I’m Back!

Hello All —
First and foremost, thanks so much for all the wonderful feedback already received about the book. Your public and private comments have been enormously gratifying. I could not have asked for a better, warmer reception!

I apologize for the ever-changing pricing and availability of the book on Amazon. That’s beyond my and the publisher’s control. However, keep in mind that my publisher is offering that 40% off deal, so if Amazon can’t get their act together, it’s their loss. On the other hand, I’d like to encourage anyone who has purchased the book, from Amazon or otherwise, to please post reviews on Amazon. In this strange modern world, your book isn’t counted as a success until it is well-reviewed there!

I have been asked about reader submitted revisions and corrections. As I state in the book, I am always enthusiastic to hear from anyone who has additional or correcting information.You may contact me by posting a comment on the blog, or sending me email directly (to stripper[at sign]rtsco.com). One thing to keep in mind — the data for the book was submitted to the publisher three years ago, so if it happened since then, it isn’t in the book, but not because I missed it.

Barring massive indifference, my hope is that new editions of the book will be issued eventually, so submitting your data is worthwhile; eventually it should be made public. I’ve already heard from some folks with some great additions and corrections. Of course, during the past three years my research has certainly not been at a standstill either, and I have loads of new information, too.

Finally, you may be wondering why the blog has been idle for a few weeks. Naturally I wanted to keep the book at the top of the page for awhile, and in a basic blog like this, the only way to continue to highlight something is to stop posting!

Although it may appear as if I took a vacation from the blog, I have by no means been vacationing. What I’ve been up to these past weeks is trying to build a new Stripper’s Guide blogsite, one where I can implement all the neat features I’ve been dreaming about for years. On my break from blogging here, I’ve been learning WordPress, which is a more high-end blog-builder, and trying to set up the new website with it.

Unfortunately all has come to naught. I’ve been with Earthlink as my web host for years, and rarely had anything but praise for them. But trying to set up a WordPress site with them turned out to be useful only for seeing how high my blood pressure could rise. They say they support WordPress, but only in the sense that they will let you install the basics of it — if you actually want to use it as more than a toy, forget it. The amount of time they made me waste, troubleshooting mysterious problems and trying to get a straight answer out of their support staff, verges on the criminal.

So now I’m back to square one, and shopping around for a good web host that supports WordPress 100%. If anyone has recommendations, I’d love to hear from you. Until I get all that straightened out, and get back on the horse of website building, I’m back to blogging here. I’m going to need a little time to get back up to speed, so first new post will come this Saturday.

The Stripper’s Guide Book is Now Available!

University of Michigan Press, ISBN 978-0-472-11756-7

Yes, the book that I’ve been talking about for years is finally published and available for purchase! American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide is the project I’ve been working on for over 25 years. It offers all the vital data on most every comic strip or cartoon panel series ever published in U.S. newspapers.

All serious newspaper comic strip fans and collectors will find this book an invaluable reference. Whether you want information about an obscure title, or need to check the ‘vital statistics’ of a popular fan favorite, American Newspaper Comics provides authoritative answers.

Over 7000 distinct newspaper comics series are covered, with the following information offered for each:

  • beginning and end dates
  • frequency and format
  • artist and writer beginning and ending dates and roles
  • syndicate information
  • alternate titles
  • book collections
  • story listings
  • additional notes about the series
  • source notes indicating where information was gathered

In addition, the book also includes:

  • extensive introductory material describing the research methods used, and explanatory notes about the evolution of the newspaper comic strip
  • a directory of newspaper syndicates, with capsule histories of over 100 companies
  • cross-reference of syndicates, listing all features they distributed
  • cross-reference of creators, listing all features with which they were involved
  • cross-reference of alternate titles to listed features
  • a bundled CD with over 3000 high quality sample images of over 2000 different features covered in the book
The book is a huge 600+ page brick, weighing in at just shy of 5 pounds. (On receiving his copy, comics historian R.C. Harvey dubbed it “the Magnificent Monster”.) High quality library hardcover binding was used, ensuring that it will weather years of constant use.

Price and Availability

The suggested retail price of the book is $150, reflecting not only the vast scope of the work and the decades of research that went into it, but also the publisher’s assumption that it will be sold primarily to libraries and educational facilities. However, I have assured the University of Michigan Press that there is a significant community of fans, collectors and researchers who would love copies for their own bookshelves, but for whom that price might well be a budget-breaker. Therefore, in a marketing tactic not usually used for academic reference books, the Press is offering the book to collectors for a whopping 40% off the suggested list price.

To get the 40% off price, click here to go to the publishers website, and when you place your order use the promo code “COMICS” to receive the special discount.

The book is also available on Amazon but the discount pricing seems to come and go on a daily basis. The publisher is not certain that the discounted price will ever be consistently found there, but if you are dead set on purchasing at Amazon, keep a watch on the listing. There is already a really wonderful book review there that you might check out, though!

If you are in Europe, you can order at discounted price from Eurospan, and The Book Depository offers free shipping all over the world and gives a 25% discount off cover price.

Obscurity of the Day: Shopping Around

We still don’t know whether the creator of Brenda Breeze is more properly referred to as Rolfe Mason or Rolfe Memison: for discussion of that question, see these posts (or check back tomorrow, when Alex Jay will present the results of his sleuthing). Whichever last name Rolfe prefers to go by, we now have two features by the guy. In addition to Brenda Breeze, Cole Johnson has sent me some samples of this feature, Shopping Around.

Mason/Memison was evidently casting about for work in the waning days of his long-running Sunday Brenda Breeze feature, and NEA threw him a bone (a very small, dry one) in the form of a weekly panel for their Pony Service. Rolfe came up with a theme with plenty of possibilities; that great American addiction, consumption.

It wouldn’t have made much difference what the panel was about though, because the NEA Pony Service (a bargain service that catered to small weekly papers) offered many good, bad and indifferent strips and panels over the years, and very few subscribing papers used them, for reasons I don’t really understand. Shopping Around is yet another one that fell into that black hole. It was advertised in E&P from 1961 to 1963.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples!

News of Yore 1955: Vern Greene Profiled

Bringing Up Greene

Pacific Stars & Stripes, December 11 1955
By M/Sgt. I. G. Edmonds, USAF

Twenty years ago Vernon Greene was hunched over a drawing board in the offices of King Features Syndicate in New York. In the manner of cartoonists he was scratching his head and groaning as he struggled to think of something funny to draw.

Then he was interrupted by a har­ried editor who shoved a drawing under his nose. “Draw something to tie in with this quick!”
Greene looked at the sketches. “Now wait a minute,” he said. “This is Maggie and Jiggs. You got me mixed up with George McManus. In case you can’t tell us apart any other way, look at the paychecks. You pay McManus over $100,000 a year while I get—”
“Save the gags for your strips,” retorted the editor. “I know it’s Jig­gs. There’s been a delay in the mails and George’s next batch of drawings hasn’t got here. We are right on deadline and can’t wait any longer. Draw something and draw it quick!”
Greene made a page of drawings to bridge the gap. He was somewhat uneasy about how McManus, who ori­ginated the comic strip, would take the idea. But the famous humorist was so pleased when he saw the re­sults that he offered Greene a job as his assistant.
Greene was flattered, but felt that he would do better on his own. How­ever, after 18 years drawing every­thing from The Shadow to an Army life panel called Charlie Conscript,  he came back to a full time job of drawing Jiggs for the famous strip Bringing Up Father, one of the most popular comics in the Sunday comio pages of Pacific Stars and Stripes.
The 47-year-old artist has been drawing seriously for 42 years and got into newspaper work in his teens as a staff artist for the Portland (Ore.) Telegraph. During the 1920s he knocked around the country until he went to work for King Features in 1935.
He left King to do other types of work and became interested in medi­cal photography. During World War II, his hobby became a full time job with the Air Force. But after his discharge as a buck sergeant in 1945, he went back to cartooning.
Shortly after George McManus died in 1954, Greene was visiting friends at the syndicate. Recalling how he had once filled in for McManus 19 years before, they told him that several artists were trying out for the job of continuing the adventures of Greene also submitted some sam­ples. Two weeks later he was told that the job wag his. He now draws the Sunday strip which appears in Stars and Stripes. In addition to sev­eral hundred newspapers in the Sta­tes, Maggie’s struggles to make a gentleman out of Jiggs appear in 27 foreign countries.
Although the cartoon is known as Maggie and Jiggs to most readers, its real name is Bringing Up Father.
The name ori­ginated before World War I when the cartoon started. At that time they were a newly rich fami­ly. Maggie had social ambitions, and the strip revolved around her ef­forts to bring him up to her level. Over 40 years have passed and she’s still trying.
Greene says that the most com­mon question asked about the characters is what is Jiggs’ occupa­tion? He has to answer that nobody knows for sure. Jiggs seems to have a lot of friends in the construction business and McManus once told a group: “I’ve made a million dollars and all I ever had for capital was a retired hod carrier with a love for corn beef and cabbage.” All this leads to the suspicion that Jiggs is a retired contractor, but that is only supposition.
Whenever Greene can get a few strips ahead in his work he likes to join Special Services tours to enter­tain servicemen in overseas bases. In addition to the trip he just completed to the Far East, he has enter­tained in Alaska, Germany, France and England.

An ardent photographer, Greene has a collection of over 100 cameras. He is rarely seen without three or four hanging around his neck. In between his shows here, he managed to expose several thousand negatives of Japan and Korea. But, despite this enthusiasm for the lens, like all artists he insists that it will never replace the drawing pencil. An incident in Japan definite­ly proves this.
He and Stu Moldrem, Stars and Stripes sports cartoonist, stopped at a Japanese restaurant to catch up on a breakfast they missed while travel­ing between bases while accompany­ing the cartoonist’s show. The proprieter couldn’t speak a word of Eng­lish and their combined Japanese vocabulary of a dozen words wasn’t equal to the job of ordering a simple plate of ham and eggs. Time was running out. Their train was almost due.
But this was where cartooning turned out to be a most practical art. Greene drew a picture of what they wanted on the wall with chalk.
They got what they wanted, but Greene hopes that nobody will hear about it. You see, he’s not supposed to eat ham and eggs. The public for some reason always associates an artist or writer with his characters. And Jiggs, in the public mind, is as­sociated with corn beef and cab­bage.
“It’s a fine dish. In fact, you can accurately say that it is my meal ticket.” Greene said. “But I like an occasional steak, too, you know.”

Obscurity of the Day: Jon Jason

When Elmer Wexler got back from the war, he seems to have been rarin’ to start up a new comic strip to replace the one he left behind, Vic Jordan. Wexler had gotten in barely five months on the feature, which appeared primarily in Newspaper PM, before he entered the Service for World War II.

On his return, Wexler pretty much took up where he left off. Vic Jordan, his old strip, had been cancelled in 1945 after going through a number of creative hands, but Wexler’s new strip, Jon Jason, basically read as if Vic Jordan had come back from the war and was now hunting Nazis more as a hobby.

The series only lasted one year, from February 4 1946 to February 8 of the following year. It was daily-only, as were most Newspaper PM strips, and had about as much success as other strips from that newspaper in syndication — that is, darn little.

As to the content of the strip, well, I’m perhaps not the best informed source.  Although I have a substantial number of strips from the series (about 50), they are from scattered dates. From what I can gather, Jon is a Marine pilot back from the war, and his day job is portrait painter and illustrator for the magazine International Woman. Somehow he seems to continually stumble on hidden Nazis and run off to exotic adventures tracking them down. Late in the series he hooks up with a gorgeous lady reporter, who gets him started on his adventures in a more plausible manner. However, according to Ron Goulart in The Funnies, Jason was a private detective, and of that plot device I see no evidence. But that doesn’t mean Goulart has it wrong. See, the thing is, the strip’s major failing is that there never seems to be any attempt to recap or bring readers up to speed on the story. Woe to the reader who misses seeing the strip for a few days, or the new reader who would like to jump in. I can well believe that Jason was a private dick in addition to a ‘cover’ job as an illustrator and I just haven’t read any episode in which that comes up.

Obscurity of the Day: Dave

I don’t know if Dave is all that obscure. According to the Tribune Media Services, the strip’s syndicate, it had 100+ clients, which made it squeak by in the 90’s as a financial success. To me Dave doesn’t seem obscure at all, because I read and enjoyed it every day in the Orlando Sentinel for years. So if Dave doesn’t quite make it as obscure, let’s settle for under-appreciated, shall we?

In 1992, when Dave debuted, Dilbert was really starting to hit its stride as a cultural phenomenon, and whether creator David Miller meant the strip as an alternative to Dilbert or not, I don’t doubt that TMS marketed it with that idea in mind.

The character Dave was a little less dorky than Dilbert, a lot less techie, more one of those office-drone types. Dave had more of a life outside of work and a steady girlfriend. The strip didn’t dwell all that much on character development or plot — Dave was treated as basically an everyman and commented on the life of white collar 20-somethings. It all sounds rather bland, I suppose, but David Miller had a great sense of humor and the strip was frequently very witty. There was also an odd mix of realism and surrealism that kept the reader just a little off-kilter, not knowing each day the sort of strip Miller might have in store.

Dave began on September 14 1992, and was retired a little short of seven years later, on April 18 1999. Contemporary put out one book collection of strips in 1994.

Obscurity of the Day: Alec and Itchy

Reg’lar Fellers by Gene Byrnes and Just Kids by Ad Carter were very successful features, and as such they spawned imitators. Because the artwork in the two strips was pretty basic, the imitators usually not only duplicated the concept but also the art style.

I believe that was the aim of Alec and Itchy, a kid strip created by a couple of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette staffers, Jimmy George and Merle Mulholland. The duo’s nod to originality is (I think) to include a black kid as one of the stars. I say I think that’s the case, because the kids are drawn with such minimal detail it could very well be that Itchy just has a dirty face.Alec, oddly enough, looks like Snoodles, a character created by P-G editorial cartoonist Cy Hungerford, whose feature Snoodles Diary, ended in 1927 after a long run.

Alec and Itchy was picked up for syndication by the Register & Tribune Syndicate, but evidently they had no luck selling it. The strip, which began in the P-G on October 19 1931, ended after four months, on February 27 1932, and probably never ran anywhere beyond its home paper.

Jimmy George seems to have taken this experience as proof that his talents lay outside of writing comic strips, but Mulholland may have taken another swing. I have an E&P mystery strip from 1934, called Little Rowdies, by ‘Marsh and Mulholland’. Was this the same guy trying out a similar strip with a new writer?

Obscurity of the Day: Judge Blount

After 25+ years researching American newspaper comics, I’m still constantly amazed at how many comics features remain lurking in out of the way papers.

Last weekend I went up to Micanopy, a little tourist town in Northern Florida with some good book shops. At the best shop in town, O. Brisky Books, I emerged with a nice pile of goodies. There was a book of Paul Revere’s cartoons (etchings in the parlance of the hoity-toity book), a book of Israeli newspaper cartoons from the Six Days War, and a biography of Don Marquis. But the interesting oddball of the bunch was a little booklet titled “The Best of Judge Blount” by Ted Tindell. I’d never heard of the feature or the cartoonist, and I’d never before seen a copy of the booklet.

Paging through it, the feature is revealed to be sort of a latter-day Abe Martin. The judge dispenses folk wisdom, good-natured common sense, non-partisan political and social commentary and bewilderment at the ever-changing world. A short introduction revealed that the cartoon panel series ran in the Maryville-Alcoa (TN) Daily Times on a daily basis starting on May 5 1976.

The booklet itself wasn’t dated, but by the looks of it I’d guess late-70s to early-80s. So that means these little Judge Blount cartoons could very well have run for a couple of years and that was bout it. I Googled the artist and his feature and came up pretty dry. This also led me to assume that the feature was a long-forgotten blip on the map.

Without even a guess at an end date, though, I took a moment to dash off a query to the editor of the paper, asking on the off chance if he or anyone there had any memory of the feature. A few days later, managing editor Frank “Buzz” Trexler, wrote back, sending me Tindell’s obituary, which follows:

Creator of `Judge Blount' cartoon dies
Daily Times, The (Maryville, TN) - Tuesday, October 10, 2000
Author: Thomas Fraser of The Daily Times Staff

A man who had his finger on the pulse of Blount County for decades died Sunday.

Theodore "Ted" Tindell , known for his wry "Judge Blount" cartoon
commentaries on the front page of The Daily Times, was 88.

"He had a great appreciation for local history," said longtime friend and Daily Times editor Dean Stone, noting that one of Tindell's books was on the communities of Blount County.

Through, for instance, his "Judge Blount" panel, which graced the front
page of The Daily Times for 22 years, he showed that he "knew what the
community was thinking about, and quite often hit the nail on the head," Stone said.

"Judge Blount" was discontinued in 1998 after Tindell's health began to decline.

Tindell in 1997 was inducted into The Daily Times Wall of Fame honoring graduates of local high schools for their contributions to society.

Born in Knox County in 1912, Tindell moved to Blount County in the 1920s and attended Everett High and graduated from Lanier High in 1931. He later graduated from the University of Tennessee and Lincoln Memorial University.

He was a World War II veteran of anti-submarine patrols in the Atlantic and served as editor of the Tennessee ALCOAN, a publication for employees at Tennessee Operations, and later was editor of The ALCOA News, the national publication in Pittsburgh.

"Out there when they had all three plants going at full speed, he picked up a lot of human interest stories and local news from the community, particularly those involving ALCOA employees," Stone said.

Tindell married Louise Allen in 1939; they had a son, Johnny, of Maryville; a daughter, Stephanie Schuler, of Houston; and two grandchildren.

Copyright (c) 2000 The Daily Times, Maryville, TN
Ted Tindell

So there’s your ‘obscurity’ for today — unknown to the world at large, but a cherished daily tradition for twenty-two years for the newspaper readers of Maryville. Humbling to think that someone can produce something that people enjoy for that long, and yet never receive any notoriety outside that small circle.

Obscurity of the Day: Mickey Spillane’s Mike Danger

One of the favorite bits of trivia for comic strip wonks is that the famed author Mickey Spillane was once a member of the stripper fraternity. Back in 1953, as his fame for writing hard-boiled, sexy detective stories was at a plateau, he lent his detective character, Mike Hammer, to a comic strip that ran for just one year. The strip was reportedly co-written by Spillane, who was no stranger to comics scripting — before he hit it big as a novelist, Spillane had been a comic book writer. The strip was, by nature, far too gritty for newspapers, and the few editors who did bite were probably relieved when it was cancelled.

However, this post is not about that strip. As obscure as the Mike Hammer strip is, I’ve got a yet more obscure one for you today. We have Mike Danger, which was Spillane’s return to newspaper comics over forty years later. An outfit called Big Entertainment, which seems to have been a well-funded media company, decided to get into the comics business in 1994. Under the name Tekno-Comix, they gathered together a group of famous names to associate with comic book series. Besides Spillane, they got Leonard Nimoy, Anne McCaffrey, Neil Gaiman, Isaac Asimov and others to lend their monikers, if not necessarily their talents, to comic book series.

The comic book series, however, would not begin until mid-1995. In 1994, though, on September 18 to be exact, Mike Danger made his debut as a newspaper strip. It is the only Tekno comic to get the newspaper treatment, and I’ve only found it in the Asbury Park Press Why the Asbury Park Press? A little sleuthing uncovered that the newspaper was some sort of a partner or investor in Big Entertainment.

Spillane’s series was titled Mike Danger, a name which had long ago been considered for an early comic book version of the detective who eventually became Mike Hammer. The new series, though, put a different spin on the hard-bitten detective genre. In this version, the grizzled detective starts out in a typical enough story, but after ten weeks of Sunday strips he gets locked into a cryo-chamber and wakes up in the year 2052. The ‘fish out of water’ motif was the brainchild of Max Allan Collins, who penned the series.

I asked Collins for his recollections about the strip. As to why the comic book series was preceded by a newspaper strip, he said “the purpose of it, I believe, was to have a comics property out there to show generally the direction the comic book company would go in.” Collins also recalled that the series was not limited to the Asbury Park Press — “my memory is that we were in a couple of papers, maybe three, at least at first.  But I can’t guarantee it.” As to Spillane’s involvement, Collins said, “Mickey and I devised Mike Danger in a brainstorming session. Out of that session came the notion of using the Mike Danger character but in a s-f format.  I proposed time travel, and the politically incorrect Danger landing in a politically correct time.  It was a productive session.  After that Mickey’s role was strictly to promote the comic book — he did lots of TV and radio — and I did all the writing.”

The comic strip series featured work by different artists than the later comic book series. The newspaper strip sported excellent art, originally by Keith Giffen on pencils and Mike Barreiro on inks, then Giffen was replaced by Joe Station starting with the October 23 episode.

My run of the strip only goes through the end of 1994, but I’m reasonably sure that it did continue into 1995. Unfortunately I don’t know how far into 1995, but my guess is that if this was strictly a marketing tool for the comic book, it probably would have wound up its run sometime around mid-year when the comic book series hit the stands (the first issue was dated September 1995).