News of Yore 1952: Catching Up with the Hillbilly Slugger

Ike Ready to Play Ball— ‘Ozark Ike,’ That Is
By Erwin Knoll (E&P, 4/19/52)

“Play ball!” was the cry across the country this week, and among the bleacher idols getting back to work was the re­doubtable Ike McBatt, better known to his many fans as “Ozark Ike.”

It’s been a long winter for Mr. McBatt, as it must be to any star ballplayer. H e dabbled in football and basketball, of course, and found time for an occasional romantic interlude with his perennial sweetheart, Dinah Fatfield. But his first love is the leather apple, and he and his fans must have been glad to see an­other baseball season launched.

Mr. McBatt, of course, is the creation of Ray Gotto, and the hero of the first successful base­ball comic strip (the only base­ball strip around now too, we think.) His often startling feats of athletic prowess are followed by readers of about 250 news­papers.

Mr. Gotto, who started “Ozark Ike” for King Features Syndi­cate over six years ago, is making noises like a major-league mana­ger these days, predicting a big season for his star. He is also burying himself again in baseball record books and regulations, looking for those improbable but never impossible “fluke plays” that keep “Ozark Ike” readers guessing from day to day and
game to game.

“The accent in ‘Ozark Ike’,” Mr. Gotto says, “is not on what happens but on how it happens. Readers know that the hero will win all or most of the games. It’s important to keep their attention focused on how he does it.”

Mr. Gotto grew up in Nash­ville, Tenn., and claims to have played ball on every sandlot in that city. His weight—only 145— kept him out of professional base­ball and he turned to his second love, cartooning. Though his for­mal art education consisted only of a correspondence course and some night classes at Nashville’s Advertising Art School, he landed a job on the Nashville Banner’s art staff after a brief free-lance stint. Here he did sports and edi­torial cartoons and advertising layouts.

In the early ’40s Mr. Gotto decided to try his hand at a comic strip, and started working out a story line. “I assumed that there would probably be an increase in sports interest after the war,” he says. “There usually is. Anyhow, sports was the only thing I knew very much about. I only went through high school in Nashville, and that by the hardest.” “Ozark Ike” was just beginning to take shape when the Navy drafted the cartoonist in 1943.

While doing animations for the Naval Photographic Science Lab­oratory in Washington, Mr. Gotto found time to draw the first few sequences of “Ozark Ike.” Shortly before the war’s end he took them to King Features in New York. Syndicate editors liked the strip, but doubted whether a baseball story would appeal to female readers. A spot survey of secre­taries and stenographers in the KFS offices proved that it would, and when the late Damon Runyon said he liked “Ike,” the deal was clinched.

In the strip’s early months, much emphasis was placed on the hillbilly setting and a desperate feud between the Fatfields and the McBatts. Since then, however, and especially since a Sunday page was introduced in 1947, most of the action has revolved around sports and especially baseball.

Mr. Gotto, by the way, un­hesitatingly picks Cleveland and Brooklyn for this year’s major league pennants. We suppose he’s entitled to his opinion, but…

[Note: Ray correctly picked Brooklyn, but they met the Yankees in the World Series, not Cleveland]

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Jim Ivey’s new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from 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 or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Herriman Saturday

Sunday, June 23 1907 — A portrait of Henry Berry, manager of the San Francisco Seals is featured on the front page of the Sunday sports section. The drawing is huge, over half a page.

Sunday, June 23 1907 — Herriman creates Bugs Bunny, and here you thought he was created by those no-talent animator folks at Warner Brothers.

Ad Strips : Billy Poster

Here’s a sampling of ads from a campaign for Gravely’s Chewing Plug Tobacco. Gravely’s doesn’t seem to have been a particularly big name in the tobacco biz, so it’s quite impressive that they coughed up the dough to get the services of the great Edward Kemble. Kemble seems to have dashed off the art for these ads pretty quickly, either that or he was intentionally trying to create a stiff, old-fashioned look to the drawings. Kemble’s drawings were usually highly expressive so these cartoons are anything but typical of his delightful style.

These samples were submitted by Cole Johnson, for which I offer a tuneful ringing of the spittoon. Unfortunately the samples Cole submitted got filed away somewhere and I can’t find them to give the dating. I’m pretty sure these were from 1918 or 1919.

News of Yore 1949: Inky Introduces Garish Funnies

Phila. Inquirer Introduces ‘Rotocomics’

(E&P, 3/19/49)

PHILADELPHIA — Roto comics will make their initial appearance in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday, March 20. The supplement is the first product of the Inquirer’s new, huge rotogravure building.

The St. Louis (Mo.) Post-Dispatch has been printing comics in colorgravure more than a year.

The Inquirer, however, not only is making use of a process which gives vivid reproductions of the artist’s work, but has also registered with the U. S. Patent Office the word, “Rotocomics.” Inquirer management hit upon the use of the word as a trademark several years ago but kept it secret until needed.

Bold and attractive display, in hobo-style lettering, is given to the word Rotocomics. Name of paper, date, etc. are in secondary position.

The addition of Rotocomics brings the number of rotogravure sections in the Sunday Inquirer to six. The others are Today, Everybody’s Weekly, Parade, Books and Gold Seal Novel. The news and classified sections are the only sections of the Sunday Inquirer printed in black and white letterpress.

News of Yore 1975: American History Strip Debuts

Bicentennial Stories Featured
(E&P, 2/1/1975)

Richard Lynn of Lagro, Indiana has begun self-syndication of a Bicentennial story strip which will run in five-week sequences until July 4, 1976.

The current story in the strip under the general title “The Sons of Liberty” is that of John Peter Zenger, whose trial was a landmark in establishment of freedom of the press. The Zenger story ends just before Washington’s birthday when Lynn will depict early events in Washington’s military career. Other sequences dramatize historical events in the lives of the Founding Fathers. After the highlight date of July 4, 1976 Lynn plans to turn the strip to other historical areas.

The author-cartoonist, who is syndicating the strip through his own firm Richard Lynn Enterprises (Mail Trace Road in Lagro) decided he wanted to be a newspaper cartoonist at the age of six when he started drawing his own version of “Dick Tracy” with pencil and crayons on ruled paper. When he was nine, he got a letter from Tracy’s creator, Chester Gould, who explained to the young artist that cartoonists use black India ink. With that technical information, Lynn went to the drawing board and won two cartoon prizes in an Open Road for Boys contest. He has been an advertising agency art director and editorial cartoonist for the Marion (Md.) Chronicle-Tribune and the Wabash (Md.) Plain Dealer.

[Some vital statistics on The Sons of Liberty: it ran from January 6 1975 to July 4 1976. The final episode was a Sunday page, the only Sunday in the series.]

Obscurity of the Day: Cat-o’-Nine-Lives

The Brooklyn Eagle maintained a really good locally produced children’s section from the oughts right up into the 1930s. In addition to the mainstay of Buttons and Fatty (which we’ll cover one of these days) they frequently had one or two additional color strips in the section. In the 1920s many of these were produced by the team of writer Jane Corby and cartoonist Phila Webb.

I know nothing about these two ladies, but I’ve always visualized them as two happy old spinsters. I imagine them living together in a picturesque old brownstone in Brooklyn, telling stories to the neighborhood children on the front stoop in the afternoons.

Cat-o’-Nine-Lives was a nine part closed-end series that features the death of a kitten as the denouement of each episode. How, um, precious. This particular series was only credited to Phila Webb, but I suspect that Jane Corby did the writing. It ran from February 24 to April 20 1924.

Behind the Scenes with Cole Johnson

Cole Johnson sends in a group of neat items; first we have a 1914 parody version of the New York Evening Globe. This item was produced for a party thrown at Claridge’s Hotel for the staff of the Globe. Several of the Globe’s cartoonists contributed cartoons poking fun at various members of the staff. We have, in order of appearance, Pop Momand, creator of Keeping Up With The Joneses; Percy Crosby of future Skippy fame, a fabulous Robert Ripley caricature of the sports editor, perhaps even the editor who recognized the genius of Ripley’s one-shot Believe It or Not cartoon in 1918 and encouraged him to turn it into a series. Finally we have two whimsical cartoons by a fellow I didn’t even know was at the Globe, H.T. Webster. Apparently he spent a short interlude there in between stints at his long-time home at the New York Tribune.

In addition Cole sent this photo of a bunch of sots on their way to getting rip-roaring drunk. But these aren’t just any old juicers.

Standing, from left: Jack Callahan (Freddie the Sheik), unknown, Peck (possibly George Peck, creator of Kayo Kid Klinch)

Sitting: unknown, Bud Counihan (Little Napoleon, Betty Boop), Bonnell (?), unknown (but looks to me like it might be Robert Ripley, though perhaps only because he’s on my mind because of the Globule), Jack Farr (Bringing Up Bill).

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

Jim Ivey’s new book, Graphic Shorthand, is available from 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 or direct from Jim Ivey for $20 postpaid. When ordered from Ivey direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Herriman Saturday

Saturday, June 22 1907 — The accompanying article explains this lovely cartoon pretty well, so here ’tis:

Australian Has Sports Guessing
Maintains his Reputation as Clever Boxer and Hard Hitter in Training
by C. E. Van Loan

Tommy Burns has fallen heir to Jim Jeffries’ old training quarters at Harbin Springs. He succeeds to the trails through the brush, the mountain friends and the bear cub, now grown to gigantic proportions. The next thing we know, Tommy will be wearing Jeff’s old coonskin cap and toting a 7-foot rifle.

Burns is due for a little trail breaking through unexplored territory. This man Squires is certainly a thick patch in the tall weeds and no hunter has ever come out on the far side with a perfect line on the unexplored belt. Thomas is to turn the trick on the 4th of July — a Canuck and an Australian fighting for the championship of the United States, which means the wide world.

Squires has them all guessing. Nearly all the men who have seen him at work say that he is a demon at infighting and that he shifts and hits with lightning-like speed and force enough to stop a bullock.

Now, it is a fact that not one man in ten is competent to judge a man by his work in training quarters. Some fighters show up like champions in their daily stunts. The knock out their sparring partners, box like past masters of the art before a select audience and give great exhibitions of footwork with the rope. When they get into the ring they forget all about the clever part of it, push their jaws into a few hard ones and hit the floor for the long sleep.

Again there are fighters who never show up well when at work. Bat Nelson is one of them. He is a slovenly worker: he boxes without a bit of skill, and his work with the bag is very much to the sandpaper, yet see what the little Dane had done in three years. The slouchy, careless fellows in the quarters are sometimes real devils in the ring, and you never can tell.

Bill Squires works well, spars well, eats well and sleeps well. He says he will have no difficulty in giving Mr. Burns the time of his life at their little party on the afternoon of the 4th.

In the meantime Tommy is hitting Jeff’s old trails, teasing Jeff’s tame bear, eating at the table which Jeff used and trying to soak up some of the local color. He says he will wade through this mysterious foreigner with a searchlight.

Well, we shall see. And while we are hoping let us hope that it will be a fast light with a knockout on the end of it. This will give us some kind of a champion at any rate.

Saturday, June 22 1907 — Herriman in years to come will do a lot of illustrations like the one above. It was pretty common in big city papers to single out a humorous news story every day and have the resident cartoonist provide an accompanying illustration. Below is the article, an excruciatingly inept attempt at humor, that goes along with the cartoon. One quick bit of explanation: a ‘black hand’ letter was an extortion letter from the Mafia. The letters were warnings of dire consequences that would ensue should the receiver not pony up what the mob wanted; the letters were named for the traditional ‘signature’, a drawing of a black hand.

John S. Cravens, Threatened By Letter, Startled
When Arrested for Speeding Auto

Chug-chug-chug! (Noise made by banker John S. Cravens in vain attempt to escape in automobile from persecution of “Black Hand.”)

Chig-chig-chig! (Noise made by “Black Hand,” rapidly approaching from rear on a blue motorcycle.)

Honk-honk-honk! (Meaning that banker Cravens has not seen the pursuing “Black Hand,” but imagines that he is in the rear and wants to catch up.)

Suddenly, from out the dust at Pasadena Avenue and Avenue 64 the pursuing “Black Hand” appears to the startled Craven. Then the siren attached to Mr. Cravens’ machine begins to blow and the horn continues, but in a higher key, to honk.

“Chiger-er-er”! Faster and faster appears the “Black Hand”. Suddenly, without warning, almost, Mr. Cravens, in the tonneau of his car, feels a touch upon his shoulder. He looks backward and downward, then jumps forward and upward. For there, upon his coat sleeve lies an immense hand, gloved in black from finger-tip to elbow. At that instant the chauffeur cuts his engine and the machine grinds to a stop. Then another “Black Hand” appears.

The explanation is simple. Mr. Cravens was anxious to get to town yesterday morning and his machine came down from Pasadena at a great rate. Motorcycle policemen Humphrey and Triplett were lying in wait for scorchers. They wear huge black gauntlets. Mr. Cravens’ rapid motion aroused their interest and they followed. Fifteen, twenty-five, thirty-five miles, the speedometers showed. They then decided that the law was broken and went after their man. In the meantime Mr. Cravens was thinking hard about the threatening “black hand” letter which he had received and when the policemen finally did get sufficient speed out of their machines to run down the fleeing auto, and Mr. Cravens saw the black-gloved hand by itself, he received a shock much greater than the one he experienced an hour later when he was told to hand the clerk of the court $15 and go his way.