Obscurity of the Day: Famous Fables


Here’s a real oddball. E.E. Edgar’s Famous Fables was a self-syndicated newspaper column on weekdays, and a color comic page on Sundays. The feature tells amusing anecdotes about famous people – both current celebrities and historic personages. The daily version, as far as I can tell, was not illustrated. The Sunday sported cartoons by Homer Provence, whose style owed a lot to George Lichty.

Provence was pretty lazy about his cartoons – they really only relate to the anecdote, not the famous characters involved. I guess he couldn’t be bothered to work up caricatures of the subjects, nor illustrate the times being discussed. Thus all of our subjects, be they William McKinley or Samuel Johnson all pretty much look like Senator Snort in variously colored suits.

The feature, at least the Sunday page, seems to have started sometime in 1947. The Chicago Sun-Times provides a likely end date of 9/17/1950; they were probably Mr. Edgar’s biggest client, and their cancellation would have been a killing blow to the bottom line.

The 1939 Fox Features Ad Campaign

Here’s a really neat batch of material from late 1939. Victor Fox, grand poobah of the Fox Features comic book company, decided that his comic book material would be an excellent addition to the nation’s Sunday newspapers. He staged an extensive marketing campaign in Editor & Publisher, which I have gathered together here, and am presenting in chronological order.

Now as far as I know, all the Fox Features newspaper offerings actually started running in January 1940, but the marketing tries hard to give the impression that it was already in newspapers in 1939. However, a close reading of his impressive circulation claims reveals that he is talking about his comic book sales, not newspaper syndication. If anyone has evidence that any Fox material was running in newspapers prior to January 1940, I’m anxious to hear from you.

By the way, take the list of titles with a healthy dose of salt. The only titles that ended up appearing in newspaper syndication, as far as I have been able to document, are Blue Beetle, Doctor Fung, The Flame, The Green Mask, Patty O’Day, Rex Dexter of Mars, Secret Agent D-13, Spark Stevens of the Navy and Yarko the Great. All were Sunday only features, with the exception of Blue Beetle which also had a daily.

Fox Announces New Strips
10/14/39
Fox Feature Syndicate, New York, will release four daily adventure comic strips this month, all creations of V. S. Fox, editor, the syndicate informed the column this week. Added to the 30 features now distributed by FFS, the features will be called “The Green Mask,” “Spark Stevens,” “Patty O’Day,” and “Secret Agent.”

Advertisement, 10/21/39

Fox Sees Adventure Comics in Ascendancy
By Stephen J. Monchak, 10/28/39
Comic strips change in style as do many other American newspaper circulation building features and to­day the trend is toward the adventure type of comic because of its wide ap­peal to newspaper readers from six to 60.
That’s the firm opinion of Vincent S. Fox, president-editor, Fox Feature Syndicate, New York, who has some strong evidence in the form of circula­tion figures to prove his contention. This column saw some of them this week.

Entered Field Six Months Ago
Without fanfare or any great pub­licity, Mr. Fox, a newcomer to the syndicate field (he started six months ago), organized a group of adventure comic monthly magazines (Wonder-world, Mystery Men, Fantastic), sensed (it appears) what the public wanted, and bringing to play his knowledge of retail and merchandising methods ac­quired in years of bank underwriting on Wall Street, built the group’s net circulation where it today stands over a million monthly.

This is a neat 400% increase, using as the base the 190,000 figure chalked up by the first issue (May, 1939) of Wonderworld. Mr. Fox created Mys­tery Men in August and the first issue of Fantastic now is on the stands although it is the December issue. Mr. Fox explained that comic monthlies work two months ahead.

Now, believing that his circulation figures are proof of their popularity, Mr. Fox now is offering the more popular of his features to newspapers.

Strips, Supplements Available
He told the column FFS has pre­pared for release Dec. 3 a four-page, eight-comic ready-print Sunday sup­plement in four colors. The comics include: “The Green Mask,” “Patty O’Day,” “Dr. Fung,” “Yarko the Great,” “Rex Dexters of Mars,” “The Golden Knight,” “Tex Maxon,” and “Spark Stevens,” all features being polled by FFS for reader popularity. These can be serviced in black-and-white, he added. In addition, Mr. Fox said, FFS will release this month to newspapers four daily comic strips, “The Green Mask,” “Spark Stevens,” “The Blue Beetle,” and “D-13 Secret Agent.” These are black-and-white. Of FFS’s 70 comic features, the column was told, more than 50 are available to newspapers.

The FFS chief, who entered the publishing business in 1936 with a monthly, World Astrology, worked in Wall Street for 20 years. Born in Not­tingham, England, he came to this country as a child and has always lived in New York. He attended Brown University for one year.

A human dynamo, he supervises all steps in creation, production, market­ing, and distribution of the FFS con­trolled features. He has a unique ability to create strips and sequences. Directly responsible to him are a staff of editors and 40 artists. From child­hood, he always wanted to be a pub­lisher. It appears that he has arrive
d.

Advertisement, 11/4/39

Advertisement, 11/11/39


Offers Feature to Papers

11/11/39
Fox Feature Syndicate last week announced that “The Blue Beetle” is now available for immediate release in five and six column strips together with a Sunday half-page in four-color and black-and-white. The feature is six months old and is one of FFS’s tested strips. It is now being made available for the first time to newspapers.

Servicing New Feature
11/18/39
Fox Feature Syndicate this week announced they are now distributing on exclusive franchises and territorial rights, the new feature in half-pages for Sunday only of “Samson,” by Alex Boon. The daily feature, now being produced, will be ready in January 1940., in five and six column strips, it was said by FFS.

Adding “Blue Beetle”
11/25/39
The Fox Feature Syndicate has announced that due to requests from various newspapers throughout the United States, it has agreed to include the Blue Beetle Feature in its comic supplement, Comic Pages Weekly.

Advertisement, 12/4/39

Advertisement, 12/30/39

News of Yore: More 1939 Quickies


AP Announces New Panel
E&P, 12/23/39

The AP Feature Service will start off the new year with a new comics panel, “The Doolittles,” by Quin Hall, M. J. Wing, editor, announced this week. It will make its first appearance in more than 90 newspapers on January 1, he said.

According to the Feature Service, “The Doolittles will be a cartoon history of a typical American family. Rather than a collection of nostalgic tintypes from the old family album, the feature will be a candid cartoon folio of the doings of modern middle-class people.”

Hall, creator of the new AP feature, is a native of Lacon, Ill., where, as a youth, he had his first taste of newspapering as junior reporter and typesetter on the local weekly, after high school hours. Following an absence of two years, during which he studied and shoe clerked, he got into the newspaper business again on the Oklahoma City Times. Two years after he joined the paper he was made sports editor.

After further study at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts he joined the art staff of the Chicago Daily News, and thereafter did sports and political cartoons and a wide variety of feature assignments in many parts of the country.

“Tode Tuttle” to Make Debut
E&P, 12/9/39

A new cartoonist, Ralph A. Kemp, Morristown, Ind., free-lance, will be introduced to the national syndicate field Dec. 11 when his daily one-column panel, “Tode Tuttle,” lovable old character who will express the homely humor of the Indiana Hoosiers, will be serviced by the Jones Syndicate, New York, Paul Jones, president, told the column this week.

Promoted only with the past fortnight, Mr. Jones said, the feature already has been bought by the Kansas City Star, Detroit News, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Omaha World-Herald, Philadelphia Record, Indianapolis News and Peoria (Ill.) Star, and others. Kemp, Mr. Jones said, has signed a 10-year contract with the Jones Syndicate.

(see a sample of Tode Tuttle at this blog entry)

Pearson-Allen Comic Strip
E&P, 12/30/39

A new daily comic strip based on the adventures of a Washington correspondent, created by the “Washington Merry-Go-Round” columnists, Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen, was announced this week by United Feature Syndicate. The new feature, bearing the title, “Hap Hazard,” is expected to be released Feb. 1. It will be drawn by Jack Sparling, a former staff cartoonist for the Washington (D. C.) Herald, his first comic strip effort.

UFS describes the new feature as a humorous continuity strip about a fictional young newspaperman amid the glamor and comedy of the nation’s capital, where he meets real, factual individuals whose names make newspaper headlines. It will be the first comic strip to use the actual names and pictures of famous persons as regular characters, according to UFS.

Pearson and Allen conceived the idea for “Hap Hazard” as an outlet for numerous stories they are unable to get into their daily column of Washington news. In addition, they both have had dramatic careers, and long have felt the itch to fictionize some of their own experiences.

(note from Allan – the title of the strip was changed to Hap Hopper before the initial release, which was on January 29, not February 1)

Bell Acquires “Old Bill”
E&P, 12/9/39

Captain Bruce Bairnsfather, creator of the world-famous comic character, “Old Bill,” during the World War, will do a new series of Old Bill and a new character, “Young Bill,” his son, Bell Syndicate announced this week. Today, as in 1914, Bell again has acquired the American syndicate rights for the feature. The feature, for release once a week, will be a three-column panel. The locale for its action will be divided between London, where Old Bill is an Air Raid Patrol warden (he’s now too old to fight) and “somewhere in France,” where Young Bill is with His Majesty’s Expeditionary Forces.

News of Yore: 1939 E&P Short Items


Bell Strip in Sunday Debut
Editor & Publisher, 11/10/39

“Flyin’ Jenny,” created and drawn for Bell Syndicate by Russell Keaton, made its initial appearance as a Sunday half-page in colors on Nov. 5. The comic had been appearing in newspapers as a daily strip since Oct. 2. The feature is a new type of adventure comic, and centers around a pretty girl pilot. The Sunday continuity, Bell announced, will be different from the strip, its theme being Jenny’s adventures in trying to crash the national air races.

Keaton, Jenny’s mentor, has been drawing for newspapers for the last 11 years, and formerly did the art work on the “Skyroads” strip, and the “Buck Rogers” page. He is a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and has been drawing since he was 18. A resident of Corinth, Miss., Keaton spends a great deal of his time around airports and pilots and is himself a student pilot, needing but a few more hours of solo flying for his pilot’s license.

The column is supplied in five or six columns for daily release. To Keaton’s great satisfaction, it is also appearing in his hometown paper, the Corinth Corinthian.

Hayward’s Strip to Continue
Editor & Publisher, 8/5/1939

George F. Kearney, president of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, and manager of the Ledger Syndicate, announced this week that the syndicate’s comic strip, “Somebody’s Stenog,” created by Alfred E. Hayward, who died July 25, would be continued, except for the Sunday page. The strip will be drawn by Sam Nichols, who had been doing the strip for daily publication while the late creator had been ill. Mr. Hayward, however, had continued to do a Sunday page during his illness.

Obituaries – George W. Rehse
E&P 12/9/1939

George W. Rehse, 70, retired newspaper cartoonist, was found shot to death in his automobile Dec. 2 at Burbank, Cal. A gun and note telling of ill health and grief over the death of his wife were besides the body. After working in Minneapolis, he became political cartoonist for the old New York Evening Mail. He later joined the Morning World.
(note from Allan – this obit is the only time I ever found a use of Rehse’s first name – even his reprint book refers to him only by his surname)

Obituaries – Walter C. Hoban
E&P 12/2/39

Walter C. Hoban, 49, creator of “Jerry on the Job'” and widely known cartoonist, died Nov. 22 in New York. He started on the old Philadelphia North American and had his first cartoon printed when the sports desk accepted a baseball game sketch in lieu ‘of a picture. He then joined the New York Journal and then King Features Syndicate. Besides the “Jerry on the Job” cartoon which he created in 1913, Hoban also drew the exploits of “Soldier Speerens U.S.A.,” “Jerry McJunk” and a number of other comic characters. He continued his work during the World War in which he served as a second lieutenant, drawing a weekly cartoon. His wife, two children and four sisters survive.

News of Yore: 1939 Quickies

U.S.M.C. Honors Character
Editor & Publisher, 10/7/39

“Sergeant Stony Craig,” the hard-boiled leatherneck of the comics, has been recognized by the U. S. Marine Corps, and is now the proud possessor of a warrant appointing him an honorary Gunnery Sergeant. The appointment was issued to Frank H. Rentfrow, creator of the character, with Don Dickson, for Bell Syndicate.

Cartoon Feature
Editor & Publisher, 11/25/39
A new feature that is winning its spurs in Colorado is “Colorful Colorado,” a two-column cartoon about things that make Colorado one of the most colorful states in the Union. It was started last June by Ralph C.Taylor, city editor of the Pueblo Star-Journal, and Jolan Truan, artist on the same newspaper. Now many newspapers of the state are using it regularly. “Colorful Colorado” deals with history, scenery, personalities, incidents – anything interesting and factual that has a Colorado angle. Usually three things are featured in each cartoon.

(From Allan – Has anyone seen this feature, and can supply a sample?)

“Sossages” in the News
Editor & Publisher, 11/4/39

J. N. (Ding) Darling, veteran New York Herald-Tribune syndicate cartoonist, is a rugged individualist, and if he wants to pay $1.50 a pound for sausage that’s his inalienable right. So he contends and now the U. S. Department of Agriculture agrees, because Mr. Darling last week had a run-in with the department about the matter and came out a satisfied winner. It happened as follows:

Because of a change in the meat inspection law, the department had revoked the license of Chet Shafer, president of the Big-Link No-Kink Pure Pork Old Fashioned Pennsylvania Dutch-Hickory Smoked Sossage Co., of Three Rivers, Mich. Shafer, correspondent for the Detroit News and other papers, and grand diapason of the Guild of Former Pipe Organ Pumpers, owns a recipe for delicious sausage, which he makes for his friends each winter. He was forbidden to ship his sausage in interstate commerce.

Waymack Also Protested
Deprived of their sausage, an annual winter event, Cartoonist Darling, W. W. Waymack, editor of the editorial page of the Des Moines Register & Tribune, and Paul Hollister, vice-president of R. H. Macy & Co., New York department store, and certain other prominent citizens, protested to the department. Wrote Mr. Darling:

“Wars have been fought and thrones toppled over issues of much less consequence and I am heading an individual rebellion whether anyone joins me or not.”

“After all, this isn’t regulating commerce; it is regimenting art,” Editor Waymack agreed.

The cartoonist wanted to hire Shafer to go into the sausage business, and Mr. Waymack wanted to form a corporation. However, these steps weren’t necessary, for Dr. E. C. Joss, of the department, reconsidered, and notified Shafer he could keep his permit, and all concerned are satisfied.

Obscurity of the Day: The City Fairies

Here’s a sample from one of the many continuing features that ran on the back page of the Minneapolis Journal‘s children’s section. The Journal initially used this section as a substitute for a Sunday comics section, and it was popular enough that it continued running long after a proper Sunday comics section was finally added to the paper in the late oughts.

The City Fairies series ran July 17 through October 2 1910, with dreadful poetry by Constance Wright accompanying delightful drawings by Tom Foley. This series was the only time that Wright contributed to the page, whereas Tom Foley was the artist on many of their series over the years.

I had to replace the original typefont on the page because for some reason they originally printewd it using a really tiny point size, much too small to have any chance of legibility at screen resolution – sorry but my replacement is not all that much better at low resolution.

News of Yore: Chester Gould Bio


Gould Renews with Tribune-News Syndicate
Editor & Publisher, 11/25/39

Chester Gould, creator of the detective feature strip, “Dick Tracy,” the modem Sherlock Holmes, celebrated his eighth
anniversary with the Chicago Tribune – New York News Syndicate by signing a five year renewal contract with the syndicate last week.

Back in 1930, Chet Gould decided there was a field for a hard-hitting, honest police character who “gets his man.” His conception of such a character was the outgrowth of the “roaring twenties,” during which law and order were at a comparatively low ebb.

Now in More Than 160 Papers
Originally planned as “Plain Clothes Tracy,” the strip title was changed to “Dick Tracy” when it was submitted to Capt. Joseph Medill Patterson, publisher, New York News, in 1931. Capt. Patterson, who saw great possibilities in such a strip, liked it and hired Gould. The strip was launched in the Chicago Tribune and New York News as a Sunday color comic on Oct. 4, 1931. A daily continuity was added the following week. Today, “Tracy” appears in more than 160 newspapers in the U. S. and abroad.

Among Tracy’s many devoted followers are the country’s leading law enforcement agents, including J. Edgar Hoover, head of FBI; Col. Homer Garrison, director of the Texas State Police; and Eugene M. McSweeney, commissioner of public safety for Massachusetts and in charge of state police. The strip has been voted “tops” in several newspaper polls and reader interest surveys and has appeared as a movie serial, along with being dramatized over the air. Dick Tracy is also one of the few cartoon strips ever to appear on exhibition in a major art gallery.

Keeping Tracy a human character, true to his environment, is Cartoonist Gould’s chief problem. He has often placed his hero in many a realistic police situation. For this Gould has been severely criticized sometimes by readers who like their heroes meek in muscle but strong in mind. Gould answers his critics by explaining that gun play and brawls are necessary in a police strip. “Few police officers in real life go unarmed or escape physical encounters with criminals in their fight against crime,” said Mr. Gould in a recent interview with Editor & Publisher.

As to any unfavorable influence on the juvenile mind, Mr. Gould recalls that kids played “cops and robbers” long before a police cartoon feature was ever thought of. Primarily a symbol of law and order, Dick Tracy is not the type of officer to play ostrich and at the same time help to solve the crime. Every episode is designed to show how the criminal weaves his own web of defeat and eventually shows himself up to the reader for what he really is – a menace to society.

Stresses Action, Pursuit, Deduction
“I try to keep the detective deduction angle the main theme of underlying interest,” explained Gould. “Pursuit, deduction and action are the three ingredients that I stress in the various episodes dealing with Tracy’s adventures.”
From a technical standpoint, Gould endeavors to show by pictures rather than words what actually happens. By keeping his drawings as purely pictorial as possible, Gould is able to reduce the amount of space ordinarily given over to “balloons” in comicstrips.

He is as enthusiastic as ever about Dick Tracy, although he admits that sometimes he has to scratch around considerably for new ideas. Like so many other Tribune-News syndicate cartoonists, Chet Gould credits Captain Patterson as being the guiding genius behind his work. His encouragement and ideas for new situations have helped him tremendously, Gould stated.

Born in Pawnee, Okla.
As for Dick’s creator – Chester Gould was bom and schooled in Pawnee, Okla. While attending high school, he took a correspondence course in cartooning and later landed a berth on the old Tulsa Democrat. He quit that job a few months later and spent the next two years at Oklahoma A. & M. College. In 1921, Chet returned to art, becoming sports cartoonist for the Oklahoma City Daily Oklahoman. Another young cartoonist on the same paper at that time was George Clark, creator of “The Neighbors” and “The Ripples.” Neither dreamed they would be working for the same syndicate 18 years later.

Gould’s next move was to Chicago. After graduating from Northwestern University in 1923, he enrolled for night courses at the Chicago Art Institute. He worked for the Chicago Evening American prior to conceiving his idea for drawing Dick Tracy.

He is married and lives with his family on a farm near Woodstock, Ill. His hobby is criminology. Most of his spare time is spent with Chicago police, touring the FBI offices in Washington, D. C., studying crime detection at Northwestern’s crime laboratory, or visiting mid-western penitentiaries.

News of Yore: Thornton Burgess Bio

While Thornton Burgess was never directly involved in newspaper comic strips, his most famous creation, Peter Rabbit, was a long-running comic strip. His own fame came from writing newspaper text stories about his woodland characters. These daily newspaper columns were illustrated by Harrison Cady, who was also responsible for drawing the Sunday strip version until 1948.


Nature Stories Won Fame and Fortune for Thornton Burgess

Creator of Peter Rabbit and Farmer Brown’s Boy Has Entertained Millions of Children … Writing Career Covers 27 Years

By Marlen E. Pew, Jr.
Editor & Publisher, 12/2/1939

The newspaper business has a way of producing specialists, those experts on politics, medicine, science, music and the arts, but among all of them there is none more valuable than the champion of entertaining children. Perhaps the greatest journalistic exponent of this specialty is Thornton Waldo Burgess whose daily writings appear in more than 40 newspapers through the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate. When he finishes his 10,000th story, he says, he will retire.

For the last 27 years he has been pounding out dramatized facts of nature for the enjoyment and education of children. In all he has written 8,725 stories for his newspapers and has had 80 books published which together have sold more than 5,000,000 copies.

Makes Home in Springfield, Mass.
Needless to say his prolific production has brought him fame and fortune. He is unparalleled as a writer of nature stories for children. Yet, Thornton Burgess is a quiet and unpretentious man, living comfortably in a modest, typically New England home in the park section of Springfield, Mass.

Thornton Burgess was born in the little Cape Cod town of Sandwich, in Barn Stable county, Mass., on Jan. 14, 1874. He was still a baby in his mother’s arms when his father died. Consequently, when he was old enough he had to go to work. Because he could not afford to join in with the other boys at their games, he spent what little idle time he had walking through the woods and fields. He became so fascinated by nature that he decided to make it his life’s study. On Dec. 1, 1895, he heard that the Phelps Publishing Company in Springfield needed an office boy and he took the job. In the 12 years that followed, he worked hard and made rapid progress. He learned how to write and how to edit copy. He finally became an editor of Good Housekeeping Magazine. Meanwhile, he had not given up his interest in nature, but continued it with ever increasing eagerness.

Eventually the inevitable happened; he merged his two strongest interests and he was successful almost overnight.

Told Stories to Son
Like so many things which prove to be the most important, the writing of nature stories just came to Burgess naturally, unconsciously, like flying to a bird. He had married in 1905 and was the father of a son. In the evenings he held his son on his lap and told him of the fascinations and mysteries of nature. When the boy went to Chicago to visit his grandmother, each night after work Burgess would sit down and write one of these stories to be mailed to his child. All the stories were based on “what Old Mother West Wind had told him.”Fortunately, the boy’s mother kept the stories and later returned them in a batch to Mr. Burgess.

One day he showed them to a friend in the advertising business who read them with great interest and asked if he could borrow them for a few days. In less than a week, Mr. Burgess received a letter from Little, Brown & Co., publishers, asking for all the stories he had written on nature, with a view toward making them into a book.

With a feeling of skepticism, he mailed the 14 stories he had written. These, too, were accepted and the publisher asked for two more to complete the volume. “I went up to my room,” he recalls, “and wrote the remaining stories that evening and sent them off. I felt as though I owned the world.”

The book, “Old Mother West Wind,” hit the bookstores in 1910 and was an immediate success. The publisher clamored for material for another book. But Mr. Burgess’ answer was, “I am sorry, but I have written myself out. I have not another nature story in me.” But somehow the ideas which Mr. Burgess thought he had exhausted continued to shape themselves and before long, less than a year, parents were scrambling for a copy of “Mother West Wind’s Children.” The ideas have continued to come so fast that his publishers have been printing his books at the rate of more than two a year.

In 1912, an important event for the future of the young writer happened. He lost his job through the sale of Good Housekeeping. Since that day he has devoted himself to his nature stories and has never worked for anyone but Thornton Waldo Burgess.

Competes with Own Early Work
However, as a business man, Mr. Burgess is and never has been an Andrew Carnegie. Just after he found himself without a job, he went to New York where he signed a contract with the now defunct American Newspaper Syndicate, an organization then owned by New York Globe, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Bulletin, Kansas City
Star and Chicago Daily News. When he affixed his name to the document, he failed to notice the omission of one word and, consequently, for the last 20 years he has been his own strongest competitor. He says that when he signed the contract he thought he was giving the syndicate the right only to first prints of his writings. The word “first,” however, did not appear in the agreement. He did not discover the omission until he left that service to become associated with the Herald Tribune Syndicate in 1919. Since that time, he says, some newspapers have been buying stories which he wrote when he first was syndicated.

Can’t Compete with Self
“Those early stories are still being printed in some newspapers, he says, “and at a rate so low that I cannot even compete with myself. At one time my stories were appearing in more than 80 newspapers but because of my rivalry with myself, that list has been reduced to 40 papers.” He said that the Springfield Republican.and the Montreal 5tar have been printing his stories (the currently written ones) for 20 years.

Since signing with the Herald Tribune syndicate he has turned out stories at the rate of from none to 12 a day, according to his frame of mind. He has never rewritten a story in his life, he says, nor has he failed to complete one.

“Some have taken longer than others, that is true, “he says, “but they all are finished. I never labor on a story. If the idea doesn’t come, then I forget the whole thing. I try something else, anything else, and presently I will return to a half-written story, run it back into the typewriter and finish it in a jiffy.”

Stories Built Around Facts
But there is far more to the method of Mr. Burgess’ writing, which has singled him out of the thousands who have tried to write similar stories, far more than the intangible genius of the man. He has a basic policy, one which holds true to everything he has written.

“Each story I write,” he says, “is built around a fact. There are stories on the appearance of animals and on their habits. I also draw on the mystery of animal life, a mystery which we will probably never penetrate. When I write a story about the white tail on a rabbit, it is more or less meaningless to little children. But when I say that Peter Rabbit has a white patch on his trousers, then they remember.” Simple, certainly, but educational too.

It is Mr. Burgess’ particular ability, his thought and simple kindness which have made him the nature champion he is. It was this combination of ideals which caused Dr. William T. Homaday, director of the New York Zoological Society, to say, “Any man who can find his way into the hearts of a million children is a genius. If he carries a message of truth he is a benefactor. Thornton W. Burgess is both.”

Through his writings, Mr. Burgess has become an expert in the study of zoology. He has learned the color of a herring’s eyes. He has learned that deer eat trout, and thousands of other facts which have ‘built up his knowledge of his subject. As a boy he wanted to be a naturalist. Today he is vice-president of the Massachusetts A.S.P.C.A., vice-president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and a trustee of the Boston Society of Natural History. Through his Green Meadows Club, which was built up through his newspaper stories, he has established bird sanctuaries covering more than 8,000,000 acres. He is recognized throughout the entire zoological profession as a writer of fact.

As a boy he wanted to go to college. Today he holds a degree of doctor of literature from Northeastern University. But all these honors have come to Mr. Burgess as he worked over his daily stories. He wanted them, true, but he did not consciously pursue them. They came to him as pleasant surprises. There has always been, in addition to his respect for fact, one motivating power behind his writing, one which more than any other took him over the top. It has been his love for children. Everything he has written, he says, has been directed toward their pleasure.

Most of his mail is from youngsters. Many of the letters are simple and immature, but they tell a child’s story and Mr. Burgess reads them with keen interest. Most of them are addressed to him in care of the syndicate or the particular paper in which his stories are read, but many others to “Peter Rabbit’s Godfather, U. S. A.,” or to “Farmer Brown’s Boy, Green Meadow.” His telephone rings on an average of six times a day with calls for help for a sick animal. He answers them all.

Last week in the middle of the night, he was aroused by an excited man who wanted to know how to remove a skunk from his cellar. The next day a woman called to find out what she should do to cure her parrot of a cold. Mr. Burgess does not have to advertise; he tells people that he will help just by the way he writes.

His whole philosophy on writing can be summed up in one simple thought:
“I write for the education and entertainment of young people; tragedy comes soon enough into the life of a child.” With such an ideal, Thornton Waldo Burgess was not made to fail.

Obscurity of the Day: Wisewinkers

The Boston Globe maintained a mostly homegrown Sunday comic section well into the teens, and one strip, Billy The Boy Artist, ran until the 1950s. Today’s obscurity, Wisewinkers, wasn’t quite that long-lived, but it did manage a very respectable run from July 9 1905 to April 6 1911. The creator, James J. Maguinnis, patterned his strip pretty closely on Buster Brown, complete to the long soliloquy in the final panel. The ever-naughty child, however, didn’t have a dog – he had a talking horse named Wisewinkers. The horse even got top billing over the ersatz Buster.

Maguinnis did a slew of features for the Globe over the decade of the oughts, plus one short-lived strip that ran in the Philadelphia Press. What he did before or after is unknown to me, except that I have a dim recollection that he did some work for one or more of the big humor magazines in the 1890s. Perhaps someone more attuned to the Puck-Judge-Life triumvirate can set me straight.

Stripper’s Guide Bookshelf: Algrove Publishing


One of the best reprint projects you’re ever likely to see is also one of the hardest to buy. Algrove Publishing, apparently based out of Canada, has produced a wonderful series of books reprinting the classic panel cartoons of Out Our Way and Our Boarding House. Due, I assume, to the unlicensed status of the reprint project, they’ve been keeping a very low profile.

There is only one book of Our Boarding House available, a complete reprinting of the year 1927. Out Our Way, though, is available in a series of 12 volumes. There is one thick sampler volume and 11 smaller volumes that reprint favorite J.R. Williams series titles; six of the classic machine shop Bull of the Woods series, plus one U.S. Cavalry book and a series of four featuring cowboy subjects.

The quality of the reproduction is uniformly excellent. The source material is obviously scanned tearsheets, but the material has been so expertly and thoroughly restored that you could be fooled into thinking that original proof sheets were used. And, of course, I shouldn’t need to tell anyone here that Gene Ahern and J.R. Williams’ work is well worth your time. Personally I’m more of a Major Hoople fan, but the style and wit of J.R. Williams, especially in his lovingly written Bull of the Woods cartoons, is classic stuff.


As I said, these reprint books are obviously unlicensed by NEA. There is no acknowledgement of the syndicate in the books, and the copyrights have all been removed from the strips. It’s really a wonder that these volumes haven’t already fallen victim to a United Media lawsuit, so if you want these books you might want to do it quickly. I can find only one source for the books online, at a hardware supplier called Lee Valley Tools. Here’s a link directly to the books, since they can be a challenge to find even once you’re on the site. I placed an order for the complete set and the books arrived at my door within a few days, so I’d classify the company as eminently safe to order from.

I’m a bit conflicted over recommending books that attempt to skirt the copyright laws. I think that the syndicates have every right to get a cut of the profits from reprint projects like this one. However, given that NEA hasn’t licensed these popular features for reprinting in over 50 years, I’m going to take a wild guess that the syndicate is being unreasonable in their license fees. I’m going to hope that the folks at Algrove Publishing have at least tried in good faith to strike a deal with NEA, and were rebuffed or simply couldn’t afford to do things above board. I’ve certainly heard plenty of horror stories from publishers whose jaws dropped at the ridiculous fees that syndicates sometimes quote for material that will only sell to a small group of fans.