Obscurity of the Day: Soosie the Shopper

The UPC (United Publishers Corporation) News Service was a minor syndicate that seemed to specialize mostly in business and economics features, but for reasons unknown they liked to keep a contingent of just one comic strip on their roster. The earliest one of these that I’m aware of is Soosie the Shopper, a delicious trifle about a pretty girl who is clothes-shopping mad, and her poor Daddikins who has to foot the bill.

The strip has no pretensions to greatness, but the superbly madcap art of Charles Forbell (perhaps best remembered for his exquisite Sunday series Naughty Pete) succeeds in overcoming the hackneyed gags by some fellow named Floherty.

Sadly, the series was short-lived. I’d like to think it was because Charles Forbell had better things to do — but if he did I don’t know where he did them. He next pops onto my radar in 1929 with an even more obscure comic strip, Cuddles.

Susie the Shopper ran in a very small client list of papers, the longest run of which I’ve encountered runs from April 6 to October 17 1925.

News of Yore: Paul Norris Profiled

Four Stars for Mr. Norris

(Bergen Evening Record, May 7 1955)

It’s a long, circuitous haul from the grain and tobacco fields of Greenville, O. (Pop.: 8,820), to a daily spot on the comic pages of 184 American and Canadian newspapers. But when you’re riding on talent, the trip goes much faster. And, although artist Paul Norris of Hillsdale had his ticket punched at a few whistle stops along the way, he still made the grade at an early age. Today he is recognized as one of the top men drawing for the King Features Syndicate.

Paul’s current assignment is turning out the “Brick Bradford” science fantasy strip 6 days a week — it joined the Record’s family on Monday —and if Paul accomplishes nothing else in this world, he will have achieved one phase of immortality.

For he was the boy voted most likely to succeed during his undergraduate days at Midland College in Fremont, Neb., and he went ahead and succeeded, in defiance of tradition, which says that the people most likely to succeed usually wind up as embezzlers or stealing candy from babies.

Paul’s success didn’t come easily; it was achieved only through hard work and much burning of the midnight oil. But once his fortune changed, it changed quicker than a tote board at Jamaica. Tonight he can go to sleep counting his blessings: a fine wife, two talented sons, a home in the Holiday House development off Werimus Lane in Hillsdale that has everything but gold-plated plumbing fixtures, and the knowledge he’s reached the top in his chosen profession.

Norris, a handsome 6-footer who blew out 41 candles on a birthday cake a week ago last Tuesday, first saw the light of day in Greenville, O., and has been drawing for as long as he can remember. He sold his first work during his senior year in Palestine, 0., High School—several editorial cartoons used by the Dayton, O., Daily News—and, with his imagination fired, landed a job during the depression as a card writer with J. C. Penny Co. in Greenville.

The job didn’t last long, however, so Paul—with his mind set on becoming an editorial cartoonist— headed for Midland College to study journalism. His first year there he became art editor of the yearbook and, in his own words, “no actor ever stole a scene more viciously than I took over that book.”

Like a good many other cartoonists, among the most noted being Otto Soglow, Paul’s affections were evenly divided between art and the drama and it was a tossup, he says, whether he would try starving as an actor or as a comic strip artist. Finally, in his sophomore year at Midland—after he had been voted most likely to succeed—he hibernated to his grandmother’s farm to work out 8 weeks of drawings for a syndicated strip. The strip sold to a syndicate, all right, but turned out to be a quickie affair and went down faster than an old maid’s bedroom shade.

“There followed,” Paul says gravely, ” a period of idleness. Most people considered it downright laziness, but 1 prefer to look back on it as a plateau of learning.”

Soon this “plateau of learning” gave way to a day-time job in a Dayton factory while at night Paul attended the Dayton Art Institute, which provided a background for his meeting with pretty Annbeth Mayenschein, now Mrs. Norris. It was here, too, that he made a connection with the Dayton Daily News and, under the guidance of Art Editor Myron E. Scott (now the man in charge of the national Soap Box Derby), Paul did a comic page that ran for several years.

By 1940 Paul thought he was ready for the big step: a move to New York City. And, with the encouragement of Milton Caniff, the artists’ artist whom Paul knew in Dayton, he traveled East and proceeded to do comic book drawings for several publishers.

Then one day came the big break: a phone call from the now out-of-business newspaper, PM. “Caniff had been pointing his finger at me,” Paul says, “and before I knew it, I was drawing the ‘Vic Jordan’ strip. Sometime later King Features called with an offer for me to draw ‘Secret Agent X-9’ and I quickly accepted.”

For 3 months everything ran smoothly and Paul seemed on his way to the top. But events at Pearl Harbor forced an interruption of some 30-odd months. Paul became Uncle Sam’s guest on a trip half-way around the world working for G-2 in the Tenth Army and drawing assorted propaganda leaflets, sketching Jap caves and gun installations, and “cooking up my secret weapon—a propaganda comic book”.

Propaganda comic book? What, pray tell, was that?

“Well, actually it was this way,” Paul elaborated. “I was assigned to the Signal Corps when I entered the Army and at Leyte I met two officers from Joint Intelligence, who were seeking a cartoonist to prepare leaflets to be dropped on Okinawa. I volunteered for the task and, while aboard a ship in the Okinawa invasion fleet in 1945, I drew the illustrations for the leaflets.

“They worked out so well, and so many Japanese soldiers surrendered, that word got to General Bruckner and he had me transferred from the Signal Corps to the psychological warfare branch of G-2 in the Tenth Army. That’s when I got the idea for a propaganda comic book. You see, ‘Jiggs’ and ‘Popeye’ were very popular strips in Japan. I thought if we could come up with propaganda strips involving these comic figures, it should prove very effective. However, before we could complete the job the atom bomb was dropped and the war ended.”

Working with Jap prisoners of war, Paul said, one comic layout was completed but never used. A picture of it accompanies this article. It was a series of 12 drawings, with Japanese writing, tracing a Japanese soldier’s experiences from the time he found an American propaganda leaflet until he surrendered.

“Turning out that strip was something,” Paul recalls. “I needed someone to insert the Japanese writing and was told one of the prisoners spoke some English. Locating him in the stockade, I said very slowly: ‘I … understand . . . you . . . speak . . . English? To which the prisoner responded: ‘I speak a wee bit, old chap.’ I then learned this Jap master sergeant was named McNeil. His mother was Japanese, all right, but his father was a Scotch seaman. He spoke English as well as I did.”

When the war ended, Norris returned to King Features and began illustrating syndicated mystery stories and the “Flash Gordon” comic book series. During the summer of 1948 he was also asked to do “Jungle Jim”, an adventure strip which proved exceedingly popular, and in the early 1950s he started doing the daily adventures of “Brick Bradford”.
It was a few years back that the Norris family— Paul, Ann, Michael, 12, and Reed, 6—moved to Westwood and it was here that a rather amusing episode took place. Paul, relating the incident, grinned like a Boy Scout receiving his first merit badge.

“I worked on my books and ‘Jungle Jim’ in my drawing room,” he said, “and consequently I was home more than I was away. This seemed to mystify some people, who didn’t know if I was unemployed or what. It finally got to be too much for one of them and she stopped Mike one day and, among other things, asked him what I did. Said Mike: ‘Oh, Pop makes book!’ He meant I drew for comic books but I often wonder if that woman really thought I was a bookmaker!”

For the benefit of Paul’s neighbors in his new home in Hillsdale—the Norrises moved in last September—this might be as good a time as any to repeat why Paul’s home so much: his drawing room is there, it takes him between 3 and 4 days to turn out the week’s quota of six strips, he’s not unemployed or a bookmaker!

Regarding the “Bradford” strip, Paul says he limits sequences to from 6-8 weeks—feeling continuity in adventure strips should not lag—and uses his two sons as a barometer:”If it’s getting uninteresting to them, I know it’s time for a quick change.” He says he’s luckier than most artists since his strip is not confined to one area or era. Brick can be in the Pacific today; then moved to a planet when the current sequence ends.

Ideas for the strip just seem to come, Paul says. Some are from current or past events, with names and places changed but facts kept intact—with some fantasy added. “Brick Bradford” is the strip’s only continual featured character, most others being dropped after appearances in a single sequence. Occasionally a character from one sequence will put in an appearance at a later date but this is the exception, rather than the rule.

Paul says readers of the strip send all sorts of bouquets and brickbats but that he tries to answer every letter. Samples: when he was doing the “Vic Jordan” strip the scene was the French underground and he used a character known as The Glove. He received a nasty letter from a reader who said Paul drew American noses on all the Continentals in the cast. Another man complained of the way Paul had his characters tie neckties. The knots were not big enough, he asserted.

Meeting the Norrises in their luxurious, 7-room home, it is quickly apparent that talent runs in the family. Both Michael and Reed draw better than their young years should permit and both are clever when it comes to putting model planes and cars together. In fact, a model plane turned out by Mike served as Paul’s model for a plane you’ll see in his strip of June 6. Ann Norris is a fine photographer and a good homemaker. She also has contributed in the way of decorations for the home, having painted a number of articles and collaborating with Paul in making a most unusual lamp.

Paul’s talents aren’t confined to art work, either. Occupying a prominent place in the raised living room are two modern lamps he made from walnut wood scheduled to become railroad ties at the Ohio plant of his father-in-law. A photo illustrating one of these lamps is included in this article but no photograph could do justice to the project.

He also spends considerable time making home movies (“You’re lucky,” he said. “Usually when anyone has been here this long I’ve had the blinds down, the screen up, and the projector whirring.”) and is quite proud of a 400-foot movie he made in color for the Westwood Intermediate Girl Scouts. A bug on traveling, he also has numerous travelogues in his reel collection. Another favored pastime is running his Lyman outboard motorboat-he tows it 700 miles to Ohio whenever he returns to the hometown— while other interests include golf, television, and reading, with the latter two taking up much of his time.

Yes, it’s a long, circuitous haul from Greenville, 0., to success in the cartooning field—one of the toughest professions to break into you’ll find. But Paul Norris, riding on talent, made the trip successfully—just as his classmates at Midland College said he would. And everyone who knows him is quick to report, it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

–article provided by Mark Johnson — thanks Mark!

Obscurity of the Day: Mister Philander Phat

In the 19th century it became more and more fashionable for ladies to be thin, though the pendulum still swung both ways. By the 20th, though, both men and women were no longer considered hearty and healthy if they packed on the pounds, and diet and exercise became an obsession throughout the western world.

The fashion took longer to take hold for men, but heavyweight President Grover Cleveland, who came in for a lot of ribbing about his weight, brought the issue front and center in the U.S. The pear-shaped Mister Philander Phat has the same contours as the bulbous president and shows that the obsession with being thin had indeed invaded the male public consciousness.

Mister Philander Phat ran from May 20 to October 28 1906 in the third and final version of the Boston Herald‘s Sunday comics section. The title Mr. Philander Phat’s Country Exercises was used from July 1 to September 9.

Of the cartoonist, George Nuttall, I know little. Obviously he is an accomplished penman, and I seem to recall that he was an editorial cartoonist in the 1910s and 20s, though at the moment I can’t seem to find proof of that in my files. Over 35 years after Mr. Philander Phat he made a return appearance in the funnies, taking over the reins of Morris Weiss’ It Never Fails for four months. A layoff of that length must be some sort of record.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Sister Susie

Alice Harvey is celebrated as one of the New Yorker‘s great cartoonists, her demure sophisticated ladies with acid tongues a constant popular feature of the magazine’s pages from its inception until the early 1940s. But she also took her turn in the newspapers with a delightful feature titled Sister Susie. This suburban comedy featuring real kids showing all their warts was unusually frank and unvarnished look at children for the Sunday papers of the time.

It is rare to find a mention of this beautifully drawn and well-crafted strip in references, and one of the few mentions is an unfairly tepid one from historian/cartoonist Trina Robbins in her book A Century of Women Cartoonists, in which she describes Sister Susie as a mere “cute girl strip.” What a shame; she must not have been able to locate but the one example she showed there (a weaker effort, granted). I hope the examples above will dispel the notion that this was any mere trifle.

Sister Susie was a Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate product that found its way into very few papers other than Daily News itself. It began running there on January 26 1936 and the last episode is reported to be on August 30 1936. However, I have a tearsheet from an unidentified source newspaper  dated December 20th of that year with Sister Susie. Maybe it’s a rerun, maybe it ran late, or maybe the series continued on longer than reported. Anyone have additional info?

Herriman Saturday

Tuesday, December 10 1907 — Today Herriman inaugurates his first new series for the Examiner in over seven months. The opening of the Santa Anita track has Angelenos excited about horse-racing, and Herriman obliges with a series that follows in the footsteps of Clare Briggs’ A. Piker Clerk and Bud Fisher’s A. Mutt. Mister Proones the Plunger will run through December 26, but I’ll only be showing this first episode on the blog since the series has been reprinted. To read the rest of the series I direct you to the Spec Productions/Bill Blackbeard reprint series available here. The reproduction of the strips is excellent and I highly recommend it.

Obscurity of the Day: Little Moments

Jerry Stewart may be one guy, or he might be two. On the comic strip side, he’s a black cartoonist whose work appeared in papers like the Chicago Defender, Baltimore Afro-American and others from the late 1940s to early 1970s. According to bios found on the web, he was also an editorial or staff cartoonist on the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel from 1936 to 1986.

While ‘my’ Jerry Stewart, the comic strip guy, definitely had the chops to do cartooning for mainstream newspapers I just can’t see a black man being hired as a cartoonist on a ‘white’ newspaper in Indiana in 1936. Maybe I’m guilty of thinking too ill of Indianans of the time, but considering the state was a hotbed of KKK activity in those days I just don’t see a newspaper having the balls to hire a black cartoonist. Hopefully I’m wrong.

In any case, today’s obscurity was Jerry Stewart’s last successful foray into newspaper cartooning, at least as far as I know from personal observation. He created Little Moments (at first advertised as Life’s Little Moments), a gag panel without recurring characters, around 1961. For awhile it was marketed by Select Features, which was a very small syndicate that never really went anywhere. By 1963 Stewart seems to have been self-syndicating it, but to only one paper that I know of, the Chicago Defender. It appeared there on a more or less daily basis from 1963 to 1972. In 1971 Stewart signed on with Allied Features, another minor syndicate, to try to get the panel into additional papers. Apparently it didn’t work and Stewart threw in the towel, because the feature disappeared from the Defender in 1972 and was not advertised for sale thereafter..

Obscurity of the Day: The Wandering Goat Bolivar

A late entry to the Boston Herald‘s third and final attempt at syndicating its own comic section, The Wandering Goat Bolivar ran from January 26 to August 9 (or August 30 in syndication) 1908.

I admit to not knowing enough about Central American revolutionary leader Simon Bolivar to quite understand why the goat is named after him, or why, for that matter, the goat wears a crown. Hopefully an astute reader can fill in the implications of the title and the character.

What I can say is that this is Hal Coffman’s first known comic strip series, and ran a few years before he became a fixture in the Hearst newspapers. Coffman was a jack of all trades with Hearst, supplying large Sunday editorial cartoons (spelling McCay), weekday news and social cartoons, story illustrations, sports cartoons, you name it. Coffman had a long career, at least into the 1940s, but he was never particularly comfortable with series comic strips. The few he did were short-lived.

The pleasantly cartoony style Coffman exhibits here bears little resemblance to his later work, which is more detailed and realistic.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan.

Obscurity of the Day: The G-Man

One of the more elusive of the many Dick Tracy-wannabes that popped up in the 1930s, The G-Man was syndicated by King Features, essentially in competition with their own other entry, Secret Agent X-9. According to one writer this strip was meant to appeal to younger readers than the Dashiell Hammett production, a dubious marketing slant.

The strip featured FBI agent Jimmie Crawford, a fresh faced kid who got involved in solving murders, kidnappings, all sorts of … er … appropriate reading for the younger set. He was often joined by his kid brother who conveniently showed up anytime a criminal needed a human shield or a bargaining chip.

The art was by the usually excellent Lou Hanlon, but Lou either didn’t have the feel for this material or wasn’t well-enough paid to invest a lot of effort. In The G-Man all the figures seem to be statues, there’s never any real feel of motion in even the most supposedly thrilling action scenes. Scripts were by George Clarke (not Clark as almost every reference has it) — Clarke, I seem to recall reading somewhere, was a syndicate manager of some sort (don’t quote me on that, I may well be misremembering). If the art was a bit sloppy, the writing was a thousand times worse. Well, don’t take my word for it, read the dailies above. You’re going to be absolutely certain that there are strips missing in that sequence, but there aren’t. Somebody must have told Clarke that the key to a successful adventure strip was fast slam-bang action. He therefore made every word balloon sound like a tabloid newspaper headline and never paused for even a single panel’s worth of exposition or background. There’s no pacing or build-up to climax — every single panel seems to scream as if it was a climax in itself. The story requires that readers fill in their own plot holes from strip to strip, apparently presuming that readers must already know all these stories from gangster movies anyway (not such a  leap, I suppose).

The daily and Sunday feature is said to have debuted in Hearst’s New York Mirror plus a few client papers sometime in 1935 but I’ve not yet found any appearances earlier than February 1936. Many references claim that the strip ran until 1940, but that seems to be based on a misreading of the E&P listings — the last year it was available in the U.S. was 1937, and I think its listing was offering reprints after that. My last Sunday is September 26 1937. Does anyone know of earlier or later examples?

The Sunday strip, which I’ve never seen in anything other than a tabloid format, gained a topper strip called G-Boys in 1937 sometime between May and August but it was dropped quickly — it last appeared on September 5 of that year.