Thursday, February 21, 2019
Obscurity of the Day: Happy Hank
This little feature, Happy Hank, ran on occasional weekdays in the Chicago Daily News from March 31 to May 30 1903. The Daily News devoted half or more of their back page to cartoons and comic strips every weekday, and had so much material to offer that most of it was printed very small. That led creators to keep their gags basic, and Happy Hank was no exception. In each installment the dim-witted fellow simply tries to impress a gal and fails miserably.
But a little feature like this can be much more important than it looks, for it represents what I believe to be the first series ever penned by that giant of the newspaper comics page, Harold Tucker Webster. Webster, of course, went on to create a long-running panel cartoon feature that became an integral part of the American consciousness, but in 1903 he was an inexperienced greenhorn who only begrudgingly got to do an occasional panel cartoon or strip for the Daily News back page. In fact, this is one of only two series he was allowed to do there in a stint that lasted a couple years.
Is there any hint of the future Webster greatness here? Nah, not a bit. But Webby shows off a bit of maverick nature here -- the lion's share of Daily News strips at this time told their gags in printed captions below the panels, but as you can see in the second example, he adds a couple word balloons to help with the comedy. Ironic, then, that Webster would generally eschew word balloons in his famous panel cartoon series of later years.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans.
So this can't be considered a precursor to Webster's long running "Poker Portraits" series.
Sorry, I'm grasping at anything here.