Friday, August 20, 2021
Obscurity of the Day: A Chip Of The Old Block ... or Little Will ... or Artie ... or Little Harry ... or The Joker ...
Back in June I covered Little Will, a strip penned by Carl Anderson for World Color Printing. Well, "covered" is the wrong term ... "obfuscated" might do the post more justice. I'm rather ashamed of that post, because I clean forgot the long discussions I had about the strip with Cole Johnson back about ten or so years ago. When he sent me those sample strips he also provided proof that the series was run twice and under different titles. This strip perfectly illustrates how perplexing it is to document the output of World Color Printing in 1904, which gives me a springboard to talk about that problem. So enough mea culpas now, let's delve into one episode in World Color Printing's strange history.
|A Chip Off The Old Block (from microfilm), 5/1 and 5/15/1904|
From March 20 to May 15 1904*, Anderson's strip was run under the consistent title of either A Chip Of The Old Block or, on two occasions, Artie: A Chip Of The Old Block. Anderson seemed to have trouble settling on the name for his little prank-puller. In the first episode he is Willie; in the next several he is unnamed. Then he is named Chip (which I rather like, following from the strip name) on April 10, Artie on April 24, Chip on May 1 and Artie on May 15. That seems to be the end of the original series.
Then all hell breaks loose at World Color Printing. For the period June through October 1904 it becomes impossible for me to find any paper running a complete four page section of their material. Was there even four pages available? If so, I've not been able to find anyone running it, even their theoretical home paper, the St. Louis Star. To add to the confusion, the one and two-page versions that I do find often feature very slightly changed re-runs of strips from the first half of the year.
The likely reason that WCP underwent a sea change during that period, perhaps even dropping to two pages, is this: At the beginning of 1904, they signed a contract with the New York Daily News (an earlier version, not the tabloid that debuted in 1919), run by Frank Munsey. Munsey wanted to make the paper a serious player in the intensely competitive New York City market, and he figured he needed a color comics section for Sundays. He commissioned WCP to provide him with a complete four page comics section starting in January 1904. WCP took the contract, added more artists to their portfolio, and produced a pretty decent section. They sold it to Munsey as well as a few additional clients. However, Munsey, as always, was mercurial in his business decisions, and after only five months decided that the expense of the 4-color comics section was not paying for itself. World Color Printing's contract was terminated. That left WCP with a handful of smaller market clients that presumably just didn't pay enough to keep the four-pager afloat.
|Little Harry, aka A Chip Off The Old Block, 7/16/1904|
Keeping in mind that I have no way of knowing if the two page partial sections from this period that I can find represent the entire output of WCP or if there are extra pages lurking out there somewhere, let's go back to Anderson's strip.We next find it appearing in a full page version on July 16 (above). Only now the kid is named Little Harry. This is not a re-run from the first series, though WCP is already dipping into their early 1904 stuff to re-run other strips. My thinking is that this strip was probably kept in reserve during the original run. Two reasons for that: first, Anderson had returned to McClure in May 1905 so he probably stopped producing material for WCP in May at the latest. Second, since A Chip Of The Old Block usually ran as a half, this full pager might not have had a slot to fill back in the heady days of the first half of 1904, when the material was rolling in.
The strip (by whatever name you wish to call it) now disappears again. On September 18, WCP decides to recycle the Chip of the Old Block material, starting with this strip:
This is a re-run of the May 15 strip (shown above) with the title changed to call the kid Little Will. The next week they reprinted the May 1 strip. Once again the title has been changed, but in the final panel the kid is called Chip.
I now lose track of the strip until November. But at the beginning of that month World Color Printing seemed to have been revitalized. I have two papers -- the San Francisco Call and St. Paul Globe -- starting a four page WCP section within a few weeks of each other. Unfortunately, the two papers don't quite match up for material, so it's still a head-scratcher. With a lot of cross-checking I figured out that the Call is running the section two weeks late compared to the Globe. Therefore, the new WCP 4-page section that begins there on October 30 I believe is actually the October 16 section. (It was not terribly unusual for west coast papers to run syndicated material late in those days.) The Globe doesn't run the section from its inception date, so I'll use the Call to document the final run of the strip.
So, back to our strip. On November 13 in the Call, we get "The Tables Are Turned on The Joker", a third running of the fake turkey gag, once again with a new title. On November 20, they run "Little Will Gets the Laugh on Big Brother", a third go-around for the exercise gag. In this case the title was unchanged from the second run. On November 27, it's "Pop Fails to Appreciate a Good Joke", which is not a strip I have been able to document from the original run. Either it was another strip held in reserve, or if it did run and my imperfect microfilms let me down and it was missed. That is the final appearance of the series.
Of course, since those strips are running in the Call, their 'official' release dates are actually October 30 through November 13, which meshes properly with the St. Paul Globe. All is right with the world...
So for the vast audience of none who have bothered to read this far, that would seem to put the saga of the 1904 World Color Printing section pretty much to bed. Except that for Cole Johnson it didn't. Cole and I talked endlessly about these St. Louis-based syndicates, and there was a difference of opinion that I should put out there in public, finally, after all these years.
Cole had an encyclopedic knowledge of this sort of thing, of course, but he also had a keen sniffer for What Makes Sense That We Will Probably Never Know For Sure. That keen nose of his smelled something funky about the whole St. Louis Star - World Color Printing - New York Daily News situation. In his opinion, as best I can convey it, the company or entity that supplied the St. Louis Star with material before 1904 was not necessarily World Color Printing. He believed that it was either produced in-house or by another company. He also believed that the 1904 output that I also call World Color Printing was some other and possibly distinct entity, perhaps one that was based out of New York, perhaps even in the bullpen of the Daily News. In Cole's version of events, World Color Printing came on the scene in October 1904, picking up the pieces of these other endeavors, and ran with things from there.
My version of all this is a lot simpler, but Cole's may very well be right. Cole would point out two things; first and most simply, World Color Printing was never credited on any of these sections. In fact there was no syndicate credited on the supposed WCP sections until a long while later. Secondly, the creators who were involved in these various portions of the history seem to change substantially at every one of these breaks. Why wasn't there more carryover? I don't have a great answer for that very good question, except that when a business hits the skids like that over and over, employee/contributor turnover seems bound to happen.
Anyway, I've gone on way too long about something I think only a few people in this world care about. But considering the hours we spent wagging our chins about it, I thought it was high time Cole got his ideas out there on (virtual) paper, even though I have certainly not conveyed them in as convincing a manner as he could.
* Sources: Washington Times, Jeffrey Lindenblatt based on New York Daily News.
Cole's spirit appreciates your efforts. I've also tried to fathom the situation, but the questions still rage. One is that I believe the material in the St.Louis Star starts waning down to one page in late 1903, (usually an Eddie Eksergian page intended to be a cover, which sometimes is used on the back page, with the "Comic Section of the...." hanging there next to blank space. Why is that? If they were creating their own section, wouldn't a cover alaways BE the cover? And note the St.Louis material, even at one page, overlaps in time with the totally different, positively identified WCP stuff in New York, yet none of it appears there.
So are they actually connected? Could it be the full page Anderson gag the Star ran on 10 July (NOT 16 July)was in fact a one shot that he sold to them, not intended to be part of a series.
I'm sure I've seen him do other expose-old-maid's-wig gag in other sydicates. The other strips you show today were made for WCP, who could alter the size and names of the componants, and recycle to their heart's desire, though I don't think that happened much, especially after only a few months. That's strange, isn't it?
Don't know if Cole ever brought up the pre 1902 section the Star was fielding, with all kinds of cartoonists that Never became anying save the notorious Ryan Walker, who twenty years later was doing eds for the New York communist papers.I know this was syndicated, It was seen in a Grand Rapids paper too, in 1901. This and the fact the Star could dump what we have assumed was their own material gives cause to doubt it.
In early 1897, the Star was running a cartoon color section with cartoons that were expertly printed by lithograph, beautiful inks and fine details. It was obviously not printed in St.Louis, and references to New York were seen.I can't recall much about it, it's buried like Herculanium in among the stacks here, but suffice to say the Star was syndicating a section even before the section we assign to them, AND it's precoursor in 1899-1901. They really were interested in comics.