News of Yore: Marketing Blitz of a Self-Syndicator

Barnstorming Cartoonist Marsh Takes to the Road
By Erwin Knoll, 1952

“Would that more cartoonists might go barnstorming,” writes Charles B. DePuy, managing edi­tor of the Centerville (Iowa) Daily lowegian and Citizen, and reports that a visit from Norman Marsh, creator of “Dan’l Hale,” “gave zip to local as well as area circulation.”

Centerville was one of over 30 cities scheduled to be visited this fall by the cartoonist, who syn­dicates his own comic strip from 1234 W. Lake St., Chicago. A per­sonal visit to towns where “Dan’l Hale” appears is now a regular biennial feature of Mr. Marsh’s service. Last year, on his first coast-to-coast tour, the cartoonist covered 21 cities and visited students and teachers at 167 schools.

Schools are an important part of Mr. Marsh’s barnstorming tours, for “Dan’l Hale” is used in many history classrooms. Dan’l is a frontier scout in the early years of America’s development, and his adventures bring him into contact with many historical per­sonages and events. Details of history are carefully checked for accuracy, and authenticity has never been questioned in the strip’s five-year life, the cartoonist proudly reports.

“Kids don’t read nowadays, what with radio and television,” Mr. Marsh recently told one of his subscribing newspapers, “but they will read comics. And I can give them American history in the way they like it.”

Mr. Marsh started “Dannie Hale”—the first name was changed to “Dan’l” earlier this year—for King Features Syndi­cate in 1947. In January, 1951, he took over his own syndication, and is doing “very well, thank you.” No cancellations in over a year. The cartoonist’s own life has been at least as adventurous as his hero’s. He served in the Marine Corps in both world wars, enlist­ing at 16 in the first and com­manding a line company in the second. In the rest of his 51 years he has worked as a prizefight manager, sailor, pilot, speculator and detec­tive. Previous comic strips include “Dan Dunn” and “Hunter Keene.”

Obscurity of the Day: Animal Antics

Here’s another of those St. Louis Globe-Democrat strips done by one-man Sunday section filler DeVoss Driscoll. Here we get Driscoll at his best, drawing animals in a humorous but realistic manner. He really was an unsung master of this little cartooning niche.

Animal Antics ran in the G-D from November 22 1903 to April 24 1904.

PS – Stripper’s Guide News — My crappy scanner, the ultra-cheapo Mustek A3, that I bought out of desperation when my wonderful Microtek Scanmaker unexpectedly bit the dust, has finally annoyed me to the point where I went out and found a used high-end scanner. This one is an Epson Expression 1640XL, which originally sold for over 2K, but I picked it up from NASA surplus for $400. If all goes well and I can get it to work, maybe, just maybe, you’ll be seeing some better quality color Sunday scans from me.

The Mustek, for the price, is a fine scanner, but it really hates scanning old toned newspapers, and its extremely limited focal length turns strips into a blur if the paper isn’t absolutely, perfectly flat … and its practically impossible to get a Sunday page to lay that flat.

News of Yore: New TV-Based Strip Announced

KFS Offers “I Love Lucy” As Gag-a-Day Comic Strip
By Erwin Knoll, 1952

A gag-a-day comic strip based on the top-rating “I Love Lucy” television show is offered for De­cember 8 release by King Fea­tures Syndicate.

Though main characters in the strip—bandleader Ricky Ricardo, his flighty wife, Lucy, and, in a few months, a new baby—will be patterned after the television pro­gram, the strip will not adhere rigidly to the TV show pattern. Original subsidiary characters will be introduced, and the daily gag form will be used in place of the TV situation humor formula. Like the television program, however, the strip is designed to appeal to all age groups.

According to the CBS television network, the two-year old show is now carried on 64 stations-a “full network”-and has a higher Nielsen rating than any other program now broadcast. A full-scale merchandising campaign featuring adult products was launched recently.

Artist on the new strip is Bob Oksner, whose work has appeared in slick magazines and comic books and who once drew a news­paper strip called “Cairo Jones.” Lawrence Nadel, who has written and edited comic books and has written for radio and television will be the author of the daily “I Love Lucy” strips.

The strip is available in four and five-column width, six re­leases weekly.

Herriman Saturday

The result of our Herriman contest is a victory for Alfredo Castelli with a mere two dailies series. Alfredo, being in Italia I’ll have to hit you up for shipping if you want the book, get with me privately please. As to the identity of the seven or more additional daily series by Herriman, well, guess you’ll just have to stay tuned to the ol’ Stripper’s Guide blog.

Today’s Herrimans are from October 5 – 7 1906. We have another well-drawn editorial cartoon, GH commemorating fight manager Willus (Willie) Britt opening up his Dreamland Boxing Club, a huge 7-column cartoon about some upcoming prize-fights, and a delightful piece on the new automobile fad (wonder whatever happened to those things).

I tried a different procedure on the scanning and touch-up of the last two cartoons. I’d be interested in your feedback as to whether you think they’re better, worse, or about the same as what has been on the blog before.

Miscellany Day

Today I’m going to be all over the map. Let’s start with …

The Herriman Daily Contest
I have received a paltry two entries in the “Name the Herriman Dailies” contest announced last Friday on this blog post, and ending today. One entrant named Home Sweet Home, while Alfredo Castelli, in his public post, also correctly recollected the blog post on The Amours of Marie Ann McGee, so his total is two.

I know of a minimum of 9 Herriman daily-style series that predate Proones, so there’s ample opportunity to improve on that score. I know that at least two more of those series have been documented ‘publicly’, in other words, not through my as yet unpublished primary research.

Stan Goldberg’s Mendy
I’m looking for information on the strip Mendy, which, according to Alter Ego magazine, ran as a weekly newspaper comic strip circa 1997-2002 in various Jewish newspapers. I knew there was a comic book series but was not aware of a newspaper release. Any info, especially names of papers and running dates, would be most gratefully appreciated.

Park Row
I just recently learned about a feature film titled Park Row that was released in 1952. The story was apparently about New York newspapers in the 1880s-90s, a subject of considerable fascination to me. I checked around and could find no evidence of it being on video. Can any of our movie mavens tell me where I might obtain a copy?

Barnacle Press
If you haven’t visited Barnacle Press lately it’s definitely time to take a look. The good folks in charge have done a major redesign on the site are now adding lots more of those great early comic strips.

New York Post Dailies
Comics historian Cole Johnson awhile back sent me some samples of dailies that were running in the New York Post in 2000:

They are all copyrighted by Comicfix. I found their website without any trouble but can’t make head or tail over whether they are still in the syndication business or just doing web-based material now. I’ve asked Jeffrey Lindenblatt, expert on all things New York, to see if he can find running dates for this material in the Post, but I’m hoping some readers know more about the background on these obscurities. How long were they syndicated? Was it only to the Post? What other papers ran it? What exactly is Comicfix and how did/do they do business? Who were the uncredited artists and writers on these features? Were there any other newspaper features from Comicfix?

Obscurity of the Day: Dragnet

Dragnet was a no-nonsense police procedural drama that was phenomenally popular, originally as a radio show, then as one of television’s earliest hits.

In the comic strip world TV tie-ins were initially quite popular (in addition to Dragnet, there were strip adaptations of I Love Lucy, Howdy Doody, Bat Masterson and many others). Few TV-based strips did well, though, including today’s obscurity. The reason in hindsight seems obvious — why bother reading a strip, necessarily a watered-down and simplified version of the television show, when I can tune in the program and see the real thing.

Dragnet was no exception to the rule, though it has to be admitted that the strip did a great job of replicating the feel of the TV show. The dialog rang true, and the monotone ‘voice-overs’, a trademark of the show, were translated to the strip as typewritten captions, a motif that worked perfectly. The art, always slick, cold and flat, was perfectly in tune as well.

The strip proper started on June 23 1952, though many papers ran a one week preview before that. Art was initially by Joe Sheiber. He only lasted until September 20. The strip was uncredited and unsigned until March 9 1953, when Bill Ziegler owned up to it (judging from art style, I think he was doing it during the unsigned period as well). Ziegler lasted until January 9 1954. The last artist on the strip was Mel Keefer, who took it to a final bow on May 21 1955. The feature was distributed by the LA Mirror Syndicate.

The writing on the strip was uncredited, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Jack Webb, star, producer, director and owner of the TV show, was at the helm, perhaps editing television scripter James Moser’s plots. Webb was notorious for zealously controlling every aspect of his baby. Ron Goulart in The Funnies says that Webb’s mother-hen rule extended to the artists on the strip – the frequent artist changes were due to Jack Webb’s search for an artist “who could draw him as good looking as he thought he ought to be.”

PS – sorry about the crummy condition of the samples – the paper I took these from (the Albany Times-Union) seems to have never bothered to clean its presses.

PPS – Alberto Becattini tells me that Mel Keefer attributed the strip writing to Jack Robinson, a writer on the TV series. Thanks Alberto!

New of Yore: Herblock Book Released

Cartoonists Can’t Write? Look at Herblock Book
By Erwin Knoll (E&P, 1952)

There is a firm conviction in the minds of syndicate editors — and newspaper editors, too — that cartoonists are illiterate. Cartoonists can’t spell, let alone write, the say­ing goes.

A man who came up with proof to the contrary this week is Her­bert Block, better known as Herblock, whose daily editorial car­toons are distributed to about 150 newspapers in the U. S. and Canada by the Post-Hall Syndicate.

“The Herblock Book,” published by Beacon Press, contains reprints of about 400 editorial cartoons, surrounded on all sides by text. The text is humorous, informative .and occasionally devastating. Mr. Block tells how many of the re­produced cartoons were drawn, and why a cartoonist’s lot is not a happy one.

We collared Mr. Block for a few minutes the other day between radio and television appearances. First thing we asked was how a syndicated cartoonist, whose work appears in both pro-Stevenson and pro-Eisenhower newspapers, can possibly handle the campaign.

“No problem,” said Mr. Block. About half of his cartoons these days are devoted to the campaign, he said, and he doesn’t stick to innocuous drawings of donkeys and elephants running down the track to the finish line.

“I take a little whack at each side, when necessary,” he ex­plained, “I try to figure out what’s right and wrong on each issue, and pitch my cartoons according­ly.” Editors don’t mind. They print the cartoons, occasionally right next to editorials taking the op­posite point of view. Mr. Block regards this as a tribute to the job the press is doing to keep the vot­ers informed.

Next question we asked was how he felt about being described as a “liberal cartoonist.” Not too good, he said. “Liberal is a word that has been much abused and kicked around. Nobody really knows just what it means any more. I just want to say the right thing and say it effectively,” Mr. Block said effec­tively and dashed for a door.

Mr. Block works in the offices of the Washington (D. C.) Post, and his cartoon is selected from roughs each day by Post Editor Herbert Elliston. In the final chap­ter of “The Herblock Book” the cartoonist tells how that daily car­toon gets drawn. The account, he admits, “contains a couple of slight exaggerations.”

Some excerpts:
“It is at this point that the door opens slightly and a visitor asks if you are busy. You say. Yes, you are, and he says ‘Ha! It looks like it!’ and sits down for a long chat. He is followed by three others who open with the same conversational gambit.

“As the visitors leave, the phone rings and a voice asks if you ever use suggestions for cartoons. You say no, you are sorry but you don’t. And the voice says, ‘Okay, here it is: You draw a picture of a rat, see? And label it Stalin. Get it? A rat, see?’ When you have thanked him and hung up, you find that a small delegation of ladies has come in to ask you if you can’t do something about our feathered friends who, it seems, are multiplying faster than the number of statues on which they can perch.

“As the deadline draws nearer, the word gets out that you are pressed for time and the phone rings more frequently.

“You are now ready to start on those sketches. That is, just as soon as you have talked with this visitor who says that his friends tell him he looks like Herbert Hoover, and would you like him to pose for you? For a slight extra fee he will also bring in a live elephant that he has tethered to the outer doorknob.”

Herblock, now 43, started on this hectic pace in 1929, when he left college to join the Chicago Daily News as editorial cartoon­ist.

Obscurity of the Day: Do You Know Why

Historians really love to dump on Thornton Fisher as one of the worst hacks of the comic strip world. I’m afraid I don’t quite see eye to eye with them, though. Fisher certainly didn’t create any enduring classic strips, and his gags were undeniably lowbrow, meant only to be momentary diversions for working class folk. And as long as you compare his work with that of others with the same philosophy I think he holds his own perfectly well.

Fisher flitted from syndicate to syndicate but had his best and most productive years with the New York World circa 1913-19. He has a laundry list of credits, not a single one of which wouldn’t qualify as an obscurity today.

Do You Know Why is one of his earliest efforts; it ran from October 4 1913 to June 25 1914. There were no continuing characters, just a little self-contained 4-6 act play acting out the answer to Fisher’s title questions. Some strips were real klunkers (I think the top strip here qualifies), while others were perceptive and very witty (I love the second strip, which is timeless — substitute Barack Obama or Mitt Romney as the subject).

This strip is also a bit of a historical head-scratcher. Fisher was definitely doing work for the New York World at this time, and I’ve indexed his output from the pages of both their morning and evening editions. This long-running strip, however, never appeared there. I found the indexed run in the Boston Post. The Post bought most of their dailies from the World, yet this strip doesn’t carry the typical Press Publishing copyright. So is it a World strip that was produced only for syndication (not something the World was doing at the time as far as I know), or was Fisher also working for the Post, or a syndicate, or self-syndicating, while at the World?

Soon as I figure this one out I’ll get to work on that whole world peace issue.

Stripper’s Guide Bookshelf: Connie – The Strange Death of Dolan

Connie – The Strange Death of Dolan & Other Stories
No publisher listed
No price listed
48 pages, wraps

If you spend time on eBay you’ve seen this book for sale, being touted as a special very limited edition. If you order it you’ll find out that the seller, and presumably publisher, is Tony Raiola of Pacific Comics Club.

The book sounds pretty good in the somewhat vague eBay description. You get 5 supposedly complete daily stories of the Frank Godwin classic Connie. That might lead you to believe that you’re getting a pretty substantial book, but that’s not really the case. The stories are as follows:

The Strange Death of Dolan (1938) – a 23 strip vignette from 1938. The story is indeed complete in 23 strips, but because it’s so short there’s no meat to the story, a badly plotted bank robbery whodunit. Reproduction on this one is pretty bad — all the zipatone backgrounds have been turned to mud and the strips are very dark.

Perfect Alibi (1929) – an even shorter tale told in just 12 strips. Another bank robbery mystery, the solution to which is obvious by the third strip. The reproduction on this one is outstanding.

The last three stories in the volume were previously printed in the Hyperion Connie book, and the strips here are obviously scanned from that source, with the attendant third generation quality having been lowered a bit:

The Assistant Gardener (1929) – six strips that provide only the start of a story. A footnote on the contents page says that “this story ends in a strange way but it seems there are no dailies between this episode and the following one”. A look at the dates on the strips, which granted are tiny and hard to read, would have dispelled that notion. This story is incomplete, exactly as it was in the Hyperion book.

Mystery and Adventure (1929) -30 strips that tell a pretty good story until the end, which is abrupt. Not the publisher’s fault on this story though, blame Godwin.

The Bid To Ten Million (1929-30) – 24 strip story, Connie comes up smelling like roses by pure luck when a rival secretary schemes to get her fired.

If you already have the Hyperion book, all you’re actually getting here for a starting bid of $19.95 on eBay is just 35 strips, 23 of which are quite badly reproduced. I guess if you’re desperate for a Connie fix you might consider it, otherwise it’s a pretty raw deal. Even if you don’t have the Hyperion book you’re still not exactly getting a bargain since the Hyperion book can still be had on the rare book market for $50-60 and it reprints a heck of a lot more of the strip.