Wednesday, May 24, 2023
Obscurity of the Day: Chesty De Nut
Mark Johnson gets the big three cheers for discovering this obscurity, and for supplying the samples. Why is this one a big deal? Well, let's just say that if you had found early unknown work by Norman Rockwell, you'd be pretty excited. Now this strip isn't the work of Norman Rockwell, but it is from the pen of the science fiction magazine equivalent. The creator of this silly strip is none other than Frank R. Paul, dean of the sci-fi magazine cover artists.
In 1915, when Chesty de Nut was in circulation, Paul was still just getting his feet wet in art. His first art gig was with the Jersey Journal starting in 1912, where he mostly worked uncredited but did have some editorial cartoons published under his signature. By 1914 he was freelancing and one of his clients was Hugo Gernsback, who would eventually create the science fiction pulp genre. Gernsback's major weapon to attract customers were the mechanically and architecturally complex covers of Paul in all their splendidly bold, lurid and colourful glory.
Chesty de Nut was distributed by National Cartoon Service, perhaps the epitome of an early hole-in-the-wall operation. They seemed to come onto the scene in 1915, and lasted probably until about 1918. Their idea was to sell comics in numbered batches, so that newspapers could use them when and how they liked. Their generally weak offerings must have been sold cheap because you rarely see them in anything but very minor papers. It certainly didn't help matters that National Cartoon Service sent out really bad quality plates which most of their clients didn't bother to improve. If you see a National Cartoon Service strip, it will usually be liver-spotted with those weird amoebas you get when plates aren't properly routered. Lucky for us, Mark Johnson found Chesty de Nut examples from a paper whose pressmen took a little pride in their product.
As one of the early offerings of National Cartoon Service, the earliest I have found the large third-page strip appearing is in mid-1915, but a check of the copyright records indicates that the series was supposedly available starting on March 28. Those records also reveal that the numbering of the strip was to encompass #25-56, a total of 32 episodes. I haven't seen nearly that many, but I have encountered an example number #60, perhaps indicating that the copyright records aren't to be completely trusted, and one of the samples above may be #23, though the lettering is a bit hard to read.
Unlike many of the other National Cartoon Service offerings, which were passed along to even more hole-in-the-wall syndicators to be sold in reruns, I've not seen Chesty de Nut reappearing later. The latest examples I've found ran in 1917, while National Cartoon Service still seemed to be a going concern.