Saturday, November 25, 2023


One-Shot Wonders: The Wonderful Wizard's Terrible Revenge by Morris, 1904


This one-shot strip that ran in the World Color Printing Sunday comics section of December 4 1904 generates so many questions. Why does the wizard turn a snake into a watermelon? Why does he finger a mysterious case labelled "Goo-Goo From India"? Why does the wizard turn George Washington White into a chicken particularly? I'm so confused... 

This one-shot is signed Morris. He was not an artist in World Color's regular stable; in fact this seems to be the only strip he contributed to the syndicate. Nice art, but that gag needed some polishing.


Ah, because the stereotypical rural black character steals that which he craves; watermelon and chicken. So, to become the object of his desire would seem a grimly ironic punishment indeed. But this is really a terribly plotted strip. A really basic cause-and-effect gag is hard to muck up, but this one is.
What's the snake about? It's introduced to no effect; and why was transforming into watermelon done? More questions can be considered as well, but it's more than it's worth.
Post a Comment

Friday, November 24, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: The Hurry Up New Yorker


I rarely get to feature Maurice Ketten* on the blog because he worked on his daily panel, often titled Can You Beat It?, for the New York World pretty much for his whole newspaper career. But that's a shame because though his later style lost most of its allure, in his early days at the World he was a pretty incredible stylist. His work was so distinctive that the World billed him as "the Angle and Curve Cartoonist." His style at that time was so highly stylized I tend to think of it as Art Deco, or perhaps Cubist, and that's well before either of those were even things. 

As Ketten settled in at the World in 1906 his style quickly became more conventional, and to imitate T.E. Powers over at the New York Journal. However, in his only series that predates Can You Beat It?, The Hurry Up New Yorker, the vestiges of his "angle and curve" days are still in evidence. This series makes fun of Big Apple denizens, who always seem to be scrambling to make time. Of course in Ketten's series this always backfires to comic effect. 

The series ran from October 19 to November 17 1906**, predating Ketten's decades-long series Can You Beat It?  by a few months. As you can see from the samples above, which ran in other papers, the original title was changed to suit the local paper, sometimes made generic like these, other times by substituting the name of the newspaper's city.

* Ketten's real name was Prosper Fiorini; he changed it when he came to the U.S. 

** Source: New York Evening World.


Comments: Post a Comment

Wednesday, November 22, 2023


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Frank Robbins

Franklin “Frank” Robbins was born on September 9, 1917, in Boston, Massachusetts, according to his World War II draft card and Social Security application (transcribed at

In the 1920 United States Census, Robbins was the only child of Archibald (salesman born in Russia) and Laura (born in Austria). They were Boston residents at 3144 Washington Street. 

Famous Artists and Writers of King Features Syndicate (1949) profiled Robbins and said
... Robbins was a Grade-A prodigy of the drawing board in his native Boston at the age of four, won several art scholarships at 9, painted giant murals for his high school at 13 ...
Who’s Who in American Art 1976 said Robbins studied at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts School. 

The 1930 census counted twelve-year-old Robbins and his widow mother in Boston at 121 Chambers Street. 

In Famous Artists Robbins said
“I began life back of the North Station in Boston … precisely on the wrong side of the tracks! At fifteen [around 1933], my family came to New York, lived on the East Side and I began my professional career.”

After kicking around as errand boy in ad agencies, Frank, at the age of sixteen, came under the eagle eye of Edward Trumbull, well-known muralist. Trumbull was then color director of the Radio City project, and through him Frank met the architects and contractors for the buildings being erected. He immediately received commissions to do pencil portraits of all the architects and other personalities connected with the construction project. Upon completion of this lengthy and challenging job, Frank met the Rockefellers and received a grant from them to study and paint. A year later, in a studio given to him in the Graybar building, Frank was busy working on a series of mural sketches for the then proposed Children’s Broadcasting Studio in the RCA building. The sketches were approved when then NBC studios opened for a full schedule of broadcasting. Since the murals were to be painted directly on the walls this gave Frank the choice of working for three months in the wee hours between midnight and early dawn or forgetting the whole deal. Due to his health at the time Frank had to regretfully drop the project.
Art Digest, March 15, 1936, mentioned Robbins’ prize. 
… the Thomas B. Clarke prize of $100 was awarded to Franklin Robbins’ “Sixth Avenue ‘L’.”

In The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Volume 5 (1999), Maurice Horn said “In 1938 he flirted briefly with the comic book medium.” In The Encyclopedia of American Comics from 1897 to the Present (1990), Ron Goulart said Robbins “even put in time in Bert Whitman’s comic book shop.” 

In 1939, Robbins accepted the Associated Press’s offer to produce Scorchy Smith which began in 1930 with John Terry who was followed by Noel Sickles (1934), Bert Christman (1936) and Howell Dodd (1938). American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Robbins did the strip from May 22, 1939 to March 11, 1944 with a small gap in 1943 by other hands

In the Encyclopedia of American Comics, Goulart said 
At about the same time he’d been doing Scorchy Smith, Robbins also drew Lightnin’ and the Lone Rider, a thinly syndicated cowboy strip. This poor man’s Lone Ranger had originally been drawn by Jack Kirby.

According to the 1940 census, Robbins and his mother resided in Manhattan at 840 Third Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets. He was a freelance artist who had four years of high school. 

On August 20, 1940, Robbins, aboard the steamship Mexico, returned from Veracruz, Mexico to the port of New York. The passenger list said his address was 11 West 52nd Street in Manhattan.

Robbins signed his World War II draft card on October 16, 1940. His employer was the Associated Press. Robbins was described as five feet nine inches, 147 pounds, with brown eyes and hair. Apparently he did not serve during the war.

The Artists League of America’s 1943 exhibition, “This Is Our War”, was at the Wildenstein Galleries in New York. Robbins was one of 89 painters and 12 sculptors represented. His painting, “This Is Our War, Too”, was published in the Springfield Sunday Union and Republican (Massachusetts), March 7, 1943. (The painting was sold in 2019.)

American Newspaper Comics said Robbins was a ghost artist on The Green Hornet (1941) for the Bell Syndicate. For the King Features Syndicate, Robbins created the adventure strip Johnny Hazard. The daily and Sunday series ran from June 5, 1944 to August 20, 1977. Alberto Becattini says the strip was ghost written by Howard Liss from 1951 to 1971, and Jack Kirby drew six weeks of dailies in 1956. 

On April 30, 1945, Robbins and Bertha Greenstein obtained, in Manhattan, marriage license number 10025. Robbins’ lettering is evident on the affidavit. They married on May 17.

Famous Artists said
Frank is now married, and his lovely wife, Berta, helps him on research and the more pleasant matters of life. “Frankly,” Frank confided to me, “Any similarity between my comic strip heroines and my wife are pure coincidence!”
National Cartoonists Society

On October 15, 1947, Robbins and his wife flew on American Airlines from Mexico City to San Antonio, Texas. Their address on the passenger list was 418 West 20th Street in Manhattan.

The same address was recorded in the 1950 census. Robbins, his wife and son, Michael, lived on the second floor.  

Robbins and his wife departed New York, January 20, 1951, aboard the steamship Queen of Bermuda for a week’s vacation in Bermuda. Their address was 10 West 86th Street. 

Robbins was one of 239 cartoonists in the 1951 exhibition, “American Cartooning”, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A photograph of Robbins, at the museum, was published in the Daily Bulletin (Endicott, New York), May 29, 1951. 

On September 9, 1953, Robbins took his family on a two-month vacation in Europe. They sailed on the steamship Ile de France bound for Le Havre, France.

Robbins’ 1954 painting “Orchestra” was accepted in the 1955 Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting at the Whitney Museum of American Art. The catalog said Robbins lived at 285 Central Park West in Manhattan. Who’s Who said Robbins’ paintings were exhibited at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Toledo Museum of Art, National Academy of Design, and Audubon Artists in 1957 and 1958. 

Something About the Author, Volume 32 (1983) said Robbins’ magazine illustrations appeared in Life, Look, Cosmopolitan and The Saturday Evening Post

In the 1970s, Johnny Hazard appeared in fewer newspapers which affected Robbins’ income. He found work in comic books, first at DC then Marvel. Johnny Hazard ended in August 1977. Robbins’ final comic book contributions appeared in 1979. He and his second wife, Ida Hecht, whom he married in 1977, moved to Mexico. She passed away on January 27, 1989 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Co-incidentally, Robbins’ first wife passed away the same year on March 4 (Social Security Death Index). 

Robbins’ third wife, Fran, was interviewed in Comic Book Creator #1, Spring 2013.
“I taught English there,” she said. “I met Frank while I was directing a play reading of Amadeus.”

“His wife had died two years before I met him … We were together for about five years. We had a wonderful marriage. It was a big loss when he died, let me tell you.”
In addition to his artistic talent, Robbins was an audiophile according to Fran.
“We had a sound system that was second to none. ... He created a single cone speaker that was astonishing. It was very pure sound, very clear. wonderful, wonderful. He knew a lot about sound. He had boxes and boxes of research about sound.”
Robbins passed away on November 28, 1994 in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. He was laid to rest at Panteón de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe

Further Reading and Viewing
News from ME, About Frank Robbins – Part 1, Part 2, Part 3
More Heroes of the Comics: Portraits of the Legends of Comic Books (2016)
Fabulous Fifties, Frank Robbins’ comics and advertising
Art Digest, May 1951, Met Surveys U.S. Cartooning
Invaluableoriginal comics art and paintings
Heritage Auctions, Frank Robbins original art
Syracuse University, Frank Robbins Cartoons
Who’s Who of American Comic Books 1928–1999


Comments: Post a Comment

Monday, November 20, 2023


Firsts and Lasts: Dumb Dora's Not So Dumb ... But Cancelled Anyway


Dumb Dora was on its third artist, or more like a hundred and third if you count ghosts and assistants, when her strip was retired in January 1936. Bil Dwyer was the final credited artist on the strip, taking over in late 1932 from Paul Fung, who in turn had taken over from Chic Young. 

Dwyer reportedly brought on a small army of helpers to get the Sunday and daily strip out on time, including Milton Caniff, who R.C. Harvey reports did much of the pencilling for the initial eighteen months of Dwyer's tenure, plus inking some of the girl characters. By the time Dumb Dora ended Caniff was long gone, but we can still easily see vestiges of his style on the dailies above, the last two of the series. 

Dumb Dora had begun as a me-too flapper strip in 1924, but had the additional hook that Dora acts dumb but usually turns out to have a bean firing on all cylinders by the end of each gag. The concept is fine, but awfully repetitive. By the time Dwyer took over the conceit was well and truly played out, and flappers were long gone, so the strip had turned into a more generic "teen boys chasing the pretty girl" feature, which left it drowning in a sea of its betters -- Tillie the Toiler, Harold Teen, Winnie Winkle, Etta Kett, etc. 

Mark Johnson supplied a scan of the last two rather rare dailies seen above, which offer no farewell or conclusion to the strip. So I went looking online to see if the Sunday, which ended the next day (January 5 1936), offered us some closure. Nope!


By the end of 1935, Dora had exhausted itself, very few papers were still hanging on to it. I can't think of any clients offhand. The two final dailies are from the bottom third of a proof sheet.
My guess is that the feature lasted as long as it did because Dora had been such famous character that her very name became part of the popular American idiom, everybody said it, there were "Dumb Dora Clubs" organised by college girls; a "Dumb Dora" was a shorthand description of a He said-she said joke or cartoon gag.
Thing is, though still well known, it became stale. It was corny. The name was associated with the 1920s.
It was like calling your strip "Oh You Kid" or "Sheik n' Sheba". And all those change of artists didn't help. There's nothing interesting story-wise, either.
Yung was the only one who really understood the character and material to suit her, perhaps Fung did as well to some extent, but by the time it was dumped on Dwyer's drawing board, the feature had lost its soul.
Errata: Meant Chic YOUNG, not Yung.
The phrase "Dumb Dora" hung on at least until the mid-1970s, when they used it regularly on the game show "Match Game:"

Gene Rayburn: Dumb Dora is SO dumb . . .

Audience: HOW-DUMB-IS-SHE?

Rayburn: She thinks "Night School" is where you learn how to be a ______.

I never knew it was a comic strip reference. I wonder how many people did.
If anybody cares to read a little more about Dora, take a peek at my now-defunct web page's entry on it:
Post a Comment

Sunday, November 19, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Grace Drayton


Here's a Grace Drayton postcard issued by Reinthal & Newman as #250. Drayton's cards in this series were generally quite humourous, but this one just tries to elicit compassion for the typical Drayton waif.

This card was postally used in 1914, sent from Great Britain to Portugal. Eventually it ended up in a Florida antique store, where I bought it and then brought it here to Nova Scotia, Canada. That is one well travelled postcard!


Comments: Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?

Subscribe to
Posts [Atom]