Saturday, May 28, 2022


Herriman Saturday: April 5 1910


In the Hermon neighborhood of Los Angeles (here mistakenly spelled Herman), the police are called to pick up a burglar. Henry Muir broke into a house, removed his shabby rags, took a bath and dressed himself in the much better duds he found in a closet before exiting the premises. The article does not mention him stealing anything but the clothes and the use of the facilities.

The writer and Herriman make this into a joke about a fastidious burglar, but of course the reality is more likely that Mr. Muir was badly down on his luck. Desperately needing to clean himself up in order to find lodging and employment, he took the Les Miserables route of justifiable robbery. Not so funny that way...


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Friday, May 27, 2022


Obscurity of the Day: Smart Alex the Cop


Been awhile since we checked in with the king of wacky comics, Eddie Eks, and that's a sad state which must not stand. So here we have Smart Alex the Cop, or sometimes just Alex the Cop. This strip ran in the proto-World Color Printing sections of January 17 to April 24 1904*. 

To say that the strip just concerns a policeman who chases down lawbreakers is not really doing our man Eksergian any justice. Smart Alex chases his quarry through a Dali-esque dream world where logic, perspective, gravity and anatomy are no more than unfounded rumours. In short, sublime insanity from Eddie Eks.

Thanks to Cole Johnson, who supplied the scans.

* Sources: St. Louis Star and Mansfield News.


Hello Allan-
Note that in the top example, Eddie Eks has inserted a few of his other characters; Bug McNutt, Billy the bellboy and the chef from the "Star Hotel: where he and Billy are employed.
Also see that by the dsecond example, Alex has developed an odd German-Swedish-Esperanto accent.
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Wednesday, May 25, 2022


Selling It: Jest Laughs


A & M Advertising of Dallas Texas offered quite a few newspaper advertising packages in which the ads attract attention through the inclusion of a comic strip or panel cartoon. These packages sold best in smaller markets, where an advertiser could negotiate a lower price for running their ads with the paper, under the reasoning that they were providing some entertainment -- a comic feature -- that the paper itself didn't have to pay for. Such are the ecomomics of running a small market paper.

Most of the A&M-based ads ran in the format you see above, in which the reader is presented with a strip at the top, boxed in with a constantly updated ad for the local business. Some of the comic features were tailored to the type of business -- laundromats, car repair, etc. -- and in those cases the name of the business could sometimes be pasted in at the proper spot in the word balloons. 

Jest Laughs is not like that; it offered gags that weren't related to the type of business being advertised. In fact, although at first glance it appears to be a comic strip, each 'strip' was actually three individual gags, with the last one always headlined Slight Errors for no terribly good reason. This made Jest Laughs a real power-player in the A&M Advertising arsenal, because not only was it generic enough for any business, but each 'strip' could even be chopped up and a single gag panel used in three separate ads.

Now that we've gotten this far in my blathering, have you noticed the 800-pound gorilla in the room and are wondering when I'll ever get to it? No? Go take a look at the samples again ... I'll wait. 

Yep, the signature on the feature is none other than Bob Kane, creator of Batman! The earliest I have found Jest Laughs used is in newspapers of May 1939*, coincidentally the cover date of Detective Comics #27, the event that caused Mr. Kane's life story to take a very sharp turn. What I find funny is that as hopelessly bad an artist as Kane was at doing 'realistic' comics, he was absolutely fine on bigfoot material, as we see above. In fact (as any serious comic book fan knows), most of Kane's pre-Batman comic book work was also humor, and also pretty darn capable. I'd say he missed his calling, but I imagine he would politely disagree. 

A&M Advertising sold and resold Jest Laughs for many years; the latest appearances I've found are from 1948**. The feature was numbered, and the highest number I've ever seen is 46 -- I wouldn't be surprised if the total was 52, to provide a full year of weekly ad fodder.  Why A&M didn't continue reselling it I don't know, but here is a possible reason...

Jest Laughs may or may not have had yet another life. In 1948, as A&M's use was winding down, H.T. Elmo, head of the bottom of the barrel Elmo Features Service, introduced a new feature to his stable called Jest Laffs. This feature was a single panel gag feature, and it was signed "Robert'. Now practically everything that Elmo syndicated was signed with a pen-name, so you might ask yourself, "did Bob Kane's overused panel cartoons get run yet again?" I mean, geez, 'Robert' for 'Bob', right? 

In my book I say Jest Laffs was a bullpen type effort, exhibiting signs of H.T. Elmo himself, plus Jerry Iger and Ruth Roche. I frankly don't see any definite sign of Bob Kane there, 'Robert' signature notwithstanding. But, and here's a big but, take a look at this Heritage Auctions item. Here's a Jest Laffs panel signed by the man himself. Or is it? I have no idea if there is ironclad provenance on this item. So what do you think?

And while you're thinking, wonder also how in the world an advertising company in Dallas ended up distributing comics by the creator of Batman. Was the feature just a reuse of Kane material that was already sold to comic books? Was it a syndicated feature that never got picked up? Did Jerry Iger, who bought a lot of work from Kane in his early days, put the feature together?

* Source: North Adams Transcript

** Source: Atlanta World


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Monday, May 23, 2022


Obscurity of the Day: The Secret Heart


You've gotta give the Chicago Tribune points for thinking outside the box in the early 1970s. They finally dropped some of their old deadwood (I'm looking at you, Smitty, Smilin' Jack and Little Joe) and tried out new features that were definitely new and different (Friday Foster and Ambler immediately pop to mind). 

Another original strip was The Secret Heart, which aimed to bring romance comics to the newspaper. Y'know, I've been trying to think of an earlier example of  romance comics in newspapers and I can't come up with anything. Sure, you've got the old magazine cover series of the 20s and 30s, but those were playing for laughs, and then you've got the panels by Nell Brinkley and her followers, but those really don't attempt to tell ongoing soap opera-style romance stories. Do we count strips like The Girls in Apartment 3-G and On Stage as romance comics? Or Brenda Starr, or Mary Worth? Seems like those strips aim a little wide of the mark -- they are soap operas, granted, but it seems like they want to take in more ground than just romance.

Questions which I guess are pretty academic since The Secret Heart crashed and burned quickly, leaving hardly a trace behind. But 50 internet points to the first commenter who names a 'serious' romance comic strip that resembled this one in the 1980s! (no I don't mean Bears in Love). 

Anyway, I'm wandering. The Secret Heart, which also went by the name of My Story* and Story-A-Week** for awhile, offered exactly that -- a romance story that was told in the period of one week -- six dailies leading up to a Sunday in which the gal would get the guy, or the guy would get the gal, or heartbreak when neither happened. The final panel of the Sunday would introduce the next story, starting next Monday. 

The feature looked like a (better than average) romance comic book. The art was provided by "Jorge Franch", apparently a nome de plume of Jordi Franch Cubells. This Spanish artist is said to have gotten the job on the strip through his friend and mentor Jorge Longaron, who was providing the art on Friday Foster for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate. 

The stories were provided by veteran comic strip scripter Jim Lawrence, and they're problematic. In an apparent bid to be hard-hitting and relevant Lawrence sometimes tells tales involving sexual assault,  workplace harrassment and other gritty stuff, subjects that may belong on the front page but maybe not in a romance comic presumably meant to appeal to teenage girls.

The strip debuted on June 18 1973***, but good luck finding papers that ran the strip -- they are exceedingly scarce. Neither the Tribune or New York News felt it was worthy of in-house support, so that wasn't a good precedent. And since the strip required client papers to run both the daily and Sunday, that was a tough sell -- even if features editors really like the strip it can be tough to make room in both the Sunday and daily for a new feature.

The Secret Heart made it only a little more than three months before the syndicate threw in the towel. The feature ended on September 30 1973.


* Oddly, this title was used on the half-page original art of the Sundays --- but I've never seen a printed example of the Sunday that ran as anything other than a third page. And on the third-page version, the in-strip title was "The Secret Heart".

** This title was used by the Detroit Free Press -- see sample above.

*** Start and end dates from Detroit Free Press.


I seem to remember a Barbara Cartland ( prolific English Romance writer) strip with art by Gray Morrow in the 80's which ran in some New Zealand women's magazines in the 80's.Didn't read it but did notice the nice art by Morrow. I'm not sure if that ran in the United States though
"Barbara Cartland's Romances" ran from 1980 through 1983 here in the US, syndicated by United Feature Syndicate. If memory serves, it was also written by Jim Lawrence.

As to another "romance" strip, I'd venture that Stan Drake's "The Heart of Juliet Jones" comes closest to the mark. I've read the CCP (and some other) reprints, and most story arcs either focused on or involved Eve or Julie romantically linked to some guy who ultimately proves unworthy or married or too focused on his career.

You can make an argument that Li'l Abner was a romance strip. How else to explain its focus on the Abner and Daisy Mae romance for nearly its entire run, even after she finally caught and married the big lug. Some of their most touching romantic moments occurred after they were married.

Many other strips featured romantic elements. Tarzan had Jane, Flash had Dale, Popeye had Olive, Dick Tracy had Tess Trueheart, Skeezix had Nina, and even Prince Valiant had Aleta.

Then there was "Torchy in Heartbeats" by Jackie Ormes [1950-1954], about a young African-American woman's search for Mr. Right.
Yup, BC's Romances was the strip I had in mind. Probably ought to do a post on that one of these days. And Doug, great catch there, Torchy definitely qualifies, though the subject matter did stray a bit in later years.

The San Antonio Light also ran the complete run like The Detroit Free Press (1/3 Sundays). The paper drop Friday Foster to run The Secret Heart.
I not only read the Free Press' comics back then - all of them - I delivered that paper. And I have no recollection of this feature. Not my key area of interest, but it made no impression at all.
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Sunday, May 22, 2022


Wish You Were Here, from Rose O'Neill


Here's another Rose O'Neill Kewpie card, issued in the 1920s by the Gibson Art Company of Cincinnati.


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