Tuesday, May 02, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Mac

Mac by Irving Knickerbocker
Mac by 'Munch"
Mac by Howard Boughner
Mac temporarily retitled "The McCoys"
Mac by Bob Moyer
We've discussed several features that were distributed by NEA's weekly 'pony' division. Although they are seldom memorable, they're kind of fun to discuss (for me anyway) because of the musical chairs approach to cartooning them. As you can imagine, cartoonists weren't too terribly anxious to take on the thankless task of producing these weekly strips, as the pay was probably low, and so few papers used them that the creators must have felt like they were producing something that just went right down the drain to oblivion.

So here we have Mac, which debuted in the NEA pony service on  May 10 1929*. The strip ran in few papers, and is made hard to identify in those that did by using 'headline' style titles (a relic that had gone out of fashion for most strips in the mid-1910s). These headlines often didn't even mention the name of our star. The strip was about a Reg'lar Fellers sort of hyperactive wise-guy kid, sporting a giant tie for a visual trademark. It was originally penned by Irving Knickerbocker who was a mainstay of the NEA bullpen in the 1920s, until his untimely death in 1930. He died in January, but his backlog of strips lasted until March 7.

Following Knick was someone who signed himself 'Munch'. He did a fair job of carrying on as his predecessor, and ran the show for over six years, finally bowing out with the release of November 2 1936. Alex Jay has tracked down his identity, which will be the subject of an Ink-Slinger Profile tomorrow.

After Munch, the few papers that bothered to take notice were treated to the fluid and dynamic pen of Howard Boughner. It's weird, but I find Boughner's art is best when he probably doesn't care a bit about the assignment, which surely would have been the case with Mac. Other times his art can be a bit fussy, but here that brush just whirls and daubs, leaving the most lovely impressionistic panels. Boughner decided to age Mac a bit, settling him into a new age that seems maybe just short of teen-hood. With the number of Reg'lar Fellers wanna-bes taking up residence in newspaper comics of the 1930s, it's nice to see a kid of a different age.

For some reason, Boughner changed the name of the strip to The McCoys on March 3 1941. There is no change to the focus of the strip that I can notice.

It wasn't long after the name change that Boughner left Mac/The McCoys. On September 29, Bob Moyer took the reins, along with several other NEA pony features.  He promptly changed the title back to Mac, starting with the December 1 episode. Moyer really seemed to have a gift for aping other cartoonists. On Ticklers he did a nice George Scarbo impression, and on Mac he did a lovely Boughner-esque job, showing a deft hand with the brush.

When Moyer joined the Army in February 1943, the fickle finger of fate pointed back to Howard Boughner. He returned to the strip with the February 8 episode, this time showing his disdain for the assignment by not signing his work. He did, however, keep up the lovely brushwork nevertheless. Boughner wasn't willing to let this become a long-term relationship again, though, because the strip was cancelled with the release of May 3 1943. Evidently NEA couldn't find anyone in the bullpen willing to waste their time on a nice little weekly strip that hardly any newspapers seemed to print.

* By the way, when we're talking about syndicated strips meant for weekly papers, the specific dates I give are sort of an estimate, because weekly papers publish on different days of the week. Therefore, there is no really official start or end date, but only an approximation -- all the dates given theoretically are plus or minus up to seven days. So when you see dates in these cases, mentally add the words "the week of" and you're closer to the actual truth.

In the case of NEA's weekly strips, most of the cited dates come from the actual syndicate archives, which I indexed in their resting spot at Ohio State University. The NEA pony service proof sheets generally said on them "For publication the week of MM/DD/YY" using a Monday date.


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