Obscurity of the Day:: Terr’ble Thompson

If Terr’ble Thompson reminds you a little of another more famous T.T., the animated cartoon Tom Terrific, there’s good reason. Both are the brainchildren of Gene Deitch. Deitch is better known for the cartoon since Terr’ble Thompson ran just six months, from October 17 1955 to April 15 1956, in a handful of newspapers. The daily and Sunday strip was distributed by United Feature Syndicate.

The strip had a lot going for it. Great art, cute fantasy stories — it had the qualities necessary for a strip that would really catch on. But Deitch was burning the candle at both ends, producing the strip at night after running the UPA animation studio during the day. When CBS Television bought the Terrytoons animation studio and asked Deitch to run it, a hard decision had to be made. Reluctantly, Deitch gave up his newspaper dreams in exchange for an important position in the new world of television animation.

Unlike most obscure strips, Terr’ble Thompson has always had a fan following because of its connection with the beloved Tom Terrific cartoons. In 2006 Fantagraphics issued a complete reprinting of the strip, a recommended book for your comic strip library.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Sidney Smith’s Untitled Comic Strip

The great Sidney Smith’s main claim to fame is his long running soaper-adventure-humor strip The Gumps. But he has quite a few other credits, including this obscure comic strip that he produced in 1916.  I assume it was produced for the Chicago Tribune, but when I indexed that paper many moons ago when I was still an unschooled researcher I failed to notice it. Perhaps back then I saw the lack of a consistent title and didn’t consider it a series. So anyway (hint, hint) if anyone has access to the Trib on Proquest a report on running dates would be much appreciated.Or maybe I’m completely off-base and Smith moonlighted with a different syndicate for this one. It did run in the Minneapolis Journal, for instance, which took all the rest of their line-up from Press Publishing/New York World.

Smith modeled this feature after others of the day that used revolving or inconsistent titles, like the features of Rube Goldberg and Clare Briggs. Among Smith’s line-up of recurring titles were The Bunk of a Busy Brain, It Depends on the Point of View, Tell Me Does It Pay? and Wasted Energy. As you can see above, other one-shot titles were used as well. The one consistent title to the feature was for the panel cartoon portion called Light Occupations. Some papers actually ran this panel as a separate feature (the Cleveland Leader for one).

Smith’s untitled 1916 effort was a really wonderful feature. The lack of a consistent plot or set of characters really gave him room to spread his comedic wings. Sometimes witty, sometimes goofy, but always pretty darn funny. Almost makes me wish he had stuck with this rather than creating The Gumps

Obscurity of the Day: Dinky Fellas

First of all, my apologies for falling down on the job again and letting the blog lie fallow for a week. I can only plead that my personal life would make even Mary Worth lose her cool.

Let’s turn the lights back on, though, and  talk about Dinky Fellas. Morrie Turner, a black cartoonist  who gained some modest success as a freelancer in the 1950s and early 60s, turned to newspaper cartooning in earnest in 1964. He created four different features in quick succession, the most notable of which is Dinky Fellas. The idea behind the strip was to have children of different races interacting as equals, a concept whose time was ripe in the years of the civil rights movement. The strip was initially sold to the Berkeley (Ca.) Post and the Chicago Defender, both black papers. The strip began appearing five days a week in the Defender on July 25 1964, but may have run in the Post a little earlier (anyone know?).

Unsatisfied with ‘preaching to the choir’, Turner wanted to have the strip running in mainstream ‘white’ papers as well. He reworked the strip, adding new characters of more races and faiths, and with the help of impresario Lew Little, marketed the tweaked strip as Wee Pals. Little, a salesman of the highest caliber, convinced mainstream newspaper editors that the time had come for a multi-racial strip that preached equality and racial harmony. Dinky Fellas was discontinued in favor of the new strip on December 18 1965 after Wee Pals had been running for ten months. In 1967 Wee Pals was picked up by the Register and Tribune Syndicate and became a staple of as many as a hundred newspapers. The strip was eventually even adapted into a Saturday morning cartoon series, Kid Power, a favorite of yours truly as a young rugrat. Turner has received many well-deserved accolades for his soft-pedaled message of peace between races in Wee Pals, which continues today from Creators Syndicate. Now in his late-80s, Turner no longer signs the strip but his message is still there loud and clear.

A biography of Turner for juvenile readers written by Mary Kentra Ericsson was published in 1986 by Childrens Press. Although sadly light on the facts of Turner’s work for the Chicago Defender, Turner’s inspirational story is otherwise well told in Morrie Turner Creator of Wee Pals and is recommended reading.

Obscurity of the Day: Mrs. Worry

Mrs. Worry is one of those strips that gets old before you’ve finished reading even a single strip. Yes, Mrs. Worry worries. Ho hum.

John A Lemon penned this forgettable feature in his typical fussy style for the C.J. Hirt-copyrighted version of the McClure Sunday section from March 11 to May 6 1906. I doubt that any readers worried overmuch when Mrs. Worry failed to appear after that.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan!

Obscurity of the Day: Just Kids et al.

T.S. Allen’s kid cartoons were a staple of no less than three different syndicates in the late 1890s and 1900s. His urban street kids seem to have been inspired at least in part by the more celebrated works of British/Australian cartoonist Phil May, whose guttersnipe cartoons were world famous. Allen’s cartooning doesn’t really compare in quality to May’s, but his work does convey a gritty realism that really bring these street kids to life.

Although our Stripper’s Guide obscurity postings are normally about a single series, to cover Allen’s kid cartoons one at a time would keep us busy for over a week. Instead we’ll cover Allen’s entire kid oeuvre in one fell swoop. Allen’s first kid cartoon appeared in Hearst’s New York Evening Journal on October 2 1897, but his first real series, which unlike most of them featured a recurring character, was titled Adonis Jimmy — as you might guess he was a bully type. That series ran in the Evening Journal from August 31 to November 15 1898.

Allen continued contributing many kid cartoons to the Hearst papers, but the next named series didn’t come until March 11 1900. That was Them Kids, which established the pattern of multiple vignettes, like the samples above, with no recurring named characters. The series ran until December 29 1901.

The first series actually titled Just Kids began in the Evening Journal on February 13 1903. A mere two days later Allen can be found moonlighting from Hearst with a Sunday series titled Tads and Tykes, which ran in the New York World Sunday section just twice, on February 15 and 22 — apparently Hearst quickly put a stop to Allen’s appearances in the competing newspaper.

The first Just Kids series ran until June 3 1905, and then was replaced by a new title, When The World is Young. This was essentially more of the same but under a new title that bounced around between Hearst’s Evening Journal and morning American papers. This series ran from June 6 1905 to May 18 1906. Allen then reverted back to the Just Kids title on November 8 1906, continuing it in the Hearst papers until May 18 1907. Allen and Hearst then parted company after an association of over a decade.

After taking a bit of a breather, Allen switched over to the Pulitzer camp where he continued Just Kids starting September 26 1907. At Pulitzer’s World the series also went by a few other names, including Wisdom of the Young and Chimmie the Kid. Apparently Allen didn’t get along as well with his new company, and the World series came to an end on October 13 1908 after just one year.

Before the World had even finished publishing all of Allen’s cartoon backlog he found a new employer at the Cleveland-based NEA. This was a giant step down from his heydays in New York, and Allen’s tough talking street kids looked like fish out of water appearing in the smalltown papers serviced by NEA. This final Just Kids series began on August 14 1908, but avoided using Allen’s long-standing title at first, presumably to sidestep the wrath of Pulitzer. The Just Kids title was finally used regularly starting May 26 1909. The series continued with NEA until sometime in the second quarter of 1910. But that was the end of Allen’s kid cartoons, which had found an appreciative audience for over a dozen years, an impressive achievement during those days when the lifespan of the average cartoon series was measured in weeks and months, not years.

All the series discussed above, except Tads and Tykes, were weekday features that ran regularly but not daily.

Obscurity of the Day: Uncle Rastus

Uncle Rastus, or often just Rastus, seems to have been purely a filler strip for the C.J. Hirt-copyrighted version of the McClure comics section. It only ran a handful of times between January 8 1905 and January 14 1906. Although the strip was never signed, the art is clearly by Ed Carey (or at least clear once I got this sample from Cole Johnson — on microfilm I couldn’t ID it).

Rastus is a pretty typical mush-mouthed ‘darkie’ of the time, the sort that was all over the comics sections back then. There is some redeeming value in the series, though, since Rastus is portrayed as a long-suffering victim of air-headed white folk, as in the example above. The majority of such series portrayed the black folks as ignorant child-like fools. Chalk at least a small one up for Ed Carey for working against stereotype.

Obscurity of the Day: Balderdash

Wayne Stayskal is a leading light among editorial cartoonists, but he’s also kept his hand in on the comics page over the years. He’s had three syndicated features, and Balderdash was the one in the middle between Trim’s Arena and Ralph. Balderdash is by far the weakest entry of the three.

The star of the show, a dog named Balderdash, has a penchant for tired one-liners that gets old real quick. Other characters are his dog pal, Oscar, the neighborhood bully dog, Floyd, and Balderdash’s owner, George.In an impressive exercise of self-aggrandizement, the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate’s sales literature for the strip likened Balderdash to Offissa Pupp of Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie‘s Sandy and Peanuts‘ Snoopy. Um … no.

Balderdash was offered from 1983 to 1984 but I have no exact dates. Anyone?

Obscurity of the Day: Getting Wise / Mr. Fallguy

Here’s an obscurity from the Chicago Daily News, that hotbed of daily comics we’ve discussed here every once in awhile.This series, about a fellow who tries to be helpful only to get himself into trouble, started under the title of Getting Wise on September 3 1909. At the helm was the great George Frink, who is best known for his classic Circus Solly/Slim Jim strip.

Frink was extraordinarily productive in the 1900s, but by 1909 he seemed to be having trouble sticking with anything, and Getting Wise is a good example of that. Frink only stayed with the strip until October 7, then an episode on October 12 was penned by R.B. Fuller. Frink was back for the next episode on October 15, then back to Fuller on the 26th. Frink then produced four more strips between November 11 and December 7, then back to Fuller on the 28th. Frink settled back in on January 17 1910, producing 18 more episodes between then and May 26. Fuller was back in charge in June, producing two episodes. Then Frink again, who stuck with the series for a long spell from July 15 1910 to January 12 1912, though sometimes more than a month would go by without an episode. This may seem pretty extreme, but the Daily News series were often this sporadic.

In 1912, though, the Daily News changed its philosophy and began to favor a more manageable stable of series that were produced on a regular basis. Many series were dropped, among which was Getting Wise. Frink now concentrated mainly on a series called Sammy Spankem. In September 1913, though, the Getting Wise series was revived, this time under the title of Mr. Fallguy (he’d been the main character throughout the run, but now the Getting Wise title was dropped). Frink abandoned Sammy Spankem and a temporarily revived Circus Solly strip to concentrate on it. Between September 16 and the 27th Frink produced six episodes, then Richard Thain jumped in for two on September 30 and October 2. Starting on October 4 Frink settled on Mr. Fallguy as his sole strip and produced it regularly until August 26 1915. It would be the last series produced by Frink, who, according to scuttlebutt that shouldn’t necessarily be considered reliable, then succumbed to alcoholism.

Mr. Fallguy, especially in its later incarnations, was produced by rote and is not a fitting coda to Frink’s brilliant cartooning career.