Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Obscurity of the Day: The Inventor

I've written about the pioneering daily comics page of the Chicago Daily News several times here on the blog, so I'll just quickly remind you that they were syndicating an almost full page of comics, panel cartoons and text gags well over a decade before Hearst and Pulitzer got on board.

The Daily News comics page lost much of its vigor in the 1910s. Two factors were to blame. First, obviously their product was no longer unique and had to compete in quality with very good daily comics from the big syndicates. Secondly, the News' strips were now syndicated through the Associated Newspapers co-op, rather than the News' own syndication efforts, and the profit motive had been substantially muted. No longer was there constant experimentation on the back page of the News, instead there was now a short list of much longer-running strips that inevitably outlived their potential for humor. The cartoonists in the News bullpen were bred for experimentation, and now were yoked to the same old plough every day, and it didn't suit them.

One of the great cartoonists at the Daily News was Ted Brown, who started signing his first name only to back page series in 1905. He was incredibly prolific, as were many in the News bullpen, and he stuck around until the page had been pretty thoroughly usurped by syndicated material from elsewhere in the mid-1910s.

His last new series for the Daily News was The Inventor, which started on July 22 1914. It was not a true daily, but came closer to that standard than anything he'd done before. It was a very repetitive strip (as was true of many Daily News series). but Brown has to be given kudos for coming up with an endless series of new inventions that backfire in one way or another. At the rate of one strip every few days, I can see readers finding it quite entertaining.

Tracking The Inventor becomes difficult because, in a move that would become increasingly common in the newspaper world later on, the Chicago Daily News quit running the strip but continued having it produced. Associated Newspapers offered so much material that the Daily News ended up running outside series more than its own.

In the Boston Globe, which liked The Inventor well enough to feature it regularly, the strip became a true daily starting September 1915. They too tired of the strip, though, and I have to track it to 1917 through the less reliable source of the Columbus Monitor, which began running it that year. By then, though, Ted Brown was gone, and it was being produced by Austin C. Williams. The series came to an end in the Monitor on June 30 1917.


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