Obscurity of the Day: Private Will B. Wright

Private Will B. Wright was a rather undistinguished ‘me-too’ feature, one of dozens of strips and panels about military life that were created during World War II. The panel was a real latecomer, starting on December 18 1944, a scant six months away from the end of the war. No matter, though, because Private Wright was apparently in the same camp as Beetle Bailey would later inhabit — in the middle of a war he never left his base.

When the end of the war came, creator Joe Certa did his darndest to keep the panel going. Private Wright was mustered out, went home to mama and got a job. What worked for some other military strips didn’t keep this strip out of the cancellation crosshairs, though. The latest known appearance of the daily panel was in September 1945.

Certa tried to sell his syndicate, McClure, on the idea of a Sunday page version of the feature. He produced at least six samples (all hand-colored as the example above) but as far as I’ve been able to determine the idea met with no interest.

Certa went on to uncredited work on the Joe Palooka strip in the 1950s, and did get a byline on the short-lived Straight Arrow strip. He also did a lot of work in the comic book industry.

News of Yore 1949: Mandrake Art a Family Affair

Mandrake and Narda Look Like Creators

by Ogden J. Rochelle (E&P, 1/22/49)

Cartoonists often draw heroes (i.e. principal characters) that resemble themselves.

This statement is trite, with varying degrees of accuracy, but it is doubly true in the case of “Mandrake the Magician,” drawn for King Features Syndicate by Phil Davis.

Not only can Davis put on silk topper and cloak and pass for Mandrake, but Mrs. Davis can slip into one of the fashionable frocks of Narda, the heroine, and Mandrake fans would see the resemblance.

Mrs. Davis, as a matter of fact, often draws Narda. An artist in her own right, and a fashion illustrator for a St. Louis department store until early in War II, Martha Davis got in the habit of drawing Narda—and sometimes the entire strip — when her husband was working with the Curtiss-Wright Corp., illustrating Air Force manuals.

“Without her help,” says Davis, “Mandrake probably would have folded.”

Mrs. Davis enjoyed her work on the strip so much she stayed on after the War. Now the couple produce it as a joint effort, but Phil usually does Mandrake and Martha usually does Narda. They work in a studio in downtown St. Louis, move out into the Ozarks in the Summer.

The strip was hatched when Lee Falk, a St. Louis advertising agency executive, asked Davis to draw a dozen panels on a speculative basis. Davis agreed and in 1934 Falk took the idea to New York and sold it. Falk has continued to supply the continuity. Artist and continuity writer are no longer geographically close. Falk, now a New Yorker, spends his summers in Massachusetts, where he is co-owner of Cambridge Summer Theater.

Mandrake is another strip with double-appeal—to the men for adventure action, and to the women because of the accurate modishness of Narda’s wardrobe.

Davis denies any resemblance, especially Mandrake’s lust for strenuous exercise.

“When I get the desire to exercise,” he says, “I just lie down for awhile until it passes.”

Obscurity of the Day: For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow

Here’s one that came and went pretty quick. C.H. Wellington, who was a one-man cartooning factory back in those days, did For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow for Hearst’s New York Evening Journal from May 31 to June 18 1910.

It’s a bit surprising (to me anyway) that this is the only continuing comic strip ever to bear this exact title — seemingly a natural since everyone knows the traditional song, and it’s a perfect name for a strip about a good-time Charlie, a harried husband, or an overly accommodating nebbish (as in Wellington’s strip). There is one other strip that uses a variation on the title, but I’ll keep that one under my hat for another day.

Obscurity of the Day: Little Orvy

After over a quarter century of service on the Buck Rogers strip, the stormy relationship between artist Rick Yager and syndicate chief Robert Dille exploded in 1958. When the smoke cleared Yager was off the strip and Dille was happy to see him go. Yager vowed to create a rival sci-fi strip that would zap Buck Rogers off the comics page.

But Yager’s dreams of revenge went unfulfilled. His next comic strip, syndicated by the Chicago Sun-Times Field Enterprises syndicate, was about a bespectacled little boy named Orvy and his daydreams. While Orvy did indeed occasionally fantasize about the future, most of his daydreams were of a more prosaic variety. The strip was firmly in the comedy vein and actually succeeded at that rather well. Considering that Yager’s previous comic strip experience was with the always earnest and serious Buck Rogers, whose only comedy was unintentional, Little Orvy was quite surprisingly good. Little Orvy was a Sunday only strip, and each of his fantasies usually played out over the space of 2-4 pages. To my eyes, Orvy’s humor owed something to the hip, inventive stuff that was on display in the pages of Mad magazine.

What might have held the strip back from success was the fussiness of Yager’s art. The breezy writing was confounded by an art style that looked like it would better match a serious strip. Since Orvy often fantasized about historical subjects, I can imagine that kids might have thought the strip was supposed to be educational and avoided it like the plague, not realizing that under that facade lurked a pretty funny strip.

Little Orvy ran from January 3 1960 to January 21 1962 in a very short list of papers.

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

Wednesday, July 31 1907 — Two boxers, both characterized as over-the-hill in the Examiner, clash in a 20 round bout in San Francisco this evening. The paper declares that the loser will surely retire. Well, Battling Nelson lost the bout but would go on in the prizefighting dodge for another thirteen years or so! Jimmy Britt, too, would keep on slugging, though only for a paltry three more years.

Friday, August 2 1907 — Battling Nelson is eulogized in this Herriman cartoon, consigned to the sepulcher of the boxing has-beens.

Saturday, August 3 1907 — Negro boxer Joe Gans arrives in town to a huge and enthusiastic crowd of well-wishers, the vast majority of whom are black. Sportswriter C.E. Van Loan thinks this is just hilarious and takes the opportunity to write an editorial just dripping with light-hearted fun-loving racism. If Roget’s has a need to beef up their list of synonyms for the race they need not look any further — Van Loan covers all the bases and comes up with a few probably never before heard.

Johnson Roasts McGee

Today Cole Johnson gets the bully pulpit to talk about old time super-collector Ernie McGee. If Cole is less than charitable, the important thing to keep in mind is that I didn’t say it! In truth, I’m sure I speak for both myself and Cole when I say that although McGee was definitely a quirky fellow, well, isn’t anyone who hoards old newspapers like we do? Huzzahs to Ernie for being the great individualist that he was! Okay, take it away Cole …

Back in the 50’s and 60’s, Ernie McGee was was considered the go-to guy as far as comic strip history was concerned, primarily because of the size of his collection. As a largely unresearched wilderness, anything McGee said was held in high regard. A couple instances where McGee was a fibber: He told people he was contributing to Philadelphia syndicates and especially the World Color Printing company, circa World War I. Gordon Campbell made a print for me of a 1915 Slim Jim episode, where, sho’ nuff’, there was McGee’s signature. It wasn’t too much later, that I picked up another 1915 Slim Jim section in the flesh, again, signed by Ernie — in ball-point pen!

Another little monkey wrench he tossed, appearing in a few out-dated references, was a mysterious early strip called Hard-Head Harry, cited as if it had some vague importance. When? Where? What? Having come into possession of some of McGee’s stuff, it turns out to be something that appeared in a newsletter for paperboys, circa 1930! (“Harry” is a careless dolt who provides a negative example on his paper route! ) McGee’s basic cartooning career was apparently a vaudeville lightning sketch artist. He really was a poor cartoonist, as shown by these two blotters he did in 1928 and ’29, for his agent. By the mid-30’s, he was doing his chalk-talk act for a night club in New Jersey.

Maybe other comic-section collectors have encountered this strange, cryptic writing. This is Ernie McGee, who must have blown out several cartons of #2 pencils scribbling obvious, unnecessary annotations on his collection.

(On a Happy Hooligan, “By F.Opper”, on a Slim Jim, “World Color Printing Co.”) Once I saw a very rare 1902 Morgen Journal section, on which he decided to translate every word balloon back into English–IN PEN!

A fellow I knew once visited him in the late 60’s. He had moved his collection from Philadelphia to a tumbledown structure in a scary part of Gloucester, N.J. McGee was alone now, drinking too much, with not much more than bound volumes in the place. He had a bunch of chairs set up to a lectern, where he stood in a shabby bathrobe and pretended to deliver a talk on comics to his single member audience. His favorite strips were Slim Jim and Marriner’s strips. Here’s a tracing-paper drawing he did in the 1950’s.

And here’s a few shots from a photo-essay article about Ernie McGee that was printed in the Cincinnati Enquirer on October 20, 1957.

E-Mailing the Stripper

I love to hear from you folks! Although I encourage you to post your questions and comments publicly by clicking on the “Post a Comment” option that follows each post on this blog, if there’s something you’d rather discuss privately you are welcome to email me at stripper@rtsco.com. To ensure that I get your email and respond, please follow these suggestions:

1. Make Yourself Heard Over The Spam
I receive hundreds of spam emails every day so I’m pretty ruthless about deleting emails that appear to be junk. To optimize your chances of not getting tossed into the trash please include a subject line that will catch my eye. Ideal way to do that is to start your subject line with “Stripper’s Guide”. I can pretty much guarantee that if your subject line is blank, or something like “Question” or “Hi Stripper” or the like that your email will end up in the virtual circular file.

2. If You Don’t Get a Response, Check Your Spam Folder
I generally respond to my email, assuming there’s some pertinent question I can answer or to tell you “I dunno” or to thank you for submitted information. Even if I can’t answer your question or otherwise don’t really have much to say in response to your email, I will likely write back to acknowledge your message. This can take awhile these days; I seem to get farther behind the faster I peddle, if you know what I mean. If you haven’t heard from me after, say, a couple weeks, you can assume I did not get your email. Send it again or post it as a comment on the blog. And don’t forget to check your spam folder; my response may be lurking in there.

3. Questions I Can’t, or Won’t, Answer
I get some questions that are beyond my ability or desire to help. Here are some basic categories:

a) I can detect a kid looking for me to write their class paper from a mile away. Not my job, sport.

b) The question that goes something like, “My mom used to have a {insert feature name} strip up on the fridge. The gag was something like {insert vague description}. Can you get me a copy of that strip?” The answer is no. Even if I could figure it out there would be a lot of work involved and you’re momentary nirvana of nostalgic joy is insufficient payment for my trouble. If you’re really serious about finding that long-lost memento, get on newspaperarchive.com and start searching for yourself.

c) Questions that require expertise on comic books, animation and other cartooning genres. You’ll find experts on those other genres lurking about the web, but I’m not the guy to ask.

d) If you have some treasure and want to know how much it’s worth don’t bother asking me because you won’t get an answer. There are very few things in this world that are so unique and rare that you can’t get a good idea of their value by checking auction results for similar items on eBay and other sales sites on the web. If, on the other hand, you need a collection appraised for insurance or estate purposes I’ll be glad to quote you a fee for that service, but keep in mind that I’m an expert on newspaper comics, not a licensed appraiser. The two are most definitely not the same thing. While I will be more accurate than 99.9% of all licensed appraisers (who know next to nothing about newspaper comics), my opinion may not be of any interest to your insurance company or lawyer.

4. Show and Tell
If you are hoping to have me ID something, please send a good sharp scan of the item in question. Don’t bother sending shadowy, blurry, out of focus pictures. If the item is signed, a close-up of the signature is a great bonus. A picture of the reverse of the item can often be surprisingly informative as well. If you are sending pictures that you’d like me to feature on the blog please send minimum 150 dpi scans, and preferably 300 dpi.

5. If You Want To Sell Me Something, Quote a Price
I’m always interested in buying newspaper strips and related ephemera, but don’t think you’ll con me into doing a free appraisal (see #3d) by asking me to make an offer. It took me awhile to figure out this little scam. Someone writes me asking for an offer on their item, I make one, get no response, and then lo and behold it shows up on eBay, often quoting everything I said about the item and setting my offer as the minimum bid. No more. If you want to sell me something you’ll have to quote a price, otherwise no go.

6. A Thank You Is Appreciated
Email has bred a lot of bad manners, and I admit I’m an occasional offender, too. But if I answer a question for you, a simple “thank you” is always appreciated.

Obscurity of the Day: The Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl

As promised yesterday, here’s a very interesting obscurity. So interesting that Cole Johnson and I both had the idea to scan some in at the same time. As I was putting a couple into the queue Cole sent me a third, plus a photo of the ‘writer’ and subject of the strip. Since Cole is the film historian, let’s hear what he has to say about The Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl:

The singer Helen Kane was a briefly popular entertainment oddity in the late 20’s. She made a few Paramount film appearances at the time, and the animators at Max Fleischer’s cartoon studio adapted her persona into the Betty Boop character. Since Fleischer’s films were also released by Paramount, it may have seemed initially as good, solid cross-promotion. Unfortunately, Kane’s career ran out of steam very soon, her last film being a 1931 short subject. However, “Betty Boop” took off, quickly eclipsing her inspiration’s career. Helen Kane felt reparations were in order for purloining her mojo, and sued the Fleischer studios in April, 1934. Somehow the judge in the case couldn’t see how anybody could see Helen in Betty, (Maybe the only one in all christendom), and Fleischer and Paramount won the case. They even thought it a suitable publicity event for a jokey segment in the Paramount newsreel!

The Betty Boop comic strip started in July, 1934, for Hearst’s King Features Syndicate. Behold this item, “The Original Boop-Boop-a-Doop Girl by Helen Kane”, by Ving Fuller, from the August 12, 1934 issue of Hearst’s N.Y. Mirror. (The only one I have-can you supply the dates on this?) Why was this out-and-out rip-off of the Betty Boop strip that Hearst also ran? Did this run in any other papers? This is a classic example of a pre-fab promo strip. Really too little too late for the sadly stalled Helen Kane. (Hmmm-Just this one example seems more fun than the dismal stiff that Counihan and Seeger put out.)

The New York Mirror (and only the Mirror) ran this strip from August 5 to October 21 1934. According to one historian, this strip was running while Hearst waited to get the rights to the real Betty Boop. Well, obviously t’ain’t so because Hearst started running the daily version of the Betty Boop strip a month before the debut of this competing version. In fact both strips ran in Hearst’s New York papers — the ‘real’ one in the Journal, the fake one in the Mirror. Really kind of fitting that the sleazy tabloid got the knock-off, don’t you think?

The strips shown above are the first, second and last episodes of the strip. As you can see the early ones were drawn by the always goofy and delightful Ving Fuller, but later on they got the janitors and office boys to produce the thing.

Obscurity of the Day: Out of the Inkwell

The New York Hearst papers became quite the hotbed of Fleischer Studio activity in 1934. At the same time the New York Journal began running the Betty Boop Sunday comic strip they also started this considerably more obscure Fleischer product, Out of the Inkwell. Since the sample of this rare strip came from Cole Johnson, and he knows his animation history about a hundred times better than me, let’s hear his take:

Here’s an example of an oddity. Out Of The Inkwell is based on Max Fleischer’s brilliant silent animated series of the same name. In each episode of the animated series, the character of Koko the clown would emerge from an inkwell, in effect a cartoon character playing the part of a cartoon character. Koko usually enjoyed tormenting Fleischer himself and causing all manner of chaos, superimposed on live-action “real world” footage. Each film’s coda had Koko being brought back into the inkwell, of his own accord or otherwise. The last of these cartoons was released in 1929, but Koko appeared in some of the studio’s cartoons from 1931-34, usually with Betty Boop. Apparently, with the introduction of the Betty Boop strip, they felt it the right time to launch a second effort. Both the Koko and the Betty strips were drawn in a corner of the Fleischer studios in mid-town Manhattan. They were drawn by down-on-his-fortunes, alcoholic cartoonist Bud Counihan, and written by the teen-aged future comic book artist and animator Hal Seeger (perhaps best known for the “Milton the Monster” cartoons). This is from the N. Y. Journal Saturday comic section, Dec. 8, 1934. I don’t know if it appeared anywhere else, or how long it lasted-probably not long! Can you fill in the dates, Allan?

You bet, Cole, and thanks! Out of the Inkwell ran in the Journal, and almost certainly no other papers, from November 25 to December 15 1934, a grand total of just four episodes. I’m pretty sure about that crack about no other papers because I don’t believe Hearst had any of his other papers outside NYC try out the tabloid comics section experiment until well into 1935 (or am I wrong?). By the way, if you want to read more about that tabloid experiment be sure to pick up the current issue of Hogan’s Alley and read Bill Blackbeard’s article.

And if you think this is a real oddball, tune in tomorrow for another strip with a decidedly bizarre Fleischer Studios connection.