Obscurity of the Day: The Life Story of Richard Nixon







In the fall of 1955 President Eisenhower suffered a massive heart attack that left the nation wondering if Vice President Richard Nixon would take over the office. Newspapers debated over whether Nixon, already a divisive name in politics, was fit to be president.

News-based comic strips were nothing new in 1955, in fact NEA and the Associated Press produced closed-end strips about major issues on a pretty regular basis. King Features, however, rarely used the form. They broke with this tradition to produce The Life Story of Richard Nixon, a hagiographical portrait of a politician already reviled in some quarters for his Communist witch hunts. Of course this was back in the days when many newspapers were still openly partisan, so Republican papers would have had no qualms about using it.

Or so you’d think. I’ve never seen this series printed in a newspaper, nor does it turn up in searches on Newspaper Archives or Google News Archive. I only know about its existence because it exists in proof form in the collection of Cole Johnson.

The 6-strip series was drawn by A.S. Packer (who, I assume, is not editorial cartoonist Fred Packer) and the writer is uncredited. The suggested running dates are not on the proofs, so I can only take my best guess that the series was released in the fall of 1955. Has anyone found this series actually running in a newspaper?

Obscurity of the Day: The Plunk Family


Hy Mayer was a very highly regarded cartoonist of the late 19th and early 20th century. His work was frequently seen in the humor magazines Puck and Life, and when he did newspaper cartooning it was always treated like a bit of a special event — the presence of a Mayer cartoon in a newspaper was usually a highlight of advance advertising. He rarely drew any sequential strips, much preferring large single panel cartoons and collections of vignettes, both forms represented above. His very modern style had an air of sophistication yet was never high-brow.

Mayer did quite a bit of work for newspapers in the first decade of the 20th century, and his very first identifiable titled series was The Plunk Family, created for the Pulitzer organization in 1900 on the occasion of that year’s Paris Exposition. The series ran from May 6 to July 1 1900, but I don’t know if all the installments related to the World’s Fair or not.

In the 1910s Mayer shifted his focus to animation and produced film cartoons well into the 1920s.

Tip of the hat to Cole Johnson who supplied the scans from this series. Thanks Cole!

Obscurity of the Day: Leonardo


Leonardo was an offering of the Artists & Writers Syndicate that ran from July 26 1976 to March 19 1977 as both a Sunday and daily. The tiny syndicate, headed by comics legend Jerry Robinson, was never more than a niche player. Their only notable success came from U.S. distribution of foreign editorial and gag cartoons.

Leonardo looked like it had a chance at being a real winner. The highly stylized, sophisticated art instantly grabs your attention; a real standout on the comics page. The plot is a slight updating of Wizard of Id — where that strip had a medieval backdrop, Leonardo moves us up to the Renaissance, but both strips often have their characters acting as if they are in today’s world.

Leonardo‘s gags are quintessential 70’s, and are the only weakness of the strip (though a rather important one). Like many other features of the day the subjects of women’s lib, disco, dieting, fashion and such are overused, and this feature does little to spice them with any originality.

The strip was the creation of Phil Collins, who despite being a superb cartoonist seems to have popped out of nowhere to do this feature, and then just as quickly disappeared once more. I guess he found his musical career in Genesis more rewarding (kidding). If anyone knows anything about our mystery cartoonist please share!

Obscurity of the Day: The Strange Adventures of Pussy Pumpkin and her Chum Toodles

Thank goodness for cut and paste. If I had to type in the fershlugginer title of today’s obscurity more than once I doubt I’d have the energy left to talk about it.

The Strange Adventures of Pussy Pumpkin and her Chum Toodles was by Grace Drayton, who at the time was working under her married name of Wiederseim. This is Drayton’s second newspaper strip series, unless you count it as a continuation of her first, Naughty Toodles, which ended just a few weeks earlier. The strip ran from August 2 1903 to January 10 1904 in the Hearst newspapers.

Toodles, obviously, continues from the earlier strip, but here the spotlight also falls on her owner/companion Pussy Pumpkin. The companions engaged in fairy tale adventures that displayed Drayton’s subversive genius for pleasing both parents and kids:

Parent (after a cursory look-see): Ah, this is fine reading for my precious little Priscilla. Nothing like those horrid Katzie rascals. Just a sweet story about a little girl and her kitty helping out poor Mr. Alligator.

Priscilla (after a full reading): This is bully! That alligator just tried to eat that sap kid and her alley cat, and now the elephant’s gonna break every bone in his body swingin’ him like Hans Wagner. Me for more of this!

Although this was very early in Drayton’s career, note that Pussy Pumpkin was already a prototypical Campbell’s Soup kid, as would be most every kid she ever drew throughout her career. Drayton would gain lasting fame for her iconic contribution to 20th century advertising shortly after this series ended — either in 1904 or 1906 depending on who you believe.

A tip of the hat to Steven Stwalley for the sample of this strip!

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics


Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:

Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.

Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey’s career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.

Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.

Obscurity of the Day: Wrangle Flats


No mere samples for you comics lovers today, here we have the entire run of Wrangle Flats — all two of ’em.

This is the very first titled series by the great but often-maligned T.E. Powers. It appeared in the New York World (and in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as seen here) on October 14 and 21 1900. Powers was already an old hand at cartooning — his work appeared in the pioneering Chicago Inter-Ocean way back in 1893.

Powers did some beautiful design work on these two pages, as usual he was ahead of his time. The middle section of the top strip, with panels combining into a cross-section of the apartment building, is particularly impressive. One didn’t often see such avant-garde graphic flourishes on the comics pages of the day. The humor is also a cut above the norm, cosmopolitan and satirical when the typical fare was bratty kids, hayseed farmers and mush-mouthed racist stereotypes. Powers wrote for adults — let the knee-biters look elsewhere for their weekly dose of slapstick.

Much thanks to Cole Johnson, scanner of today’s obscurities.

Obscurity of the Day: Oh, Where, Oh, Where, Has That Willie Boy Gone?


Walter Wellman is one of the banes of my research. His output was phenomenal in the 1900s-1910s, but it was mostly little arrays of gag cartoons that were often chopped up into pieces by his client newspapers. Although the complete versions of his features were undeniably series, they’re all but impossible to track.

If that weren’t enough, he also shared his name with a famous reporter/explorer of the day. Every time I stumble upon the name in an old book on journalism my heart leaps to think I’ll learn something about him, but it invariably turns out to be the other Walter Wellman under discussion.

As best I can tell the cartoonist Walter Wellman was based out of Boston, but he jumped around enough that is impossible to tell from which syndicate many of his daily-style series were published. I’m half-convinced that he was an early self-syndicator.

Today, though, we have a Wellman series that poses no mysteries other than the one asked in the title of the feature. Oh, Where, Oh, Where, Has That Willie Boy Gone? ran in the Boston Herald Sunday comic section from May 6 to October 14 1906. It’s basic premise is one shared by a kazillion other features — the pranks of a mischievous boy. Wellman, though, adds an extra wrinkle by having Willie ‘hide’ in the final panel of each strip. Can you find Willie in our two samples today? They are a bit of a challenge, but he is there.

Tip of the hat to Cole Johnson, contributor of today’s samples. Thanks Cole!

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics


Two books by Jim Ivey are available at Lulu.com or direct from the author:

Graphic Shorthand: Jim Ivey teaches the fundamentals of cartooning in his own inimitable style. 128 pages, coil-bound. Lulu $19.95 plus shipping, direct $25 postpaid.

Cartoons I Liked,Jim Ivey’s career retrospective; he picks his own favorite cartoons from a 40-year editorial cartooning career. Lulu $11.95, direct $20 postpaid.

Send your order to:

Jim Ivey
5840 Dahlia Dr. #7
Orlando FL 32807

When ordered direct, either book will include an original Ivey sketch.