Saturday, September 09, 2023


Herriman One-Shots: December 1 1901


In the early McClure Sunday comics sections it was fairly typical to include a half-page or more of single panel gag cartoons. Sometimes these were on a common theme, but in this case, from the section of December 1 1901, they are half miscellany, half Christmas gags.

Herriman gets off a pretty sly gag in the upper left corner, making you think a moment before getting the joke. Not a very nice gag for poor Tubbsy, but these were not the days when humour was strained through a very tight sieve of inoffensiveness. 

Along with the Herriman entry we have an interesting array of cartoons by other creators. In the middle top tier a gag by Hy Mayer that is quite impenetrable today to 99% of us, me included prior to a Googling session. In 1901 when most families outside of big cities had a horse, a double-ring was commonly understood to be a somewhat cruel gag bit. This type of bit made it pretty darn uncomfortable for a horse who didn't follow orders; evidently horses that pulled streetcars were notable for being a bit unwilling, hence the joke. 

At the upper right we have a cartoon by Frank Crane. In order to decode this one you need to know that New Orleans was pretty well known as a source of quality molasses. 

The lower tier has two gags by that master silhouette cartoonist, Jack K. Bryans. The one on the left can leave a lump in your throat if you are paying enough attention -- these poor slum kids want to believe in Santa, but are used to finding out he bypassed them each Christmas. But hope springs eternal.


I figured the gag with the horse meant that it only responded to the streetcar bell signaling it's about to start.
You may have that right. What doesn't really make sense with either explanation is why it is particularly a knife grinder involved.
Itinerant knife grinders with bells are a thing:
Ah! The veil is now completely lifted.
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Friday, September 08, 2023


Toppers: Know Your Navy, Know Your Merchant Marine, Know Your Sports


Our headline above says "Topper" but today we've got a feature (or rather, three of 'em) that sort of bend the definition. To me a topper is generally a separate strip or panel included with a feature that, when discarded, helps to allow a paper to run the feature in various different formats. Know Your Navy/Merchant Marine/Sports doesn't fit that definition because I know of no format for Mickey Finn in which it has the function of being a 'drop panel' to assist in reformatting. With Mickey Finn, if you run the Nippie topper, you also get Know Your Navy/Merchant Marine/Sports, and if you drop Nippie, that extra panel goes away with it. In other words, that panel has no particular function except to make Nippie a five panel strip instead of six. 

This sort of feature is certainly not unique to Mickey Finn -- Dick Tracy's Crimestopper's Texbook and Heathcliff's Kitty Korner come to mind. This type of feature probably deserves its own name, but what would that be? Lagniappe feature appeals to me, but I imagine that would send a lot of people scrambling for the dictionary. 

Anyway, since I lump this stuff in with toppers in my book, and I know of no industry term for it, let's call it a topper and plow on. 

Mickey Finn's main topper, Nippie - He's Often Wrong, ran with the Sunday strip from 1936 to 1946. For almost all of its life it was a three-panel single tier affair, but on November 14 1943* it was upgraded to two tiers and the Know Your Navy panel was added, offering weekly factoids about that division of the armed forces. Since this is during World War II, there's no mystery about its appeal. Why in particular Lank Leonard picked that service branch, however, is unknown. Perhaps he looked around at all the other strips that had military components and decided that the Navy could stand a little more of the spotlight. 

At the conclusion of the war Leonard decided to change the focus. He renamed the panel Know Your Merchant Marine on September 9 1945** and began covering that somewhat obscure public/private naval service. 

The Merchant Marine panels no doubt told readers much that they did not know, but Leonard tired of it quickly. On December 16** the panel was refocused again, this time under the title of Know Your Sports. Panels explaining sports rules offered little to fascinate readers and the feature was dropped entirely on April 21 1946***. Nippie reverted to a single-tier affair, but it too would be dropped just three months later. From then on the Sunday Mickey Finn offered no toppers.

* Source: Atlanta Constitution

** Source: New York Mirror

*** Source: St. Petersburg Times


Judging from this one example, I think Leonard would have been better off replacing the "Know Your Navy" panel with a panel where either Nippie or the cop said something funny to provide a punchline.
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Wednesday, September 06, 2023


Obscurities of the Day: Clown Alley and Longshots


Some newspaper features hope to become classics of the form, to be recalled with wistful nostalgia by nonagenarians and collected in sumptuous complete hardcover editions for collectors. Others are just -- quite literally -- created to take up space. 

Such was the inspiration between this pair of features, Clown Alley and Longshots. Somehow Universal Press Syndicate got together with the Philadelphia Inquirer on a redesign of their Sunday comics section, and it was noticed that on a page with four quarter-page strips, which by the 1980s were actually a little shy of a true quarter-page tall, that a thin slack space was left. Universal Press saw this as a skinny opportunity and went to Bill Hinds to create content (how I hate that term) to fill it up. Hinds came up with Clown Alley and Longshots, both a page wide but each less than two inches tall. Each offered a weekly gag shoehorned into the odd space. 

The Inquirer, rather than use their overly tall pages to run three quarters and one third-page comic feature, which would have incurred no additional cost to them, went along with this solution that put money into the pockets of Universal and Bill Hinds each week. That's what you get and that's what you deserve when you call in a consultant who has motives of their own. 

Not that there's anything really wrong with Hinds' panels -- they do a pretty admirable job of gagging up this weird space. And Hinds was probably happy for the opportunity since one of his existing features, According to Guinness, had just cancelled its daily panel. But when Universal offered these new features to other newspapers there were few if any takers. After all, how many papers are going to buy Sunday comics features for the technical convenience of their compositors? It was a solution to an obscure technical problem, one that already had alternative free solutions due to the wide range of Sunday comics formats provided by the syndicates.

Longshots and Clown Alley both debuted in the Philadelphia Inquirer on June 21 1987 and ran there for over four years until July 28 1991, victims of the Inky's next section revamp.



Longshots makes me think of Jaffee's Tall Tales - only horizontal.
I remember the Guinness feature. I assumed it was either a paid ad or a filler for an unsold space.

As a kid I remember ads in the Sunday comics, sometimes but not always in comic form. Del Monte soda, for example, briefly had a parody superhero serial, Delbert Montague. Also remember strips like "Li'l Abner" being weirdly reconfigured to accommodate larger ads, which I now remember as tabloid page size dropped onto a broadsheet.

At some point Sunday comics ads faded away (although I recall writing sales materials for them at the Mercury News into the current century).
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Monday, September 04, 2023


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Charles Biro

Charles B. Biro was born on May 12, 1911 according to the Social Security Death Index. However, a 1952 Monthly Supplement to Who’s Who in America had the birth date May 11, 1911 which also appeared on Biro’s marriage license and World War II draft card. These two documents also had New York City as his birthplace. The middle initial B likely stood for Benedict, his mother’s maiden name. A pronunciation of Biro was given in the Writer’s Digest, March 1949: “pronounce Biro with a long I”. 

Biro has not been found in the 1915 New York state census and 1920 United States Census. Apparently he was in Europe during those censuses. On February 19, 1921, a passenger list recorded the departure of Biro and his parents from Le Havre, France. They arrived in Philadelphia on March 2. The list said his parents, Anton and Josephine, were of the Hebrew race, Czechoslovakian nationals who spoke German. Their last permanent residence was Wien, Austria, and they were in New York City from 1909 to 1914. The Monthly Supplement said Biro attended the New School in 1918. The year is questionable because Biro would have been seven years old and residing in Europe.

The 1925 New York State Census said the Biro family of five lived in Queens, New York at 148th Street and Grand Central Parkway. His father was a machinist and his older brothers, Michael and Louis, were a plumber and decorator. 

Biro attended Jamaica High School

In 1928 Biro contributed sports cartoons to the Long Island Daily Press (Jamaica, New York), according to the Monthly Supplement

The Long Island Daily Press, February 11, 1929, published a photograph of the staff of The Oracle, the school’s magazine. 

Biro in last row, sixth from left

The Long Island Daily Press, February 28, 1929, mentioned Biro’s art award.
Medal Winners
The winners of medals for last term’s advanced art classes have finally been selected.

The Alexander medal, for five [sic] draftsmanship in elementary representation, will be awarded to Charles Biro. Charles is continuing his art in high school, and will probably take up art seriously after graduating. ...

Biro was an assistant to the art editor on The Oracle, June 1929.

The 1930 census listed the Biros’ residence in Queens at 147-52 Grand Central Parkway. Biro’s Hungarian parents immigrated in 1898; his father was an engineer at a hotel. Biro’s brother Louis was an advertising artist. 

The Fleischer Studios website included Biro’s 1931 Christmas card (#67). The caption said he was an assistant animator from 1930 to 1932, and animator/director from 1932 to 1936. 

The Daily Star, (Long Island City, New York), September 9, 1932, said
Brooklyn Girl Betrothed to Queens Song Writer
Mr. and Mrs. Anton Biro, 147-02 Grand Central parkway, North Jamaica, announced the engagement of their eldest son, Mitchell [sic], to Miss Ceil Bayer [sic], daughter of Mr. and Mrs. A.A. Bayer of Brooklyn, at a formal dinner.

Young Mr. Biro is a well-known song writer. Among the guests were Charles Biro, sketch artist for the Van Beuren Film Corporation of Manhattan, Mr. and Mrs. Lou Biro of Beechhurst, Miss Contia Biro of Brooklyn, Mr. and Mrs. Isadore Jacobwitz of Flushing-Hillcrest, Mr. and Mrs. Meyer Luther of Brooklyn and Al Koenency of Brooklyn.

The Monthly Supplement did not mention Fleischer Studios and said Biro was an animator at Van Beuren Productions, R.К.О., from 1933 to 1936; animation director of Audio Productions, from 1936 to 1937; and the Hastings Studio in 1937. Biro’s art training included the Brooklyn Museum School of Art, 1932; Art Students League, 1934; and Grand Central School of Art, 1939.

Biro left animation to become art director at the Harry “A” Chesler Syndicate, from 1937 to 1938, and he drew the Foxy Grandpa comic strip originated by Carl E. Schultze. The cover (below) of Syndicate Features, December 15, 1937, featured a portrait of Schultze, Foxy Grandpa and Biro. It’s not known if the Biro strips were published. Around the same time he produced an unpublished strip, Goodbyland

Courtesy of Heritage Auctions

From the Chesler Syndicate, Biro went to the comic book publisher MLJ from 1938 to 1939.

In the late 1930s, Biro’s residence was an apartment building in Sunnyside, Queens at 41-08 43rd Street where he met his wife. On September 13, 1938, he married Cecila Frances Bishop

In the 1940 census, the couple lived in Sunnyside at 45-42 41st Road. He had four years of high school and his occupation was artist in the publishing industry. In 1939, he earned $700 and his wife $1,250. Biro continued work in the comic book industry: editor-in-chief of Comic House, Inc., from 1939 to 1940; editorial director and editor-in-chief of Gleason Publications, since 1945; and president of Biro-Wood Productions, since 1945. Some of his comic book credits are hereWho’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999 said Biro’s wife did some writing for Gleason. 

On October 16, 1940, Biro signed his World War II draft card. His description was six feet two inches, 200 pounds, with blue eyes and blonde hair.

The Kingston Daily Freeman (New York), October 12, 1946, noted one of his visits: “Mr. and Mrs. Carl Hubbell had as their week-end guests Mr. and Mrs. Charles Biro. Mr. Biro is Mr. Hubbell’s editor.” 

A 1949 Manhattan, New York City directory listed Biro’s office at 114 East 32nd Street. 

Cartoonist Profiles #37, March 1978, published a photograph of cartoonists, including Biro, at The Shriners Hospital for Crippled Children, in San Francisco, on November 12, 1949.

According to the 1950 census, self-employed cartoonist Biro, his wife and daughter, Denise, were Wilton, Connecticut residents. 

The New York Times, July 14, 1951, reported the Society of Amateur Chefs duck dinner at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel, the organization’s headquarters; two brief excerpts:
Among the co-conspirators at the range with Mr. Melchior were cartoonists Ham Fisher of “Joe Palooka” fame and Charles Biro, who left the fate of Pee Wee, Scare Crow and the other “Little Wise Guys” in midair to don his starched chef’s cap and apron. The latter costume, gay with red and black inscriptions, was worn by members over their conservative business suits. It was designed by fellow member and assistant chef of the day, Russell Patterson, the illustrator….

Bill of fare for the evening (selected by Mr. Biro):
Anchovy twists
Mint juleps
Petite marmite
Wild duckling with sauce smitaine
Wild rice
Whole glazed cranberries
Mixed salad
French pancakes
Demi tasse
Biro and his brother, Michael, applied for a patent in 1952. Their patent appeared in the Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, December 28, 1954. 

During the month of October 1952, Stars and Stripes, September 21, 1952, reported that nine cartoonists were scheduled to visit American bases in Great Britain and France. They were “… Russell Patterson, the famed beautiful-girl illustrator (‘Mamie’); Dick Wingert (‘Hubert’), C.D. Russell (‘Pete the Tramp’), Bob Dunn (‘Just the Type’), all of King Features Syndicate; Al Posen (‘Sweeney and Son’), Bill Holman (‘Smoky Stover’ and ‘Nuts and Bolts’) and Gus Edson (‘The Gumps’), all of the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate; Bob Montana (‘Archie’), McClure Newspaper Syndicate, and Charles Biro (comic books, ‘Dare Devil’ and ‘Peewee’).” Their Christmas greetings were published in the December 24, 1952, Stars and Stripes. Biro’s greeting is below.

The New York Times, October 1, 1953, noted Biro’s lease in the Steinway Building, 109 West 57th Street, in Manhattan. 

Biro produced an eight-page comic book about the State Training School for Boys at Warwick, New York. The school was established to help juvenile delinquents. The New York Times, April 17, 1954, reported the use of the comic book and printed two panels (below).

The 1956 Wilton directory said Biro had moved to New York. 

When Biro’s career in comics ended in the mid-1950s, he switched to advertising. 

Biro and Red Mohler aka Bill Mohler illustrated Pat, the Pilot for the Charles E. Merrill Publishing Company which produced My Weekly Reader. The earliest mention of Pat, the Pilot was in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 1, Group 2, Pamphlets, Leaflets, Contributions to Newspapers or Periodicals, Etc. Maps, 1946, New Series, Volume 43. Biro was identified in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 15, Part 1, Number 1, Book and Pamphlets January–June 1961. 
Pat the pilot. Grade 6. Eleanor M. Johnson, editor-in-chief. Editorial board for the revised series, William E. Young & others. Illustrated by Charles Biro. (New Reading Skilltext series) Appl. author: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc., employer for hire. © Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc., 12Jan61; A502070.
Currently at eBay

Biro and Mohler were identified in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 25, Part 1, Number 1, Section 1, Book and Pamphlets January–June 1971. (Mohler also drew Tom, the Reporter.)
Pat, the Pilot. Editorial review board: Murray Anderson, Millard H. Black, Evelyn B. Taylor & George R. Turner. Illustrated by Charles Biro & Bill Mohler. Columbus, Ohio, C.E. Merrill Pub. Co. 88 p. (Merrill reading Skilltext series) Based on the original Reading Skilltext series. NM revisions. © Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co.; 4Sep70; A228925.

Pat, the Pilot. Editorial review board: Murray Anderson, Millard H. Black, Evelyn B. Taylor & George R. Turner. Illustrated by Charles Biro & Bill Mohler. Teacher’s ed. Columbus, Ohio, C.E. Merrill Pub. Co. 88 p. (Merrill reading Skilltext series, grade 6) Based on the original Reading Skilltext series. NM revisions. © Charles E. Merrill Pub. Co.; 4Sep70; A228926.
From 1962 to 1972, Biro was an art director at NBC television. 

Alter Ego #73, October 2007, said Biro attended Phil Seuling’s 1968 International Convention of Comic Art. Martin L. Greim’s Comic Crusader Omnibus (2022) said Biro, Jim Steranko, Sal Trapani and Joe Orlando were judges of the costume contest. The same issue of Alter Ego also published Jim Amash’s interview with Biro’s daughters, Denise Ortell, Penny Gold, and Bonnie Biro. 

Biro passed away “of a heart attack March 4th [1972], while driving his car” according to Graphic Story World #6, July 1972. The Social Security Applications and Claims Index, at, said a claim was filed on March 16, 1972. Newsday, February 8, 1994, said Biro’s wife (born January 6, 1916) passed away on February 5, 1994. 

(An earlier profile was posted in 2013.) 

Further Reading
Uncle Charlie’s Fables #2, #3, #4, #5
The Comics Journal #245, August 2002, interview with Creig Flessel who recalled a couple of incidents regarding Biro
Comic Vine, photographs of Biro
Todd’s Blog, Charles Biro—Letterer


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Sunday, September 03, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Rose O'Neill


Here's one of the many Kewpie cards penned by Rose O'Neill for the Gibson Art Company of Cincinnati. This one, a Valentine's card, bears the code number 67017. I don't know when these were issued, but this one was postally used in 1918. Maybe that code number is the giveaway -- 1917?


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