Monday, October 04, 2021


Obscurity of the Day: Mary and her Little Lamb


In William F. Marriner's long stint at the McClure Syndicate (about 1905 to his death in 1914), his mainstay strip was Sambo and his Funny Noises; few other series of his lasted very long. An exception to that rule is Mary and her Little Lamb, which ran for about two and a half years. It had the one necessary element of any classic Marriner strip -- a cute kid -- and a bonus -- a madcap lamb.

And the strip IS good as long as you learn one simple rule: Read the strip via the wonderful speech balloons, where Marriner shines with his slangy patois, but do NOT read the nursery rhymes underneath that repeat everything above in stilted verse form. I downright hated this strip until I learned the rule and felt that it was an utter waste of Marriner's towering talent. 

Mary and her Little Lamb debuted on August 12 1906* in the Otis F.Wood copyrighted version of the McClure section, and is one of the strips that Marriner never (or at least rarely) signed. Other cartoonists at McClure also metered out their signatures in moderation so I assume there was some sort of rule against a creator signing too many features in the section. That lack of a signature makes it hard to say whether Marriner eventually grew tired of this strip to the point where he he really dogged it, or if the strip was handed off to an untalented assistant. Whichever the case, in 1909 the strip degraded in quality week by week until it was finally put out of its misery on March 28 1909*. 

* Source: San Francisco Chronicle

I wish I'd seen your reading directions first. The poetry not only scans poorly, it also constantly changes verb tense in mid-sentence. The English teacher in me weeps.

This format reminds me of British comic strips during the long transition away from the text-only format. Typeset blocks under each panel described the action. There were also dialogue balloons within the panels. As in these samples, the text often repeated the spoken dialogue. And just like here, 99% of the time a reader could get the entire story without reading the text. In fact many of these hybrid strips were later reprinted as straight comics, without text. If you hadn't seen the original you'd never know it.
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