Monday, December 05, 2022
Obscurity of the Day: The Tillers
As popular as NEA's main syndicate service was, their weekly 'pony service' never really seemed to catch on to any great extent. As close to the bone as most weekly papers were, it could just be that they simply could not afford ANY syndicate service, even one that offered great value for the money, as was a hallmark of the NEA brand. Another possibility is that back when newspapers were king, a rural weekly was probably going to sell a certain number of copies every week no matter what, and adding extra features would make little or no difference. Farmer and Mrs. Oatcake bought the paper every week to find out what their neighbours were up to, and the addition of a comic strip or two wasn't going to have any effect on circulation.
Thus it is that NEA's weekly strips are ridiculously hard to find, including today's obscurity, The Tillers. The creator of the amiable weekly farmer strip was Les Carroll, who produced several features for the weekly service, worked as a staff artist on other NEA jobs, and eventually would take over on two of NEA's venerable flagship properties, Boots and her Buddies and then Our Boarding House. Carroll produced The Tillers from May 10 1943* until March 1961**, when a shake-up at the weekly service had them refocus on suburban papers instead of rural ones. Carroll dropped The Tillers and replaced it with Life With The Rimples, a strip about a suburban family.
An interesting footnote to The Tillers is that a strip created by Jim Zilverberg used the same name. Zilverberg's version, which debuted around 1958, was marketed to weekly farming trade publications. Apparently it coexisted peacably with Carroll's strip while both were being offered to similar publications with similar audiences. Here's a sample of that strip:
* Source: NEA archives at Ohio State University
** Source: Florence Herald
What about the Zilverberg version? Who was offering it? Weren't Autocaster and WNU gone by 1958? Did Mr. Zilverberg self-syndicate?
That two strips would exist with the same name at the same time is very unusual, but I would imagine "The Tillers" had gone unregistered as a trade mark, or even unregisterable.