Dorgan; and Silly Willie by Roy B. Nyles, the pseudonym of Loy Byrnes. The comics ran from July 13, 1936 to March 8, 1937. A few years later, the comics were reprinted in Best Comics. Happy and His Pappy also appeared in Startling Comics. None of these artists were associated with the Eisner and Iger Studio.

The owner of the Syndicated Features Corporation was mentioned in Michael Vance’s book, Forbidden Adventures: The History of the American Comics Group (1996). Regarding American Comics Group (ACG) writer and editor, Richard Hughes, Vance wrote:

Hughes’s opportunity came as a result of being in the right place at the right time—New York City, at the birth of a new art form. It was his talent, however, that secured him his position with Syndicated Features Corporation, one of the many branches of the Sangor Shop.
The Sangor Shop was a reference to Benjamin William “Ben” Sangor, a lawyer, real estate developer and publisher. Who’s Who said Sangor was a publisher of soft porn pulp magazines during the 1930s. Sangor ventured into comic strips through his Syndicated Features Corporation which may have produced other material for newspapers.

The Wikipedia entry for ACG explained the origin of the company:

The company evolved out of a company owned by Sangor. In the mid-1930s, Sangor and Richard E. Hughes began to produce a short-lived prepackaged comics supplement for newspapers.
Although this statement was not sourced, the existence of Syndicated Features Corporation’s 1936 comics supplement prove it to be true.

In 1938, Sangor’s daughter, Jacquelyn, married publisher, Ned L. Pines, who wanted to get into comic book publishing. Sangor’s experience with comic strips proved useful. He knew some artists and his shop was able to deliver packages of art for Pines’s comic books and other publishers, too. One of the shop members was the aforementioned Kin Platt. And Sangor’s shop produced material for his company, ACG, which ended in 1967.

The Eisner and Iger Studio piece of the puzzle does not fit in the Syndicated Features Corporation* picture.

—Alex Jay

* According to the Robert D. Fisher Manual of Valuable & Worthless Securities (1971), Volume 13, the Syndicated Features Corporation was a Delaware company whose stock was worthless in 1940. Years later, the name was resurrected as Best Syndicated Features, Inc., which was part of ACG.

A Summary
Syndicated Features Corporation //Sangor (Strips - Comic Section)
Best Syndicated Features Inc. //Sangor (ACG)
Editorial Art Syndicate //Ned Pines
Art Syndication Company //Eisner Iger
JF Massé
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Tuesday, March 03, 2015


The Comics of Syndicated Features: Adventures of Nervy Nerts

Replacing Adventures of the Red Mask on January 11 1937, Adventures of Nervy Nerts stuck with exotic locales like its predecessor, but was playing for laughs rather than thrills.

Nervy Nerts entered the section with a real bang. Our hero was launched like a missile each week from one crazy predicament to another. He was spit out of a volcano, launched off a mountain by a goat, hit by a train, thrown from a plane, and so on. It was the most frenetic strip debut I've ever seen. I mean, has it ever been said that a strip slowed down considerably when the star finally landed on a cannibal island?

The strip was credited to George Scott, a cartoonist neither Alex Jay or I can vouch for actually existing. I wonder if this is the same cartoonist who went by the name George West on Adventures of the Red Mask? Certainly the styles differ, but one strip was adventure and this one is humor, so that's to be expected.The strips share so much in common -- titling, cartoonist first name, manner of credit, that on microfilm where I originally did my research I did not even catch that the credit name changed between the two strips. In my book you'll find Adventures of Nervy Nerts improperly credited to George West. Sorry about that!

This fun strip, the only one that didn't start when the section itself debuted, ended on the demise of the Syndicated Features section on March 8 1937.


Two things:.

1. You don't know how refreshing it is to see a dark skinned man depicted WITHOUT big, white lips for a change. (Still, he's a cannibal, but baby steps, I guess...)

2. Topless white woman?! Progressive...;-)
Is the relationship between Zaabo and the Queen comics' first interracial marriage? Progressive indeed.
I see another similarity between the work of West and Scott: the pacing is similar. It’s especially noticeable between episodes—there’s a sense that something happened between the two Sunday installments. In this case, Scott skips the actual fall, going from our hero running to falling.
Make that “the actual jump”.
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Monday, March 02, 2015


The Comics of Syndicated Features: Adventures of the Red Mask

By far the most interesting strip in the Syndicated Features line-up was Adventures of the Red Mask. The Red Mask was a heroic figure pretty obviously inspired by The Phantom, which had debuted in newspapers less than six months earlier.

The strip was frenetically paced, and I haven't seen quite all the episodes, so there may be some holes in my understanding of the plot. It seems that the Red Mask is a deposed ruler over an island jungle kingdom. He's a wanted man by the new rulers, so he dons the mask while he tries to marshal his forces to regain power. While plotting to take back his kingdom, he gets involved with a bunch of silly rich folk who come to the island looking for a fellow who was marooned there some time before. In the process they wreck their boat and then manage to get separated into several groups. Much of the action involves the Red Mask saving them, collectively or individually, from various fates worse than death. One of the party, Robert Fear, turns out to be a black-hearted villain, a real Snidely Whiplash sort. The Red Mask and he fall in hate at first sight, and the real fun begins. It's all great fun, with just the lightest sprinkling of logic and plotting.

I have read on the interwebs that the Red Mask is heralded as the first black hero in comics. Well, you sure would think he is since he's the former ruler of a jungle kingdom, and all his subjects are black. Only problem is, the guy has wavy hair that constantly falls in his eyes. So unless his jungle has a real high-class hairstyling salon, I just can't see him being black. His skin is often colored darkly, but not consistently -- note the Caucasion and bluish (!) flesh tones above. However, he is always a different shade than his subjects. I'd say the guy is lily-white with a nice rich jungle tan.I can see why folks would assume he's black, though. Here are the first two episodes and they give that impression. Sorry, I don't have tearsheets of these:

These strips certainly give the impression that Maui, a black native, is the Red Mask. I think this has got to be a red herring though. I believe the lost man, Jason Armitage, is going to turn out to be the Red Mask -- it seems like a classic plot contrivance. Seemingly reveal the identity of the mystery man at the start, but pull a switch later on. I could be wrong (despite the wavy hair) and I can't prove it one way or the other. Y'see, we've got a bit of a problem. Adventures of the Red Mask ended with the 26th episode (the only Syndicated Features strip not to run for the whole life of the comic section), and it stops in mid-story. Here is the final strip, which is courtesy of Cole Johnson.  Prepare to be disappointed:

Yup, the final episode is still in mid-story! We are left hanging never knowing the true identity of the Red Mask.

The feature is credited to George West, who neither I or Alex Jay can track down. Is it a pseudonym?  The art is serviceable, but it's not a style that reminds me of someone else who'd want to hide behind a pen-name.

West is the only creator who didn't stick around for the entire run of the Syndicated Features tabloid section. Adventures of the Red Mask ended after episode #26, and was replaced the next week by Adventures of Nervy Nerts. The new strip was credited to George Scott, but I think it is possible, even probable that the new credit is just another pseudonym of the same guy. 


George Storm?
Hmm. Interesting thought. He was ending his run on Bobby Thatcher shortly after this; maybe he was trying this out as a new gig, because he pretty much drops off my radar after Bobby Thatcher, until he pops back up doing comic book work in the 40s.

The style doesn't exactly scream George Storm to me (he's a bit more cartoony than this typically).

I've been puzzling over this, because a black hero being published while Jim Crow was the law in the South is fascinating. I don't think the Red Mask was originally meant to be Armitage—why call himself Maui if so? I agree we can't know what the writer would've done.

I also agree with the people who say he's Polynesian or Malaysian, not African, but that doesn't really distract from the fact that in his adventures, he's dark-skinned.
George Storm seems likely. The Red Mask appeared when he was thinking about leaving or had actually left Bobby Thatcher.
Thanks for this post. I stumbled across the character and wanted to know more.

I feel like I've seen stories in this time period where you might see occasional romances between Caucasians and Polynesians, because the latter weren't considered "Black." Not sure, though.
Caucasian and Polynesian was more acceptable to racists, but I’m pretty sure the Polynesians were colored light brown in those cases.
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