Saturday, April 20, 2024


One-Shot Wonders: Pinky Doolittle Stumps the Goat by Herriman, 1901


Here's a strip by Herriman that ran in the McClure syndicated comics section of November 3 1901. George serves up a tremendously animated sequence, a very oddly horned goat, and a well-executed gag in this very early entry. 


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Friday, April 19, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Papa Knows



The panel cartoon Papa Knows, by writer J. Kenneth Bolles and artist Fred Royal Morgan, is fascinating to me on a number of levels. Some of those points of interest are geeky newspaper comic historian minutiae. But let's start with the most accessible bit of utter weirdness -- the gags, if that's what they actually are. 

The plot of Papa Knows is as simple as can be: Junior asks a question of his papa, usually wanting to know the definition of some term, and papa answers. And sometimes, rarely, those answers make perfect sense as gags. Here's one that I found that is definitely a gag (I had to read about twenty or so to find an example as plainly gaggish as this):

Junior: Pop, what is polo?

Pop: Enables a croquet player to fall off a horse. 

 Okay, so that's a pretty cute gag definition. But the vast majority of the definitions that Papa comes up with are not obviously and apparently gags. You kind of get the feeling that they might be funny as hell, but you're just too dense to get the gag. Let's take an example that seems to veer toward Rube Goldberg Foolish Questions non sequitur territory:

Junior: Pop, what is a mollycoddle?

Pop: Cocktail composed of milk and prunes. 

Now I don't really really feel like I get the gag, but that one gives me a grin nonetheless. 

But then we have the most typical and plentiful Papa Knows gags, of which I have shown four examples above. I hesitate to say it, in the realization that humour dies upon being analyzed, but I can't really say that I get the gag in any of those examples. Some seem to make pretty good sense, and just aren't even vaguely funny, like defining the word 'gambol' by referencing frolicking lambs. Isn't that a pretty good example of a 'gambol'? So what's the gag? And what does "Washington's bust" even mean as a definition for 'composure'. Am I really so dense as to not get these? 

So yeah, Papa Knows leaves me shaking my head. I leave it up to you: are these funny, are they wise, am I just dense? Hey, I'm willing to take my medicine if that's the case. Pile on, give me the razz, I'll wear a dunce cap if I deserve it. 

Okay, let's get on to the more esoteric stuff. First, I can't help but state the obvious; isn't it kinda keen that Morgan came up with panel art in which he only had to redraw one little portion (the kid) for each new installment? And better yet, the kid seldom seemed to be doing something related to the 'gag', so at least in theory Morgan could have done ten or twenty stock poses and reused them over and over. Not that I have caught him doing that, mind you. As best I can tell, he played by the rules of furnishing new art with each installment. As this seems to be Morgan's final syndicated series, he certainly gave himself the gift of an easy day's work to usher in his retirement. 

Syndication of this series is rather unusual, and here's the real esoterica. As you can see on the samples above, copyright was shared between Bell Syndicate and Western Newspaper Union. When I see this sort of thing it generally means that Bell Syndicate originally syndicated the feature, probably as a daily, and then sold the rights to re-use the series to WNU for weekly clients. But in this case the dual syndication channels were active simultaneously. The Bell daily series began on October 12 1931* and lasted until January 13 1940**. The Western Newspaper Union syndication was almost as long as this, running from  sometime in 1932 to 1939. WNU did more of this sort of thing with Bell in the second half of the 40s, but I think this is the only instance in the 1930s. 

By the way, if you see the panel with that cool art deco masthead as above, you're looking at the weekly version. The daily just used the client newspaper's regular font.

* Source: Winston-Salem Twin City Sentinel

** Source: New Rochelle Standard-Star. 


extinction= fallen star
Perhaps Papa is thinking of how a giant meteor supposedly killed off the dinosaurs.
I have no guesses for the top two.
Hello Allan-
I'll venture a gasp that the gags aren't operating on the point of irony or wit, maybe more like mangled interpretations of English words, like a three year old, or a foreigner learning the language.
the " Washington's bust" is a composure if you misuse the word "composite", which refers to dime store statuary and ashtrays and such.
Nonetheless, it and the others are absurdly obtuse, and maybe guessing all day might be entertainment for some readers who think they're so brilliant they will make sense somehow.

Here's the truth-they're non sequiturs, and intended to be. Just like the utterly pointless action of the foreground boy, this panel is the historic first Zen syndicated panel, or the first Dadaist effort. Profundity or scam?
Responding to the first Anon comment -- the paper by the Alvarezes enunciating the asteroid theory of dinosaur die-off dates from 1980, probably too late to have been a factor here.
Allan very kindly suggested that we give the "Comics I Don't Understand" readership a crack at explicating these "Papa Knows" panels published in this post. We have done so, and the CIDU post (which of course refers back here) at

has indeed been gathering some interpretive comments. Some duplicate suggestions already posed here, but some are new.

The general idea of the comments at the CIDU blog is that, while not yielding clear "gag" material meanings, the captions are not randomly wild toss-ups, but plausible near-definitions, given a little metaphorical massaging. But come and see for yourselves!

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Wednesday, April 17, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Herbert Johnson's Daily Cartoon Panel


Fame can be fleeting; just ask Herbert Johnson. Or, actually, don't bother because he's quite dead. But if he were alive, he'd no doubt be flabbergasted at the nearly universal response of "Who?" should you ask even dedicated cartooning fans about him. On the other hand, the average reasonably literate man on the street in, say, 1930, would have been able to ID this ink-slinger with no trouble.

Johnsons's cartoons were folksy; the writing calling to mind H.T. Webster while the art resembled that of Clare Briggs. He came onto the cartooning scene out of nowhere, having never taken an art lesson in his life. Yet he was able to bounce around the country in his early years readily finding work on newspapers and having magazine submissions, even cover drawings, accepted on a regular basis. 

His real fame came when he became the in-house cartoonist of the Saturday Evening Post, which is a position he apparently landed in the early 1920s (information is murky). The Post was a nearly universally read magazine, and that made Johnson a household name. For the Post he branched out from his folksy material into editorial cartooning. Johnson was a dyed-in-the-wool Republican and by the time FDR got into office his Post editorial cartoons had lost most of their folksy charm and were stridently anti-Democrat. He seems to have retired by 1942, having perhaps finally gotten fed up with spitting into the wind about FDR as the president's third term was in full swing. 

Here on Stripper's Guide we have commemorated Herbert Johnson once back in 2009 for his only Sunday comic strip, Eph Jackson, which ran in 1905-06. The only other series we can offer up in his memory is his best one, a daily panel series that had a cadre of running titles (I really have to come up with a term for these things). The series was syndicated through the cooperative syndicate Associated Newspapers. It debuted on January 3 1921*, and evidently Johnson's name already had plenty of clout because the series was picked up by an impressive number of papers. 

I really wish I knew when Johnson got his permanent berth at the Saturday Evening Post, because it sort of stands to reason that it was in 1922 but I have no hard evidence, just circumstantial. Johnson's daily newspaper panel seems to have sputtered that year, with it being reduced to a frequency of 2-3 times per week. This would make sense if he was getting busier with Post work. It sure doesn't seem like the problem was lack of newspaper clients. The series becomes so sporadically printed that I can only offer my best guess as to when it was finally cancelled. I think it was in December 1922**, though I have seen a goodly number of his panels printed later, but generally by papers where printing material late was a typical thing.

* Source: Boston Globe

* Source: Boston Globe and Calgary Herald,


Hello Allan-
For a genré title, how about "Fake H. T. Webster?" Or possibly "Briggs Knockoff?"
I have a collection of his SEP editorial cartoons from the 1930s. Strident, and afflicted with label-itis, and this is from someone who is no fan of the New Deal.
In doing a little digging, I found an article from the May 20, 1914 edition of the "University Missourian" of Columbia, Missouri, which has a front page article on Johnson, then 35 years old, and which describes his work for the S.E.P. already at that time. The article says he came art editor and cartoonist of the SEP "about a year ago," i.e., about 1913. The Delaware County Daily Times of February 13, 1913 notes him as being an SEP cartoonist. The Kansas City Star, April 6, 1913, calls him a cartoonist for both the SEP and the Philadelphia North American. So there's some evidence he was with the SEP for a number of years before 1922, and was also working for the PNA at least as early as 1913.
Many May 7, 1913 newspapers carry an ad telling readers to look out for "Herbert Johnson's great flood cartoon" in the upcoming SEP issue.
The Altoona Tribune, November 19, 1941, says he joined the SEP in 1912. The May 26, 1946 edition of the Billings (MT) Gazette carries an account of a lecture by him, noting that he was with the SEP from 1912 to 1940, and "for 14 years before that was a cartoonist for eastern newspapers and magazines." His obit in the December 6, 1946 Philadelphia Inquirer pins down his date of joining the SEP as December, 1912, and notes he relinquished his post as art editor at the SEP in 1915 to devote himself full time as editorial cartoonist. Edmund Duffy, by the way, would succeed Johnson in 1948, after a gap of 7 years when the SEP didn't have an editorial cartoonist.
To me, the art resembles Webster's more than Briggs's. More realistic, less cartoony, and with expressive body gestures.
Thanks EOCostello for digging up that info. I wonder, then, why the newspaper series withered on the vine like it did. Perhaps Johnson just realized that the newspaper gig was not all that lucrative, and lost interest? --Allan
At this distance, and without any quotes from the man himself to rely on, you could speculate that Johnson might have figured that his prominent position at the SEP was enough, both in terms of prestige and money; I think you put your finger on it regarding the lack of lucrative nature in the side gigs. I see these are (c) to Johnson himself, but by any chance did the Philadelphia North American have anything to do with distribution? He did work there directly before the SEP, and both the PNA and the SEP were based in Philadelphia. One side note: I have a small card signed by Johnson with a self-caricature. Would have made a nice additional bit for this article!
(Ach, dummy. I see Associated Newspapers, in which the Philadelphia Bulletin was a major player, distributed the strip. Well, similar point. Johnson was working for the SEP and for a syndicate that had a major player in Philadelphia.)
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Monday, April 15, 2024


Toppers: Snookums Has a Growth Spurt

George McManus' juggernaut comic strip Bringing Up Father featured the topper strip Rosie's Beau for many years. But in 1944 after a run of nearly twenty years sitting above Jiggs and Maggie, I guess McManus decided it was time to try something fresh. 

The new strip, Snookums, might have been new as a topper, but it was anything but actually fresh. Snookums the spoiled baby had come onto the comic strip landscape nearly forty years earlier in 1906. 

One of McManus' earliest successes was a strip called The Newlyweds, which was about a pair of lovebirds who are so heady with romance that nothing else matters to them. After a few years of playing with that subject, McManus decided it was time for Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed to take their next step in life. He dropped the strip for a little over nine months, and then brought it back in late 1906 as The Newlyweds and their Baby

What had been a popular strip all of a sudden became a hit on the level of the biggest titles of the day. The Newlywed's new baby, Snookums, despite being butt-ugly, was of course the apple of his parents' eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed took adoration of their baby to off-the-chart levels, producing hilarious strips that made the baby into a pop culture phenomenon. 

This strip ran until 1916 and had the rare honour of running with two syndicates at the same time from 1912 to 1916. McManus had created the strip for the Pulitzer organization, but when he jumped ship for Hearst in 1912 the strip was considered too valuable to lose. Albert Carmichael continued the original version for Pulitzer, while McManus renamed it Their Only Child for the Hearst version. 

In 1944 you would have had to be about forty years old or more to remember the original series, and I have no doubt that the newly minted Snookums topper was a great hit of nostalgia for middle-aged and better newspaper readers. The new topper strip featured a modernized Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed and baby, but otherwise the gags pretty much followed the same pattern. 

Okay, so I told you all that so I could tell you this. In 1951 either McManus, his superb assistant Zeke Zekley (who probably did 90% of the work on the topper), or the syndicate decided that the strip needed a shake-up. It was decided that baby Snookums, who was about 45 years old in reality years, needed to grow up a bit. But how do you do that? You can't very well just have Snookums as a baby one week, and then next week advance his age until he's in elementary school, now can you? Well, I suppose you could, but McManus and Zekley took a sneakier approach. Here is the Snookums topper for May 6 1951 featuring the familiar baby version:

And here is the next Sunday, May 13, and all of a sudden baby Snoiokums is a toddler, looking pretty comfortable in the upright position:

Another week passes, and on May 20 the toddler has advanced to growing a mop of hair:

Things now slow down a bit, letting Snookums settle in a bit at what I guess would be the terrible twos. But he continues to age and by September 16 (below) he's now reading, placing him I guess at the age of six at the least?

By October 21 Snookums miraculous growth spurt finally ends, placing him in elementary school, where he will stay for the rest of the strip's life:

So now that we've had this fun little jaunt through the remaking of a comic strip character, we end with a mystery. According to King Features' internal records, the Snookums topper was dropped at the end of 1956. But that's wrong, because I have found samples as late as 1961. My wild guess based on no evidence is that the King Features date might reflect the end of Snookums being distributed as a topper to Bringing Up Father, and after that perhaps the strip was sold on its own merits as a standalone feature?

But no matter how the marketing went on, the important question is this: When did this important strip end? Can anyone help?


A great post, with great art.
It seems that Snookums's parents have changed their attitudes since "The Newlyweds And Their Baby." In the earlier strip, they believed that their brat could do no wrong, and even applauded his misbehavior--if he wanted to smash dishes, they convinced themselves that this was somehow a sign of genius. Those parents would have praised him for drawing on the wall or throwing his fathers' books into wet cement. I wonder if the syndicate mandated the change? "You have to make it clear that what he did was naughty!"
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Sunday, April 14, 2024


Wish You Were Here, from Dwig


The A. Blue "Help Wanted Series 500" was quite extensive and popular, but this is only our second card from the series to show up on Wish You Were Here. Many more to come should we be granted decades of blog publishing in out future. 

Thanks to Mark Johnson, who scanned this card from his collection.


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