Saturday, January 13, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Famous Love Romances
The 1920s may have been 'roaring', but even in those days of flappers, bathtub gin and loose morals, there were limits. Famous Love Romances unwisely exceeded those limits and was thus doomed to appear on very few comics pages.
McClure Syndicate marketed this closed-end series as a sort of Valentine's Day tie-in. Each week's worth of strips told the story of a great romance from history and the final week of strips, at least in the initial release, was timed to run the week before Valentine's Day of 1928. There were 11 weeks worth of strips, all beautifully drawn by the gifted Nicholas Afonsky, and penned by an uncredited writer. The idea was charming and probably would have been far more successful if the writer had chosen the subjects a little more wisely.
While some of the stories were just fine (George and Martha Washington, for instance), our unknown writer inexplicably decided to celebrate some romances of a decidedly unsavory sort. For instance, our samples today tell a portion of the story of Napoleon and his mistress the Countess Walewska, and another week of strips tells of Henry II and his mistress Rosamund. Hardly the type of relationships we think of to celebrate Valentine's Day.
Most newspaper editors wisely passed on the series, but a few papers actually ran this ode to infidelity. I can only imagine the letters they must have received from irate readers.
Friday, January 12, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Silver Linings
We've discussed the New York Herald Tribune's filler strips before (here and here and here and here for instance), and yes, most of them are pretty bad. One, however, stood head and shoulders above the rest. Silver Linings was by Harvey Kurtzman, for my money one of the greatest cartoonists of the past century. The vast bulk of his work was in comic books, of course -- he was the father of Mad magazine, a guiding force behind the EC war comics, and produced arguably one of the most innovative series ever to appear between the covers of a comic book, the one-pager Hey, Look series that ran in the humor titles of Timely Comics in the 1940s.
Silver Linings is essentially a compacted version of Hey, Look. It shares that wild minimalist art style and constantly breaks the so-called fourth wall as in the second sample reproduced here. It has to be considered a tribute to the myopia of the comics editor at the H-T -- who could be so clueless as to not sign Kurtzman for a regular comic strip series when he saw the first samples of Silver Linings? No wonder the Herald-Tribune never had much success in syndicating their comic strips with somebody like that at the helm.
Kurtzman produced the series for the Herald-Tribune from March 7 through June 20 1948. In that period the filler strip had nine appearances.
Did Harvey had any other newspaper works, or was this one it?
The Herald Tribune comics editor in those days, circa 1946-54, was one Harold Straubing, who remains famous to this day in some older-time quarters of comics circles as the guy who rejected
both Pogo and Dennis the Menace -- though apparently that might
be a bum rap to some degree, and I think he might well have tried
hard to woo and sign Kurtzman.
Whatever else Straubing did or didn't do, he was the guy who shook
the HT out of its long-staid comics worldview (Mr. and Mrs., Peter Rabbit, all that) and vigorously groomed and introduced the postwar adventure stuff -- The Saint, Bodyguard, etc. He finally lost his position over the Sherlock Holmes
strip, which he thought was terrible and objected to buying, thus running afoul (his story, certainly not independently confirmed by me) of some top HT exec who was Edith Meiser's boyfriend at the time.
Interesting guy, actually. He was one of Stan Lee's Army acquaintances and briefly worked at Timely after the war, writing teen-girl comedy stuff, before he landed at HT. At HT, he was one of the witnesses who testified at those legislative comics hearings of that day. Post-HT, he got into
men's mags for a while. Later, known as Harold Elk Straubing, he wrote a number of military history books.
Straubing and his family were close friends of my own family well through the end of the sixties. He was at the Trib when my father began his comic strip, Coogy, which had its run through the year that I was born -- so, I kind of knew him as far back as I can remember. During that same period, his name appears as editor on the covers of Lev Gleason's Squeeks (#s 4-5) both issues of which my dad's work appears (kind of a poor man's Muggy Doo).
I have no knowledge about the strips that Straubing did or did not greenlight for the paper, but Coogy was certainly (initially, anyway) marketed along Pogo lines. I have the promo flyer that the Trib sent to its partner papers where the text more than just implies so; its unmistakable.
It's tough to say why Pogo or Dennis, and even Kurtzman were not retained. Could be the artists had better offers, or that the Trib wanted to stamp some of its own vision into the strips that the artists did not have in mind. Regardless of whether some of his Trib business decisions were lacking, the guy was incredibly bright, and super nice.
And correct, later on, Harold did edit Men's mags, which my father did some writing for. I have a couple posted on my site.
Thursday, January 11, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Lois Lane, Girl Reporter
There's been a lot of discussion on the Comic Strip Classics group over the last few days regarding a rare Superman companion strip titled Lois Lane, Girl Reporter. I had information on the strip but no scannable samples, so Peter Maresca was nice enough to send me some scans, which are reproduced above.
This strip was known to accompany the Superman Sundays in the Cleveland Plain Dealer from 10/24/43 through 2/27/1944. The strips were numbered 1-12, undated, and didn't run every week in the Plain Dealer.
The odd thing is that a half-page strip like Superman typically would not have had a topper, and the addition of this companion makes Superman run as a 2/3 page - practically an unheard of format. What's more, the McClure Syndicate, which distributed Superman to newspapers, generally did not supply toppers for their strips. That makes this strip a real head-scratcher. I had long assumed that this was a special companion piece that Siegel and Shuster did specifically for their hometown newspaper.
However, Peter Maresca has supplied an extra clue about this oddity. He says that his samples came from much later, 1946 specifically, and from a Texas paper, and that they were printed out of sequence. Well, that kills the 'hometown special' hypothesis. My new best guess then is that this strip was supplied as a free promotion item when a paper signed up to take the Superman Sunday, and was to be used if and when the newspaper had a free space. This explanation would account for the strip's rarity and the lack of a regular publication schedule.
Anyone have additional information to share on the strip?
If you're not a member of the Comic Strip Classics email group, you can become a member by going here (I think). For some reason, this group doesn't seem to be accessible by doing a search from the Yahoo Groups main menu.
During the term of the syndication agreement,
problems also arose with Siegel [*1055] and Shuster's
ability to supply newspaper strips in a timely fashion to
McClure. As a consequence, McClure turned to Detective
Comics for "filler" material for "newspapers which
carried the comic strip SUPERMAN in order to prevent
said newspapers from terminating their syndication
agreements with" McClure. Notably, Detective Comics
did not supply in-house Superman newspaper strips, as
was its right under the terms of the syndication
agreement. Instead, Detective Comics "supplied" to
McClure [**40] a Superman spin-off, the "comic strip
LOIS LANE, GIRL REPORTER, . . . without charge for
use." In fact, Detective Comics and McClure entered into
a side agreement in September, 1943, with reference to
the Lois Lane newspaper strip's impact on the
computation of the net proceeds to be divided among the
parties. In the agreement, the two "agreed that . . . 'net
proceeds' for the purposes of computing [Siegel and
Shuster's] return from the newspaper publication of
Superman should be the entire gross receipts" from the
same, "deducting therefrom only the cost of cuts and
proofs." Detective Comics and McClure further agreed
that "the compensation of the [in-house] artists engaged
by Detective Comics to draw the releases of Lois Lane,
Girl Reporter . . . furnished by Detective Comics to
McClure for newspaper syndication was to be deducted
from the gross receipts of the Superman syndication as
'mechanical costs' in computing 'net proceeds.'" Siegel
and Shuster were not parties to (nor were they apparently
aware of) this arrangement between McClure and
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Soapy Waters
Being a baseball fan, I'm a sucker for strips about the grand old game. Soapy Waters, for all its faults, is no exception.
Soapy was a country bumpkin who made it to the majors as a pitcher. The plot is familiar to anyone who has read Ozark Ike, or for that matter practically any baseball strip every created. However, unlike Ike, an Adonis who could do no wrong on the diamond, Soapy was a good-natured lump who was constantly in jeopardy of being cut from the team. Of course he usually came through in a pinch, and he was a much more loveable character for his faults.
The creator, George Stallings, was a Disney animation director in the 30s and 40s. I assumed he was both writer and artist on this feature, but I'm told that the art chores were actually handled by Kay Wright, a Disney animator. Whoever did the art, they did a fine job, and the Disney influence is obvious. Where the strip fails is in the writing. Soapy Waters is occasionally quite funny, but a large proportion of the daily gags fall flat. It's a shame, too, because the strip is a real winner on all counts when the gags work.
Soapy Waters ran from February 7 1955 through April 20 1957. It was syndicated by Mirror Enterprises, the syndication arm of the LA Mirror. The LA Mirror was owned by the Los Angeles Times company. In answer to the correspondent that prompted me to do a post on the strip, the copyright on the strip would now belong to Tribune Media, since they purchased the LA Times. My correspondent says he asked the Trib if they owned Mirror Enterprises material and they said no. Guess that means all those Mirror strips are fair game for reprinters until the Trib gets it head out of its you-know-what.
PS: Alberto Becattini writes privately to tell me that Dick Moores claimed in an interview to have been the inker and letterer on this strip. Becattini also interviewed Stallings, and he says that Stallings never mentioned aanything about Kay Wright being involved with the strip.
Since we're talking about comic strips drawn by former animators, how about samples of "Crawford" by Chuck Jones? That one is pretty obscure.
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Prince Domino and Muffles
Charles H. Twelvetrees was a well-known artist of the time, famous mostly for his illustrations of children. He is perhaps best known today among postcard collectors, who collect his voluminous work in this genre.
Sorry if the text is illegible on this scan. I do scan them big enough to read, but sometimes Blogger resizes my larger images.
Monday, January 08, 2007
News of Yore: Short Items from E&P
"Huckleberry Finn," a new comic strip available also as a three-column box, and which was created by special permission of the Mark Twain estate, was announced in Philadelphia this week by George Kearney, manager of the Ledger Syndicate. Publication is scheduled for Feb. 12.
Drawn by Clare Dwiggins ("Dwig") veteran cartoonist and one-time collaborator with Mark Twain's official biographer, the strip is the first which features "Huck" Finn in the hero's role. "Dwig" is famous for his drawings of kids-boys and girls and dogs and cats and all they do.
"The strip is light continuity, plus humor, depicting the new daily adventures of 'Huck,' " said Mr. Kearney. "These adventures are based on the situations and stories written by Mark Twain.
"All the famous Twain characters are depicted in the strip, including Miss Watson, Aunt Polly, Tom Sawyer, Becky Thatcher, Sue, Injun Joe, Old Pete and many others. It is packed with human boy adventures, spiced with the inimitable humor of Mark Twain."
How A Hobby Became A Feature Is Told
By Stephen J. Monchak 3/30/40
How the musty manuscripts of an old-time reporter, who collected interesting court cases as the basis for short stories and plays, led to development of the present adventure strip, "You Be the Judge," was related to Editor & Publisher recently by Carlile Crutcher, assistant to the publisher of the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times and president of Carlile Crutcher Syndicate.
Mr. Crutcher first became interested in newspaper syndication when he developed a series of articles on freak patents. The stories created so much interest in the Courier-Journal that he arranged to syndicate them to other papers. He then learned that L. Allen Heine, now author of "You Be the Judge" series, had in his possession a trunk full of manuscripts dealing with unusual law cases.
Now Sold to 87 Papers
The manuscripts were written in long hand by the late William Lanahan, a former Louisville reporter who became an itinerant newspaperman. Lanahan not only worked on newspapers in this country but abroad. He made a hobby of collecting tricky court cases. When he died he willed his possessions, including the manuscripts, to Mr. Heine.
Mr. Crutcher conceived the idea of a panel strip that would tell the story in pictures and a small amount of text. Mr. Heine began briefing the Lanahan manuscripts so the cases could be condensed into a six-day picture serial. Robert Wathen was employed as the artist to illustrate the feature.
Today, the Crutcher Syndicate sells the feature to 87 newspapers, including Spanish, Portuguese and French translations for foreign language papers. In order to get fresh material, Mr. Heine reads law cases continually and each 100 cases usually nets one suit that lends itself to dramatization.
The series is based entirely on actual legal suits, although names are changed. The syndicate offers to furnish citations of the cases, upon request of readers. Many lawyers write. (Allan's note: this strip is more widely known as Bela Lanan, Court Reporter)
UFS Comic Strip Renamed
It appears there's a Washington correspondent for King Features Syndicate called Jack Hazard and he felt it would be embarrassing to him if United Feature Syndicate's new comic strip about a Washington newspaper man called "Hap Hazard," would be syndicated nationally in view of the similarity in names and locale. So UFS this week told this column that the strip's name would be changed to "Hap Hopper."
The strip, scheduled for release around Feb. 1, was created by the "Washington Merry-Go-Round" columnists, Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen. It is drawn by Jack Sparling, a former staff cartoonist for the Washington (D. C.) Herald.
Labels: News of Yore
Thanks very much!
Beth (Dwiggins) Ritchason
Sunday, January 07, 2007
Obscurity of the Day: Odd Folks With Odd Ways
A.L. Jansson worked at the Boston Herald in the early years of the century and contributed a lot of his visionary work to their homegrown comics section. He really didn't seem to have a clue about the comic strip form, so his strips are pretty uniformly static designs like this page. But what designs! He loved geometric forms, bold and simple with a bizarre, otherwordly edge to them.
They remind me of face card designs for playing cards, or maybe nutcrackers. Whatever the inspiration, they fairly leap off the page and grab the viewer by the throat, especially in comparison with the badly drawn junk that filled most of the Herald's comic section in its various incarnations.
Jansson did a lot of one-shots, but also three short series, of which Odd Folks With Odd Ways lasted the longest, from April 17 to July 3, 1904. His others, Moon Rhymes and In Plaiddie Land in 1901, are similar in design. The tearsheet reproduced today I just scored recently, the first of Jansson's work that I've gotten to see in full size and in glorious color. Even on microfilm, though, these 'strips' are stunningly weird and beautiful.
Who was A.L. Jansson and what became of him? I have no clue. I checked Davenport's to see if he made it into their purview, but no luck. Can anyone dig up information on this obscure master?
Not much on the www about him.
The few birth/death dates I see are suspiciously close to Chicago artist Alfred Jansson.
I need to ask you to let us to publish the picture here attached Odd Folks Baseball Team in a catalogue about some Italian illustrators of infancy
So, please, could you be so kind to send us by e-mail a high resolution of
this picture? It would be good to have 300 dpi 18x24 cm.
Thanking you so much to your attention and waiting for your kind reply, I
give you my best regards.