Obscurity of the Day: Cynthianna Blythe

The New York Herald occasionally ran magazine cover ‘comic strip’ series long before the other papers and syndicates seemed to catch on to the idea. In the Herald‘s case, though, their features are so high-falutin’ that the term comic strip seems at least a slight misnomer.

Cynthianna Blythe, the tale of a young beauty and the beaus who pursue her, ran on the back cover of the Herald‘s magazine section from at least October 1909 to February 1910 (probably longer at both ends, I haven’t found a paper on microfilm that has the complete series – anyone have correct running dates?).

The feature sports art by Wallace Morgan and verses by Harry Grant Dart. While I realize that Morgan was the more celebrated illustrator in his time, I sure wish they’d traded places — I just love Dart’s draftsmanship and page layouts.

Obscurity of the Day: Little Umjiji

On Monday we looked at a pretty strong bit of racism from the pen of Syd B. Griffin, so let’s try to rehabilitate him a bit today. Although Little Umjiji features a little African tyke, I would have to say that there is no racist intent here whatsoever. We simply have a series of low-key pantomime (if you don’t count the extraneous text used with the first sample) adventures featuring a little boy and African animals. If the strip weren’t pantomime would Umjiji speak that mushmouth dialect so much a part of the stereotype? Oh, probably, but let’s give Griffin the benefit of the doubt.

Little Umjiji was created by the great Ferd Long for the New York World comics section on November 4 1900, but he failed to follow up after that single episode. Griffin picked up the title and produced episodes between February 24 and May 19 1901.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Joe of the Musical Habit

Since we covered a feature yesterday that is pretty representative of the worst in racism against blacks in newspaper comics, for balance today let’s look at Joe of the Musical Habit. In my opinion it is racist only in its depiction of Joe, who gets the standard black face of the day. Beyond that Joe could just as easily been a white guy, which is, I think, a fair yardstick for whether a feature is or isn’t racist.

Joe’s inconvenient habit is that whenever he hears music he gets the urge to dance. In the sure hands of cartoonist Ed Carey this leads to predictably boisterous and hilarious action. While the joke is, of course, repetitive, the humor is in how the wild action is depicted. I particularly enjoy this example, where Joe’s habit seems to be contagious and the hoity-toity assembly joins right in.

Joe of the Musical Habit was a feature of McClure’s top-of-the-line version of their Sunday comics section from July 30 to October 1 1905, too short a run if you ask me.It only got full page color billing a couple of times, usually relegated to half-page interior appearances instead.

A tip of the hat and a little soft-shoe to Cole Johnson who provided the sample. Thanks Cole!

Obscurity of the Day: Four Comical Coons

Turn of the century comic section editors never met a racist stereotype they didn’t like and this feature, penned by Syd B. Griffin, touches some especially sensitive bases. The four kids that give the feature its sometime name, Four Comical Coons, were really just Katzies turned black, but the props and situations leaned heavily toward archetypical racist symbols — a laundry-toting mammy, stealing chickens, and of course the obligatory watermelons.

The series appeared in the New York World comics section from August 12 to December 9 1900, and when the standard title wasn’t used the number of kids was sometimes cut back to just two or three.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples.

Obscurity of the Day: Happy the Humbug

Happy The Humbug was syndicated by the New York Post Syndicate from November 17 1946 to April 3 1949 as a Sunday-only strip (the strip was not around in 1940 as claimed on Wiki and other websites). The animation-inspired funny animal feature got very little play in the nation’s comic sections, a common problem for the features released through the auspices of the New York Post, at least until later on when Bob Hall whipped the syndicate into shape and made a success of it. When the strip was launched the syndicate claimed that a daily version of the feature was to follow, but apparently those plans never gave fruit.

The concept that ended up as the comic strip actually began as a book written by Steve Carlin. Although the book was apparently never published, Carlin offered the idea to NBC Radio as the springboard for a series of Christmas-themed radio shows. According to the TVDays website the Christmas series was a minor hit and a total of 54 radio episodes of Happy the Humbug ended up being produced and syndicated. The same site claims that the comic strip version was already in syndication by 1945, citing an article in Newsweek. If that’s the case then I can only guess about when and how it ran, because the New York Post dates came from Jeffrey Lindenblatt who indexed the paper, and I confirmed the start date based on an Editor & Publisher article.

Writer Steve Carlin, who would later in his career create the TV phenom Rootie Kazootie, was fond of groan-worthy punny names (a few samples from Rootie Kazootie — Polka Dottie and Poison Zoomack). But he really outdid himself on the comic strip Happy the Humbug. There was the Bum Steer, the Frightful Boar, the Monkey’s Uncle, the Poor Fish, etc., etc. Carlin wrote the strip to appeal to much the same age group as his later TV show, but threw in a few nods and winks to the grown-ups. As far as I know this is the only syndicated feature with which Carlin was associated.

Cartoonist Myron Waldman, as you might guess from the art, came from the world of animation. His career began at Fleischer Studios where he worked on the Betty Boop and Superman shorts, among others. Later he moved to Paramount where he was head animator. He is best known for his work on the Casper the Friendly Ghost series, done in the same era when he was working on this strip.

Obscurity of the Day: Weary Willie

Hobo strips were quite popular back in the early days of newspaper comic strips. The versatile concept allowed cartoonists to change their venue for each strip, and the hobo’s constant search for a handout and his escapades with the ‘bulls’ made for gags that practically wrote themselves.

Later on the conception of the hobo was softened and we got weak sister versions like Pete the Tramp, Benny, and Frank and Ernest. These hobos were cast more in the light of knights of the open road, or even simply park bench philosophers. My guess is that the last true hobo strip might have been Slim Jim, who managed to hang on into the 1930s through the auspices of World Color Printing.Can anyone think of a later one?

Weary Willie, by the wonderful Ed Carey, was a cookie-cutter hobo strip, and didn’t last long in the C.J. Hirt version of the McClure Syndicate Sunday funnies section. It ran from May 7 to November 26 1905.

Tip of the tomato can to Cole Johnson for the sample!

Obscurity of the Day: Oh, There Goes My Car

Here’s a rarity from the Los Angeles Examiner. A.C. Fera made a quick stop at that paper in 1909. I recall that he also worked for a much longer stint at another L.A. paper, but I can’t seem to find that information at the moment. Looking through the standard references I find essentially no biographical information on Fera at all.

Fera later had good success with his syndicated Sunday strip Just Boy, but back in the oughts he was just another local cartoonist in southern California. During his time at the Examiner he created two weekday strips; we’ve already discussed What You Lafin’ At?, and here’s the other, Oh, There Goes My Car. The title puts me in mind of a slapstick strip about runaway autos, but it turns out that the cars referred to are trolley cars. The gag is that some poor shlub in need finds a real ‘hail fellow well met’ buddy who is delighted to see him until comes the time for asking a favor. Then the jovial buddy takes it on the lam, yelling that he must catch a trolley.

The strip ran on just a handful of occasions from October 30 to November 24 1909.