Saturday, April 17, 2021


Herriman Saturday


January 27 1910 -- Boxer Sam Langford, unable to get bouts with many white fighters, tended to revisit those who would fight him. Fireman Jim Flynn first faced him on December 21 1908 and was knocked out for his trouble. Today it has been announced that there will be a rematch on February 8, and spoiler alert, Flynn shall indeed have built himself a better shelter from the fierce storm that was Sam Langford. 


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Friday, April 16, 2021


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Fred Balk

Fred John Balk was born Florian Bialk on August 30, 1905, in Chicago, Illinois. The Cook County, Illinois Birth Certificates Index, at, said his parents were John Bialk and Martha Holcher, both Polish emigrants. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, Balk was the fourth of five siblings. The family resided in Chicago at 2511 Southport Avenue. Balk’s father was a police officer who passed away, from a gunshot wound, on September 24, 1916. 

The 1920 census recorded Balk, his mother and three sisters in Chicago at 2645 Magnolia Street. Balk was at the same address in the 1930 census. His occupation was window trimmer. 

The Chicago Daily Times, June 19, 1933, said “Fred Balk placed five cartoons with national mags in a week after playing for them for months.” American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Balk drew the Associated Press daily panel, Punky, which ran from November 30, 1936 to November 27, 1937. The Harrisburg Telegraph, November 30, 1936, published an article about Balk and Punky. 
“Punky,” a real, wholesome, natural and human little boy makes his bow to readers of the Harrisburg Telegraph and a half hundred other newspapers throughout the country today.

But “Punky” will mean more to Harrisburgers than to other communities since his creator, Fred Balk, lives here.

There is an interesting story behind the story of “Punky.” Mr. Balk like many children preferred pencil and chalk to other playthings of childhood. He sketched continuously on walls, floors, books, pads, ceilings when he could reach them. His school days were tragically interrupted by the slaying of his father, a sargeant [sic] of Chicago detectives who fell in line of duty when the artist-to-be was ten years of age. Mr. Balk had to go to work but he arranged to attend continuation school and later completed a course in the Academy of Fine Arts. He then struck out on his own as an artist but the world turned down his offerings. Finally he returned to his instructor with turned down samples of his wares and asked: “What’s the matter with these?”

The instructor countered with, “Fred, why don’t you take up prize fighting?”

And Fred did. Scaling 6 feet, one with a weight of 195 pounds he added boxing for good measure.

But he couldn’t drop the pencil and chalk and after establishing a cellar studio in Chicago, sketched and sketched and sketched some more.

Always memories of two nephews, his favorite boys guided his pen. And in February last year magazines started buying his output. Since then he has sold thirty-seven panels to the Saturday Evening Post—one appears in the current number, a great number to a score and more of other magazines.

Mr. Balk cannot determine the exact date of Punky's birth but he believes the little chap has been a part of him since the days of his own frustrated youth. He made a series of Punky’s daily activities, submitted them to the Associated Press which immediately accepted.

Mr. Balk is married but Punky is his only son.

And to him Punky is a real flesh and blood little boy.
According to the 1940 census, “Frederick Balk” was a freelance cartoonist living in New York City at 611 West 113th Street. (The previous censuses had Balk’s birth surname Bialk.) He had moved sometime after 1935. Balk’s roommate, Dorothy Krieger, was a stenographer who later became his wife.

The same address was on Balk’s World War II draft card which he signed on October 16, 1940. The card had his name as “Fred John Balk” who was six feet one inch, 190 pounds, with blue eyes and blonde hair. Balk’s Department of Veterans Affairs file said he served in the Navy from May 4, 1942 to September 28, 1945. 

Chemical Warfare Service News Letter, July 1942, reprinted Balk’s Collier’s cartoon with the credit line “Fred Balk, now an apprentice seaman at Newport.” 

In 1948 Balk’s cartoons appeared in the Sunday magazine, This Week. Samples are here and here

For the New York Sunday News, Balk created Gramps which ran three times on July 22, 1956, October 7, 1956 and April 21, 1957. 

Balk’s mother passed away April 6, 1961, in Chicago.

Balk passed away on January 30, 1982. An obituary appeared in the Asbury Park Press, February 1, 1982. 
Fred Balk, 76; a former cartoonist Manchester Township—Fred Balk, a cartoonist, died Saturday at Community Memorial Hospital, Toms River. He was 76. Mr. Balk was born in Chicago and lived most of his life in New York. He resided in Bloomfield before moving here three years ago. Mr. Balk was the creator of the cartoons “Gramps,” “Doc,” and “Punky.” He was a member of the Audubon Society in the Pine Ridge section of the township. His wife, Dorothy, died in 1977. Surviving are two sisters, Eleanor Daugherty, Chicago, and Betty Krautter, High Point, S.C. The Anderson & Campbell Funeral Home, here, is in charge of arrangements. 
He was laid to rest at Glendale Cemetery

Further Viewing
Fabulous Fifties, original art
Heritage Auctions, two cartoons


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Wednesday, April 14, 2021


The Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, Part VIII

 Yesterday I said that the big rebirth of the Wheeler-Nicholson syndicate would occur in July, and that is the case. But the newspaper world got a preview of the newly invigorated syndicate in June. 

Usually the Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directories are published in July or August, but for some reason in 1926 the directory appeared much earlier, in the June 6 issue. The Major couldn't have asked for better timing. With his big well-funded plunge into the syndicate market to begin in July, the annual syndicate directory was the ideal venue to announce his venture. And wow, did he announce it. 

Armed with $185,000 to spend on revitalizing the tiny struggling company, he had plenty of money to take on the big boys of the syndicate world. In fact, with that kind of money he could have taken an easy and well-trod road -- poach some big syndication stars and assure himself of a good income stream while he continued to build. That's not what the Major had in mind, though. No, his intention was to set the whole syndicate world on its ear. Perhaps it was his 'revolutionary' idea that attracted the money in the first place, so I shouldn't second-guess him, but the Major was about to embark down a bold but strategically questionable path. 

The 1926 E&P Syndicate Directory printed this full page Wheeler-Nicholson advertisement:


This ad lays out the whole story describing how the Wheeler-Nicholson syndicate was going to subvert the supposedly broken syndicate system. The image is quite blurry, so I'll reproduce all the pertinent text from the ad below (since replaced by a less blurry image, courtesy of Jim Davidson). Let's start with the ad copy in the middle: 

At Last, The Feature Paper for Newspapers!

The SYNDICATOR is launched today as the final solution to the syndicate problem. The SYNDICATOR provides the finest syndicate service at the lowest cost on the market.

It smashes custom and prices! It makes syndicate service scientific and certain and ends the chaos in the syndicate field.

The SYNDICATOR cuts cost by doing away with expensive sales force and expensive mail promotion, with costly advertising of separate features and expensive preparation of separate editorial copy. It further cuts costs by carrying advertising.

The SYNDICATOR raises quality by buying fresh, timely material on the open market as does any other periodical. It will end the condition of dry rot and sterility of ideas inflicting the syndicate field.
The paper that subscribes to the SYNDICATOR service will inevitably be the brightest and most sparkling paper in its community.

Watch for your copy of the SYNDICATOR, a standard size paper printed on regular newsprint in eight columns.

Reflect on the vast possibilities that such a service opens up to an editor heretofore shackled by the limitations of old fashioned syndicate methods.

Only one paper in each community can have SYNDICATOR service.


Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc.
Maclom Wheeler-Nicholson, President
373 Fourth Avenue
New York City

In the right-hand column of the advertisement, essentially one long quote from the Major himself, the idea for the syndicate is laid out in more detail. Because of the way the ad is formatted, the start of each line is obscured, so I have either filled in with what was likely there, or when it was unclear, indicated missing text with [-]. 

Publication Radically Lowers Cost and Raises Quality of 

Features -- Unique Combination of Clip Service and Mats



Wheeler-Nicholson In Announcement Provides Details of System 

Expected to Revolutionize Feature Marketing

New York, June 5 -- Major Malcom Wheeler-Nicholson, President, Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc., today announced the inauguration of a new syndicate service. The debut number of the new weekly feature paper, The Syndicator, was issued today. "Syndicate service as [-] newspapers up to now is basically faulty," he stated, "There is no reason in the world why syndicate material must continue to be so low in quality and so high in [-] only the newspapers of this nation are well able to acquire material at lower cost if someone will inaugurate a better system.

"Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc., offers this system. This offer is worthy of serious study and hearty cooperation. [-] newspapers is publishing the Syndicator which starts as a weekly [-] but will eventually be converted into a daily syndicate paper, packed and crammed with a wealth of artistic [-] material of highest quality, sold at absolutely the lowest price in the market.

Old Evils Corrected

"The Syndicator at one blow removes all the very [-] evils of the present syndicate system. These evils [-]. As regards the syndicates, they have become [-] entities rather than creative forces. They [-] lacking in originality. Their prices are outlandish. There are too many syndicates bidding up the writers and artists. Too many expensive salesmen maintained. Syndicates indulge too much in costly advertising promotion. They should devote vastly more energy [-] and originating. They have not yet grasped the meaning of the word ‘service’. They indulge in wastefulness, missing [-] of features in trying out unsalable matter and [-]ing poor material. It is difficult for a syndicate, under the old plan, to show originality. It is too expensive a matter to try out new features. Syndicates are [-] with the best artists and writers who will not [-] syndicate work, preferring to sell outright to [-]. Syndicates cannot afford to buy good stuff for [-]s, not knowing whether costs will be met by sufficient revenues. These are a few evils from the syndicate side. On the editorial side are the evils of high prices and the workmanship they receive from the syndicates, the smudgy mimeographed copy, the slip shod work, the harping on one [-]. Editors give syndicate writers and artists publicity and then are forced to pay higher prices because of this publicity. Editors do not receive first rights on good material and are forced to tag along behind even mediocre magazines. The editor is dependent upon syndicates and can only choose the least of the evils offered. Syndicates raise prices whenever and however they can. After a feature has been established by one paper it is very liable to be sold out at a higher price to a competitor. The whole wasteful, clumsy game reacts to the newspaper in the form of mediocre material at the highest price. Today, throughout the country, the newspaper reading public is subjected to third and fourth rate material whereas they are entitled to the best that can be found in the market period.

"Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc. has broken entirely away from old syndicate methods. It strives for originality. It knows from experience that good material will sell itself without heavy sales expense. It specializes on high quality rather than an expensive sales force and returns the savings to the editor in phenomenally low prices. By publishing a syndicate paper it immediately frees itself from the necessity of depending upon the itinerate and inept or the artist and writer who demand long contracts and heavy percentages. It buys new, timely, interesting material in the open market, in the same manner as Life, Judge, Liberty, The Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, and other publications.

"Not being committed irretrievably to any artist, writer, or feature, except of course such continuous serials or strips as are sold on contract, it can offer an immense assortment of good material to its subscribing papers. The service is kept growing and improving by discarding those features that do not meet with favor and by providing a constant new selection. Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc. features are designed to aid the editor by making his pages sparkle with the best literary and artistic work to be found in America.

Mediocrity is Shunned

"We steadfastly refuse to handle the trite, the banal, and the mediocre. To give a well-rounded service it is necessary for us to handle some stock features but even these are marked with an unusual freshness and vigor. None of our features is retained after it is past its prime but the service is constantly freshened with new ideas. We are constantly on the lookout for new things.

"We shamelessly admit that our best ideas come from where they should come – the newspaper editors themselves. We have developed a most ideally flexible system, a system that is slowly but surely building up a group of selected features, the finest in America. This is due to the fact that we put the burden of selection on the editors of our subscribing papers. We do the preliminary work choosing a few of the best from hundreds of features offered us every week. These are listed as trial features in the Syndicator and are sent out to the editors for their approval or disapproval. "

Okay, so that is pretty strong stuff, and gives us a lot to discuss. But before we do, here's a transcription of two additional 'articles'; the first one we can only see the second half of the article text:

. . . Wheeler-Nicholson picturization series include:

“The Adventurers of Vivian Vanity”
“The Gold Bug,” and
“Treasure Island”

Wheeler-Nicholson’s daily comics including:

“Ambitious Ambrose”
“Little Otto”
“Cheerful Charlie”
“Duckville Doings”
“Mike O'kay”
“Looney Land”
“Uncle Eph”
“Squirrel Food”
“College Comics”

“The Syndicator” also contains six pages of features for women, a daily fashion feature for men, two complete pages of sports features, a page of daily editorials with editorial cartoon, a crossword puzzle page, and a page of news pictures.

Subscribers using “The Syndicator” service will clip printed matter, two copies being sent each subscriber for this purpose.

Mats of picturized novels and short stories, as well as mats of all other cuts or illustrations, are forwarded promptly to all subscribers, and mats of the daily picture service are sent daily by fast mail.

“The Syndicator”, one of the most important innovations in the syndicate field in years, is a permanent institution. It provides you with a comprehensive service of the highest class at a minimum of cost.

Wire immediately for price quotation on exclusive rights in your city. The terms will astonish you.

Finally, a short article tells of the syndicate's new capitalization:

Capital Stock is Increased $185,000

Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc., is solidly founded on a secure financial basis. It recently has increased its capital stock by $185,000 to finance the publication of “The Syndicator”. It banks with the Guaranteed Trust Company of New York where inquiries in reference to it can be made. It already has a large and ever growing list of papers using its various features, listed in “The Syndicator”.

There's a lot to digest in this advertisement, or perhaps we should call it a manifesto. Wheeler-Nicholson indicts the whole syndicate system in a passionate tirade. His arguments against the "evils" in the system aren't exactly the stuff of reasoned debate, but he certainly comes across as a man who has diagnosed a problem and has formulated a solution. 

His argument against the "present system" is that the features offered are low in quality and priced too high. He takes this as a given, and what newspaper editor is likely to argue a point like that. He offers his take regarding the cause of the pricing problem: first, there are too many syndicates, which allows creators to command high prices for their wares by pitting one against the other. Second, syndicates spend too much on marketing in order to compete against this surfeit of competition. 

One could say that these so-called problems are simply the result of a healthy competitive marketplace, and ultimately, the capitalist system as it is intended to work. Turning the argument around, if the syndicate system was limited to a small number of players, and those syndicates paid low prices for their wares so that they could sell them cheaply, then good writers and artists would not be attracted and features might be cheaper, but they also wouldn't be very good. This scenario is paradoxical anyway, because if there were very few syndicates, the law of supply and demand tells us that prices will be high, not low, no matter the quality. 

Setting aside the veracity of Wheeler-Nicholson's accusations, what is his proposed solution? While he has us all hepped up to reinvent the syndicate model, he ends up offering very little if anything that is new. His promise that he'll send out a plethora of material of all types, all for one low price, is exactly the same plan as his already existing blanket service. The blanket, or budget service, had been created by the NEA syndicate in the 1900s, and it met with great success. This concept was most definitely not an innovation by any means, and going up against NEA, which offered an astounding amount of material for a very low price, was brave bordering on foolhardy.

The other supposedly innovative  aspect of the new service is that the features would all be sent to subscribing newspapers inside a weekly (promised to be eventually daily) publication titled The Syndicator. The only real difference between this and the proof sheets that NEA sends is that Wheeler-Nicholson's publication will be printed two-sided, which necessitates sending two copies to each subscriber so as they cut out items they don't lose what was on the back. This might be innovative if the intended effect is to annoy busy editors who have to juggle two copies and review both for material after they have started turning into so much confetti. 

The final innovation Wheeler-Nicholson claims is that he will pay rock-bottom prices to his contributors, and except in extreme cases, will offer them no contract or guarantee of future work. This, he apparently believes, will stimulate his contributors to offer their best efforts on a consistent basis so as not to get cut. Clients will benefit because he will pass along the savings he realizes by treating his contributors like dirt. I won't waste your reading time explaining the fallacy of this argument. 

I spent a lot of time reading and re-reading this advertisement trying to figure out what is going on. If we assume that Major Wheeler-Nicholson was a complete ninny and he came up with an absolutely absurd plan, how do we explain that $200,000 backing? How would he have gotten investors on board of this express train to nowhere? I kept thinking there had to be an angle. And finally, I think I figured it out. 

The key, I think, is this unobtrusive sentence used in the midst of all the gushing praise for The Syndicator -- "it further cuts costs by carrying advertising." Now what would be the point of publishing advertisements in a publication only seen by the editors and typesetters at subscribing newspapers? Are they going to defray costs with industry ads from the wood flong and typeface suppliers? 

I think not. My belief is that The Syndicator was not meant just for newspapers, but was also going to somehow be leveraged as a newsstand publication. After all, if a blanket service offers fiction, funnies, puzzles, horoscopes, editorials, and columns on every subject, it has everything readers want. So why not offer it directly to those readers? I think that the Major had newsstand aspirations long before his foray into comic books a decade later.

Further evidence that points toward this theory is that if you are selling on the newsstand, you have to print your publication two-sided. Thus Wheeler-Nicholson's ulterior motive requires them to produce the publication in a format that is a big negative to the newspaper office. I can think of no other reason for them to force editors to work with such an awkward package. 

 For the record, let me restate that the above is purely conjecture. Proof would have to come by way of a copy of The Syndicator sporting a newstand price, and no such thing is known to exist. In fact, I have never encountered, nor have I seen in any library holdings, a single copy of this publication in trade or newsstand guise. Anyone who has one to sell will find me a most generous buyer! :-)

~ ~ ~ ~

I'm taking the rest of the week off from Stripper's Guide duties, but this series on Wheeler-Nicholson will continue on Monday with a discussion of the features Wheeler-Nicholson promised in the 1926 Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directory. See you then.

Is it possible that "The Syndicator" might have been meant as some kind of an insert in a newspaper, a la the "Mini Page" of the 1970s? In other words, the newspaper gets a master it uses to produce the insert, which it then puts inside the paper? This might explain why it would never been on a newsstand, on its own.
One thing (of the many) I don't understand about this. I thought newspapers of the time couldn't just shoot plate negatives from a proof sheet. Would each subscribing paper have to re-set text features using The Syndicator as a guide? The Major suggests the syndicate will send out mats for selected items. So is the workflow: Editor receives The Syndicator > Editor chooses features to run and notifies the Major > The Major sends out mats? Sounds like this would add extra lead time for daily papers. In any case, I agree that buying talent at the lowest rates and no contract would not attract the best contributors.
EO -- I think that if the Major had meant for the publication to be an insert he would have said so. It's a pretty good idea, and apparently one that didn't occur to him. Too bad you weren't on his board.

Smurf -- Many (all?) papers could make their own mats based on proof sheets, but they also seem to have preferred to have them made by the syndicate -- it was extra work they didn't really have the time to do.

As for sending mats on request, I agree that sounds VERY cumbersome and slow. But if W-N sent mats for everything they claimed they were going to make available each week that would be a lot of mats to send out, so I can see them not wanting to do that (except for a price of course).

I wish I knew how NEA did this, but I don't. Surely they didn't send out mats for their big weekly packages, but maybe they did???

Maybe someone else has some insight about how this worked in the way back when? It is a question I've always wondered about, but never seem to get around to researching. Syndicate sales literature seldom makes much mention of such things, which I assume means that everyone in the newspaper biz just knew what the standard practices were and didn't need to be reminded.


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Tuesday, April 13, 2021


The Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, Part VII

 When we left you yesterday, the Major's syndicate seemed to be in a shambles. Other than the Great Mystery and Adventures Series comic strip, which continued in a modest number of papers, everything else syndicated by him seems to have disappeared at the end of January 1926. He'd also lost his editorial director and main writer, N. Brewster Morse. 

By rights it seems like this should have been the end of Wheeler-Nicholson Inc., but the Major still had a few tricks up his sleeve. As per usual, I can't offer you anything but the few clues that have survived in the public record. 

The company made not a peep in February and March of 1926, but a glimmer of life appeared in mid-April. Seemingly out of nowhere, a full page ad appeared in Editor & Publisher announcing a 'new' comic strip offering:

The Adventures of Vivian Vanity, the first comic strip offered by Wheeler-Nicholson, was now returning. It had died at the end of January 1926 along with everything else, but here it was reborn, with a new writer and artist. Writer Morse of course had to be replaced, and it was by Ruth Jane Williams, who also had taken over the Great Mystery and Adventure series. And while Nicholas Afonsky seemed to still be at work with the syndicate, the art on the resurrected strip was reassigned, this time to Sidney Delevante. We've met Delevante before, but only very briefly, with his work on the Hearst romantic cartoon series. 

According to the ad, the new series of Vivian Vanity had already been snapped up in 42 different markets, including New York, Philadelphia and Washington. If that were true, this would be quite a triumph for the struggling syndicate. 

The series began on May 10 in the Syracuse Herald, the earliest found, and we can find a few more stragglers adding it after that, like the Philadelphia Evening Ledger on May 31. If it truly got into 42 papers, they are surpringly elusive. 

No additional features seem to have debuted in May, but perhaps that is because the Major was too busy pulling off the coup of the century. In the New York Times of May 31, we find this listing:

Miraculously, Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc. had apparently found a VERY serious angel, to the tune of added capitalization of $185,000. This sounds impressive even today, but in 1926 this was roughly equivalent to about $2 million. Sadly, there is no indication of who this was that provided the cash infusion, and I can find no other information about it (you would think it would rate an E&P article, but no). 

The question that comes to my mind is this: Was it a load of hooey? I don't know what sort of qualification or checking goes into these New York Times listings, but it seems like with that sort of money Wheeler-Nicholson should have been capitalized well enough to last years even if their sales were abysmal. Of course, not to spoil what happens, but that was not to be, and thus I find myself very skeptical. 

So let's see what Wheeler-Nicholson did with all that cash. Our first inkling is through an itty-bitty ad in the May 22 edition of Editor & Publisher saying that the syndicate is still claiming to have available a blanket service. If it existed at this time, it does a fine job of hiding:

But then again, when you have just received $200,000 it still takes time to get new features contracted and ready for publication. So if you figure a month or so of lead time, you might expect Wheeler-Nicholson to come roaring back to life in July 1926. And you'd be right ... we'll see what happens in July 1926 tomorrow.

It's not necessarily so that the syndicate DID receive cash. What might have happened was that the Certificate of Incorporation was amended to increase the AUTHORIZED capital of the corporation from $15,000 to $200,000, likely in anticipation of issuing more stock because of an investment. But the fact that more capital is authorized does not imply that the investment actually happened; it could have fallen through. By checking the records at the New York Department of State, you could at least turn up the amendment to the charter showing the increase in authorized capital.
One alternate possibility is that while the corporation may have increased its authorized capital to $200,000, it might have anticipated this coming in a number of tranches, from a number of different "angels," and rather than increase the authorized capital in dribs and drabs, the capital was increased in one go. Under this scenario, the company might not have gotten $185,000 in additional capital, but at least, perhaps, a portion of that.
E.O -- While I am not well-versed in high finance of this sort, what you say sure makes a lot of sense. You would think an investor or group of investors would not just hand over that kind of cash in one lump sum.

With what we'll see over the next few days' post, it would be fascinating to know how much it all would have cost. I know what you would have paid for a dozen eggs or a suit of clothes in 1926, but my sense of what starting a syndicate cost is very murky indeed.

The cash infusion actually was announced in E&P, as well as a deal with several New York printers that made them minority stockholders.

This is from Editor & Publisher, June 5, 1926, page 58:

“Maj. Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson this week announced that the capital stock of Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc. has been increased to $200,000. He also announced completion of agreements with the Advertisers’ Photo-Engraving Company, the Craft Off-Set Printing Company, and the Shaefer Stereotyping Company, all of New York City, which have merged their services into working arrangements with the Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate and have become minority stock holders.”
Just wanted to tell you how much I'm enjoying this unfolding detective story. The 1920s is a fascinating period in media history.
The material that Jim Davidson found could be interpreted in a few different ways, including the fact that the capital stock was increased to $200,000 *and*, separately, the three firms became minority stockholders. It would surprise me that someone would invest $185,000, considering the previous capitalization was $15,000, and become *minority* shareholders. If the three printers did get minority shares, it implies (to me, anyway) that they invested less than the $185,000 in increased capital.
Great find Jim. Don't know why that one didn't come up in my search of the same E&P issue.

These investors are tailor made for what we will see happens in tomorrow's post, makes perfect sense. Nice to see the puzzle pieces fit together so well.

I wonder if these 'investors' could have been accepting stock in exchange for their services, so that there was no actual money changing hands but the Major got to claim them as capital. Not sure if that passes muster in high finance.

It's not only perfectly legal, but not even particularly unusual, for entities to accept stock in lieu of cash for services rendered. That the printing firms could have accepted stock-for-services is a workable theory.
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Monday, April 12, 2021


The Wheeler-Nicholson Syndicate, Part VI

 In the last installment we discussed the non-illustrated features that Wheeler-Nicholson offered starting in late 1925. We've also discussed the flagship illustrated features, Vivian Vanity and The Great Mystery and Adventure Series. So let's finish off 1925 with the remaining few illustrated feaures.


On October 19 1925, the starting date of the Great Mystery and Adventure Series (top of page), we also have a poem and cartoon feature called Hot Doggerel by B.C. Hilliam. Hilliam was a singer, songwriter and musician of some minor note. On this feature he also showed that he wasn't too bad of a cartoonist, either. 

Hot Doggerel got a brief mention in the October 28 issue of Variety:

B.C. Hilliam, actor-author, has started to syndicate in 57 daily and weekly newspapers a verse subject, "Hot Doggerel." This is a comedy-poem, marketed through the Wheeler-Nicholson service.
The claim of 57 subscribing papers is laughable. Did they pick that number off of a bottle of ketchup?

I was hoping that Wheeler-Nicholson was also responsible for another verse feature on this page, Silhouette Sentiments, but it turns out this was a short-lived offering of Central Press Association. 

Next, there were also a few illustrated sports features, all of which were penned by Joe Archibald. I find these starting in November but it wasn't until December 19 that his employment with the syndicate was announced in E&P.


First up we have Champions Past and Present, a cartoon and printed column about sports stars. Above is a sample of the feature from the Bridgeport Telegram; this seems to have been the only Wheeler-Nicholson feature they used.

Next is a feature called Lest We Forget The Old Time Stars (often shortened a bit to Lest We Forget The Old Stars). This panel cartoon feature tells what happened to sports icons after they retired. What famous people did after they left public life seems to have been a particular fascination for the Wheeler-Nicholson crew -- the text column Where Are They Now? (see part 5 of this series) plows the same field. 

Finally, there is The Muscle Movie. In this unique feature, Archibald draws a little two panel cartoon diagram to illustrate a fine point of boxing. Although a pretty limited feature, I think it's one of the more intriguing in W-N's lackluster lineup. If Archibald could have widened the scope of the feature by covering a whole range of sports in this way, I bet it could have actually sold well.

All of Archibald's sports features seem to have ended by the end of January 1926. Unlike most of the W.N. material of 1925 - January 1926, though, which disappeared entirely, Archibald's backstock of these features is sometimes seen re-running later. He remained on staff with Wheeler-Nicholson past the great implosion of January 1926, and so maybe that's why.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

That does it for the Wheeler-Nicholson features I can find that started in 1925. But perhaps the most amazing thing to say about this odd line-up of flotsam and jetsam is that practically all of it seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth by the end of January 1926. The only feature that definitely outlived the great purge of January 1926 is the Great Mystery and Adventure Series

Is this because N. Brewster Morse left at the end of January? It seems too coincidental not to be connected. Granted Morse may have been a driving force at the syndicate, but was he so important that the syndicate all but folded without his guiding hand? Or could there have been some sort of contractual/legal issue? Could the Major have been foolish enough (or desperate enough) to have given Morse some stake in the business that obligated his other creators to Morse, and he was legally barred from using the material after that date? 

The reason could also be that Morse's departure and the great exodus were all a part of some financial failing of the Major. Perhaps it was a mass walk-out becuase the Major wasn't paying his creators -- we know from his later history that Wheeler-Nicholson was not above stringing along his creators by making promises that ended up being worthless. 

 I have one final piece to throw into this puzzle which is so odd that I can't figure out how or even if it fits in. Here is a news story from Editor & Publisher, January 9 1926:

Maj. Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, president of Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc., New York feature service, has purchased the Wheeler Syndicate from C. T. Brainard, who has been operating it in conjunction with the McClure Newspaper Syndicate, which he heads. Papers in the deal were signed Dec. 31, and Maj. Wheeler-Nicholson took control the first of the year. He plans to run the Wheeler Syndicate concurrently with Wheeler-Nicholson. Inc., maintaining two separate offices. Headquarters of the Wheeler Syndicate are at 373 Fourth avenue. New York. N. Brewster Morse, editorial director of Wheeler-Nicholson, Inc., will take charge of the editorial direction of both services, and is now engaging a special staff to handle the work of the newly purchased syndicate.
The Wheeler Syndicate, in its heyday, was a force to be reckoned with. After John Wheeler sold it to Brainard in 1916, though, it was never a major player -- mostly because Wheeler set up Brainard to buy a syndicate which he had hollowed out, Wheeler taking all the best creators and features with him to the newly created Bell Syndicate. 

By the time 1925's E&P Syndicate Directory was published, the Wheeler Syndicate was advertising only seven features; a daily short story, a serial, a horoscope, two columns about natural history, a palm reading column, and a history feature. Dorothy Dix, a popular 'sob sister' that was their flagship item, had jumped shipped in early 1925. 

Although several of Wheeler Syndicate's features continued in 1926, and still bore the Wheeler Syndicate copyright, Major Wheeler-Nicholson seems to have thought so little of them that he didn't bother advertising them in the 1926 E&P Syndicate Directory. In fact, Wheeler Syndicate slugs can be found all the way into the early 1930s, mostly on the daily story feature and a column titled History's Mysteries. By the late 1920s, though, their material is appearing in such minor papers I can't help but think it is just old stuff being resold by some bargain basement syndicate. 

Did Wheeler-Nicholson maintain ownershp of this syndicate? I can't imagine he did -- with his savviness for marketing, there is no way he would pass up the free listings in the E&P Syndicate Directory year after year. My guess is that he -- or his investors -- sold off the syndicate. With the Great Implosion of Wheeler-Nicholson happening at the end of January he might well have resold it within a month of purchasing it, for a cash injection that may have been badly needed. 

That's where we'll leave it for today. Tomorrow, a cash injection!

Allan, thanks for this series. It’s very well-researched and informative. As you’ve noted, Major Wheeler-Nicholson is of great interest to many of us, due to his connection to DC Comics. I’m glad you’re helping to shed some light on this little-known corner of comics history. I’m curious about a couple of things. In discussing the Variety notice about “Hot Doggerel,” you dismiss the claim of it being syndicated in 57 newspapers as “laughable.” On what do you base that opinion? Do you have actual figures on this, or is it an educated guess? You also speculate that the Major may have offered N. Brewster Morse a stake in the business and characterize that as “foolish” or “desperate.” Isn’t it also possible that the Major had a respect for creator’s rights that was not the norm at that time? Seems to me there are different ways of looking at these things.
Hi Jim--
Thanks for the excellent questions.

The 57 papers claim is laughable because these features (except for the Great Mystery and Adventure Series) are scarcer than hen's teeth; 30+ years of looking by myself and others and we've come up with a bare handful of papers that took anything from W-N. COULD there have been 57 clients? Yes, but only if there were 57 taking this so-called blanket service and almost none were actually using any of the supplied features -- an exceedingly dim possibility. In the syndication business, client numbers are often padded by creative bookkeeping or outright fantasizing.

As for my other editorializing comment about the possibility that the Major might have signed over some control of his features to Morse, I stand by the characterization that to do so would have been foolish. Morse did not as far as we know have a partnership in the business, and in my opinion the owner of a business making his livelihood entirely dependent on the loyalty and goodwill of one single employee would be a recipe for disaster. I see no connection with creator's rights in such a situation -- Morse was not writing all the material that disappeared at the end of January, so I don't see how that applies. Certainly his bylined material would disappear, but why the material by other creators?

--Allan Holtz
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Sunday, April 11, 2021


Wish You Were Here, from Albert Carmichael


Here's another example of Carmichael's "Gee, I Wish I Had a Girl" series, this one turning the camera around and focusing on a poor single gal. The motto of this example is "Let Us Splay Our Fingers."

This series was issued in 1909 by Taylor Pratt & Company as Series 568, but this particular example has no such credit on the back.


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