Monday, September 27, 2021


Selling It: Uncle Abner Says


At first blush you'd think Uncle Abner Says, a panel that ran from 1936-38, is just another one of those ubiquitous panels of cracker-barrel wisdom like Abe Martin, Ching Chow or their many copycats. When you look over the gags, though, you find that ol' Abner is a bit of a one-note local yokel. He's pretty gosh darn unhappy about the gov'ment, specially the way they pick his pocket with them goldurn taxes. And not just his pocket, by cracky, he's fuming over the way that Roosevelt feller is taxing big corporations, too!

Hey, wait a minute now. A bewhiskered rustic like Abner complaining about taxes? Well, sure. But concerned about corporations? Hmm, that seems a bit out of character. I hate to even suggest it of such a kindly old soul as Abner, but .... could he be on the take?

I hate to be the one to break the news, but it's true; Abner is a shill. He doesn't say a word that isn't bought and paid for by secret interests. Not surprisingly, those interests just happen to be big corporations. To lay all the cards on the table, Uncle Abner Says was a production of Six Star Service, a newspaper syndicate created by the National Association of Manufacturers*, a trade association and lobbying group of big businesses. They sent out propaganda material like this to newspapers free of charge: the newspaper filled some space with something mildly entertaining for free, and the manufacturers got their message out surreptiously, without running ads that few would bother to read. You might call it a win-win situation, except there were losers involved -- the newspaper readers who got a daily brainwashing session from what seems like an innocuous panel cartoon. 

This sort of hidden advertising material was usually sent out in small batches, but in the case of  Uncle Abner Says it was a full blown daily panel that ran for a very long time. I can track it from June 22 1936 to April 30 1938**, an unheard of almost three year run.

For almost the first year the feature was unsigned, but finally in March 1937 Nate Collier was allowed to start signing his work. I'm a big fan of Collier, but his talents, which skew to the goofy, are utterly wasted on this panel. But hey, it put food on the table at the Collier household, no foul there. I also feel sorry for Nate if he was tasked with creating all these gags, which get pretty darn monotonous in their one-note dirge for lower taxes. Not only did Nate have to write six gags a week on the same subject, but undoubtedly had to submit them for review to some corporate minister of propaganda who last smiled when Herbert Hoover was elected.  

* Source: reported in Pittsburgh Press, June 26 1936.

** Sources: start date from Belvidere Republican, end date from Edinburg Courier.


Hello Allan-
Odd you should, (in jest, naturally) mention a possible "corporate minister of propaganda" who would have some sort of oversight to a N.A.M. project. The Trotskyite weekly "THE MILITANT" shrilly decried said project, citing the Abner componant with feigned indignation that it was a COMIC STRIP! FOR CHILDREN!Like it was pornography or something. They concluded that Goebbles would be green with envy.
Obviously they didn't ever really see what they were outraged about, or care, really. The effectiveness of the panel utterly negligable. Goebbles would not be impressed. That The Militant made this observation in 1944,eight years after the N.A.M. news release about the project, and six years after Abner ended, makes one wonder what they're bothering about.
Collier, however, was happily content to keep putting out toons for the N.A.M.,with a new batch of one-shot editorial panels offered by them just after the war. Don Herold contributed too.

Being nearly a decade late to the protest, I guess one could perhaps forgive The Militant for having bigger fish to fry in their goal to foster a worker's utopia. Normally I'd be interested to read an article like you've uncovered, Mark, but having indexed decades worth of The Daily Worker, I've seen how their reporting can drain the interest out of any subject with their monotonous Marxist droning. I imagine The Militant was just as bad or worse.

Hello Allan-
Though, if we were to be strictly in keeping with seeking obscure strips, There's an untapped Pyrite mine of them in the leftist papers like the various iterations of the Daily Worker, the New York Call, etc. I used to have a batch of them, and they are indeed, joyless things. Though they look like regular comic strip art, the funny, cartoony characters do cringemaking treks to join the Wobblies or to Tom Mooney rallies, or kids that tell'em where to get off at a Dies committee hearing. Maybe the funniest part is they're so deadly serious about it.
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