Wednesday, November 24, 2021


Toppers: Jane Arden's Wardrobe

Art by Russell Ross

Art by Jim Seed

Art by William Hargis


Jane Arden was a successful strip about a female reporter that ran for over three decades, debuting in 1928. One might also call it pioneering as the first major strip, I think, to star a professional woman outside the traditional stenos and secretaries. Unlike later strips to star women, this one never had a female writer or cartoonist during its long run.

I confess that I've never been able to bring myself to read enough of Jane Arden to say what I think of the stories. The art, though by many different hands, was so uniformly stodgy or just downright bad that I can't get past it to find out if the writing is good. So have you tried reading Jane Arden? Tell me what you think about the strip in the comments please. Maybe I'm missing out on something fantastic?

The Jane Arden Sunday page started in 1932, and after a few months running topless added a topper strip, Lena Pry, and a paper doll feature, Jane Arden's Wardrobe, on December 4 1932*.  

The daily strip art at this time was by Frank Ellis, but his work was so primitive that when the Sunday was added, they brought on a new hand for the page. This was Jack W. McGuire, whose art was not that much better but impressed the Register & Tribune Syndicate enough for him to get the gig. 

Two years later McGuire was needed to take over the art on R&T's western strip, Bullet Benton, and after trying to keep both plates spinning for awhile, he was dropped from the Arden strip in favour of Russell Ross. Ross had taken over the daily a few years earlier, and became the artist on the Sunday, including toppers, starting February 17 1935*. Ross was a much better artist, but his artwork has a sterile quality to it. There just never seems to be any joy, any attempt at fireworks; the art just sort of lays there on the page with all the flavour of a hothouse tomato.  

Ross had by far the longest tenure on the strip but you'll never know that from the strips themselves, because for some reason he stopped signing the daily back in the late 1930s, and the Sunday was uncredited most of the time after the death of the original writer, Monte Barrett, in 1949. Why he preferred to work anonymously I have no clue. Ross' art is distinctive enough that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that he was at the helm, probably with more and more assistance as time went on, on the Sunday until 1956 when Jim Seed began getting art credit with the January 29 Sunday**. 

Seed's art is very much in the Mary Worth/Judge Parker mold, draining what little attractiverness Ross had brought to the party. That sort of art was in vogue, though, so Seed was just following the market. With Seed's tenure the paper doll each Sunday was now just a stat of the same very unattractive Jane Arden figure. I mean seriously, Jane is wearing her frumpy granny's underthings and looks like she's steeling herself to undergo a painful medical procedure. 

Seed left the strip after the Sunday of September 4 1960, to be replaced by William Hargis. Hargis' art style is very similar to Seed's, and he used the same frumpy vision for Jane in her skivvies as his predecessor.

By this time the Jane Arden Sunday was running in a tiny list of papers, and so it was dropped on September 3 1961***, making that the end of the topper Jane Arden's Wardrobe as well. 

* Source: Des Moines Register

** Source: Most info on the Sunday strip in the 1950s and 60s is from the Toronto Star.

*** Source: Editor & Publisher, July 29 1961.


Always glad to lend a hand...there are a couple of late 1940s Jane Arden reprint comics over at Comicbook+. "Pageant of Comics" #2 reprints four daily continuities credited to Barrett and Ross. I read them to save you the trouble.

The stories are all whodunits with Jane, a police inspector, and occasionally a standard Handsome Guy Friend picking up clues and finding the murderer. The writing is much like the art: simple, diagrammatic, excitement-free.

From Russell Ross' artwork I gather that either he was either totally unimaginative or totally unmotivated. His drawings are pretty good, though composed in endless static, eye-level shots. But whenever there's the least hint of a complex scene--Jane discovering a ransacked room, the cops photographing a murder scene--Ross goes out of his way to draw as little as possible. There are a remarkable number of shots of peoples' feet. Maybe after twenty-something years he was just tired of it all.
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