Wednesday, June 30, 2021
Obscurity of the Day: It's Presidential Year
When Milton Caniff joined the Associated Press, his first comic strip series was no slam-bang action series, or even a bigfoot comedy series -- no, the AP thought he was just the guy to provide art to a closed-end series offering capsule biographies of politicians who might stage a run for President in the 1932 election.
Caniff had already cultivated a nice style while he worked at the Columbus Dispatch, but evidently he didn't think the AP wanted 'Caniff art' -- he took pains to produce for It's Presidential Year the most bland straight illustration art he could muster. It didn't look like Caniff, in fact it didn't look like anything except Generic Newspaper Illustration Art Level 101. Not that it wasn't professional grade -- it just wasn't exactly an impressive start for the someday-to-be comics legend.
There were a total of nine installments to the series, all sent out sometime in April 1932 to AP-subscribing papers. I've never found a paper that ran all nine -- those who did bother running any of them tended to offer only the frontrunners, or only those of the political bent preferred by the newspaper. Not having ever found a definitive run, or even enough agreement to constitute a likely intended start date, The best that I can offer for running dates is that the series ran in April - May 1932.
Caniff himself had trouble remembering the series. In R.C. Harvey's biography, Caniff reminisces that it was a series of portraits, with only a few installments offering multiple panels (actually they all did). His only vivid recollection was that he was embarrassed by the job he did on the portraits of Roosevelt and Hoover (and Hoover did not appear as paert of this series, so he may be conflating several early assignments).
One paper did run the full series, the Warsaw (Ind.) Union from 3 to 14 May 1932. They are:
Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Albert Cabell Ritchie
Owen D. Young
John Nance Garner
Melvin A Traylor
Newton D. Baker
William H. Murray
James Hamilton Lewis
These were all Democratic contenders, Sitting president Hoover would naturally be the GOP's man.
It would seem these were issued just as the primaries were occuring, and timed so that most of these men had no more chance or relevence before the strip could be run, therefore, most papers never ran the entire set.
Over at AP they were using Caniff like, actually very much like R. J. Scott over at Central Press. these samples are rather unimaginatively copied from Scott's irregular man/topic in the news format strips, which were often issued in sets of six, sometimes more, as early as 1931. They also had Caniff doing just portraits, as he recalled(also like Scott), so AP could offer line art pictures with a longer shelf life for papers that preferred them to half tones. I have a great one he did of Hitler on the cover of a 1933 edition of The Hollywood Citizen.