Friday, May 07, 2021


Obscurity of the Day: Surgeon Stone


Surgeon Stone is an obscurity that's a devil to track down. After starting out innocently enough as part of a whole slew of new Chicago Tribune Sunday strips that began like a machine gun blast in 1946, the Trib gave up on it pretty quickly. Wild Rose, John West, the revival of Streamer Kelly and other new additions for 1946 continued appearing in the Trib for a relatively long time, despite attracting practically no syndication clients. Surgeon Stone, on the other hand, arrived there on April 7 1946, and last appeared on March 2 1947 (the top and bottom samples above). 

That all seems pretty cut and dried, except that on really rare occasions I've seen later ones, and I've even seen original art for examples as late as 1950. Which seems rather weird, except that it meshes rather nicely with the fact that the Tribune advertised the strip as available as late as 1951 in the Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directories. 

So what gives? Assuming I haven't managed to miss a bunch of syndication clients for Surgeon Stone, why in the world would they have been producing it that long? If they wanted it for the Trib itself, that would be one thing, but even they didn't want it!

Finally I stumbled across the answer. Unfortunately this answer, as weird as it is, sure doesn't make me feel like I've solved a mystery -- just found another one. In the Chicago Tribune of October 4 1948, there is an offhand remark that Surgeon Stone was in fact still being run in Tribune, but only in the Canadian edition!

Heck, I didn't even know there was such a thing. And given that there was, what was it about Surgeon Stone that makes it worthy of being produced and printed only for an obscure edition of the newspaper? Sigh. There's just no end once you go down some of these rabbit holes. 

Just in case you're thinking that the strip must star a Mountie or be set in the Northwest Territories, or at least have a lot of 'eh's in the dialogue, nah, forget that angle. Surgeon Stone is about a plastic surgeon, and there's no Canadian content that I can pinpoint. The strip, though rather repetitive with the hero getting mixed up with thieves over and over, is actually kinda cool. It has a great hardboiled film noir-ish feel to it, and the art by Richard Fletcher (the ChiTrib Rick Fletcher who also did Jed Cooper, not the one who took over Dick Tracy) gets better and better as the series goes on. By 1947 Fletcher has figured out a bold colour scheme for the strip, and employs great dramatic camera angles to make the strip really pop off the page. Good stuff, and deserved better treatment than it got from the Tribune.

Anyway, if anyone has access to this nigh-mythical Canadian Edition of the Chicago Tribune, if you could find me an end date for Surgeon Stone I'd be very grateful.


Hello Allan-
I didn't know there was a Canadian edition either, but maybe there were many odd iterations. Ever see their RAG PAPER EDITION? you don't want that one's Sunday comic section. It had more bleed-through than an abattoir!
Apparently the mail editions had some different features than the daily delivery or news stand versions. But perchance some editions of the Canadian version can be located, it would likely show that the Surgeon Stone strip displaces some strip that might have some special syndication arrangement North of the border.
I LOVE the rag paper edition -- so unusual to see old Sunday comics on nice bright white paper. But yes, there is the tradeoff of bad quality printing -- usually quite faint, too.

Until now I'd seen only a couple of dailies from this strip--early ones, I presume. I wasn't impressed. Fletcher's perspective was whacky and the layouts were awkward. These samples raise my opinion of the strip 300%. Very atmospheric drawing with great coloring.
Smurfswacker --
Surgeon Stone was a Sunday only strip. You must be thinking of another sawbones -- Doctor Bobbs maybe?

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