Mystery Strip: Marge by Russell Cole

Looking for help on this one, folks. Just received a pile of newspaper clippings. The collection focused on sports, but there were some rare strips that came along for the ride. This one above, though, I can’t ID. This strip was printed in a tabloid size rotogravure section in either late September or early October 1929.

The page gives no indication of the newspaper, but most of the collection comes from New York papers, so I’m betting it’s from the Evening Graphic, the Daily News or the Mirror. Many of the roto photos are credited to P & A Photos, but that doesn’t help me any.

The signature is covered with bandage tape (the whole page is edged with the stuff) but with the aid of a bright light and magnifying glass I managed to determine it is by Russell Cole. I lose track of him after 1926, though, when he was doing a feature for Editors Syndicate.

So can anyone ID the newspaper and, even better, confirm that this was a series, not a one-shot? Comics rarely ran in rotogravure sections, so this one is quite the oddball.

Obscurity of the Day: Sporting Adventures of Mr. Reginald Fitz-Noodles

From the deepest recesses of Cole Johnson’s collection, he has unearthed The Sporting Adventures of Mr. Reginald Fitz-Noodles. This one’s so old it probably qualifies for radio-carbon dating. However, to save the expense, we’ll just look at the dates printed on the pages (in Sanskrit, of course) and report that this series ran in the New York World from August 5 to September 19 1897.

This series penned at the dawn of the comic strip boom was by a fellow named Gray Parker. Though he doesn’t have any other series credits, Cole tells me that he was a regular contributor to the World’s Sunday section in those antediluvian days. The fellow’s got a really strong art style, and he knows how to present a gag, so too bad he didn’t stick with the newspaper cartooning business. Of course he would have had to learn to refrain from blasting dogs with a shotgun for comedic effect. I say, old fellow, bad show, bad show indeed.

Obscurity of the Day: Guindon

I imagine I’m far from the first person to say this, but just in case I herewith present the Holtz Prime Directive of Newspaper Comics Success:

Thou Shalt Not be a Success by Being Smarter than your Audience
It pains me to say it, but it’s true. The exceptions are rare — in fact I can only come up with two — Pogo and maybe The Far Side. And I’m not sure about the latter. I suspect a lot of people liked it because Larsen drew cows funny.
Of course I don’t mean that as a cartoonist you can’t be a brilliant writer. Charles Schulz was brilliant, but he knew how to talk on his audience’s level. But if Aunt Sally in Topeka is mystified by your gags you are in deep trouble. Oh sure, you can carve out a niche. Two very smart strips currently running that immediately come to mind are Zippy the Pinhead and The Dinette Set. But how many papers run them? And how often do they come in dead last in those newspaper polls to which Aunt Sally faithfully responds?
Well, Guindon is a prime example of brilliant writing that shot so far over Aunt Sally’s head she didn’t even hear the sonic boom when it passed.  A tiny cadre of newspaper editors ran the feature, which was self-titled by Richard Guindon. It was a brilliant daily morsel of surrealist mind-candy that on its best days (of which there were plenty) would have had Salvador Dali horking Corn Flakes out his nose at the breakfast table.
Richard Guindon was on staff at the Minneapolis Tribune when he first came up with the series. He’d been there since 1968, but the Guindon cartoon in its formal guise apparently didn’t begin until sometime in 1974. At the Trib the series ran 3-4 times per week. In July 1978 the feature was picked up by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate and it became a daily cartoon. In 1981 Guindon moved from the Minneapolis paper to the Detroit Free Press, and his syndicator changed to Field Enterprises. The syndication continued until 1985, never appearing in more than a handful of papers, ending its syndication with the successor syndicate to Field, News America Syndicate. Supposedly the cartoon then ran locally in the Detroit Free Press for awhile, perhaps ending in 1987, but I’ve not yet been able to verify that. For awhile in 1983 Guindon also did a panel titled Carp, but it may just be a part of the overall Guindon series. His wiki bio claims that there was also a Carp comic strip late in the 80s — I haven’t seen any examples of that.
If all this history of the feature seems pretty vague, it doesn’t help that Guindon himself is notoriously reticent about giving a straight answer about his history. I have every one of the Guindon reprint books, in most of which he offers a bio of some sort, and yet he’s hard to pin down about specifics. Of course, for pure pleasure all his books are highly recommended, even if you can’t get a straight answer out of the guy. Go find the following Right Now:
Cartoons by Guindon (Quick Fox, 1980)
Guindon (Minneapolis Tribune, 1978)
Michigan So Far (Detroit Free Press, 1991)
Together Again (Andrews-McMeel, 1986)
The World According to Carp (Andrews-McMeel, 1983)
EDIT: Since this post ran I have seen the Guindon panel still running (now as a weekly) in 1992 in the Detroit Free Press.

Bill Blackbeard RIP

Bill Blackbeard has passed away at age 84. He died on March 10. This man was almost single-handedly responsible for reviving interest in the history of newspaper comic strips in the 1970s. His books were among the first I ever saw, and I suspect that’s true for many of us who picked up the comic strip gene. His love of the material shone like a beacon to guide a whole new generation of fans.

I never met Bill in person, and our occasional correspondences was usually argumentative, though always civil and respectful. I rarely contacted him except to question something he’d said. I can now only regret that I never took the time to write him the gushing fan letter that he deserved. Always too embroiled in trying to get to the bottom of some fine point of comic history, we debated, we argued, we compared notes, but I never did a great job of expressing my deep appreciation for his lynchpin role in researching, archiving, and popularizing this art form that has become a big part of my life.

Goodbye, Bill, and thank you for so ably sharing with us your passion. I can only hope that you got some satisfaction that a new generation of researchers and archivers like myself have tried to take on the mantle and continue the work that you pioneered.

For a much more artfully worded and informative tribute to Blackbeard, please click over to R.C. Harvey’s essay at Comics Journal (from whence I stole the image).

Obscurity of the Day: J.M. Muggsby’s Social Aspirations

Even when Harold MacGill wasn’t working on his Hall-Room Boys strip, he was obsessing about people trying to climb the social ladder. When Hearst had him add a Sunday strip to his repertoire (he was primarily appearing in the weekday papers for Hearst) he came up with J.M. Muggsby’s Social Aspirations, which played out much like Hall-Room Boys episodes except that the butt of the jokes was a middle-aged married fellow who did actually have the dough, but still couldn’t get society to take an interest in him.

The strip seems to have been more of a filler than anything else. It only ran from October 13 to December 8 1907.

Obscurity of the Day: Your History

By far the most popular and long-lived of the historical/inspirational features of the black papers was Your History by pioneering historian J.A. Rogers. It seems to have been syndicated out of the Pittsburgh Courier but ran in quite a few black papers across the country over the years. Rogers was much admired for his research into black history, but  sometimes came under fire, or at least gentle ridicule, for his very far-reaching definition of ‘blackness’. He considered most Middle Easterners, for instance, to be black.

Your History was a delightful and yet instructive mix of Ripley’s-style items and more serious history. The feature began on November 10 1934, with art initially by George L. Lee. Lee wasn’t much of an artist, or at least was a bad choice for a feature that depended on realistic illustrations. He doggedly stuck with it, though, until July 31 1937 when the feature went on a long hiatus.

On November 16 1940 the feature returned to the pages of the Courier under the more professional collaborative brush of Samuel Milai. Milai was better able to handle the art chores, though even he was much more at home with more traditional cartooning.

The title of the feature changed to Facts About the Negro in 1962, for unknown reasons (my guess is that the title change signaled that the feature had gone to reprints). Rogers died in 1966, but the feature was carried by the Courier regularly until February 13 1971, and popped up occasionally after that.

Your History is a rarity among black newspaper features in that it was actually published in book form. Rogers self-published quite a few books of his prose work, so it was only natural that he also published Your History in book form as well. The first book, titled Your History, was published in 1940, and Facts About the Negro around 1960 (it carried no publication date).

Obscurity of the Day: Guiding Lights

Another in our series spotlighting black-produced historical/inspirational features, Guiding Lights covers both bases in these two examples. This is Richard Brent’s only known series and was produced for the New York Amsterdam News from August 6 1938 to March 30 1940. Brent had a great style, and frankly calling these cartoons might just be stretching the definition a tad. My source scrapbook had just these two examples, but they are very effective in showing both his excellent straight illustration work as well as an appealing art deco sensibility.