After Jimmy Swinnerton was summoned to New York to work at Hearst’s flagship papers, for the first few years he did quite a few weekday features, and pretty much stuck to his animal characters on Sundays. Tumble Tom was one of his first Sunday series in New York to feature humans.
The klutzy pratfalls of Tumble Tom weren’t all that original or inspired, so it’s not much of a surprise that the series didn’t go on for very long. It started on April 20 and ended October 19 1902.
Thanks to Steven Stwalley for the scan!
Apparently no matter how small and pathetic the niche someone carves out for themselves, there’s always someone willing to try to duplicate even the barest modicum of success. With In Birdsboro, a fellow named Gilbert A.Geist chose to ride the dubiously worthy coat-tails of Horace ‘Harry’ Martin. Martin created the Weatherbird for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 1901. Harry apparently only had one good idea in his head, but he was determined to beat it to death. He moved to New York City and hawked his bird strips for years to a city full of generally indifferent editors and newspaper readers. We’ve met him before here at Stripper’s Guide with posts about a few of his bird strips, Inbad the Tailor and It Happened in Birdland.
Geist, who has no other credits of which I’m aware, apparently never heard the old saw that if you’re going to steal then only steal from the best. He copied Harry’s bird characters pretty much verbatim for this series, which ran in the Philadelphia Press Sunday section from September 30 to December 23 1906 (one final left-over Sunday strip was run on Thursday, January 31 1907 to plug a hole).
Mixed Singles, a somewhat groundbreaking daily and Sunday strip, debuted on November 13 1972. In the early 70s the country was loosening up, admitting that unmarried people weren’t all living a monastic life, getting paired up at church socials and marrying as virgins. As goes the country, so go the comics, so United Features contracted with creators Mel Casson and William F. Brown for their new strip about the residents of a swinging singles apartment building Given the extremely prudish strictures of the comics page, Casson and Brown got away with a surprising amount of semi-adult humor about the single life.
Casson was already a veteran of the comics page, having written the excellent strip It’s Me, Dilly and created the daily panel Angel. Brown, although also a cartoonist, was more involved with performing arts, having written the play The Girl in the Freudian Slip and worked on quite a few TV programs including The Jackie Gleason Show. During the run of Mixed Singles, Brown would make an even bigger splash as the librettist for the hit musical The Wiz.
Brown and Casson claimed to share writing responsibilities about equally on the strip, and the art chores were generally split with Brown handling pencils and Casson inks.
In January 1973 a new character, Boomer, was added to the already large cast of regulars at the apartment house. The cowboy-hat wearing chauvinist jock had a lot of repellent qualities, but for some reason Brown and Casson fixated on him. He eventually became the star of the strip, and when he wed in March 1975 the title of the strip was changed to Boomer.
The gradual shift in focus from singles to young marrieds was presumably a marketing decision. Although Mixed Singles had found a home in some big city papers on the liberal-leaning coasts, the strip didn’t really have much of a foothold in conservative middle America. The change did actually seem to have a positive short-term effect in terms of the number of papers that carried the feature, but sales soon dropped off again. The strip limped on with a slowly but surely dwindling roster of papers until August 1 1981.
Note: according to Ron Goulart the Sunday was dropped earlier than the daily, on 4/29/79, but Don Mangus has reported to me that he has a Sunday dated 7/20/80, and the strip was advertised in E&P as a daily only in 1979-80. Can anyone clear up this discrepancy?
Here’s another series from one of my favorite creators, Walter “Brad” Bradford. This one is disappointingly conventional, not at all the norm for the wacky Brad. But it is a Hallowe’en strip, apropos for this week!
Tommy Tuttle is one of those ‘bad boy’ strips, and it began under the title What That Smith Boy Brings Home on May 21 1905. For reasons unknown Brad changed the kid’s name to Tommy Tuttle after a short while and the series continued under the new name until November 26 1905.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan!
John Cross was primarily an editorial cartoonist, but he did try his hand at humor features every once in a while. Based on my meager files, Cross was active as a cartoonist at least from the 20s-40s, and jumped around a bit. I’ve got samples of his cartoons from the Nashville Tennessean, Nashville Banner and the Knoxville Journal.
Cross did a few local humor features, but this little one-column panel cartoon, Dippy, was his only syndicated effort. The King Features distributed feature was another in a long line of attempts to duplicate the success of Frank Hubbard’s Abe Martin cartoons. This one certainly didn’t take off at all despite some pretty good smirk-inducing homilies in the samples I’ve seen. The dates I have for the daily feature are October 13 1947 to June 5 1948. I’ve not had an opportunity to check what I presume to be Cross’ home paper at the time, the Tennessean, but they would probably offer the best chance at seeing the complete run.
by Sheldon Stark and Jerry Robinson
Dark Horse Books, 2010
12 x 9.5 hardcover, 224 pages, $34.95
ISBN 978-1-59582-287-1, 978-1-59582-519-3
When I covered Jet Scott, a high-tech adventure strip of the 50s, as an Obscurity of the Day I called Sheldon Stark’s scripts for the feature “well-written though disappointingly conventional”. On reading the first story in this two volume reprinting of the strip I thought I was going to have to eat my words. “The Banthrax Incident” ranks as one of the most asinine and badly written stories I’ve ever struggled through in comics or otherwise. I won’t go into details, but the thought that this is the story that sold the syndicate on the series just blows my mind. Fear not, though, because Stark’s writing improved greatly in subsequent stories.
Jet Scott is a troubleshooter for the Office of Scientifact who solves technology and science-based mysteries. The idea is a good one, though some of Stark’s idea’s about technology, especially computers, are real-knee-slappers. One of the cuter ones comes in that first story — in order to find a professor who’s gone missing Scott feeds his ‘personality profile’, his likes, dislikes, favorite foods and so on, into a computer. It promptly spits out the result that the misplaced prof is undoubtedly searching for the legendary Seven Cities of Cibola. Well of course! Even though that wasn’t even fed in as an interest of his.We know it wasn’t because Jet spends the next few strips trying to figure out what the heck Cibola is. Apparently he has a computer but not an encyclopedia.
Anyway, this sort of cockamamie stuff is pure fun, with the advantage of hindsight we can snicker at such things. It really only added to my enjoyment. Less appreciated by today’s audience might be that Jet Scott romances a new girl in every story, often making some pretty big promises about the future, and then each babe is promptly forgotten when the next story begins. It’s pure fantasy stuff though — do we object to James Bond doing the same thing?
Jerry Robinson’s slick art on the feature is shown to great advantage in the book. The dailies are all reproduced VERY large, bigger than they ever ran in papers. Sundays are decent-sized, too. The reproduction is generally excellent. The occasional daily obviously came from microfilm, but most seem to be either from proofs or good quality tearsheets. Restoration of the dailies is okay though my pet peeve about not fixing type lice and dropouts had me grumbling a bit — not something you’d probably even notice if you don’t do restoration work yourself. The Sundays are really impressive — just enough restoration to bring them back to life, not so much as to make them garish. Very nice work.
If you’re interested in the Jet Scott two-volume series, be aware that the publisher apparently ran out of stock almost immediately. A mere few months after the books were published I went to purchase my copies and found that I had no choice but to buy a damaged copy on the used market. What’s up with that? Checking Amazon now, though, I see they are available once again, but who knows for how long — order yours quickly would be my advice.