Obscurity of the Day: Jasper Jooks

‘Me-tooism’ in comic strips may have reached its modern nadir in Jess ‘Baldy’ Benton’s Jasper Jooks. Introduced by the New York Post Syndicate on April 19 1948, the strip was an utterly slavish copy of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner. Practically the only nod to originality is that the residents of Appleknock Territory wear Revolutionary War attire rather than the hillbilly rags fashionable in Dogpatch.

It’s a shame, too, because copying Al Capp is no small feat. Baldy Benton had both the art and writing style nailed down, an indication that he surely could have done justice to a more original concept. My hope is that Benton didn’t create Jasper Jooks of his own volition, but was directed to copy Li’l Abner by the Post Syndicate. Perhaps the syndicate had the idea that because Capp’s phenomenally successful strip was only available in one paper per territory that a knock-off could find a home at all those other papers that missed out on the strip.

If that was the thinking then the syndicate was wrong. Jasper Jooks didn’t make it into a lot of papers and seems to have expired just shy of a one-year contract, on March 26 1949.

Obscurity of the Day: Alpha, Omega and their Sister Sue

If I was that goose, I’d go on strike. Obviously the star of the show in Alpha, Omega and their Sister Sue, he gets bottom billing! What’s up with that?

Alpha, Omega and their Sister Sue was contributed by Paul West to the New York World Sunday section for just a handful of episodes, from March 9 to 30 1902 (the examples above lack only the premier episode). In the past I’ve described West’s art as repellant. I wonder if someone back then made the same comment to him, because in this strip he’s really done an excellent job of toning down the frightful Halloween-mask faces I so associate with him — the artwork here is actually quite charming.

We just covered the quasi-official Sunbonnet Sue strip recently, and oddly enough, here she pops up again, though by a cartoonist not normally associated with her. West doesn’t seem to have been fully on board with the philosophy of not showing her face, though.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: When You Were a Boy

Jack Callahan hit the New York Evening World like a hurricane in the mid-teens, churning out a what seemed like a practically endless variety of strips and panel series. Here’s one of his efforts, When You Were a Boy. H.T. Webster and Clare Briggs paved the way with their well-received nostalgic reminiscences about boyhood, and plenty of other cartoonists followed suit with their own interpretations. Callahan’s, I think, has to be classified on the mediocre side. The powers that be must have liked it, though, because it ran almost a full year, from April 7 1916 to February 3 1917. In addition to appearing in the Evening World it was also syndicated through Pulitzer’s Press Publishing company.

Jim Ivey’s Sunday Comics

For those outside Florida, this is our new ‘tea party’ governor, Rick Scott. One of his first official acts was to turn down over $2 billion dollars in federal grant money for building a high-speed rail line between Orlando and Tampa. Although his stated reason was that he was worried about possible cost overruns that would have to come out of the state’s pocket, the real reason is much more likely that the Republican governor did not want to endear Floridians to our Democrat president for all those jobs that would have been created.

Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: William M. Goodes

William M. Goodes was born in Portage County, Ohio in March 1857; his birthplace was reported in a Philadelphia Inquirer obituary, and the birthdate was recorded in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. In the 1860 census Goodes was cited as the youngest of two sons born to Edward and Annie; they lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His father was a painter.

In 1880 Goodes was married to Margaret, and they had a two-year-old son, Edward. They lived in Philadelphia at 1531 21st Street. His occupation was lithographer. On Easter 1889, elections were held in Protestant Episcopal churches; Goodes was elected to the vestry at St. Albans in Roxborough.

The Goodes lived at 6908 Ridge Avenue in Philadelphia according to the 1900 census. The household included a daughter, Mary, and a nephew, Edward Wigner. His occupation was artist. For newspapers he did a hidden-picture  and text story feature called “Fables and Puzzles”, and “Fairy Tales Up to Date”, which ran  in 1903-04. Two comic strips he produced for the Philadelphia Press, from 1905 to 1906, were “Beppo and Bruin”, and “Mr. Genius”.[he also contributed to the Philadelphia Inquirer and New York Herald — Allan]

Professor Bughunter, probable one-shot, 3/23/02

Goodes’s address did not change in 1910. He had been married for 33 years and was an artist doing illustration. His son had moved out and his brother, Thomas, had moved in. Goodes passed away on April 15, 1919. The Evening Public Ledger (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) reported his death on April 16:

William M. Goodes
Artist and Illustrator Dies at His Home in Roxborough

William M. Goodes, an artist, whose original ideas and skill in sketching won him wide fame as a comic illustrator and cartoonist, died yesterday after a week’s illness of uremia at his home in Roxborough.

He was born sixty-three years ago in Portage County, Ohio, while his parents, who were Philadelphians, were living there. They returned to this city with William when he was two years old. Mr. Goodes began his career as a lithographer, and while following that line took courses in the Academy of Fine Arts. Soon after he was placed in charge of the art department of the John D. Avil Company. While connected with the Historical Publishing Company he illustrated the Henry M. Stanley book, “African Jungles.” He also illustrated Bill Nye’s last work, “Comic History of England.” For a time he was associated with George V. Hobart when the playwright was writing comic sketches.

For twenty years he contributed the comic sketches for Lippincott’s Magazine. Other publications to which Mr. Goodes was a frequent contributor included Puck, Judge, Harpers’ Round Table, Texas Siftings and the Century. He followed his profession until his last illness.

Mr. Goodes when a young man was a member of “the State Fencibles” and served with that command in the Pittsburgh riots. He is survived by a widow, Mrs. Margaret E. Goodes; a son, Edward A. Goodes, and a brother, Thomas A. Goodes.

Some of Goodes’ Lippincott’s Magazine work can be viewed at Yesterday’s Papers.

Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Robert E. Brook

 Robert E. Brook was born in Arizona in May 1885 as recorded in the 1900 U.S. Federal Census. An obituary in the Baltimore American said he was born in Tucson, Arizona. The Brook family lived in Los Angeles, California at 2123 Ivers Avenue. Young Brook’s occupation was candy maker.

According to Edan Hughes’ Artists in California, 1786-1940, Brook was a resident of Los Angeles from 1900 to 1906, and exhibited in the Los Angeles Press Artists Association in 1906. The Los Angeles Herald reported, on December 12, that the exhibition would be at the Alexandria Hotel parlors on December 18, 19 and 20. The artists included Arthur Dodge, E.E. McDowell, George A. Grant, A.L. Ewing, Clarence Pugsley, J. Coxen, Oscar M. Bryan, H.J. Turner, R.C. Springer, George Herriman, E.O. Sayer, Jr., A.S. Wheeler, Henry Ivene Hawxhurst, L.T. Johnston, R.P. Strathearn, J.D. Johnson, R. Gale and George Baker.

Brook was on the move in California and Hawaii then headed east, and settled in Baltimore. On February 5, 1911, the Baltimore American reported the exhibition of cartoons at the Charcoal Club.

Exhibition of Cartoons
Work of Thorndike and Brook at Charcoal Club.

The first of a series of exhibition of cartoons by artists was opened in the rooms of the Charcoal Club last night. The opening exhibition is devoted to the works of Mr. Willis H. Thorndike, whose cartoons have appeared daily in The American for some years, and those of Mr. R. Brook, of the Star. The exhibitions will continue all this week….

His comic strip, Officer Crust, was introduced, without fanfare, in the American on Monday, October 30, 1911; it was signed “R Brook”. The strip’s popularity apparently produced at least one merchandising item as recorded in the Catalog of Copyright Entries, Part 4, 1912, New Series, Volume 7, No. 2, on page 175.

Gold-Art Specialty Co., Baltimore, [10358

Officer Crust: by R. Brook. [Grotesque statuette of policeman with hands clasped, leaning forward laughing.] © 1 с June 5. 1912; G 41005.

Brook’s passing was reported in the American on September 12, 1918:

Death Ends Career of Robert E. Brook
Was Creator of Officer Crust In The American—His Cartoons Pleased Thousands.

After a prolonged illness of nervous trouble, Robert E. Brook, creator of Officer Crust and a number of other cartoons which appeared in The American and The Star, died Tuesday [September 10] at Spring Grove State Hospital, Catonsville. Several months ago he suffered a breakdown. He received treatment at the Phipps clinic and later went to Spring Grove. He was born at Tucson, Ariz., and is a son of Harry Brook, an Englishman, who is at present editorial writer on the Los Angeles (Cal.) Times.

Brook’s father drifted out to the great West in the early eighties and started a newspaper in Tombstone, Ariz., which he called the Epitaph. In spite of its name, it was a very live sheet. Young Brook was nursed by an Indian squaw, who carried him around in a blanket. At an early age he was taken to Los Angeles, Cal., and placed in school much to his disgust but after a brief sojourn in the halal of knowledge he started his active career as a bill peddler for a tea house. Then he became a helper in a candy factory. His first job on a newspaper was with the Los Angeles Herald, where he worked in the pressroom, the mailing department, stereotyping-room, the business office and, finally, in the art department as a helper, where he was put to making layouts for half-tones and the drawings of simple line pictures.

As he grew older he drifted away from the newspaper game and took a fling at the theater. For a time he was property man at the Los Angeles Opera House. Then he went on the road and became a regular stroller. Later he joined the staff of the Los Angeles Times, where he drew sport cartoons, layouts and news sketches. He left the Times very abruptly one morning at the lament suggestion of the managing editor, and after drifting about hit San Francisco and landed with the art department of The Chronicle. After leaving The Chronicle he went back to the show business as assistant property man at the Grand Opera House in Frisco. Next he struck out for Honolulu with a stock company, returning to Frisco in time for the great fire. From Frisco he went back to Los Angeles and helped build up the Press Club. Then for a time he went on a farm, learning how to raise oranges.

It was about this time he received a position with the Washington Times. His next venture was in New York in 1907, the year of the panic, but as there was very little doing he turned Southward to Philadelphia and got a berth under Pop Scholl [probably actually Paschall — Allan] on the North American. From that paper he went with the Philadelphia Telegraph as sport cartoonist and from there to his last position with The Baltimore American and The Star. It was while working for these papers that he evolved his most popular comic strip character, Officer Crust.

Brook was a natural-born cartoonist and his advice to those aspiring to comic drawing was, “Natural ability is the most essential thing, but it must be backed up with a barrel full of experiences. Experience is the best teacher but the rates are scandalously high. Natural ability is the foundation of success in any profession. A man may be able to make a screaming caricature, but unless he is a natural story-teller he will fail as a stripper.”

Brook seldom talked unless he had something to say. During his career with The American he made many friends in this city, especially among the business men who furnished him with quips for his cartoon characters.

He is survived by his father and mother, a widow (Mrs. Ora Brook, who before her marriage was a Miss Dooley of [illegible] Reisterstown road), three daughters (Katharine, Ora and Margaret Brook) and two brothers and four sisters. The funeral took place yesterday. Burial was in Western Cemetery [Baltimore].

Obscurity of the Day: How a Man Proposes

I suppose there’s something to be said for turning to the comics page of your daily paper and seeing the same faces staring back at you every day. Howdy Snuffy, how’s it goin’ Beetle, hey, still lookin’ good Blondie. Consistency can be enjoyable, and seeing reliable old friends every day does lend life some pleasant continuity. But back in the nineteen-oughts, before market forces, syndication and lazy editors remade the comics in that cookie cutter mold, you had an experience that is also pleasant — the anticipation of the new and unknown.

Take How a Man Proposes, for example. Cartoonist E.A. Bushnell penned this series with no thought in his mind about licensing possibilities or how he’d come up with a gag that worked for his feature every day for the next umpteen years. No, he just thought of a cute idea, drew as many episodes of it as he could think up, and consigned it to history. Newspaper readers in the boonies (where NEA, the syndicate responsible, was king) opened their papers on August 6 1907 not knowing what particular cartoon entertainments they might find that day, and what they did find was the first installment of this series, which then ran seven times over the span of the next three weeks, ending on the 22nd. No fuss that the delightful little series was over, just the anticipation for what might come next.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans.

Obscurity of the Day: A Few Dialogues in a Minor Key

When the Chicago Tribune first bowed to the popularity of Sunday color comic sections and inaugurated their own, they were obviously a little uneasy about the whole concept. For the first few years the section was text heavy, as if they were trying to create something halfway between a funnies section and an issue of Puck or Judge. This feature, A Few Dialogues in a Minor Key, was sort of a last hurrah for that philosophy before the section finally became comics from stem to stern.

The feature, which lasted only a month, was a potpourri of gag cartoons and jokes. The writer, Charles W. Taylor, was a humorist of small note who, based on these examples, never thought up a joke he couldn’t obfuscate into a few paragraphs of drivel. The cartoonist was Louis Dalrymple, one of the less gifted members of the Puck crew of the 1890s. He was destined to go insane and die in 1905.

A Few Dialogues in a Minor Key ran from January 18 to February 22 1903 in the Tribune. Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

Obscurity of the Day: Stanley Steamer

In the 1960s computers and robots were already very much on the public mind. The common wisdom was that they were going to replace us in all of our jobs, then they’d take over the world, and that eventually they would see mankind for the second-raters we are and exterminate us as a lower life form. Luckily it turns out that they’re just turning us into inert blobs, too busy playing video games, updating our Facebook pages, tweeting and making blog posts to bother having an actual life. Thank goodness we dodged that bullet.

In 1965 John Somerville took a different tack in Stanley Steamer. He chose to portray robots as cute and cuddly, and featured a happy-go-lucky little steam-powered robot in the starring role of his strip. Stanley is the creation of Mr. Fink, a sour little genius who has no end of trouble getting his robots to perform the way he wants them to.

The strip really had a lot going for it, and I’m surprised it wasn’t a hit. It was syndicated by impresario Lew Little, whose stock-in-trade at the time was to pick up a strip that he liked, sell it to a few papers, and then shop it around to the major syndicates as a success story already in progress. At the same time as he was shepherding Stanley Steamer, he was doing the same with Tumbleweeds and Wee Pals, so he definitely had an eye for picking winners.

Unfortunately Stanley Steamer doesn’t seem to have caught the fancy of any of the major players, and the strip, which began on November 29 1965, made it into 1966 but no farther. I don’t have an end date for the strip; my latest samples are from April, but it was advertised in the 1966 E&P Syndicate Directory, so I’m assuming it lasted at least into the summer months, if not longer.

Edit: The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin ran it to the end, on November 19 1966. Thanks to the tag team of Mark and Cole Johnson for dredging that out of the memory banks and checking the microfilm!