Obscurity of the Day: Rolls Rosie

The breakout hit feature Flapper Fanny by Ethel Hays spawned quite a parade of pale imitators. By the late 1920s, any newspaper that didn’t yet have a dim-witted young beauty making daily commentary was strictly behind the curve.

One of the least of these was Rolls Rosie, by writer Irma Benjamin and artist Harry Weinert. Syndicated by Philadelphia’s Public Ledger Syndicate, it seems to have been either a replacement or a companion for Marjorie Henderson’s panel,  The Boy Friend. Rolls Rosie began sometime in late 1926 (earliest I’ve found are from December), and The Boy Friend has been seen later than that, so seemingly one was not a replacement for the other. However, these two features were run by most papers on a space-available basis, so the overlap might be illusory. The Ledger folks couldn’t fit this feature into one of their own papers until January 1927, and then it was in the lowly tabloid Sun.

Rolls Rosie ran in a small complement of papers, and a rare paper it was that used it on a daily basis rather than strictly as an occasional space-filler. However, evidently enough papers took the feature to keep the Ledger Syndicate happy, for a while at least.  The panel continued to be offered by the syndicate into 1928, but then sometime in 1928-29 it switched over to the Iowa-based Register and Tribune Syndicate. The exact date on which this change occurred is unknown, again because of the dearth of papers that ran the feature consistently.

When Rolls Rosie motored over to the new syndicate, the art by Philadelphia-based Weinert was dropped in favor of Frank Ellis. Ellis was a hard-working R&T man who already had two other features for which to provide art, Jane Arden and Parking with Peggy (the second yet another Flapper Fanny wannabe!).

Apparently the anemic sales that had satisfied Ledger weren’t good enough for R&T; either that or poor Frank Ellis waved the white flag on being asked to handle the art on yet another feature; because Rolls Rosie does not seem to have lasted until the end of 1929.

Obscurity of the Day: Boomers’ Song

David Horsey began honing his craft of editorial cartooning at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer in 1979, and was eventually the recipient of two Pulitzers (so far), in 1999 and 2003. But like most op-ed cartoonists, he also gamely tried out his luck with a syndicated comic strip. January 6 1986 saw the debut of Boomers’ Song from Tribune Media Services. The strip was a look at life for baby-boomers, hence the name of the strip. In the 1980s, Baby Boomers were in their late-20s to late-30s, and the driving force behind the American economy and culture. The boomers came in for a lot of criticism, some self-imposed, for their egomania, their love of money, and their self-serving politics. When compared with the previous generation, the hippies, they seemed incredibly banal and self-centered.

The cast, which is never really formally introduced as best I can tell, is a group of boomers, plus one former hippie, who all live in the small Woodstock Apartments complex. The large cast gives Horsey plenty of types to work with and lots of options for cast interactions. The problem is that it just never seems like Horsey had something really important to say about the boomers — there seems no urgent need to connect with the reader. The better gags are like material from faux-edgy SNL skits, the lesser ones like the humor from a Family Ties episode. The same tired tropes about boomers are trotted out again and again to readers who were already bombarded with this sort of observational humor at the time. There’s really nothing wrong with the writing, it just doesn’t seem to be a subject in which Horsey has all that much interest, or the benefit of a unique viewpoint. In other words, I think the strip was conceived for its marketing potential, not because of any burning need Horsey felt to comment on his generation.

On the other hand, Horsey does better when he tries out extended storylines, which gives the reader more reward than a lukewarm one-liner to encourage them to read the strip every day. And the best part of the strip, no question, is the drawing. As anyone who is familiar with his editorial cartoons knows, Horsey is one heck of a cartoonist. I’d love to see some of Horsey’s Sundays from the series, where he’d have some room to really shine, but unfortunately I’ve never found any in print, only reprinted (without color) in his book Greatest Hits of the ’80s.

Boomers’ Song began as a daily on January 6 1986, a Sunday seems to have been added a tiny bit late, on January 19, and the strip ran until September 10 1989. According to Horsey, who commented on the strip in Greatest Hits of the ’80s, the strip never had more than 65 clients, and he was relieved when the strip was withdrawn from syndication.

Obscurity of the Day: Jonah, a Whale for Trouble

We end our week of Frank King with a mega-dose of this obscurity, Jonah, a Whale for Trouble. Shortly after Frank King broke into the cartooning ranks of the Chicago Tribune, he penned this series about an evil imp named Jonah. The strip began on October 3 1910, and at first ran as a true daily. Later on in the run, perhaps hitting the wall looking for new ideas for this one-note concept, the frequency faltered, and by the time the last episode was printed on December 8 1910 it was appearing only a couple times per week.

What I enjoy about this series is that King could have easily made it a pulpit-pounding lesson in morality. If Jonah only went after people who treated him badly this strip would be the same old story that Aesop was telling a millenium or three ago. But King throws us a little curve — doesn’t matter if you treat the little bugger well or badly, you’re in for trouble. Unless, of course, you’re Teddy Roosevelt, who makes a cameo to show us all that Jonah is not all-powerful. And who better to do that!

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples!

Obscurity of the Day: Young Teddy

Continuing on our week of Frank King posts, here is Young Teddy, which ran in the Chicago Tribune Sunday section from September 10 1911 to October 6 1912. The premise was very simple — Teddy tries to train an animal and things don’t go well. Memorable it wasn’t, but then just how much could King do with these single tier strips that the Tribune liked to use on the inside pages? Way back then, after all, newspapers hadn’t figured out that they can print their strips at microscopic size.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Hi Hopper

We’re still handling the fallout from last week’s posting about Crazy Quilt, that great Chicago Tribune jam page feature. This week we’re going to focus on the great Frank King, whose Hi Hopper was one of the integral pieces of that feature.

Hi Hopper debuted in the Chicago Tribune Sunday section as a standalone feature on February 1 1914, and after the Crazy Quilt page ended on June 7 1914, Hi Hopper went back to its previous format, ending December 27 1914. As you can see from the samples here, King quickly ran out of ideas for a frog character, and so the character became just a basic nebbish, whose species is immaterial.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Crazy Quilt

These days it is a nice little readers’ treat for newspaper cartoonists to swap strips for a day, or to do a ‘jam’ strip on special occasions. You’d think that would have been even more common in the old days, when a group of cartoonists often worked right next to each other in a newspaper’s bullpen. Not really so, though. It happened, certainly, but rarely.

So that makes it even more special when, in 1914, a group of the Chicago Tribune‘s cartoonists got together and produced not just a one-off jam page, but an entire Sunday series of them, entitled Crazy Quilt. And when they decided to do jam pages, they really went all out. Each creator contributed a character, some already familiar, some new, and the strips they produced all intersected and interacted with each other. The effect is really impressive, more so if you take the time to really study what’s going on in these complex pages. The amount of planning that went into each episode is really impressive, especially since they succeed so well.

Crazy Quilt ran from April 12 to June 7 1914. After the jam page was dropped, many of the series continued on a page which was for one week mastheaded with the Crazy Quilt name, but each strip was separate and not part of a unifying design. Here’s a roll call of features that were patches in the Crazy Quilt:

And His Name is Mr. Bones by Everrett Lowry — ran for a short time before Crazy Quilt, and for many years afterward, ending in 1920. Lowry was at the time of Crazy Quilt running a contest to name the dog, so the strip hasn’t yet taken on it’s eventual name.

 Freddy Frappe Filosophizzes by Dean Cornwell — new for Crazy Quilt, had a six month run afterward. This was a single panel feature.

Genial Gene by Quin Hall — ran before and after Crazy Quilt, from January to October 1914. 

Hi Hopper by Frank King — Ran before and after its Crazy Quilt period, from February to December 1914.

Old Doc Quack by Charles Lederer — a panel that was only used in Crazy Quilt.

Pinhead Pete by Quin Hall — created for the Crazy Quilt page, it continued afterward, first as a panel feature, and then as a strip, ending in January 1915.

Simp Simpson by Lester J. Ambrose — started in the Trib’s Sunday section in February, it didn’t continue after the jam pages.

Stone Age Stuff by Dean Cornwell — another Cornwell panel, created for the Crazy Quilt page and then ran on its own until January 1915.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans, and to Alex Jay, who will follow this post with a set of Ink-Slinger Profiles of the Crazy Quilt contributors.

Obscurity of the Day: Dic and Doc


I was surprised to find that I have never yet done a posting for Frank R. Leet, so let’s correct that sad situation today.

Leet was the #1 workhorse cartoonist at NEA from 1907 to 1913. He created over a dozen comic strip and panel series, plus uncountable one-shot cartoons and news story illustrations. His output was so great you have to wonder whether he wore out pen nibs or if they melted from all the furious drawing.

Dic and Doc is one of his earlier series, and a fun one, about a kid who really loves dime novels, and a dog who really loves the kid. Can you imagine the uproar today if a strip had a kid character who smokes! Dic and Doc ran from October 19 1907 to sometime in January 1908

Whether Leet burned out at NEA, decided he wasn’t paid enough, or something else, he left in 1913. In 1914-15 he produced a couple of minor features for World Color Printing. Then, according to Lambiek.net, he became ill and was unable to draw. By the early 1920s he was producing a strip called “Al’s Acres”. I have a nice long run of the strip but have had a devil of a time figuring out where it ran based on the clips — I think it was in an agricultural journal called Ohio Farmer. Finally, Leet pops up again in the 1930s as the writer of some children’s books.

I asked Alex Jay to see if he could find out more about Frank Leet, and he sure did. Look for his Ink-Slinger Profile coming tomorrow!

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Our Ancestors

Richard Q. Yardley was best known as the longstanding editorial cartoonist of the Baltimore Morning Sun, but for a short stint he also moonlighted with a daily cartoon panel, Our Ancestors, produced for NEA. The panel was no great shakes as humor, with punchlines that seemed limp from years of use, but the art made the feature worth perusing.

Yardley was in the vanguard of the so-called new wave of editorial cartoonists. Although he started out with a pretty conventional style in the 1930s, he soon tossed out his grease pencil and stipple board and adopted a clean-lined, animated style more closely associated with gag cartoons. His editorial cartoons, though often packed with details and labels, have an openness, an airiness, about them that is amazing to behold. These qualities made his editorial cartoons stand out from the pack. It also, unfortunately, kept Yardley from being taken very seriously by some of his peers. (However, one who ‘got it’ was Charles Bissell, whose profile of Yardley in the AAEC News will appear tomorrow here on the blog.)

Yardley used his middle name, Quincy, as the credit line on Our Ancestors, indicating that he either didn’t feel any great desire to be associated with it, or that his bosses at the Baltimore Sun weren’t happy with his moonlighting. My guess is the latter, since Yardley is reported to have been quite a history buff. I’m guessing he probably delighted in coming up with these history-related gags, even if they often play flat, at least to my ear.

Our Ancestors was added to the NEA line-up on March 27 1961 and was cancelled on September 4 1965. The series was revived, presumably in reprints, for their weekly Suburban Features offering from May 12 1975 to 1981.

Obscurity of the Day: Punjabs

Not being much of a fan of puns, and not knowing a whole lot about Bob Gumpertz, I don’t have much to say about today’s obscurity, Punjabs. The single panel series was syndicated by Adcox Associates from December 5 1960 (with ‘teaser’ episodes starting November 29) to January 19 1963.

The San Francisco Chronicle, which picked up the feature late, gave some information on Frisco resident Gumpertz in their January 1 1961 issue:

Gumpertz got the idea for Punjabs in 1958 while he was an art director for Guild, Bascom and Bonfigli, San Francisco advertising agency. He said it took him two years to work it up to the point where he could syndicate it. Gumpertz cartoons have appeared in the Saturday Review, Punch and Playboy as well as a number of European magazines. The New York Times buys many of his line drawings of scenes in Europe.

Obscurity of the Day: Ain’t it Awful, Mabel?

The catch-phrase “Ain’t it awful, Mabel?” invaded the public consciousness in 1908 and remained popular for quite some time, well over a decade at least, but it doesn’t have an origin I’m able to pinpoint..

It is true that a poem by that name by John E. Hazzard, and a song by W.T. Francis, were both apparently released in 1908, and there are at least two comic strip series that used the name the same year. But what came first? I dunno. It rather sounds like Hazzard was probably the originator, but it just doesn’t seem like the nature of poetry to make such a splash out of the blue like that.

Well, I struck out on the origin of the phrase, so let’s see if I can do better on the meaning. When uttered in conversation, when someone says (usually in a lowbrow gum-smacking Brooklyn accent) “Ain’t it awful, Mabel?”, is to say, with a wink, that you are complaining about something that you really have no right or reason to complain about.

Roy Taylor in 1911 (image courtesy of Cole Johnson)

So, for instance, if I was to say, with indignation, that I had to stand in line for the better part of an hour at customs in the Costa Rica airport, I might follow that up with “Ain’t it awful, Mabel?” to let you know that I realize the minor inconvenience is small potatoes compared to that amazing vacation.

The point of all this gum-flapping, and I do have one, is that today’s obscurity is the first comic strip rendition (aka rip-off) of the phrase. The strip is by our old friend Roy W. Taylor, one of the leading lights of early newspaper cartooning, and presumably he wrote the verses as well, which follow closely on the style of Hazzard’s poem. The strip ran just twice, on February 19 and 21 1908, in the New York Evening World. Why just twice? Well, my guess is that either Taylor quickly realized that these verses were a lot of work to write, or the copyright holder called the World and pointed out that there was bald-faced infringement going on.

Here is the poem, by Hazzard, that seems to have started it all. When reading, imagine the speaker to be a cute but air-headed chorus girl talking to her girlfriend Mabel:

Ain’t it Awful, Mabel?

It worries me to beat the band
To hear folks say our lives is grand;
Wish they’d try some one−night stand.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Nothin’ ever seems to suit—
The manager’s an awful brute;
Spend our lives jest lookin’ cute.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Met a boy last Tuesday night,
Was spendin’ money left and right—−
Me, gee! I couldn’t eat a bite!
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Then I met another guy—
Hungry! well, I thought I’d die!
But I couldn’t make him buy.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Lots of men has called me dear,
Said without me life was drear,
But men is all so unsincere!
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
I tell you, life is mighty hard,
I’ve had proposals by the yard—
Some of ’em would ‘a had me starred.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Remember that sealskin sacque of mine?
When I got it, look’d awful fine—
I found out it was a shine.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Prima donna’s sore on me;
My roses had her up a tree—
I jest told her to “twenty−three.”
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
My dear, she went right out and wired
The New York office to have me “fired”;
But say! ’twas the author had me hired.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
I think hotels is awful mean,
Jim and me put out of room sixteen—
An’ we was only readin’ Laura Jean.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
The way folks talk about us too;
For the smallest thing we do—
‘Nuff to make a girl feel blue.
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
My Gawd! is that the overture?
I never will be on, I’m sure—
The things us actresses endure,
Ain’t it awful, Mabel?
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!