Saturday, May 04, 2024


One-Shot Wonders: Lord Dedbroke by Fred Brisley, 1897


Sorry for the nausea-inducing colours on this strip, but blame the New York Journal, not me. Inside pages of the comics sections of the 90s were almost always two-colour affairs, and the choices for those two colours sometimes make you wonder what colour-blind numskull was making the decisions. 

Today we have a one-shot by Fred Brisley, who most likely would not have his newspaper cartooning career recognized on this blog without this category of post. Supposedly Brisley, who sometimes signed himself just 'Bris', or even just 'B', was a cartoonist with the St. Paul Dispatch in the 1880s-90s. Brisley came on the scene at the New York Journal in 1897, contributed lots of work to the Sunday comics section until early 1898, and then disappeared with amazing thoroughness. 

Was he any great shakes as a cartoonist? Well, no. But today's one-shot, featuring a cleless British fop named Lord Dedbroke exploring the New World was certainly good enough that Brisley could have done just one more gag with him. How close you came, Fred, to being immortalized in my book.


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Friday, May 03, 2024


Firsts and Lasts: The Final Flapping of Fanny


Flapper Fanny, an unassuming little one-column panel feature when it debuted in 1925, launched the careers of not one but two amazing cartoonists (I see no reason to put in the qualifier female cartoonists, because that would unfairly minimize their brilliance). 

The first was Ethel Hays, whose jaw-droppingly elegant artwork was wasted on the tiny feature. Luckily NEA, the syndicate that distributed Flapper Fanny, recognized her genius and assigned a larger panel titled simply Ethel, and also had her regularly contributing colour covers for their Everyweek magazine section. 

Hays passed the Flapper Fanny panel onto its second standout artist in 1930. Gladys Parker had already been published by Graphic Syndicate and United Feature, but both of those outfits were barely above the fly-by-night level in the 1920s. Parker put her own inimitable stamp on Flapper Fanny, and eventually also started her own NEA fashion panel, called Femininities. Her work was evidently received with some enthusiasm, and in 1932 Flapper Fanny added a Sunday strip version. 

Parker worked on the Flapper Fanny daily and Sunday until December 1935 before calling it quits. Faced with bringing on a new artist, NEA decided to cut the Flapper Fanny Sunday. The third and final artist on the Flapper Fanny daily panel was Sylvia Sneidman, whose work was very fine, too, but was enough of a copy of Parker's style that I can't honestly offer her the same accolades as Hays and Parker. 

Sylvia apparently did some lobbying and the Flapper Fanny panel was promoted to a 2-column affair, giving her a little more room to show off her artistic chops. But by 1936 the term 'flapper' was so far out of date that Sneidman might as well have been drawing the panel in a cell, patiently waiting for the firing squad. Why it didn't occur to NEA that a retitling of the series might be in order I cannot imagine. 

Flapper Fanny gamely continued four and a half years under Sneidman's control, but finally the inevitable happened. With no fanfare, the last Flapper Fanny panel, seen above, ran on June 29 1940. 


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Wednesday, May 01, 2024


News of Yore 1924: Syndicates Evil, Says Syndicate Head

 (from Editor & Publisher, June 28 1924)

What's What in the Feature Field

"So long as a newspaper syndicate creates and develops new and worthwhile talent, just so long it is useful and helpful to the newspaper world. But its reason for being surely stops there."

This is the opinion of H.H. McClure, general manager of the Associated Newspapers, New York, who in a recent statement to clients takes up the discussion of syndicate methods by the American Society of Newspaper Editors as contained in Editor & Publisher. 

McClure in this statement expresses himself in accord with the A.S.N.E. findings that "the present day newspaper syndicates, while being of much service, are to be blamed for many evils."

"Everyone knows," he declares, "that the original idea and purpose of the newspaper syndicate was to furnish reading and picture material to newspapers in non-conflicting territory at a lower cost than such material would be for one paper alone, or even for a small group of papers. 

 "And everyone in the newspaper business knows that this is no longer done.

"Worthwhile features now cost the newspapers in such cities as New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston, etc., more than they should cost the entire syndicate list. Proportionately the evil extends to every newspaper buying features," he maintains.

McClure blames the newspapers mainly for this condition for "permitting the syndicate Frankensteins to create their monsters."

"There is no doubt but that the feature business would be much improved if some of the 'oriental price-jackers' were eliminated, " he says.

"When a syndicate operates only on the plan of taking established talent away from another organization and making the publisher pay steadily increasing prices for this talent, then it becomes a menace. 

"There are now several syndicates which have not discovered or created a single feature which they are placing -- everyone has been 'bid' away from some one else, and the newspaper publishers have held the bag. I am not saying that a feature may not be better placed and handled by one organization than another, but I do claim that the so-called better organization ought to do some creative work, in order to acquire merit in the eyes of the publishers."

[To explain this sour grapes tirade you must understand that Associated Newspapers was not really a syndicate in the traditional sense -- it was a cooperative of various newspapers. Due to the structure of their business, Associated was very prone to losing creators to the 'real' syndicates. They had little say in how much their features' creators' were paid -- that was up to individual member papers. So when a feature gained any great popularity it was up to the individual newspaper to outbid a syndicate, which was rarely going to work out in the newspaper's favour. 

In 1930 Associated Newspapers' flawed business model finally spelled their doom as a co-op -- they were sold off to become an imprint of Bell Syndicate -- Allan]


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Monday, April 29, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Friends and Romans


Johnny Hart  didn't invent the comic strip genre in which people of other eras comment upon modern life, but the success of  B.C. and The Wizard of Id certainly made it an immensely popular device in the 1960s and beyond. 

Tom Isbell was among the multitudes of acolytes who would offer up variations on the theme. In 1974 he created a strip called Friends and Romans, using the Roman Empire as the setting for gags about the present day. Because government was on everyone's mind in 1974, the lion's share of Isbell's gags are about Roman Senators, but there's plenty of general gag fodder as well. 

Isbell came up with an extensive troupe of characters, and for reasons known only to him, decided not to name any of them. They were known only as the Emperor, the Senator, the Tribune, the Soothsayer, the Philosopher, etc. The decision to leave them nameless was unfortunate especially because some of his characters look quite similar (togas will do that). The Senator and the Emperor, for instance, seem to be differentiated only by the latter having grey hair. 

If the concept was hobbled just a bit by this one bad choice, the art and gags certainly made up for it. Artwise, Isbell seemed to be influenced more by European cartooning than the domestic brand, especially by Albert Uderzo's Asterix. It stood out on the comics page, a little island of unique art in amongst the then-current crop of minimalists.

The gags are skillfully formulated, and there aren't many misses among the hits. Isbell especially enjoyed skewering politics and government, but carefully walked a line so as not to get one side or the other of the political spectrum mad at him. 

Isbell shopped Friends and Romans to the major syndicates but found no takers. Feeling that he had something worthwhile, though, he took the strip to his local paper, the Corpus Christi Caller. They agreed  and offered him a spot. The strip debuted on September 2 1974, accompanied by lots of 'local stripper makes good' coverage. 

Isbell wasn't interested in making a career out of being a local cartoonist, though. Once his strip was in the Caller he once again made the syndicate rounds, this time no doubt boasting that he was already being published. Still no syndicate produced a contract, but a fellow named Jay Poyntor, who was leaving the post of national sales manager for NEA, really liked what he saw. And since his exit from NEA was prompted by him wanting to start his own syndicate, he asked Isbell to make Friends and Romans one of his initial offerings. 

Friends and Romans was pulled from the Corpus Christi Caller, ending November 9 1974*, while Poyntor geared up his new syndicate, which he would call Continental Features**. Isbell's strip re-debuted, now sporting a syndicate stamp, on March 30 1975. Poyntor even offered the strip as a Sunday, a bold step for a new syndicate. 

While Friends and Romans didn't set sales records by any means, Poyntor showed that he did know how to sell a feature. Newspaper editors very reasonably look at small-start-up syndicates with a jaundiced eye, but Friends and Romans did very well considering this impediment. Supposedly the strip began in thirty papers, a not unrespectable showing at all.

Despite his wealth of syndicate and selling experience, Jay Poyntor's Continental Features failed to take off, and when United Feature Syndicate offered him a job in 1976, Poyntor decided that regular paychecks are a good thing and called it quits. The good news for Friends and Romans was that UFS either wanted, or merely consented, to taking over its syndication. The strip began flying its new syndicate colours on October 3 1976. 

Whether UFS took on Friends and Romans willingly or not, they sure didn't find it much in the way of new clients. Isbell gamely kept on producing the strip for another year and a half, but with no big second act in the offing, he or the syndicate decided to cross the Rubicon and cancelled the strip on June 25 1978 (daily) and July 17 1978 (Sunday).

It would have been great if Isbell had a second shot at syndication, he was such a promising talent, but as far as I know this was his only syndicated feature. I do wonder where he went with his career after Friends and Romans, but I can't track his activities after this, perhaps mostly because some actor with the same name has infected all the neurons in Google's brain. 


 * Source: All dates from Corpus Christi Caller and Corpus Christi Times, except Sunday end date from Newport News Press.

** An ominous name for a syndicate if there ever was one -- there have been several syndicates by that name over the years, and not one has ever become a major player. 


Glad you like Friends and Romans, it was a favorite of mine back in the day.
A couple decades ago I got in contact with some Isbell family members and learned that Tom Isbell before, during, and after F & R was employed by major Texas grocery chain HEB in their art department. His work can be seen on occasion in their advertising.
Tom died young: August 7, 1943 - January 1, 1996.
This is a pretty fun strip! Thanks for highlighting this. If I had to describe the art style, I'd say it's a mix of "Asterix" and "Tumbleweeds".

Jay Poynor was credited as executive producer on the early "Garfield" specials, no doubt repping for United Feature.
Isbell's very brief obituary is in, appropriately enough, the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, page 2, January 4, 1996. His work for HEB is referenced, as is the comic strip and service in the Air Force in the 1960s.
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Sunday, April 28, 2024


Wish You Were Here, from Zim


Here's a postcard from Taylor Platt & Co.'s series 680. All the cards in this series had the same gagline, making poor Zim have to come up with cartoons to sorta fit. I'd say the fit leaves something to be desired on this example. 

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


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