Tuesday, May 19, 2020


Obscurity of the Day: Thorn McBride

Frank Giacoia never had much luck picking a blockbuster newspaper strip; part of that was his choice of syndicates. His first two strips, Sherlock Holmes and Johnny Reb and Billy Yank, were distributed by the New York Herald-Tribune, which had great taste in features but couldn't sell them to save their souls. His third try, Thorn McBride, managed to find an even worse distributor. Copley Press, which operated a substantial chain of newspapers, couldn't even seem to convince their own papers to run their strips. Now that's pathetic.

Maybe with Thorn McBride those Copley papers weren't so dumb. Giacoia's art, always superbly professional if not especially flashy, was paired with the awful writing of a fellow named Kanneth Simms. Simms was in love with what he thought was snappy dialogue. He obviously wanted to be the next Milton Caniff, but what came out on the page was confusing, herky-jerky and worst of all, verbose. Poor Giacioa sometimes has to shoehorn talking heads into panel corners just to remind us that it's a comic strip. To his credit, though, he worked hard on this dog. Check out the extra bits of business Giacoia adds in some of these strips above that could have been just a series of talking heads. 

Debuting on September 12 1960* as a daily-only strip, Thorn McBride concerns the adventures aboard a US Navy nuclear submarine. This was a hot topic at the time because the USS Nautilus, the world's first nuclear sub, had just made headlines by 'sailing' under the North Pole. There was also a big budget nuclear sub movie in the works, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. The concept seemed like a surefire hit for a strip, but the quality of the writing combined with the inability of Copley to sell their wares had this ship sinking a lot faster than subs ought to.

Frank Giacoia jumped ship after just four months, handing the reins over to another fine cartoonist, Mel Keefer (see the final example above for a Keefer strip), on January 23 1961**. Keefer proved much more game to ride on the Thorn McBride ship, and lasted until its demise on December 29 1962***.

Copley advertised the availabiltiy of the strip in 1963, but someone there was apparently a little behind on reading company memos. As proof I can offer that one paper ran a blank space for a week after the cited end date, with the text "Thorn McBride has been discontinued by the Artist."

One other minor postscript; Copley was seemingly unable to handle the distribution of a daily comic strip themselves, so they recruited United Feature Syndicate to handle the distribution.

* Source: Charleston Daily Mail
** Source: Washington Star
*** Source: Hayward Review, Long Beach Press-Telegram.


That one tier is just about the best Keefer work I ever saw.
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