Monday, February 04, 2019


Toppers: Fablettes

Little Annie Rooney was a bald-faced attempt by King Features to piggyback on the success of Little Orphan Annie. Rooney debuted in 1927, penned by Ed Verdier, and made it into very few client papers at first. However, when workhorse cartoonist Ben Batsford took over the feature in 1929, newspaper clients started to take notice, and when Batsford was replaced by the team of Brandon Walsh and Darrell McClure, the copycat strip finally found itself to be a modest success.

In November 1930 a Sunday page was added, and thereby hangs a bit of a mystery. In the period 1930-31, I have never seen a Little Annie Rooney Sunday that ran as anything other than half-page format. Therefore, I have never seen it with a topper in that era. Was there a full page or tab version? If so, did it have a topper?*

The mystery deepens. In the period 1932 to October 1933, I have never seen a single example of the Sunday in any format. Did King drop the Sunday after it's perhaps one year stint in 1930-31?

In October 1933, the Sunday finally comes back on my radar, and at this time it was available as a full page, complete with a topper titled Fablettes. Fablettes was an unassuming feature with no continuing characters. Brandon Walsh wrote a two tier gag about most anything that popped into his head, and Darrell McClure illustrated it. Mission accomplished.

I chose the Sunday sample above because it shows off the continued cribbing from Little Orphan Annie. The above strip is an outright copy of the sort of material Harold Gray had offered in his The Private Life of... Sunday topper. However, Fablettes was at least not slavish to Gray -- many Fablettes episodes are pure joke book material.

Darrell McClure was replaced on Little Annie Rooney Sunday in 1934, and his last Fablette was published on February 4. Thereafter the art was provided by Nick Afonsky.

Brandon Walsh was running a sequence in the main strip which concerned a stereotypical aphorism-spouting Chinese fellow named Ming Foo. He decided the character would make a good topper subject. Fablettes was thus dropped on March 10 1935 in favor of the new feature.

Any help readers can give concerning the history of the early Little Annie Rooney Sunday page would be most welcome.

* Jeffrey Lindenblatt offers this possibility: might the 1930-31 Little Annie Rooney half-page Sunday have been created purely as a filler? The Hearst syndicates did this in the '20s and earlier (Charlie and George and part of the Freddie the Sheik run, for instance); could Annie have been another entry in that line?


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