The End of Chip Collins Adventures

Chip Collins was one of those guys we all love to hate. He was a rich kid attending the prestigious Braxton College. He was a sports superstar, had women throwing themselves at him, and was pals with everyone in school. How could anyone not hate him?

The stories in Chip Collins Adventures were typically about Chip winning the track meet, making the winning basket, scoring the touchdown in OT, etc ad nauseum. When not playing the Jim Thorpe role, Chip was busy with his extracurricular activities of foiling crooks and solving mysteries.

The strip started as a replacement for Frank Merriwell’s Schooldays, an essentially identical strip. I’m guessing the syndicate (Central Press Association) decided that they could just as easily do the same strip without paying the licensing fees for this well-known dime novel character, and thus Frank Merriwell ended on 7/14/1934, and turned into Chip Collins on the following Monday. For more on Frank Merriwell, try here and here.

The strip was written by William Ritt (who may well have written the Frank Merriwell strip, too, but credit on that was given to “Gilbert Patten, the original Burt L. Standish”. The art was by Jack Wilhelm, a good cartoonist who was especially adept at depicting lovely ladies.

Unlike the Merriwell strip, Chip Collins got a Sunday version in addition to the daily. I say Sunday, but actually you’ll find that these strips are dated on Saturdays. This is because they ran in the New York Journal, Hearst’s second New York paper (the major Hearst strips ran in the Sunday New York American). The Journal published a color comic section as part of its Saturday edition.

Whether it was because of the loss of the Frank Merriwell name, or the stories and art that often seemed rushed, Chip Collins had a short life. The Sunday (er, Saturday, okay to heck with that, I’m calling ’em Sundays) was killed as of the 6/15/1935 episode, and the daily ended 7/27/1935. Both episodes tried to wrap things up in their final panels, as seen above.

A few items of note on these strips. Notice on the daily that the final panel is obviously not by Wilhelm. My guess is that the original version of the strip continued the storyline, so a bullpen artist was called on to redo the last panel as a series wrap-up. On the final Sunday note that the art is by Paul Frehm rather than Wilhelm. Unfortunately I don’t have the Sundays leading up to this, so I don’t know if Frehm took over earlier or just did the final installment (my next to last is 2/9/35, and Wilhelm was still credited there). This may be the key to why Chip Collins ended – was Wilhelm just too overwhelmed with the work? The art does certainly look rushed on much of the Chip Collins run.

One final note before I let Chip Collins recede once more into the collective memory. The New York Journal sometimes (often?) dropped the Chip Collins Sunday for an ad. Given that the Sunday was not widely syndicated, if at all, was the Sunday even produced in weeks that it didn’t run there? Does anyone have Sundays from other (non-Hearst papers)?

Obscurity of the Day: Eggheads

Our final look at the Keane oeuvre concerns this cute little feature titled Eggheads. Apparently it started on 9/28/1981, and I’ve seen no examples later than 1982. However, a reprint book from Fawcett was published in 1983 that does not mention the demise of the strip, so perhaps it soldiered on a little while longer. Syndicated by Register & Tribune Syndicate, I regrettably did not even find this strip running in the home paper.

The humor of Eggheads abounds in puns and groaners, and the Mutt And Jeff style ‘takes’ in the final panel are a standard feature.

According to the blurb on the book, Bil drew roughs and son Jeff Keane did the finished drawings.

If the last four days of Stripper’s Guide posts whetted your Keane appetite, hop on over to his website here.

Obscurity of the Day: Spot News

As long we’re on a Bil Keane kick, let’s keep it rolling with this feature called Spot News. This little 1-column feature, known as a filler in the biz, would have been marketed as a cute addition to the editorial page. The gags are topical but not editorial.

The feature began in the Des Moines Register on August 3, 1959. Although I’ve never seen a sample with a copyright slug, I assume they were the syndicator since Keane’s other syndicated cartoon (Channel Chuckles, see yesterday’s post) was with them.

The Register ran the feature on a space available basis (in other words, it only appeared when there was a hole to fill on the page). I have also heard this practice called ROP (run of press) by people in the business. The latest I’ve seen are from early 1960, and the feature was not listed in the 1960 E&P Syndicate Directory, which comes out in late summer, so I assume it didn’t even make its one year anniversary. If anyone knows the specific end date, I’d love to hear from you.

Tomorrow, one last keen Keane item.

Bil Keane’s Other Big Success

When the name Bil Keane comes up, naturally we think of Family Circus as his big success. However, he has actually had two big syndication hits.

Recognizing that newspapers were getting into the TV show listing business, Keane created Channel Chuckles in 1954. The daily and Sunday panel series, which focused on television-related gags, was the perfect feature to add a little graphic interest to the otherwise type-intensive TV program listings. The feature was distributed by the Register & Tribune Syndicate.

Keane’s idea started a minor avalanche of ‘me-too’ features – Tee Vee Tee Hees, TV Laffs, TV Micro Funnies, The Vidiots and others have followed over the years, all trying to tap the same market.

As seen above, Channel Chuckles was also offered as a Sunday color feature. Though it never had the popularity of the daily panel, it was a good fit for papers which printed a weekly TV Guide-style listing booklet. The Sunday lasted until about 1970, while the daily continued through 1977.

Obscurity of the Day: Silly Philly

Before Bil Keane became an American institution with Family Circus, he was on staff at the Philadelphia Bulletin for many years, and produced the long-running local feature Silly Philly. The title character was a quaker, emblematic of the city of brotherly love.

The feature started in the back pages of the paper’s Sunday Fun Book on 4/27/1947. The Fun Book featured Will Eisner’s The Spirit plus additional local features like Sports Stars and It’s Philadelphia (both of which will probably pop up here eventually as obscurities of the day).

The Fun Book eventually folded, and Silly Philly was promoted into the paper’s regular Sunday comic section. There it ran until 9/3/1961. Presumably Keane decided to end the feature as the Family Circus gravy train started rolling.

Early Caniff Rarities from the Columbus Dispatch

Here’s another batch of Milton Caniff items from his early days at the Columbus Dispatch. For more see this blog entry.

The top four are portraits (well, duh) that accompanied biographies of these gents in the Sunday Dispatch magazine section. This was only one of the many and varied illustrating jobs Caniff handled at the Dispatch.

The Escapes From The Pen comic strip (later panel) was Caniff’s longest running feature at the Dispatch. There were five discrete runs, punctuated, I gather, by him leaving the paper to get back to his school work at Ohio State University.

The five runs I have documented are:

4/10/27 – 2/26/28 : mostly weekly strip usually ran on Sundays
1/27/29 – 9/8/29 : fortnightly, then weekly (the sample is from this run)
12/23/29 – 5/22/30 : daily panel feature on comics page, Caniff’s first daily feature
7/14/30 – 12/31/30 : same
8/17/31 – 12/5/31 : same

Mystery Credits on Roy Rogers

The Roy Rogers strip was throughout its run offically bylined to Al McKimson. This name, I am told, is a pseudonym for the brothers Tom and Chuck McKimson (art and script, respectively). However, over the years I’ve gathered a number of additional credits from various sources. Being somewhat skeptical of art and writing style spotters, I’ll just tell you what I’ve been told regarding the Roy Rogers strip and let you choose whether or not you take a grain of salt with it, as I do. Any additional information, or refutation of this information, is of course very welcome.

Phil Evans, writer “…the early years of the strip…” (MFG #10)
John Ushler, artist, 1949-53 (Bails)
Pete Alvarado, artist, 1949-51 (Bails)
Alex Toth, art 1960 (Bails)
Hy Mankin, art, early years (MFG #226)

One credit that is ensured is that of artist Mike Arens. He first started taking surreptitious credit on the strip on 5/10/1953, as can be seen in our sample. The detail view shows his monogram on the flanks of a horse. The monograms eventually changed to initials, and became less secretive. The art style on the Sundays doesn’t seem to change on this date, so presumably Arens had started earlier, taking not even clandestine credit for his work.

EDIT (5/23/06) : Alberto Becattini sends a message wherein he discusses the credits on Roy Rogers. I’ll pass along what he says:

“The Al McKimson by-line refers to Western Publishing comics editors Al Stoffel and Tom McKimson. Chuck McKimson was not initially involved in the production of this strip (which began in December, 1949), as he was at Western from 1954 to circa 1963.

Note that another Western Publishing-produced strip, Gene Autry, was by-lined “Bert Laws”, from Albert Law Stoffel.

Back to Roy Rogers:

Al Stoffel wrote, besides editing, some of the first few episodes, whereas he only produced the strip from 1954-61. Phil Evans wrote most of the strip from 1954-61, and perhaps even before that. Carl Fallberg wrote some continuities in 1952-53.

Now to the artists:

Pete Alvarado probably drew the dailies and Sundays in 1949-50. Mike Arens started drawing dailies and Sundays in 1950. He drew most of the Sundays until the strip folded in 1961 (and he was allowed to sign them in 1955), whereas he alternated with others on the dailies. John Ushler drew some Sundays in 1950 (the one I have is dated March 19). Hi Mankin (he signed himself Hi, not Hy) drew the dailies in 1953-58. Alex Toth drew the dailies from Dec. 19, 1960 until Jan. 12, 1961.”

I’ve asked Alberto for his sources for this information so that we may be better able to judge the accuracy of the above.

Obscurity of the Day: The Pioneers

The Pioneers should be mentioned in any discussion of early adventure strips, though its short run and storybook style writing is enough to keep it from being much more than a curiosity. It is, though, only mentioned in one of the standard references, Goulart’s Encyclopedia of American Comics (of which more shortly).

The story concerned itself with the trek of a group of families who leave the wilds of Maine to strike it rich in the California gold rush. This is a tale full of possibilities, but in the hands of writer Glenn Chaffin (later to create Tailspin Tommy) it is a real yawner. The art by someone named Lovrien Gregory (also sometimes spelled Louvrien) doesn’t do much to help the cause. Initially the story was told exclusively in captions, but occasional word balloons began popping up later. Our sample strip is one of the few that used word balloons for most of the strip.

The Pioneers began its run on February 12, 1928 and ended January 13, 1929. Ralph Wolfe took over the art chores on 7/22/28, and then the writing on 9/23. Wolfe improved the strip on the art front, but the writing didn’t get much livelier.

I must confess that I’ve not read the strip through to the end, despite having the opportunity, so I can’t say whether it concluded with the group arriving in California or got cancelled in mid-odyssey; my guess is that the strip was intentionally closed-end. The run of the strip comprises 49 episodes based on my dating, so I wonder if there was perhaps an even 50 episodes in actuality (my dates come from a run in the Columbus Dispatch). Being from Bell Syndicate, it should come as no surprise that the strip continued to be sold after its initial running dates, so you may find later ones; the latest I’ve seen run in late 1929.

Jay Maeder, writing in Goulart’s Encyclopedia of American Comics, claims that the strip was running in 1926, and that Glenn Chaffin was not the first writer. If Jay is reading the blog, perhaps he could tell us if this was indeed the case. I’ve never found the strip running earlier than the cited running dates, but maybe I have just never come upon the right sources. Jay, you out there?

Obscurity of the Day: Tommy of the Big Top

For some reason John Lehti’s delightful Tommy of the Big Top strip never found its audience. The art was wonderful, the stories good, but it just never seemed to take off. Perhaps an early sign of the demise of the story strip?

The strip started 10/28/1946. Young Tommy was living with his older sister, the parents not in the picture for reasons I haven’t discovered. Sister, who looks to be a teenager, is being successfully courted by a loathsome fellow, and Tommy wants nothing more than to be out of the picture in case the pair get married.

A circus comes to town and he resolves to join it, and our sample strips show a snippet of that sequence. Continuing this sequence the circus manager insists that the sister give permission for Tommy to join the circus. To keep the story from bogging down at that point, Lehti has good ol’ sis acquiesce to the proposal without so much as batting an eye. So Tommy is off on his adventures with the circus.

What I like about the strip is that it tries not to follow the well-worn path of just having the circus as a backdrop for stories about the kid solving mysteries and foiling crimes. The stories (at least as much as I’ve read of the strip) really try to evoke the exotic atmosphere of circus life, and the adventures are down to earth and believable. The stories very deliberately try to evoke the thrills and mysteries of circus life. In this era, running away with the circus was a standard youthful obsession, and Lehti milks that desire like a real pro by showing kids a highly sanitized but nevertheless exciting view of what a kid might experience if he or she acted on the fantasy.

Tommy of the Big Top ended sometime in 1950 (can anyone supply a specific date?) and Lehti went on to have far more success with his Bible story strip, Tales From The Great Book.