Monday, January 02, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Let's Explore Your Mind (Part 1)

It may seem unfair to label Let's Explore Your Mind as an obscurity. After all, it ran for almost 40 years. However, I think it qualifies because in terms of comics history it has been all but ignored. And that's not without good reason.

Let's Explore Your Mind does not really qualify as a comic strip or cartoon panel by our usual standards. I generally draw the line when a panel cartoon comes with the hefty baggage of a long typeset column of prose, as this one does. The daily version of the feature should really be disqualified entirely. The Sunday version, on the other hand, is much more graphic-heavy, and may barely squeak by. However, the real reason I think that it belongs in the pantheon is purely based on the delightful quality of the cartooning. I think the only reason this feature ran for four decades is because people loved the cartoon portion, not because of the column. As proof, I offer this: Let's Explore Your Mind could be run without the graphic, which was purely eye-candy. Yet will you ever find a newspaper running the feature sans cartoon, as was sometimes done with other similar features? Heck no. Okay, I rest my flimsy case.

So with legalities out of the way, let's take a look. Let's Explore Your Mind was syndicated by John F. Dille, who loved features that were educational yet entertaining -- he even thought of Buck Rogers as a tool for teaching kids about the wonders of science. By November 21 1932, when Let's Explore Your Mind debuted, people were beginning to accept the notion that psychology wasn't utter claptrap whose only use was to save murderers from the electric chair. There was a great curiosity brewing about how the mind worked, and a desire for self-examination, and perhaps even the promise of self-improvement. The new feature was perfectly placed to offer readers some very basic ideas about psychology and sociology, related in a highly entertaining manner.

The author was Albert Edward Wiggam, a noted science popularizer, whose books were highly regarded. Unfortunately, he was also a proponent of eugenics, which rather takes the bloom off his rose. But this was before Hitler had started slaughtering people in mass numbers in the name of improving the species, and so Wiggam's major defect was not held against him as far as I know. Wiggam apparently had the intelligence to keep those racist views out of this new daily feature.

Wiggam designed the column as a provocative question-and-answer session, which was sheer genius. It made each day's episode into a little quiz. Readers would see stimulating questions posed in the graphic portion, and how could they go on with the paper until they read the answer? The questions generally required only an opinion as the answer, and people love to find out if their opinions go with or against the grain of authority. How can anyone resist finding out what an 'expert' has to say about questions like "Do church-going couples have happier marriages?", "Does higher education make a woman lose her beauty?", and "Are love a first sight relationships unlikely to last?".

If the questions themselves failed to draw you in, the cartoons by Raymond Flanagan made the feature nearly irresistible. Flanagan (or his editor and collaborator) had the brilliant idea that practically every day's cartoon would feature a beautiful woman. If there could be any reason at all, no matter how uncompelling, that beautiful girl would also be drawn in a sexy pose, perhaps even in revealing garments.  If the poor unsuspecting reader had any hope of bypassing Let's Explore Your Mind, that battle was hereby lost.

Raymond Flanagan art on Let's Explore Your Mind

The team of Wiggam and Flanagan had a minor hit on their hands, at least by the standards of the Dille syndicate. The feature did take a while to catch on, but there was a steady build to the number of subscribing papers all through the 1930s. The feature was popular enough that the six-day-per-week frequency was bumped up to seven days, with the Sunday edition just a slightly larger version of the daily.

For reasons unknown, Flanagan bailed out on the featre in 1940. Oddly, his last signed illustration is June 15, but his art seems to continue for a few additional weeks. Later that summer the new artist, Jack Hamm, comes on board, who also fails to sign his first few weeks. His first signed cartoon was on September 2. Hamm wasn't quite as good an artist as Flanagan, in my opinion, but he made up for it by amping up the cheesecake factor in his cartoons.

Jack Hamm art on Let's Explore Your Mind

[With forty years of history to cover, this is going to be our first ever two-part Obscurity of the Day -- see you here tomorrow for much more on Let's Explore Your Mind]


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