Monday, January 30, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Campus Clatter

In 1969 college campuses were ground zero for anti-war protests, anti-government groups, drug experimentation, and unrest of just about any kind you'd care to name, So it seems rather odd that the NEA syndicate picked this particular moment to offer Campus Clatter, a daily and Sunday strip which uses that environment for the purposes of light comedy.

Campus Clatter was brought on NEA's roster to replace The Willets, a spin-off of Out Our Way that hadn't really taken hold. The strip debuted as a daily on July 7 1969, and a Sunday was added March 15 1970. The creator of the new strip, Larry Lewis, was a cartoonist in his 40s with a mostly commercial background. He sold NEA on the strip strictly through a mail-in submission, much to his amazement.

Lewis stated that he was able to keep up on the current campus scene because his wife was a college teacher, and his daughter a student. While the strip did make an occasional effort to reflect current events, however, few of the gags would have seemed out of place in a 1930s issue of College Humor.

The strip was further hobbled by having no strong characters; the lead, Bimo Burns, is an everyman with no discernable personality. The strip was pretty strictly gag-a-day, and Lewis liked a regimented group of subjects -- "in a typical week I try to have at least 2 classroom gags, one gag related to sports, one to the administrative end of things, another to social life, and perhaps one to faculty." In fairness, this sort of approach worked very well for Mort Walker, so perhaps Lewis had the right idea.

With Doonesbury taking the comic strip world by storm in late 1970, you have to wonder if Lewis consdered making his strip a little edgier to compete. If he did, he evidently decided against the notion. Campus Clatter stayed true to its roots all through the run, which had Bimo Burns evidently failing a lot of courses so that he could stay enrolled at good old Doolittle College until October 2 1976.


Wish you can tell us about the Willets that was replaced, if you have a chance!!!
I recall that "Doonesbury" triggered a small flood of actual college student strips trying to jump to national syndication. Are any others of "Doonesbury" vintage still going?
Geez Donald, maybe I'm just getting old and foggy, but I can't think of a single college strip that followed Doonesbury's lead back in the early 70s off the top of my head. Undoubtedly there were some, but unless something obvious is eluding me, none made much of a lasting impression. I think most of the Donesbury wannabees date more from the early 80s, when the strip went on hiatus, creating a feeding frenzy of strips looking to take Trudeau's clients.

The Willets who wold star in the daily Willets strip first appeared (as far as I can discern) in the Sunday Out Our Way May 29, 1966. They were not the Willis-Liz Willets who had been the stars of the Sunday Out Our Way strip forever as Allan implies in his book. Rather they were neighbors.

The fathers shared an uncle according to the first appearance making them some kind of cousins. They were probably not first cousins as they didn't seem to know their relationship so uncle probably meant brother of a cousin or something making the father's at best second cousins.

The family had a teen-age son and daughter and a dog.
I'm probably conflating a few things in my own boomer fog, but remember stumbling across a steady trickle of paperbacks of what looked like badly drawn college strips, some syndicated and some strictly student (meant for the college bookstore?). A few of the better ones I later recognized as "alternative weekly" strips, like Unconscious Comics.

"Bloom County" was the one that took the Doonesbury spot in the San Jose Mercury -- because of its semi-editorial cartoon status it had a designated piece of real estate between some regular columns instead of the comic page. I developed a perhaps unfair prejudice against Bloom County because it then felt too much like a deliberate Doonesbury knockoff, not helped by an interview where the creator went on about why he was edgier and better. I still suspect the strip owes much of its success to matching the look and feel of Doonesbury when a sub was needed, much as Mallard Fillmore was embraced by editors as the quasi-official "equal time" answer to Doonesbury.
While Lewis's strip didn't set the world on fire, it was a really attractively drawn feature in the old Mort Walker studio style. I'm guessing that the idea was to have a "relevant" college-oriented feature that looked like a standard strip and which also wouldn't offend anyone With a better cast of characters, who knows what might have happened?
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