Saturday, December 16, 2023


One-Shot Wonders: Humors of Spring Fashions by William Glackens, 1898


I've never really warmed up to either of the Glackens brothers, Willam or Louis, as cartoonists. Their work seems rather stiff to me. But William made an important mark in fine art -- he was one of the founders of the highly influential Ashcan School of art; a school originated by a number of artists who kept their bread buttered as cartoonists. Good on ya, Will.

Here's a full pager by William Glackens that ran in the New York Sunday World on March 27 1898. Befitting springtime, Glackens pokes fun at the inevitable appearance of new fashions that bloom along with the flowers that time of the year.


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Friday, December 15, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Senator Caucus


Politicians are such a deep and rich vein of comedy that it's surprising how relatively few of them have starred in their own features. They tend to be secondary characters, like Senator Belfry in Shoe, Senator Snort in Grin and Bear It and a whole parade of demagogues in strips like Pogo and Doonesbury. Maybe newspaper readers, faced with the horrors of the front page, aren't really happy for politicians to be the stars on the comics page, too. 

Senator Caucus tried to buck that tradition by having a blowhard corrupt politician as the star of a daily panel, which debuted on October 6 1958* through the auspices of General Features. The strip was drawn by Pete Wyma and gags were supplied by George Levine. For both creators this was to be their first and last syndicated feature. Of Levine I know nothing, but Wyma was a prolific gag cartoonist, specializing in risque to outright adult material. He was also a prolific postcard cartoonist in the 60's. When the feature began Wyma adopted a very generic-looking cartooning approach, but during the 60s he developed a much lusher style that really sets him apart from the run of the mill. 

Levine didn't last long as collaborator. He seems to have bowed out at the end of the first year, last being credited on October 17 1959. After that Wyma took a solo byline for the most part, but often shared credit in the panel itself with gag writers who went by "VTM" and "Mac Saveny". 

Senator Caucus was undeniably well done but it never really caught on. Whether that is because of the aforementioned allergic reaction of newspaper readers, or because of the weak sales ability of General Features, I dunno. But since General Features didn't really have any blockbuster properties, they were happy to keep Senator Caucus going for a full decade even with his short list of client papers. The feature seems to have ended on November 2 1968**.

* Source: Washington Star

** Source:Paterson News.


One of the interesting things about the design is the whole "string tie" bit, which was stereotypical for U.S. Senators for decades (cp. some of the depictions of Kenny Delmar's "Senator Claghorn" character, or the cover illustration for "The Mouse That Roared"), even though finding a senator actually sporting that kind of duds was pretty hard after Tom Connolly (D-TX) retired in 1953. It's rather like how the "Alphonse and Gaston" stereotypical Frenchman was a staple of editorial cartoonists clear up to the time of Vichy, even though that fashion had long vanished from the streets of Paris.
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Wednesday, December 13, 2023


Selling It: Fly Your Flag, Comics Fans!


In 1937 the Hearst Corporation purchased the phenomenally successful women's magazine Pictorial Review, a magazine that had once boasted a circulation of 3 million per month. Granted, with the Depression the magazine didn't sell quite that well in the 1930s, but it was still a force to be reckoned with when Hearst bought it. Bizarrely, Hearst discontinued the magazine in 1939, citing it as being in debt up to its ears. The story reeks of a tax evasion scam of some kind, and there were whisperings of some sort of mob connection to boot. 

When Hearst purchased the ill-fated magazine one of the things they did was to create tie-in marketing with their newspapers. To market the Puck comic section, someone came up with the idea of a giveaway of 'flags' featuring some of the headliners from the comics line-up. I put flag in quotes because the actual item was just a flat sheet of muslin with no mounting hardware or eyelets. Kinda crummy even for ten cents in 1937. Arguably worse, though, is the design of the 'flag', which is nine comic panels seemingly taken almost completely at random from the strips, and just plopped down in a 3x3 grid. A flag with zero thought put into the design, in other words. 

Not surprisingly, very few people sent in their dimes for this promotional dog and the flags are now exceedingly rare. Rare doesn't mean valuable, though, since even today few collectors would really want to display the ugly thing. Hake's couldn't even get their minimum bid of a C-note for an example. To see a larger image of the flag you can visit WorthPoint, which claims a sale on eBay -- but you have to be a member to find out what it went for. I suspect it was no king's ransom.

Update: In a rather amazing coincidence, while this post was sitting in the queue what should appear on eBay but one of these flags! It went for the princely sum of 36 bucks, shipping included.


One actually gets a different story from looking at the litigation involved in the case Nahtel Corp. v. West Virginia Pulp & Paper, a 1943 case from the federal 2nd Circuit. The Pictorial Review lost $500,000 in 1929, and in 1930-1931 lost nearly $1.5 million. West Virginia Pulp & Paper was the supplier of paper to the magazine, and was concerned about the mounting debts the magazine owed the firm. There were some murky transactions described in the case regarding a corporate reorganization, to no avail. In between 1931 and 1934, when Hearst's interests bought the magazine, the court's opinion describes the magazine as getting into worse and worse financial condition, with the liabilities exceeding the assets by a fair margin. As a practical matter, judging from the court's opinion, the Pictorial Review was a dead duck. You can read the opinion online at:
Interesting. What I read and regurgitated above was definitely characterized as reporting on rumours, and I guess that's mostly what they were, not facts. --Allan
But then again, Hearst may well have purchased it as some sort of tax dodge. A company that far in debt might have had some sort of tax attraction. By the late 30s, though, he was drowning in a sea of red ink, and taxes were only one thing dragging him to the bottom. -- Allan
It's hard to say: by all accounts, the various Hearst enterprises were in a massive tangle and muddle in the 1930s, though the effluvia hadn't hit the rotary object until later in the decade (see A.J. Liebling on the subject). The advent of the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934 put a serious crimp on the ability of the organization to raise money, which is why you had some contractions later on in the 30s, when fresh suckers -- I mean investors -- couldn't be found. You'll note the reference to "The Delinieator" in what posted; that was another failing magazine that was bought and combined with The Pictorial Review which, though it served to boost circulation in the short term, didn't seem to work in the long term. A company as deep in hock as Hearst was generating its own losses already, and didn't need more for tax purposes. (Hearst merged two Milwaukee papers right about the time the PR closed.) No, I think the simpler explanation was this was more Hearst megalomania that didn't pan out. My opinion, of course.
More to the point for your purposes, King Features Syndicate was probably one of the crown jewels of the Hearst organization by the late 1930s; there are numerous accounts of people buying Hearst papers principally for the comics. And a few of the other parts of the empire were doing all right, such as, e.g. Cosmopolitan Magazine. But even KFS' profits likely weren't enough to offset all the dogs. Only after some severe rationalization, and the boost of the war, did the Hearst organization stagger to its feet.
The images are pretty random, but they all feature exactly two characters, when sometimes one (Flash Gordon) or three (Krazy Kat) would be more iconic.
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Monday, December 11, 2023


Obscurity of the Day: Silly Milly


Silly Milly may be an obscurity to the vast majority of humanity, but to the mid-century readers of the New York Post this strip was a real star. Creator Stan MacGovern offered up some deliciously demented material -- he was sort of a Milt Gross minus the Yiddish accent. 

The strip began on June 8 1938* as Extra Extra, an addition to the formerly staid New York Post that was in the process of trying to loosen itself up a bit. That spring in its step would be increased greatly in 1939 when the paper was sold to Dorothy Schiff, who transformed it into a liberal-leaning sensational tabloid. 

The strip began as a wacky commentary on minor news stories, a theme that would remain popular throughout the run of the strip. But when MacGovern started using the recurring character Milly, a blowsy half-woman, half-doll who (as most of his characters) is missing her feet, she became the star of the show. MacGovern's use of minor newspaper headlines was no great innovation, but his downright deranged commentaries were what really set the strip apart from others of its genre, as did using himself as a thoroughly demented character in his own strip.

The strip was soon renamed Silly Milly, but various comics historians lay claim that the strip went through a period as "Swing On The News" (Maurice Horn), or "Swing With The News" (Don Markstein). Without having reviewed the Post microfilm for myself, I can only offer the samples you see above, some of which clearly show that the strip was sometimes titled Silly Milly Swings Out The News. I will of course post updates on this world-shaking point should anyone care to review the papers themselves.  

In the game of musical titles, I'll add another -- in 1946-47 MacGovern produced an adjunct large format strip on Saturdays and titled it The Yuk-Yuk Department.

As wonderful as Silly Milly was, the New York Post had no success in syndicating it, though they tried to for years. I have yet to see it running in a paper other than the Post. And that probably prompted MacGovern to decide that enough was enough after a decade and a half. Silly Milly bade goodbye to her readers on November 2 1951**.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

* Source: Ken Barker in Menomonee Falls Gazette #141. Maurice Horn claims it began on January 8 1938. Neither date is a Monday, so I wonder...

** Source: Jeffrey Lindenblatt based on New York Post. Maurice Horn claimed the strip ran until 1952.


I'd love to see a published collection of those, but I doubt that I will.
This strip is absolutely delightful. I would like a published collection as well. I wonder who would have the rights (News Corporation, the current owners of New York Post? Stan MacGovern's estate? Was the copyright ever renewed at all?)
"Tobacco Road" was in the middle of what was then a record-breaking run on Broadway, hence the likely reason for the reference.
There are a few strips in Art Out of Time: Unknown Comics Visionaries, 1900-1969… also some other strips the strippers here will surely love to strip.
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Sunday, December 10, 2023


Wish You Were Here, from Skeezix Wallet


For the second week in a row, we prove that Wish You Were Here cannot be buttonholed as a mere purveyor of postcard peculiarities. Here's another envelope from the collection of Mark Johnson, this one a communication from the Lancaster Shoe Company, maker of the Skeezix line of children's shoes. I can find marketing for this line as early as 1923, a mere two years after the character was found on Walt Wallet's doorstep in Gasoline Alley. Although not as ubiquitous as Buster Brown Shoes, the juggernaut of comic strip-based footwear, the Skeezix line did just fine for itself, petering out sometime in the mid-1950s. 

This envelope is dated 1932 and addressed to the Fred Rueping Leather Company of Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, a major tannery. They were presumably a supplier to the shoe company.


Hmm. Air Mail in 1932. Must have been something important.
Do you suppose the little girl's shoes known as "Mary James" might originally be from some distaff offerings by the Buster Brown company a hundred-odd years ago?
MARY JANES, That is.
According to some sources on the internet, the Brown Shoe Company bought the rights from Outcault for both "Buster Brown" and "Mary Jane" at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, and the company used those rights for their line of girls' strap shoes. One source says the shoe style was known as "bar shoes" or "doll shoes," but the "Mary Jane" label stuck. The logo for Mary Jane candies, which as far as I know is not connected with either the shoe or the strip (the creator, Charles N. Miller, named it for an aunt he liked), shows a girl wearing that style of shoes.
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