Saturday, June 08, 2024


One-Shot Wonders: Got What They Weren't Looking For by Skeets (?), 1901


Sometimes One-Shot Wonders aren't wonders for the art or the gag, but for where they appeared. Here is one of the premier expressions of that last classification. Got What They Weren't Looking For ran in the short-lived Boston Herald tabloid comic section of 1901. I have been seeking examples of this section for decades with no luck at all, and then finally a few months ago one appeared on eBay. Happy? You'd have thought I found a gold bar selling for a buck.

The section ran for less than six months and offered up a lot of pretty amateur material. There were a few series, but most of it was one-shots like this. This strip is a pretty fair representation of the level of art and humour you could 'enjoy' throughout the section. The signature of the cartoonist is very hard to read -- I'm guessing maybe it is Skeets?


It's pretty terrible. Please, sir, may I have some more?
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Friday, June 07, 2024


Toppers: Public Enemies Through the Ages

 Imagine you are a criminal in the 1910s or 20s. You are really in the catbird seat, because whenever you rob or kill someone, your successful escape from the area is practically assured by having a car, even if it's a lowly tin lizzy. In those days if a policeman discovered your crime even just moments after you left, you are practically uncatchable. The police officer can find a telephone or a call box to report the crime to headquarters, and he might even know what kind of car you drove, but then what? Yes, some cops did have cars, so they could chase you, but assuming they were out on patrol and not lolling around the stationhouse, there is no way for headquarters to tell them to look for your Model T with license plate thus-and-such. 

The reign of terror would finally be over for you, you rotten criminal, when in 1933 the Bayonne New Jersey police force was the first to use a two-way radio link-up between the station and their cars, which came to be known as radio cars. (Detroit had a one-way version in 1928, but it was not nearly as effective in crime-fighting as the two-way version). Now when you committed a crime, the word was out to the entire force of radio cars as soon as the crime was reported, and if they knew where you were, or knew what you were driving, well, your chances of getting away with it just went to bad odds. 

This incredible and impressive use of new technology came at a moment in American history when crime was rampant, so the two-way radio quickly became well-known and the roll of captured criminals a long one. Police "radio cars" were quickly incorporated into all popular media, including comic strips. 

Artist Charlie Schmidt and writer Edward Sullivan came up with a kid detective strip Pinkerton Junior, debuting on August 7 1933 in the Hearst-owned Boston Daily Record where both of them were editors. The strip was popular enough that news of it filtered through the Hearst organization, and it was decided that it might succeed in national syndication. However, what appealed to the syndicate were the radio car cops who co-starred with Pinky. The strip was renamed Radio Patrol when national syndication began on April 10 1934, and the new technology was now the acknowledged star of the show.

Radio Patrol is the very first adventure strip to star uniformed cops, says Ron Goulart, and I'm inclined to agree. There were lots of earlier cop strips, but they were generally played for laughs. When it came to adventure, the police detectives seemed to have cornered the early adventure strip market. So Schmidt and Sullivan had a unique tiger by the tail. Strangely, though, Radio Patrol never did all that well in syndication, appearing mostly in Hearst-owned papers. It wasn't for lack of quality, either, because both the art and storytelling were firmly in the grade of B to B-, no classic but eminently serviceable. 

Anyway, all this discussion was to get to the one and only topper that ever ran with the Sunday Radio Patrol, and it came and went so quickly you'd need a radio car to chase it down. The reason for the lack of toppers is that Radio Patrol was only available in half or tab format, eliminating the need for Hearst-required toppers on the full size. Tabs did often use toppers, but they were not an absolute requirement, and so Schmidt and Sullivan generally eschewed their use except for the short experiment that was Public Enemies Through the Ages

The criminal history strip Public Enemies Through The Ages began on May 26 1935*, about six months after the Sunday page itself had been added, and the first story reached back a thousand years to tell the tale of Hassan Sabbah, leader of the Order of Assassins. His reputation these days is pretty thoroughly scrubbed of wrongdoing (see the Wiki write-up), but the Radio Patrol version of his life story is of a bloodthirsty criminal mastermind. The story was well-told but I imagine of very limited interest to readers of Radio Patrol. Well, readers didn't have to put up with it for long. While still in the middle of the Hassan Sabbah bio the topper vanished, last appearing on July 6 1935**. The tabloid Sundays reverted to offering the whole page to the stars of the show, and no other topper was ever used again for the life of the Sunday page, which ended in 1946. 

* Source: San Francisco Examiner

** Source: Honolulu Advertiser


Radio Patrol was one of several Hearst strips to become a Universal serial. Was there a package deal between the studio and the syndicate?

Anyway, the 1937 Radio Patrol serial is available on DVD from VCI. While not as outrageous or silly as Flash Gordon, it's affable fun. Every episode begins with an unidentified kid gawking at an awkward pasteup of Radio Patrol strips. Here as in some others, chapter recaps are presented as comic strips.
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Wednesday, June 05, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Robin Hood


We've covered some of the series that were rushed into print when Hearst decided to experiment with tabloid Sunday comics in 1935, and here's one of the most obscure of the bunch. Bearing some hallmarks of a series that was produced in a hurry, Robin Hood nevertheless had a lot going for it. Charles Flanders was a terrific adventure strip cartoonist, but he's obviously not up to his usual level of work here. The art rather reminds me of Dick Calkins on a time-reversed Buck Rogers -- very stiff, flat and tableau-like. But I suppose you could make a case that Flanders was trying to evoke the sort of art that was produced in the medieval period, and if so, I'd say he rang that bell.

The story is of course just a rehash of a few episodes in the Robin Hood legend, and so readers don't need a lot of blah-blah-blah to follow along. As befits a Sunday-only strip featuring a well-known character, the story progresses at a breakneck pace and the action is non-stop. You'd almost swear it was influenced by Errol Flynn's The Adventures of Robin Hood, but that movie was still three years away from hitting the theatres.

Robin Hood was a fun strip, but it evidently was only there to take up space while other projects were developed. The strip ran less than three months, from March 24 to June 16 1935*. 

* Source: All dates from Jeffrey Lindenblatt based on New York Journal and New York American.


This must have only been in the NY American. I've never seen or heard of it before-and I was the archiver for King Features Syndicate for decades-so, congrats.
The Hearst tab-only fiasco of 1935 required a lot of new titles, I suppose this was considered an attraction of the new size tab size Puck section, appearing only in the Hearst chain. But all these new strips were inconsistent in quality,(ever see "Pebbles, the Stone-Age Kid?") and were apparently too many to appear in all the papers. Most of America never saw a lot of these new ones.
Rose O'Neill's revamped Kewpies strip I've only seen in the Boston Advertiser, Dr. Seuss's "Hadji" was in the Seattle Post-intelligencer, but I never saw it anywhere else.
Most of these new titles didn't even last as long as the Tabloid experiment. The only one of them that ever became a success and joined the regular line up was Mandrake the Magician. appears to show Robin Hood in a tabloid/Puck issue from the Chicago Herald-Examiner (see third image).
Robin Hood ran only 1935-03-24 to 1935-05-05 in the New York American.
According to Lindenblatt's indexing, the rest of the run was in the Journal.
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Monday, June 03, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Children's Letters to God

Among his many other projects inside and outside of the world of comics, Stu Hample hit some minor paydirt with a paperback book titled Children's Letters to God, published in 1967. The book, which he claimed was a compilation of real children's letters, offered material to elicit laughs, occasional tears, but mainly supplied lots and lots of treacle. Art Linkletter had been mining this sort of material for years, but Hample managed to piggyback on the "kids say the darnedest things" gravy train successfully by throwing in a religious component.

The book soon spawned a second collection, but of more interest to us is that it was adapted into a daily cartoon panel by Hample, sold to King Features and began syndication on June 24 1968*. The feature was never a big syndication success, but evidently did manage to attract enough clients to make it a worthwhile effort. Unlike the books, the newspaper feature made no claims to being real letters -- points to Hample and King for not breaking a commandment for the newspaper version, at least.

After three years of making up letters to God Hample felt his creative well starting to run dry. On March 22 1971** the title of the feature was changed to just Children's Letters, and the the kids could now freely write to non-dieties, though God still remained a favourite pen pal. 

The necessarily rather repetitive material seemed to be on the way to going on forever, but luckily Hample found a better star on which to hitch his wagon. In 1976 he began development of the Inside Woody Allen comic strip, which promised far greater rewards than he could hope for by scrawling yet more faux children's letters. The feature was retired on January 17 1976***.

Thanks to Mark Johnson, who supplied the syndicate proof sheet for the very first week of the feature.

* Source: King Features Microfilm Catalog

** Source: Muncie Evening Press

*** Source: York Dispatch


MAD parodied this with "God's Letters to Children." I remember a couple of them: "Yes, I am always watching you, but that is no reason not to take a bath:" "Yes, I am everywhere, but that was not me you saw on the subway."
And lest we forget, Michael O' Donoghue's "Children's Letters to the Gestapo" (NATIONAL LAMPOON, September 1971).
When he changed over to celebrities instead of deities, the "kids" that wrote them were writing the same exact thoughts for them as well. This was pretty evidently a novelty with very limited range of possibilityies, writing, or huomour-wise, though it had an impressive burst of licensing when it was new. It even had a TV special.
Obviously, the Woody Allen strip was a more interesting concept, but it never really worked well. In my old KFS blog, I was denied the use of that one.
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Sunday, June 02, 2024


Wish You Were Here, from Reg Manning



Here's a Reg Manning 'Travelcard', this one published in 1942 and designated #18. They were called Travelcards because there are fill-in-the-blanks on the reverse for the sender to enter the date and time and where they were at that moment on their journey. Manning's Travelcards were printed by Curteich out of Chicago, and distributed throughout the southwest by Lollesgard Specialty of Arizona.


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