The General, Part I

Here’s a fine example of a strip that was doomed from the start. The General had a great concept – the misadventures of a statue come to life – but the life cycle of the idea was necessarily short. Just how much can you do with a concept where the characters can’t leave their perches? Not only did the strip limit itself to being acted out on a block of marble, but the concept was further hamstrung by the mute title character. Most of the text of the strip was provided by a narrator.

J.P. Arnot, who is responsible for a whole slew of well-drawn strips in the 1910s and 20s, started The General on March 3, 1919. The first six months or so of the strip was fresh and delightful. That’s about when Arnot hit the wall. The strip started getting repetitive, and Arnot even resorted to bending his own rules (note the general getting off his perch in the third example) .

Arnot started this strip just at the time when long-running daily strips were starting to become the norm, squeezing out the ‘less than dailies’ and the intentionally short run strips. My guess is that he never intended The General to be a long-running daily, but he got caught up in the new trend and had to soldier on with the strip well past its natural lifespan. Arnot and the syndicate finally let the strip, completely wrung out of ideas, end on July 15, 1922.

I’ll be running The General samples here for the next few days. I think even in the latter part of the run that the excellent art and delightful concept are still eminently worthy of an extended look. Enjoy!

Mr. Jack Goes to War

Here’s a couple of 1917 Mister Jack strips by the great Jimmy Swinnerton. These are ‘dailies’ in that they ran in dailies papers rather than Sundays, but they were not produced six days per week. Many references cite the 1910s version of Mr. Jack as a daily, but t’ain’t so.

At this time Swinnerton was at the height of his powers. He evidently relished working on Mr. Jack more than the rather repetitive Little Jimmy, so it might come as a surprise that the Hearst organization seldom ran the Mr. Jack dailies in their New York papers. To find the black and white wartime Mr. Jack strips we must, for the most part, find them elsewhere. In fact, based on the Jeffrey Lindenblatt’s indexing of the New York American, I had concluded that the Mr. Jack daily was produced only on a very sporadic basis. It wasn’t until I got a look at the Pittsburgh Post that I found it to be produced, at least in the timeframe I got to see, on a very regular basis, several times per week.

Before it was Minute Movies

Before Ed Wheelan renamed his feature Minute Movies, before even it bothered with the name Midget Movies on a consistent basis, his long-running feature was just an untitled strip of ‘movie film’ that ran along the bottom edge of the New York American‘s comics page. These are examples from the very first year of the strip, mostly November and December 1917. The feature began on January 31st of that year.

The samples shown here are in pretty sad shape, even after a bit of a cleaning in Photoshop. Running along the bottom of the page as they did, clippings of these strips are usually brown and brittle. Bound volumes do a good job of protecting most of the newspaper within, but the material along the edge, exposed to the air, does not age very gracefully. The same problem applies to much of the early Krazy Kat material, which was similar in that it ran in a long strip (vertically in the Kat’s kase) usually along a page edge.

Obscurity of the Day: From Sue To Lou

This unusual feature, a single panel oblong that was printed quite large (usually 7 columns wide), was originally titled Letters From Sue To Lou. It began on September 24, 1922 and ran until sometime in 1938; the title was shortened in 1923.

The feature was a weekly, marketed for inclusion in the Sunday magazine or women’s section. Each ‘strip’ was a series of vignettes surrounding a short letter between the two principles, a pair of flapper types named Sue and Lou (short for Louise). Sometimes, as in our example, the drawings had precious little to do with the subject of the letter, but merely functioned as an excuse for creator Clarence Gettier to draw lots of his highly stylized pretty girls.

Gettier did this feature as sort of a Sunday bookend for his daily series titled Girligags. Both features sported the same art style, sort of lowbrow art deco meets highbrow fashion art.

Though the feature had a very healthy run at 17 years, it never appeared in all that many papers. And seldom will you see tearsheets of the strip for sale today since clippers tend to miss the unusually placed feature when going through a stack of papers or a bound volume.

Obscurity of the Day: Punkinville

This obscure panel cartoon ran on the weekly Associated Editors kiddie page. Back in the 20s and 30s, many syndicates offered a weekly page to newspapers with a whole range of features intended for the youngsters. Most pages had a cartoon or comic strip, puzzles, games, activities, hobby projects, contests and so on. The concept survives today in slightly less ambitious scope with features like Shortcuts and the Mini-Page.

The Associated Editors page featured a number of comic strips over the years, the most successful and long-running of which was The Adventures of Peter Pen. Today, though, we’re looking at Punkinville, a feature that ran sporadically on the page, with often as much as eight weeks elapsing between appearances. The feature always showed a bird’s-eye view of some activity or get-together in the titular village, and was rewarding enough if you took the time to study all the little vignette gags. To me the feature always seemed a little out of place on the page – the subject matter (like the golf tournament shown here) seems more likely to interest adults than children. Perhaps that’s why it appeared so infrequently; the editors knew it was a weak part of the page.

Punkinville first appeared on October 30 1927, a date that makes you wonder if it was originally meant as a one-shot for Halloween. It lasted until May 3, 1931.

Obscurity of the Day: The Big Parade

Billy Ireland is the undisputed originator and king of the local-interest Sunday page (see his The Passing Show blogged here), but he was by no means the only practitioner of the craft. Here’s a pretty faithful copy of the feature called The Big Parade. This page ran in the Arizona Republican (later shortened to the Arizona Republic when it became unfashionable for papers to wear their political leanings on their sleeve) from 1926 to 1948.

Reg Manning conducted the Big Parade, and he was also the editorial cartoonist of the paper. Manning gained a certain amount of fame as the author of such Arizona-centric books as What Kinda Cactus Izzat? and The Cartoon Guide to Arizona.

An interesting part of this feature was that a continuing storyline comic strip ran along the bottom for quite a few years. Titled The Rough Riter, it is humorous adventure in the vein of the Gumps.

Little Sport on Sunday

Here’s the rarely seen Sunday version of that long skinny daily strip called Little Sport. The Sunday ran from 1950-56 in only a few papers, while the daily version flourished and ran 1948-1976.

The daily version was a favorite with newspaper editors for the same reason that Peanuts was initially successful. The features were so darn small that they could be used to plug a hole here and there in the paper (yup, Peanuts was marketed as a throwaway filler, as sacreligious as that may sound now).

John Henry Rouson, the creator of Little Sport, had a fascinating life and yet was also a real workhorse at the drawing board. He juggled three daily features (the other two are Boy And Girl and Ladies Day) with, apparently, little assistance. Regarding his fascinating life I’ll have to demur on that story; too busy (or is it lazy) to pull out my files on the gent – some other time.

Fruits of the Film

I have updates today on some of the unanswered questions discussed in previous blog entries.

First, the issue of the Chicago Chronicle 16-page color comics section of 1903. Alfredo Castelli first alerted me to its existence, and I reported my findings on these four posts (1 2 3 4) after reviewing the first batch of microfilm. A new batch of microfilm came in covering 5/17 – 12/9/1903 and I can now say that the section ended on September 27, 1903. After this date the Sunday comics were limited to a black and white page of mostly panel cartoons.

Once again, the microfilm is missing most of the Sunday comics sections. The only ones found were for 7/12, 7/19 and 7/26. In addition to the titles I reported on earlier, these sections allowed me to identify a new batch of continuing titles. In addition to more strips by Marriner and Lederer, Everrett Lowry had joined the section and was contributing a lot of material. Of greatest interest are his strips that he would continue for other syndicates; Deacon Backslider, which was revived at the Philadelphia Inquirer; and Binnacle Jim (start date 7/19/03), which went on to have a checkered history with McClure and the Inquirer both.

Binnacle Jim survived the end of the Chronicle’s color section by one week – a final episode was printed in black and white on 10/4. And Lowry wasted no time peddling his wares elsewhere – the strip began appearing in the Philadelphia Inquirer section on 11/22/03.

I have ordered the Chicago Chronicle for 1902 with the hopes of finding the beginning of the section – will keep you posted.

On the Dem Boys front (see original posts here and here), I ordered the microfilm of the Cleveland Leader, where Alfredo Castelli had found an inconveniently early installment of the strip (I had it starting late in 1915, he had it earlier, with rumors that it started yet earlier in 1914). Well, turns out that the strip started way back on June 28, 1914. Now that date makes absolutely no sense with the World Color Printing section (there was no room for this strip then). But another piece of data turned up at just the same time as I got this info. Turn to page 110 in the new issue of Hogan’s Alley (#14) and you will find an ad from the McClure Syndicate in which they advertise, among other strips, Dem Boys. Mystery solved! World Color didn’t have to make room for it, because it wasn’t theirs. Now the only question still needing an answer is when exactly the strip changed syndicates. We’ll keep working on that one.

Before we leave the Dem Boys matter, though, I have to pass along something that I found pretty hilarious. The Cleveland Leader put Dem Boys on the front page of their comic section right from the start of the strip in June 1914. The rest of the comic section was all New York World material. If you understand why that’s so funny, you are a true blue comic strip history geek. So do you get the joke?

One last update. Back in this post I said that I found what might be the first Russ Westover cartoon to appear in a newspaper in a 1903 San Francisco Bulletin. However, on further microfilm research I find that his first seems to be this comic strip that ran in the Bulletin way, way back on April 20, 1902. Sorry about the bad reproduction – for once it’s not the microfilm’s fault – the printer attached to the microfilm machine was acting up that day.

Obscurity of the Day: Hope and Experience

Before his great success with Minute Movies, Ed Wheelan had struck less impressive paydirt with a feature titled Hope And Experience. The feature started on December 10, 1915, and it was Wheelan’s first continuing series for Hearst’s New York American.

Although Wheelan tried out a number of other features in the pages of the American, mostly in 1916, this is the only one that really stuck. The feature, as you can see in the example, featured Mr. Hope and Old Man Experience. Hope was a young optimist who always got the short end of the stick, and Old Man Experience then provided his jaundiced reflections on the state of the world.

The feature was renamed to Old Man Experience in 1917, and ended on April 6 1918 as Minute Movies (then Midget Movies) was taking off.

Obscurity of the Day: Don and Dot in Opera Glass Land

Here’s a rarity from the Cleveland Leader called Don And Dot In Opera Glass Land. This Sunday strip was written by Louise Hunter and drawn by Lillian Woolsey Hunter. Lillian is apparently known for her glamor girl postcard designs from the 00s. Here’s a website that shows a few of her productions.

This series in the Leader ran from February 22 to April 19, 1914. Though I only saw four strips in that period, I suspect that the microfilm was missing some sections of the Sunday papers, so it may well have run every week, and also may have lasted longer than the dates I’m citing.

The first installment carried a copyright to the Hunters (sister, I’m guessing?), while the rest of the series was copyrighted to W.P. Leech. Leech may have been an entrepreneur trying to syndicate the feature, the owner or manager of the Leader, or perhaps just another family member. No way to tell based on the little information I’ve been able to gather.

Interesting to me is the art style, which doesn’t match that of Hunter’s postcard work. It is, however, practically a dead ringer for Rose O’Neill. While many women cartoonists emulated the A-list of their gender (O’Neill, Drayton and Brinkley), rarely have I seen one of the imitators do such an outstanding job of imitation.