Friday, October 21, 2022


Under The Radar: Carmichael


This post is the inaugural episode of a new occasional series, Under The Radar*. The theme is to discuss newspaper comics that are not obscure, because they ran for many years in a relatively substantial number of papers, but were never celebrated or even noticeably popular with readers. These were not necessarily bad features, and evidently feature editors saw some value in them, but they never inspired reprint books during their time, never seemed to get much promotion, and rate hardly a mention in books about newspaper comics. 

Carmichael is a pretty good example of this thesis. It ran for an impressive 28 years, and in its better years was claimed to have a very healthy 150+ newspaper clients. Yet other than the obligatory promos that a few papers ran when they initially bought the feature, I can find hardly a word about Carmichael or its creator, Dave Eastman. 

Carmichael debuted as a daily-only feature on March 3 1958, and was sold by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate on the basis of its unusual tall one-column format. The feature was also unlike the run of the mill panels in that it always consisted of depressive one-liners from a middle-aged sad sack character; unusual for the time.  The drawing was initially a little more cartoony than the samples you see above, with Carmichael's face more rounded and, dare I say, almost verging on cheery. But soon Eastman had perfected the look of his mouthpiece, giving Carmichael both the look and the one-liners of Rodney Dangerfield (who he was not copying -- this is before Dangerfield became well-known). 

The promos for Carmichael say that Eastman was born in 1924 in Indiana, and moved to LA in 1948 after serving in World War II. He had extensive art training and his early cartooning endeavours were focused on selling magazine gags. Carmichael was his first syndicated newspaper feature. 

 Carmichael maintained a healthy client list through the 1960s and early 70s, but faltered thereafter. He lost his home paper, the LA Times, in 1976, and is seldom seen in the 1980s. It is tough to get an exact end date, because Carmichael, as designed, tended to be used as a filler panel. But I do have two papers that last ran new material in May 1986, and one of them, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, switched over to reruns after their last new panel ran on May 30. I think it reasonably safe to say that the series ended on May 31 1986. 

Eastman would have been 62 when Carmichael was cancelled, but I have no idea if he went on to other things, retired or passed away. I can find not a word about him  except in those early promos.

* I'm all ears if you can come up with a catchier title!


How about “Below the Fold” for a title?
I recall this feature very fondly. As a child, I'd await it every day on the back of the Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, which, since the 1930s, had gathered up all the single panel and odd shaped comics and squeezed them into a column covering the first quarter of the page.
Being of the earliest stage of appreciation, the pithy, uncomplicated few words offered by Carmichael helped me when I was learning to read.
This blog on Indiana cartoonists lists the full name as David C. Eastman. The Indianapolis News of May 10, 1958 does have a photo of him, and does say that he formerly lived in Anderson, IN and Indianapolis. It also has an important clue: his middle initial C. does not stand for anything. (This article has quite a bit of biographical information, including the name of his wife, Betty.) As of the 1950 census, he was a mechanical engineer living (as a lodger) with his wife, Betty, in Los Angeles. This is also consistent with the News' comment that he was working as a draftsman at General Motors Allison in 1952 when he attended Herron Art School, which is in Indianapolis. As of 1958, he was still an engineer working for Lockheed in California. There's a draft card that, consistently, notes that the C. doesn't stand for anything, which confirms a birth date of March 7, 1924. Data suggests that Anderson died on September 27, 1973 in Orange, California. He seems to have been in the Army from February of 1943 to December of 1945, and as of July, 1945, when he was admitted to a hospital for malaria, he was in the Signal Corps.
If the 1973 date for Eastman's death is accurate, that would be a ready explanation for why the strip faltered after the early 1970s, though it would not explain who was doing the strip between 1973 and ca. 1986. The Los Angeles Mirror-News, by the way, claimed it was the first paper to publish him, in a May 18, 1959 article tied to the publication of a "Carmichael" book, "only a few weeks past his first birthday," which is consistent with a 1958 start for the strip
Well, the art style didn't change in 1973 that I notice, but then it's not a style that would be terribly hard to duplicate -- or simply re-use old art. What is your source for the death date?

I made another round of searching for name mentions in 1973 papers particularly, and I still come up with nothing. I do find a Betty Eastman very active in golfing in California, but she didn't slow down her tournament play at all around September-October, so I'm guessing I've got the wrong person.

By the way, that Carmichael book you mentioned -- I should have said something in the post, but it is insanely rare; a few copies at major libraries, but not one out in the wild that I can find.

In the 40s he worked for Delco-Remy in Indiana, then moved to Glendale , CA and worked for Lockheed until early 1959.

A 1959 article says over 124 of his Carmichael cartoons appear in a collection of Peanuts then on sale. No idea to what that refers.

He started a second strip called "Today" in 1965 according to the Anderson Daily Bulletin.

I'm lucky to own one of the Carmichael originals.
Regarding the death date, the bits of data supporting a September, 1973 death for Eastman on Ancestry are: (1) a public family tree - not much data there, but the birth data matches up; (2) the US Department of Veterans Affairs death file, which has a match on the birth date, and lists as September 27, 1973 death data; and (3) the California Death Index, which has a match on the birth date and birth place, and a September 27, 1973 death date. I hunted around for an obituary, but couldn't find one on, which did surprise me. I wonder if any magazines that followed the comic strip industry in 4Q 1973 would have noted Eastman's passing.
I see what you mean by rarity. Just six libraries are listed in WorldCat as having copies. OCLC number 3463257 if you ever want to try do do a search.
I've checked the Cartoonist Profiles index, and there is no entry for Eastman or Carmichael.

Thank you for this! I stumbled across a copy of the first collection at the amazing John King Books in Detroit and was curious...especiallly because this launched the year after Al Jaffee's "Tall Tales," another vertical strip but wordless .
Tall Tales only lasted six years, which Jaffee blamed on an editorial directive to add words, which lost them a bunch of international clients. So it's interesting that this word-based strip lasted so much longer.

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