The Great Skyroads/Speed Spaulding Mystery

The aviation strip Skyroads was written by Dick “Buck Rogers” Calkins and drawn by, among others, Zack “Smilin’ Jack” Mosely and Russell “Flyin’ Jenny” Keaton. With plenty of creative talent at the helm it might seem as if this strip couldn’t fail to be a big success. And it was reasonably successful when it first appeared in 1929 as part of the explosion of new adventure strips. However as the 1930s progressed and the market for aviation strips was flooded with the likes of Tailspin Tommy, Flying To Fame and others, Skyroads just couldn’t seem to keep its nose up.

By the mid-30s Skyroads had become a strip that appeared in a piddling number of papers. Yet for reasons unknown the John Dille Syndicate kept the faith with it. In hopes of creating reader loyalty among the kids the syndicate started a club called the Flying Legion which never really took off. In 1936 the syndicate tried the gambit of soliciting the strip under a different name, Speed McCloud, but that too failed to perk up newspaper editors and the new title was scrapped.

Until yesterday I had never seen a single printed example of Skyroads from later than 1935. Yet according to the Editor & Publisher syndicate directories the strip was available from the syndicate as late as 1942, and other comics historians have also cited that year for the end of the strip. Last night fellow researcher Jeffrey Lindenblatt called me with the exciting news that he had located a newspaper, the San Mateo (CA) Times, running the strip in the late 1930s. Eager to see more, the two of us were up late last night looking through the material on What we found there, however, left us mighty confused.

Here’s what we found. As expected, Russell Keaton stopped signing the strip in November 1939. This makes perfect sense as he started Flyin’ Jenny for another syndicate in October. Also much as expected, after a few weeks uncredited, the signature Leon Gordon starts appearing on the strip. This is the pen name that Len Dworkins used, and we knew that he worked on the strip as an assistant starting in June 1938. Unexpectedly the printed credit running over the strip begins to read Zack Russell, a combination of the names of two artists who had already left the strip. We can only guess this is Dille trying to maintain creative continuity. Newspaper editors have a habit of dropping strips when the creators change, so perhaps the name Zack Keaton was put there to mollify editors with itchy trigger fingers.

On 1/8/40 things get odd. The title Skyroads is dropped in mid-story, the strip numbering restarts at #1 (with no story break, mind you) and the new title is The Flying Legion. Hey, that name sounds familiar. I check the E&P listings, and they advertise a strip titled The Flying Legion, by one William Winston, from 1940-42 — a strip that I’ve never before been able to document. Okay, no big deal. So Skyroads changed its name to The Flying Legion. Everything makes sense, right? But the problem is that the E&P directories also advertise Skyroads in those same years. So do we have two strips, or just one strip masquerading under two names?

Now astute students of adventure strips might perk up at that 1/8/40 date. That also happens to be the earliest known date for the start of another Dille strip, Speed Spaulding. Speed Spaulding was a sci-fi strip based loosely (VERY loosely) on the novel When Worlds Collide. Speed Spaulding was a closed-end strip that ran for 384 daily episodes (there was also an ultra-rare Sunday strip). It has its own share of mysteries associated with it, because it was first advertised in E&P in 1938, yet there is no paper known to have started it before 1/8/40 (though several are known to have started it later, an important piece of information that we’ll come back to). The combination of these two events happening on the same date seems too much for coincidence.

Now things get mega-weird. On 4/8/40 The Flying Legion strip has a very definite farewell strip (but it’s supposed to continue two more years!), and in the final panel of the final strip we have one of the characters dreaming of a rocket ship. This is a complete non sequitur in the strip, there’s no explanation at all for it. No, the explanation comes the following Monday when the Times starts running (drum roll please) Speed Spaulding!

So now we’ve got Skyroads/Flying Legion ending on 4/8/40. Yet I have correspondence from Len Dworkins stating that he worked on the strip until June 1940, and I have E&P directories claiming that it was then taken over by this William Winston person for another two years. And we have Speed Spaulding starting three months late, but that’s not too big a surprise — it’s a closed end strip, you start it when you like.

So Jeffrey follows the Speed Spaulding strip to its conclusion. We’ve got our fingers crossed that when that strip ends the paper might just go back to running the Skyroads strip. No such luck, though. Speed Spaulding ends on July 5 1941 and is replaced by yet another Dille strip, Draftie.

Okay, that’s all we learned from the San Mateo Times. It’s a confusing mess, and only made worse by Dille’s listings in the E&P directories. After a lot of head-scratching, though, I’ve come up with a halfway decent guess as to what was going on. Here’s my proposed scenario. I think that Dille got the rights to When Worlds Collide back in 1938, and immediately started advertising a strip adaptation. He expected a torrent of orders, but he got more like a dribble. So he kept advertising it, trying to get enough papers on board to make the project pay. He also started marketing it to papers that were running the practically moribund Skyroads strip, perhaps asking them to trade up from that to Speed Spaulding. Skyroads was in bad shape, about to lose its talented artist, and the handwriting was on the wall that the strip was doomed. If Dille could sell these papers on Speed Spaulding he could let the strip die but could mitigate that loss with a new client for Speed Spaulding.

the 4/8/40 Flying Legion strip – note the last panel

By the end of 1939 he had amassed a barely big enough list of papers that had pledged to buy Speed Spaulding, so he puts it in production. A start date of 1/8/40 is somehow decided on. A lot of the buyers are Skyroads clients — he offers them three options. They can start Speed Spaulding on 1/8/40 and continue Skyroads, rechristened with a new name but continuing the storyline, start Speed Spauding on 1/8 while dropping Skyroads in mid-story (perhaps with a special wrap-up strip that we haven’t seen), or continue running Skyroads until the current storyline wraps up on 4/8/40, and then start Speed Spaulding, also with a special wrap-up strip, the one shown with this post. For papers that didn’t take Speed Spaulding, the Skyroads/Flying Legion strip continues on with a new story as if nothing untoward has happened. By renaming Skyroads on 1/8, he knows he’s stacked the deck in his favor — editors hate name changes even more than they do creator changes — its a great excuse to cut the client list on Skyroads, which he is prepared to kill, and to boost the available slots for Speed Spaulding.

The only thing he didn’t plan on was that he would still be left with a barely profitable client list for Skyroads, and yet, seemingly, he did. So the strip kept on running until 1942. And how he managed to not add clients to an aviation strip after World War II had started is beyond me, but perhaps that William Winston person who took it over was so bad that the remainder of the client list finally deep-sixed it.

This scenario, while perhaps a mite intricate, is the only way I can make sense of everything. But of course I have no proof that any of it is true. What would be an enormous help to prove or disprove all this conjecture is any additional information you might have, especially information about what happened in other papers running Skyroads, The Flying Legion and/or Speed Spaulding. Help!!!

News of Yore: Emidio Angelo Profile

Emily and Mabel to Hunt A Man Six Days a Week
By Joseph W. Dragonetti (E&P 2/18/50)

Philadelphia — Believing the comics were getting too serious, Emidio (Mike) Angelo, a car­toonist for the Philadelphia In­quirer, launched a panel in 1945 about two pleasant maiden ladies who are generally look­ing for a man.

Emily and Mabel haven’t found one. But they’ve suc­ceeded in landing readers. And beginning March 6, the pair who have appeared three times a week in “Funny Angles,” dis­tributed by the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate, will play six-a-week roles and snatch the billing.

The spinsters, depicted with­out harshness or “social sig­nificance,” are protoypes of real people, Mr. Angelo told Editor & Publisher.

Soda Fountain Inspiration

When the cartoonist was struggling to make enough money to go to art school, he once worked at a drugstore soda fountain. Two maiden ladies had charge of the candy counter in the same store. “Years later,” said Mr. An­gelo, “their features and man­nerisms remained in my sub­conscious mind. An artist still gets his best ideas that way. When I first created Emily and Mabel, I could not immediately identify them with the real women who worked in the store when I was a young man.

“But as I developed the panels, I began to realize those two kind souls were really my inspiration. I still stick to a very simple idea—two lovable spinsters who realized late in life that they missed something and are generally looking for a man.”

Mr. Angelo’s own success as a newspaper cartoonist did not come early. Son of an Italian immigrant, he worked his way through several art schools after a few months in the art depart­ment of the old Philadelphia North American in 1918.

His ambition was to become a painter. He won two Cresson scholarships for study in Eu­rope in 1927 and 1928 from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. He became interested in cartooning because he said he “had to eat,” and painting com­missions were slow. When checks for some of his drawings arrived from national publications, he decided to de­vote more time to that art. Still free-lancing, Mr. Angelo started to do some work for Philadel­phia Ledger in 1930, but his real “discovery” as a newspaper car­toonist came with the Inquirer, under the direction of E. B. (Tommy) Thompson, assistant managing editor and feature ed­itor.

During the dark days of war, Mr. Thompson asked Mr. An­gelo to create a general panel which would “give people a laugh.” Mr. Angelo had joined the Inquirer in 1938 and his work included the Uncle Dominick cartoon for John Cummings’ column. Being by nature a man who laughs a lot himself and gets a kick out of bringing a smile to others, Mr. Angelo did not need much prodding from Mr. Thompson to launch his new feature. He started a general panel called, “Funny Angles.” Occa­sionally, the two spinsters would appear, but they were so good, Mr. Thompson said, that it was decided to run Emily and Mabel three times a week.

Mr. Angelo received national recognition after Harry Baker, general manager of the Chicago Sun-Time Syndicate, saw some of his original drawings while visiting Mr. Thompson on some other business. The panel was syndicated.

Gag Man in Library

Mr. Angelo thinks up gags himself but also employs a gag man, Vincent Schiller, an em­ployee of the Inquirer library. Mr. Schiller’s regular job is to clip many newspapers and the situation is ideal for getting background for gags.

Mr. Angelo is proud of the fact that President Truman re­quested an original of one of his cartoons. It was done for “Funny Angles” right after Mr. Truman’s widely-quoted S.O.B. speech. The drawing shows a mother washing her son’s mouth with soap as the father comes home. The gag says: “Ever since you told him he might be President someday, he’s been using that language.”

“It’s a wonderful country,” said Mr. Angelo, “when you can poke good-natured fun at the President and he requests a copy of the drawing to hang in his office.”

Mr. Angelo likes to watch people reading his panels in trolley cars and subways. He says that when they smile over Emily and Mabel he feels good. He maintains a studio in his suburban home as well as shar­ing an office at the Inquirer with Foreign Correspondent Ivan H. Peterman. Mr. Angelo is married and has two daugh­ters, aged 10 and 5. Both, he says, have artistic ability.

Obscurity of the Day: Pauline, Percy and Little Priscilla

Not much to recommend this strip by H.S. Osborn, but it is part of a minor mystery. The strip ran in the Philadelphia Press Sunday section from October 15 1905 to March 4 1906. However, the strip also ran in one of the various versions of the McClure Syndicate Sunday section, as did a number of other Philadelphia Press based strips, indicating that this newspaper seemed to have some sort of agreement with McClure. Or it could be the other way around. Or none of the above.

Weird thing about Pauline, Percy and Little Priscilla is that after it ended in the Press’ Sunday section, it got demoted to running in black and white in occasional weekday editions of the Press. These were formatted in Sunday style but much reduced in size. It was these black and white strips that ran (in color and large size) in the McClure section. This continuation of the strip ended on 9/3/06 or later in the Press, and 8/19/06 in the McClure section.

Okay, we’re not talking Al Capone’s vault here, but it’s the sort of crazy little anomaly that really eats at me because I can’t imagine how I would ever solve the puzzle of what exactly was going on. In the words of a certain spinach-loving sailor, it’s disgustipatin’.

Stripper’s Guide Q & A

Charlie Roberts just sent me a batch of questions, some of which I can answer, some I can’t. So can you help on those I can’t?

Q When did the first Dagwood sandwich appear in Blondie?
Dunno. Anyone?

Q When did Daisy first appear in Blondie?
Dunno. Anyone?

Q When did the Blondie Sunday page start?
A Ooh, one I can answer. Sunday started on 9/21/1930. Daily, by the way, almost certainly started on 9/15/30, not the oft-quoted 9/8/30.

Q I’ve read that Chic Young stopped drawing the strip for a year or so when his son passed away in 1937. Any idea of what time period that was ?
A Wasn’t Jim Raymond handling all the art chores by then? Anyone?

Q When did the “Joe Palooka” daily and Sunday strips start?
A 4/21/1930 and 1/10/32 respectively.

Q Do you have any information on Vin (or Vincent) Sullivan doing cartoons or strips in the Brooklyn Eagle or other Brooklyn newspaper in the late 20’s or early 30’s ?
A Vin Sullivan did have a few things published in the Eagle, little strips on the kiddie page. He did a strip called Jibby Jones that ran VERY sporadically from 1927-29 for that amateur page.

Q Are Fred Harman’s Bronc Peeler originals available?
A I do recall seeing a daily for sale once, so they do exist, but I imagine they’d be pretty pricey. A Sunday with the On The Range topper would, I imagine, be into 5 figures.

News of Yore: Eddie McBride on Syndication

Syndicate Stuff
By Eddie McBride
Cartoonist, Art Manager, N. Y. Herald Tribune Syndicate, Member A.A.C.C. Advisory Board

Reprinted from Cartoons & Movies magazine, May 1925 (p.20-22)

All cartoonists who have passed thru the formative and lean period feel a sense of responsibility to the youngster who would make good, but it is unfortunate that so few of them are ready to take the advice we pass along to them out of the fullness of bitter experience. They would have a fuller appreciation of what we tell them if they would stop to realize that possibly 75,000,000 of the population of the United States decided at some period in life that he or she would be a cartoonist, a very successful cartoonist in fact – and there are less than fifty outstanding cartoonists in the country today. Hardly a day passes that I do not cheerfully make an effort to set seven or eight youngsters on the right road, but very rarely do they heed my advice.

They call at my office in the New York Herald Tribune Syndicate, exhibit their drawings, and, I am sure, many of them go away offended when I tell them very frankly that they lack ability for cartooning.

Sometimes I see the possibility of development in amateur work. When the man with a new idea appears or even a new angle of an old idea, it’s the business of the syndicate manager to gather him into his particular fold and do it as quickly as possible.

Readers of Cartoons magazine are familiar with the recent case of a young man who reached the New York canyons with an idea and a new and fetching technique. The first syndicate office in which he showed his stuff wouldn’t allow him out of the place until he had signed a contract – and a very good one. Any of the live syndicates would have done the identical thing.

A cartoonist’s work must sell itself or it has no market value. This particular young man had the goods. Within forty-eight hours after he signed his contract, the syndicate had sold his stuff to a great New York newspaper, operating a very successful and progressive syndicate of its own.

The point I wish to make is that the market is always open – a generous market, for the goods that sell themselves. Once the strip or the cartoon is launched, it must build up its own audience; if it fails to do that, it is hopeless from the viewpoint of the syndicate.

Strips must make money before we can pay for them. The usual contract system now provides for a guarantee and a 50-50 basis on everything over a certain amount. One organization has inserted a clause in its contract providing for registration, in the name of the syndicate of the strip name in the United States Patent office, the result being rather disastrous to the worker who wishes to withdraw from the employment, as his brain-child continues with his boss.

These things, however, deal more generally with the man who has arrived. To youngsters who have talent, I have only to say: You must work – you must accept council and advice – enrollment in a good school will help. Above all, work in the art department of some newspaper. This is the apprenticeship you must serve, cheerfully and hopefully, if you would succeed. At the start of my own career it took some time to decide whether I should become a jockey, a violinist, a trick bicycle rider or a cartoonist. After winning the cover design prize at school in my native St. Louis for the Louisiana Purchase Essay Book to be exhibited at the 1904 World’s Fair, I decided to study art. At the St. Louis School of Fine Arts, where I studied, I discovered that every member of the class wanted to be a newspaper artist. Acting on this provocation, I quit the class and got a job at $4.00 a week on the St. Louis Republic, taking private instruction from Paul F. Berdanier, the famous St. Louis illustrator, in the evenings.

The Republic job consisted in helping the benday man, filing pictures, making borders, and carrying the photographer’s tripods to the baseball park. (I suppose I lacked the proper experience to carry the cameras.) They were lean days but they meant a lot in making whatever success I have had.

The time came when I began to make one-column sport comics – three columns followed and finally the day arrived when the chief ordered me to make a seven-column sport comic every day.

The national Republican and Democratic Conventions in 1908 and 1912 found me active in the political cartoon field. The “hound pup'” with which I signed my cartoons during the Champ Clark Campaign for the Presidency attained national size as the campaign “Houn’ Dawg.”

My “Col. Bugg” and “Mayor Wise” ran for three years in St. Louis. I came to the New York field with the Evening World in 1913, where I created “You Gotta Do It” and “Putting It Over.” Went to the New York Evening Sun in 1915 as art manager, handling the work of the late Robert Carter, Larry Semon (now of movie fame) and MacGill and his “Hallroom Boys.”

For the past seven years I have been art manager of the New York Tribune Syndicate, headed by Harry Staton and embracing Clare Briggs, C. A. Voight, J. N. Darling, Winsor McCay, Gene Byrnes, C. H. Wellington, Crawford Young, Harrison Cady, Bill Holman and Ted Brown.

The nature of my position has necessitated my keeping in touch with every advance in the fields of engraving, color work, photography and all newspaper reproduction process. I have been helped in keeping the wolf from the door by making most of the sport comics used by A. G. Spalding, the sporting goods man, during the past eight years. My hobbies are music, books, newspapers and airplaning.

(Allan’s note: Eddie’s strips at the NY World were all short-running, the longest lasted just four months. His work at the St. Louis Republic (Colonel Bugg and Mayor Wise) I have not been able to document.)

Obscurity of the Day: Hot-Foot Willie

We’ve already discussed how DeVoss Driscoll produced the St. Louis Globe-Democrat‘s Sunday section practically all by his lonesome; here’s Hot-Foot Willie, which actually started out credited to a fellow named Hopkins, but was taken over by Driscoll in his bid for Sunday section domination. The strip was essentially a copy of a Philadelphia Inquirer strip titled Jimmie the Messenger Boy.

The feature ran from July 10 to September 18 1904, with Driscoll taking over the reins on August 21.

Obscurity of the Day: Tar Pit

Here’s one that might have succeeded if it had more of a chance. Steve Dickenson’s Tar Pit features the gag-a-day adventures of a group of cavemen. The strip started out slow, with more misses than hits in the jokes, but Dickenson improved over time and after a few months the strip really began to click, delivering good gags on more days than not. I’m guessing that the King Features salespeople gave up on the strip after the cold reception that newspaper editors were bound to give the early material.

The strip began (at least in the Milwaukee Journal) on June 14 1993 and ended sometime in 1994. A Sunday was advertised, but I have no samples to prove that it did run. Does anyone have better information to share?

Steve Dickenson fared better with Lola, which began in 1999 and is still running.

EDIT: Have now found a Sunday.

Obscurity of the Day: Cinderella Peggy

Harold MacGill offered Cinderella Peggy through the then new Newspaper Feature Service, which was yet another of the Hearst syndicates. It ran May 24 to November 29 1914.

At this time the NFS Sunday section had a so-so line-up, with That Son-In-Law of Pa’s and Dimples usually getting the covers of the section, with occasional appearances by Louis Wain’s beautifully drawn cat pages, plus obscurities like Cinderella Peggy on the insides.

Cinderella Peggy really wasn’t a bad strip, but MacGill was just using the title as a disguise to once again recycle his Percy and Ferdie characters. As usual, MacGill’s weakness for overlong dialogue was the strip’s problem. The sample strip above, believe it or not, is one where he showed unusual restraint in that department. Perhaps in 1914 the newspaper reading public was more accepting of strips heavy with overstuffed word balloons, but to this reader’s eye it seems like I’m making a long-term commitment when I dive into one of these strips.

Obscurity of the Day: Midge and Madge

I know what you’re thinking … will this guy ever run out of Katzenjammer Kids rip-offs? Well, sure, someday, but you probably shouldn’t hold your breath. Midge and Madge is Sidney Smith’s entry in the Katzie clone derby, and it ran sporadically from February 28 1904 to May 20 1906 in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday section. Sidney injects a half-hearted bit of originality by making the two little hellions female. Ho-hum. Let’s see … something nice to say. Oh, yeah. Pretty funny cow. Yep. Something more interesting tomorrow, I promise.

Obscurity of the Day: Br’er Rabbit

The original Br’er Rabbit comic strip, which featured the characters from Joel Chandler Harris’ Uncle Remus tales, came along near the end of Harris’s life. He died in 1908, and the strip first appeared in newspapers on June 24, 1906. Though we can usually be safe in assuming that famous authors don’t actually write their own strip adaptations, Harris, being a veteran newspaperman, might well have had a direct hand in choosing these particular tales from his existing works, or perhaps even penning new tales for the series. Not being an Uncle Remus fan, I’m in no position to make any pronouncements on the subject.

The strip was distributed by the McClure Syndicate, but it often appeared outside their own preprinted comic sections, meaning it was sold as a standalone feature. Some papers replaced an existing strip from their regular syndicate to fit it into the comics section, others put the feature on the back cover of their Sunday magazine section.

The artwork on the strip was by J.M. Conde, who was already well-known for his delightful illustrations in the original Uncle Remus books. His work on this series was expressive and evocative of the spirit of the tales — obviously he didn’t consider the Sunday comics version of the Uncle Remus tales to be beneath him, as he gave it all he had.

The series ran until October 7, a total of 16 episodes. Each episode had a separate title, but usually Br’er Rabbit, Harris’ most famous character, was highlighted. Some comic strip historians prefer to call the strip Uncle Remus Stories, but I’ve not seen samples where that was used as a running title.

Apparently the strip was well-received because I have found it being reprinted in 1910 and again in 1913. I should say that I’m reasonably certain they’re reprints — I haven’t actually compared the various runs side by side.