Obscurity of the Day: And He Did

And He Did seems like a pretty unassuming bit of fluff, but when viewed in the context of the era in which it ran I think you’ve really got to hand it to the creator for his vision.

The earliest appearance of And He Did I’ve found is in the December 8 1913 issue of the Philadelphia Record. The strip was syndicated by Associated Newspapers, that newspaper co-op that shared material between a half-dozen or so papers. I can’t tell if And He Did was actually a Philadelphia-born strip for sure, but I think it was. The creator, who signed himself only “Hen”, is, I believe, J.C. Henderson. The strip ran until at least October 1917, and I suspect that it ran longer (unfortunately my files of the paper run out at that point, and other Associated clients didn’t run it this long).

So, to paraphrase the elder Bush, what about this vision thing? Well, many of the strips of this era were big unwieldy things, usually overloaded with long speech balloons and gags that practically suffocated under all the trimmings applied by the cartoonists. Just look at yesterday’s obscurity for a typical example of gag bloat.

Henderson used many of the standard gags that you’d see related in 5 or 6 panels with 100 or more words of copy, but he’d do it in just two panels, and the second one was mute except for the title! Henderson’s approach prefigured what many cartoonists wouldn’t figure out until space constraints finally forced them — as Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit.

Obscurity of the Day: Why All Men Are Not Married

Here’s another entry from Charles Wellington, who was filling newsprint at quite a clip at the New York Evening Journal in the late oughts to early teens. This series is about one of the more over-used subjects of the era, the horrors of matrimony. This sort of thing must have been a favorite with the fellows on their way home from work, though, because the evening papers were rife with this sort of wife-bashing.

Interesting to note that this series, which went by the title Why All Men are Not Married in the Journal, was run by the title Gee, Ain’t I Glad I’m Single in the Boston American, whence these examples come by the good graces of Cole Johnson. Perhaps that was an undocumented alternate title (I didn’t do the indexing on that year of the Evening Journal) or perhaps in Boston somebody didn’t like the original title, which is admittedly a bit of an odd phrasing.

In the Evening Journal this series ran June 17 to August 20 1909.

A Cautionary Tale from the Creator of Snapdragon

[This is a letter sent to me by Steve Barr, the creator of Snapdragon, a comic strip that was briefly syndicated in the mid-80s. Here’s the Obscurity of the Day posting for it. Steve had an interesting tale to tell of his experience in syndication, one I thought you might find diverting, or instructive if you’re in a similar situation. Thank you, Steve, for allowing it to run here.]

Since you are a “curator of comics facts”, I thought you might like to know a little bit about what I went through when I created Snapdragon. I will warn you in advance that it’s a bit wordy and lengthy, so if you decide to just skip it and hit the delete button, I won’t be offended:

Now you’ve piqued my curiosity, and I’m going to have to figure out the exact dates that Snapdragon was in the papers. It all happened a long time ago, so it’s kind of lost its importance to me. It was fun while it lasted, but it sure did feel like I had walked under a ladder and broken a mirror towards the end!

The entire experience was rather bizarre, and not like most syndication stories that I’ve heard from other cartoonists. The comics editor I dealt with directly was a gentleman named Bob Ferguson, and I really enjoyed working with him.

It had been my dream to have a syndicated comic strip since I was a little boy. For a couple of years, I bombarded every syndicate I knew of with submissions. When one got rejected, I just came up with another one and sent it in. I did mass mailings, sending each one out to everyone, since I knew there was a long period of time where they were reviewed and competition for syndication was tough.

Eventually, I went from receiving form rejection letters to actually getting hand-written notes from Bob. Then, one day, the phone rang. I had submitted an idea for a strip called “Justin Case”, which was about a lawyer. Bob told me that it was going to the final stage, and that the next day a combined editorial/sales meeting would decide whether to take mine or one by another cartoonist. He said he was pushing hard for mine to be the one they chose.

The next day, I got a call. They had chosen the other strip.

But Bob was really encouraging, and he told me to keep trying … that he could see I had the potential to do a strip for Tribune. Then, he said, “If you can just come up with something that’s completely different from anything else that’s out there, we’ll buy it.”

Easier said than done, but I accepted the challenge. I had noticed that when I doodled for fun, quite often I would draw a little dragon or an aging wizard. Since it was obvious to me that I enjoyed drawing those characters, I figured I should try to put them into a strip, since I would (hopefully) have to draw them for years to come.

Then, as I started working on some rough ideas, I tried to figure out a way to make it different than the standard fare that was in newspapers at the time. The thought occurred to me that since comics are a visual medium, I could make the dragon talk in pictures. That would turn it into a combination of a puzzle and a comic strip. Some days it would just be a normal joke, but whenever the little dragon spoke, the wizard could interpret what he said for the readers at the end, since everyone knows wizards can talk to animals.

As soon as that idea hit me, the ideas just started to flow. Literally in two nights, I drew up two weeks of dailies and two Sunday panels. I was so excited with the concept that I over-nighted it to Tribune the third morning, which was a Friday.

When I got home from the Fedex office, I called Bob (breaking all of the standard rules for submissions!). I told him that I had just sent him an idea that was different from anything else he’d ever seen, and that I was excited about it. Then I explained that since I had established a relationship with him at that point, that I would give Tribune “first look”. But, I wanted an answer quickly. I told him that if I didn’t hear anything positive from them by the following Friday, I was going to mail it out to all of the other syndicates because I was sure someone would buy it.

He laughed and said, “Well, you certainly sound confident. I’ll call you after I get it.”

The next Monday morning, about half an hour after my package arrived at his office, Bob called. He told me NOT to mail it to anyone else, that they were over-nighting a development contract to me!

Everyone involved seemed quite confident that it was going to be a hit. We rushed through the development stage, and then it launched. Unfortunately, a lot happened in the middle of all of those events.

I was later told that just as the launch occurred, the salesperson handling east coast sales had resigned and gone to another syndicate. I do not know if that is true or not, but it certainly seemed to be, since the strip did really well out west and did not do “diddly” east of Colorado.

I was also told that editors were balking at the basic premise of the strip, saying it was too difficult for most readers to grasp. They wanted me to run a disclaimer on the bottom of each daily, explaining the concept over and over to the readers. I refused to do that, for a couple of reasons. One was that I thought it would be insulting to the readers, inferring that they couldn’t comprehend such a simple idea. The other was that it would have taken up too much room in a medium that is constantly shrinking anyway, and has resulted in too many strips having to be just “talking heads”.

Then I was told about the practice of newspapers buying strips but not publishing them. I think one of those was in Orange County, California but at this point in time I’m not sure.

When I originally submitted the strip, I had intended it to be aimed at an adult audience, something that everyone reading the paper could enjoy. But Tribune was looking for a unique “kid’s feature” at the time, and asked me to aim it at a younger audience. I probably should have held my ground on that one, but I caved and said okay.

So, I did always feel like I had “dummied it down” a bit and do regret that. And “US Acres” debuted around the same time. It was also aimed at children. With Jim Davis’ name attached, and a television show built around that strip, mine didn’t stand much of a chance to survive.

It was difficult to do a strip when I also had to work at a full-time job during the day to pay my mortgage and eat. The deadlines were grueling, and even though it was a labor of love, I never felt like I had been given the time I needed to make Snapdragon the great strip that it had the potential to be.

Whatever really went on, I don’t know. But the feature ended up dying an early death, and that was that.

I was worn out by it all at the end, and moved into the field of educational publishing for many years. It was, for some time, quite lucrative and fun. But, these days I have issues with the way the contracts have changed, and how little it now pays.

So I’ve returned to my roots and have begun doing single panel gag cartoons again. I’ve always loved doing them, and it’s how I got my start when I was only in the seventh grade in elementary school! My work now appears in a myriad of “Complete Idiot’s Guides” and other publications.

I may one day take pen in hand and try another shot at syndication, but I’m not sure. For one thing, newspapers are vanishing rapidly these days, and continuing to shrink their use of comics. Age is a factor as well. Most syndicates don’t want to see submissions from a slightly older than middle-aged guy, and I’ve been told that by a few of them (in spite of the fact that historically, some of the finest comics ever created were dreamed up by a cartoonist in their forties or fifties).

In the meantime, my life is quite full and blessed. I live in a remote area of the mountains of North Carolina in a little cabin in the woods. I sell enough of my cartoons to put food on the table, pay the rent and have gas in my truck. I spend a lot of my free time out digging for gems at old abandoned mines, and have a house that looks like a combination of a mineral museum and a library (I have a weakness for old leather-bound books, too).

I’m not sure if the pressure of constant deadlines from syndication would be a good thing now, since I am so content. But….it’s in the blood. I still have the “itch” to do it. I don’t think that will ever go away.

Strip Spotters STILL Wanted!

You guys are doing great on verifying these ‘newish’ strips! Here’s what we have left to find, along with some more titles I added. Still the same rules — I need your verification that these are appearing or have appeared in real U.S. newspapers — online doesn’t count, news stories don’t count. Please tell me the newspaper where you found them, and if you can provide a scan or pic that would be double great.

Back 2 Basics – Matt Zalen (local feature in Schenectady Gazette)
The Barn – Ralph Hagen found!
Biff and Riley – Jeff Payden (local strip in Toledo Free Press)
Cafe con Leche – Charlos Gary
Castronomy – creator unknown
Diss ‘n That – Charlos Gary
Flare – Mark Beachum
Frogtown – Kirk Walters (local strip in Toledo Blade)
Ollie and Quentin – Piers Baker found!
Pressed – Ryan Pagelow (local in Lake County News-Sun?) found!
Rip Haywire – Dan Thompson found!
Thin Lines – Randy Glasbergen (weekly)
W.T. Duck – Aaron Johnson
Your Square Life – Lee Post (local in Anchorage Daily News)

Strip Spotters Wanted!

Here’s a list of comic strips, all presumably still in syndication, that I have not seen running in any paper. As you know, Stripper’s Guide rules say I have to see them running in order to list them in the guide. At this late date, so close to deadline, I’m hoping you folks can help me out. If you’ve seen these running in a U.S. mainstream paper (paper name please) please let me know. If you can provide a photo or scan of the feature in the paper that would do wonders for my comfort level.

Remember that online sightings don’t count, and neither do announcements that a strip is running in a paper. You have to have seen the actual strips with your own peepers. You will be credited with the sighting in the published guide:

Adam’s Apples – Jim Adams (local strip in Portland Oregonian) found!
The Barn – Ralph Hagen
Biff and Riley – Jeff Payden (local strip in Toledo Free Press)
Cafe con Leche – Charlos Gary
Daddy’s Home – Rubino/Markstein found!
Diss ‘n That – Charlos Gary
Free Range – Bill Whitehead found!
Frogtown – Kirk Walters (local strip in Toledo Blade)
Home and Away – Steve Sicula found!
In The Sticks – Nathan Cooper oops – not out yet
Maintaining – Nate Creekmore found!
Pressed – Ryan Pagelow (local in Lake County News-Sun?)
Rip Haywire – Dan Thompson
Scary Gary – Mark Buford found!
Secret Asian Man – Tak Toyoshima found!
Thin Lines – Randy Glasbergen (weekly)
Undertown – Tokyopop (supposedly in Worcester Telegram & Gazette until recently) found!

I’m Back + Help Wanted

Hi folks —
I’m back from our vacation in the enchanted land of Costa Rica. R&R meter not quite pegged on full since I worked a lot on the book while I was there.

I see the Italian squad was pretty dominating at the Super-Quiz; congratulations guys! Did the scarcity of answers indicate that the quiz was too hard? I was afraid that most of the answers were just a Google away, so I guess I’m relieved in that regard.

I was relieved to see that there were only a few questions that generated any controversy. Regarding Echo’s relationship with Tumbleweeds, I’d point out that I phrased the question to indicate that either the staff or distaff might be the pursuer. And as to whether McNaught is funny or not, all I can say is that the principles thought it was pretty cute.

To get back in the swing of things here’s a little something from my archives to lend a little color to the post. An episode of Super Duper about going away for vacation that I meant to run when we were leaving. Oh well…

Now onto the Help Wanted portion of the program. With a deadline staring me in the face, I rather desperately need your help on some issues. In the next few days I’m going to be going back through all the new strip announcements from The Daily Cartoonist to see which I haven’t been able to find in papers. As you know, Stripper’s Guide rules dictate that I have to see the feature running in newsprint before it gets added to the listings. If you can absolutely guarantee me that you’ve seen these features in print I’m going to add them to the listings; I’d prefer if you could scan a sample or two from newsprint but at this late date beggars can’t be choosers, so I’m trusting you guys. You will be credited in the guide listing, so be prepared to suffer brickbats if you’re blowing smoke.

Okay, here’s a few to get us started; more on the way:

Home and Away by Steve Sicula
Daddy’s Home by Rubino/Markstein
The Barn by Ralph Hagen

The Stripper’s Guide Super-Quiz: Week 2 Answers

Monday, Day 6:
1. Betty Boop and Felix.
2. Penny Singleton (sigh) who played Blondie in a long series of films.
3. According to insider lore, Rube Goldberg’s editorial cartoons were ghosted by his assistant.
4. They offered to pay him a little extra to produce Wash Tubbs as a Sunday topper strip to Out Our Way.
5. The founders were V.V. McNitt and Charlie McAdam. Get it?

Tuesday, Day 7:
1. The original title was Mitzi McCoy, then it was Kevin the Bold.
2. Ernie, now known as Piranha Club.
3. Les Turner’s Captain Easy.
4. Puffy the Pig. Don Flowers drew it first, the last to take it on was Mel Graff.
5. The Importance of Mr. Peewee. Demerits if you said Mutt & Jeff or A. Piker Clerk.

Wednesday, Day 8:
1. Eek and Meek.
2. In order — You Know Me Al, Ace Drummond, Hap Hopper, Phyllis and Fang, Scroogie.
3. The writer was Frank Martinek and the strip was Don Winslow.
4. Funnyman, and the character stopped appearing in his own strip.
5. Red Rose Studios has several features, all locally oriented — Texas Lore, Pennsylvania Profiles and Flashbacks would all count. Royal Features was Mike Roy’s syndicate to distribute Hoss Laffs. Corinthian Features was Jim Childress’ syndicate name for his Conchy strip.

Thursday, Day 9:

1. In order, The Katzenjammer Kids, Gasoline Alley, Reg’lar Fellers, Little Jimmy, Radio Patrol.
2. Mutt and Jeff.
3. King News by Moses Koenigsberg.
4. The strip was Cosmic Cow and the show Too Close For Comfort.
5. Clare Briggs – the brand was Briggs, and the motto on each can “When a Feller Needs a Friend”.

Friday, Day 10:
1. In order, Wally Falk, Mell Lazarus, Martin Branner, Stan Lynde, Ed Dodd.
2. The Heart of Juliet Jones.
3. The Chicago Inter-Ocean, the New York Recorder, and Charles Saalburg. By the way, the high-speed caveat is because newspapers prior to this sometimes inserted slick color pages into their papers for song sheets and such. These inserts were not produced on the newspaper presses, though, and the print job might take a week or more to run on a low-speed press.
4. The Boston Herald.
5. Comrade Kitty (and I swear I am not making this up).

The Stripper’s Guide Super-Quiz Day 10

Last day of the super-quiz! How have you done? Here’s a few really murderous ones to finish out. Mega bonus points for correct answers!

1. Cartoonists don’t usually come out of the womb with a syndicate contract in hand. Here are some odd jobs that cartoonists claimed to have before they became successful in the toon profession. Which cartoonist was a bus driver (and proudly proclaimed so on his feature)? Who was a glass blower? Who was half of a husband-and-wife vaudeville dancing team? Who was a reporter for the Wall Street Journal? Who was a Yellowstone Park tour guide?

2. Margaret Mitchell of “Gone With The Wind” fame reportedly considered taking on the writing duties of what new strip of 1953?

3. Which American newspaper is responsible for the very first four-color printing on newsprint using a high speed newspaper press? Which newspaper was second? And which cartoonist was instrumental in inventing the new process?

4. A successful comic strip is bound to inspire imitators. Some take it too far, though. The success of Foxy Grandpa inspired a certain newspaper to bring out an imitation called … Foxy Grandpa. Which newspaper was it that apparently never heard of the concept of plagiarism?

5. Socialism and fashionable clothing don’t seem to mix. But mix they did in a fashion strip that ran in the Daily Worker. What was the title of the strip?

The Stripper’s Guide Super-Quiz Day 9

1. Here are the titles of some Sunday topper strips; name the main strip they were paired with: Jungle Bedtime Stories, That Phoney Nickel, Zoolie, Li’l Ole Orvie, Public Enemies Through The Ages.

2. President Eisenhower had a favorite newspaper strip, one whose fortunes were flagging by the fifties. What strip got a major short in the arm when Eisenhower’s preference was publicized?

3. Many of the fabricated factoids about comic strip history came from the memoirs of this syndicate head, including the reason the Yellow Kid was yellow. Who was it and what was the book?

4. A certain TV show starred a character who was the cartoonist on a comic strip about a bovine hero. What was the title of the strip and what was the TV show?

5. Lots of comic strip characters have marketing tie-ins. But which cartoonist was himself memorialized as a brand of tobacco?