Obscurity of the Day: Roger Bean

An unusual success story, Roger Bean was one of the earliest family strips. Charles ‘Chic’ Jackson created the comic strip for the Indianapolis Star where it first appeared on April 22 1913. Unlike most comic strips of the day which depended on gimmickry of one sort or another, the Bean family were ‘jest plain folks’ and Jackson poked fun at their foibles and frailties with no mercy. He also introduced continuities, a rarity at that time.

Hoosiers like their homegrown cartoonists and quickly became devoted to the strip. Roger Bean became a must-read in Indianapolis, and Jackson began syndicating the strip in the Midwest through the Laura Leonard Newspaper Service. Just two years into the run Jackson further consolidated his franchise by adding reprint books to his repertoire. Legend has it that a brand of coffee was also named after the strip, but I’ve been keeping my eye peeled for proof of that for years and have never found any evidence.

Roger Bean‘s franchise took a serious hit in the 20s when other family strips became popular. The Nebbs, Doing of the Duffs and others all now plowed the same ground. The Gumps, particularly, seems to have been directly modeled on Roger Bean. Jackson’s creation couldn’t keep up with these more professionally produced strips. Jackson was, to be kind, a folk cartoonist. His drawings, full of tortured anatomy, inexpressive faces and blank backgrounds, were decidedly unpleasant to view, and amazingly, never improved one iota throughout the long run of the strip. His fascination with dialect made many of his strips an arduous exercise in deciphering the characters’ speech.

Jackson tried to improve his fortunes in 1925 when he signed on with the George Matthew Adams Service newspaper syndicate. The national syndication did help, miraculously getting his strip into some big city papers including the Chicago Daily News. But Roger Bean remained a limited success, still mostly appearing in Indiana and other Midwest papers.

Roger Bean ended after a twenty year run on September 23 1933, and Chic Jackson passed away the next year.

A couple of addendums on Roger Bean; first, it has been said on Lambiek.net that the family members aged in this strip, an innovation usually attributed to Frank King’s Gasoline Alley. Although I can’t claim to have read a huge number of Roger Bean strips I haven’t seen any indication that the characters aged. Perhaps the children grew up some over the years. Suffice to say I’m skeptical of the claim.

Second, regarding the racist stereotyping of the black character Jose as an utterly brainless idiot — in my (admittedly limited) reading of the strip I’ve come to the conclusion that Jackson may well have cleverly been subverting the stereotype and that Jose is anything but dumb. I think she’s actually brilliantly clever — she plays the part of a fool to drive the Beans crazy and to ensure that she’s never depended on or given any responsibilities. Am I giving Jackson too much credit?

Obscurity of the Day: Lost Leaves of History

Here’s a cute idea that never caught on — Lost Leaves of History offered a satirical view of famous events of the past. The feature was attractively drawn by a fellow named P.E. Sumner whose bio, other than this short-lived feature, is a mystery to me.

The feature was distributed by Hearst’s Premier Syndicate. Premier seemed to always get stuck with the lower end material; pretty much the only feature they had of any popularity was Dumb Dora, and it got bounced over to a higher-profile Hearst syndicate as soon as it showed signs of catching on.

Lost Leaves of History ran from March 1 to October 2 1926 in a very short list of papers. Thanks to Jeffrey Lindenblatt for the running dates from the Long Island Star, and Cole Johnson for these samples from the microfilm of the Philadelphia Sun.

Obscurity of the Day: Bonehead Barry

One of the very first strips about a baseball player, Bonehead Barry was an occasional feature by Thomas “TAD” Dorgan that he penned in lieu of his daily sports editorial and other topical humor cartoons. Filled with his trademark street lingo and an intimate knowledge of baseball strategy, the strip was a delight for fans of the game. The painfully dumb but physically talented Barry was the character template on which most later baseball strips would build, including You Know Me Al, Cotton Woods, Ozark Ike and Soapy Waters.

The running dates on this strip (May 13 1909 – March 12 1910) are not at all firm because they are based on appearances in the LA Examiner, not TAD’s home paper in New York, the Evening Journal. I didn’t do the indexing of the New York Hearst papers from this era, the very able Dave Strickler already having completed that task. Strickler’s index doesn’t include Bonehead Barry so either it didn’t appear there or Dave didn’t recognize its occasional appearances as a series — pretty reasonable since it would have appeared on the sports page, not with the Journal’s other comics. Tad was one of those cartoonists who threw an awful lot of spaghetti on the wall to see what would stick and in such situations it’s very tough to do a proper indexing job when working with limited time and a lot of material to get through.

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Jim Ivey’s new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from Lulu.com for $19.95 plus shipping, or you can order direct from Ivey for $25 postpaid. Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. The book is 128 pages, coil-bound. Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

Also still available, Jim Ivey’s career retrospective Cartoons I Liked, available on Lulu.com or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Herriman Saturday

Tuesday, May 28 1907 — As best I can figure out, boxing promoter Jim Coffroth is doing everything possible to reassure the public of a fair fight on July 4 between Tommy Burns and Bill Squires. A recent match in San Francisco had been revealed to be a scam and Frisco politicians were grumbling about making the events illegal there. Apparently Coffroth, trying to give the impression of angelic innocence all around, has vowed not to have a drink until the fight has come off. What that has to do with throwing a fight I have no idea.

Wednesday, May 29 1907 — Slightly over-the-hill fighters Marvin Hart and Mike Schreck are to box at Tonopah Nevada tomorrow, and promoter Jack Curley is billing it as the greatest fight ever staged at that popular venue. The boxing world collectively heaves a yawn over the news.

Obscurity of the Day: Adam and Eve

Hope y’all had a merry Christmas, a happy Hanukkah, a fine Festivus, and today’s entry in the holiday sweepstakes, a joyous Kwanzaa. Not to mention a blissful Boxing Day. Me, I’m still in abject pain from eating waaaay too much smoked turkey and fixins’. I’m in no shape to celebrate anything that doesn’t include a ritual of laying around moaning and clutching a stomach in which I can still discern the shapes of various parts of the holiday meal.

T.S. Allen was one of the most prolific contributors to the Hearst dailies at the turn of the century (the 20th, that is). In addition to his ubiquitous urban kid cartoons he did a number of other series. One of the more memorable was Adam and Eve, a long series of single panel cartoons about a family of antediluvians with the unique pedigree of having previously held a starring role in Genesis.

The series never had a consistent title, so I assigned this as the official one for Stripper’s Guide. Other perfectly reasonable contenders would be Adam’s Family or In The Garden of Eden, both of which occasionally headlined the panels.

The series, which appeared sporadically, began in the New York Evening Journal on August 17 1898 and finally petered out in 1902. Although I indexed the Journal, the microfilm was incomplete and I was unable to assign a definitive end date. The characters also appeared in a Sunday version, and were later revived in another series, but we’ll cover those appearances in separate posts one of these days.

A tip of the hat to Cole Johnson who provided these samples, all from March 1901. The microfilm of the Journal is so awful that I saved no samples, at least none worthy of reproduction here, so these samples scanned from Cole’s cache of San Francisco Examiners are greatly appreciated.

Merry Christmas from Stripper’s Guide

For those of you who didn’t get my snail mail Christmas card, here are the images that adorned this year’s yuletide greetings. The outside is a Percy – Brains He Has Nix strip from Christmas 1911, the inside is Cole Johnson’s delightful work as a counterpoint on the robot theme. I shamelessly stole this image from Cole’s card to me from 2007.