Wednesday, August 17, 2022
Obscurity of the Day: Big Top
Ed Wheelan's Minute Movies, begun in 1917, was very popular and helped pioneer the idea of continuity in comics. Pioneers can be left behind, though, and Wheelan's strip struggled in the 1930s. In 1936, in a bid to refresh the strip it was retitled and refocused several times, but to no avail. Finally in February 1937 Ed Wheelan and his long-time syndicate, the George Matthew Adams Service, parted ways.
But Wheelan wasn't willing to throw in the towel quite yet. He had a new strip about a circus in his back pocket, titled Big Top, and before his pink slip from GMA had even cooled off he had a contract with the upstart Frank Jay Markey Syndicate. Markey had already signed Rube Goldberg, so Wheelan probably thought the syndicate, though new, had possibilities.
It was not to be, though. Blame Markey or blame Wheelan, but the strip was like a perfect 10 dive -- no splash at all. I think Wheelan shoulders a lot of the blame -- the strip offered little of the tongue in cheek Wheelan magic, the circus-bound plotline offered up the same old tired ideas readers had seen before, and there was little feel of the exotic circus life that would have attracted readers.
The Big Top daily debuted on March 29 1937, and sputtered out before the end of the year, ending on December 11 1937*. A Sunday was offered, but is so rare I have found it in only a single paper, the Philadelphia Record, where it ran May 9 to August 1 1937. This is apparently the entire Sunday run, since, according to Jeffrey Lindenblatt, it agrees exactly with the Sundays that were reprinted in Quality Comics' Feature Funnies comic book series.
Oddly enough, this misfire of a strip had a long afterlife, not just in comic books. Markey resold the short run to Western Newspaper Union, and they included it with their weekly blanket service from August 1938 until March 1943. This same fate, by the way, was awaiting Rube Goldberg's strip for Markey, Lala Palooza.
* San Francisco Academy of Comic Art collection at Ohio State University
Question- How did the Philadelphia Bulletin ( id est THE EVENING BULLETIN) run the Sunday version on May 9 -1 August 1937? How could they when they didn't have a Sunday edition?
Crumb of newspaper history: The Bulletin had no sunday issues in it's first century, outside of extra specials like the day war was declared in 1939. But in 1947 the PHILADELPHIA RECORD was striked to death, and the Bulletin picked up their pieces, including a Sunday edition.