One of the few real gems in the Boston Herald‘s comic section of the 1900s was Sawdust Sim. Most of the Herald‘s Sunday comics were reasonably well-drawn but the writing was almost uniformly execrable. Paul F. Brown’s Sawdust Sim was, in stark contrast, not just well-written but also quite avant garde. Strips that broke the fourth wall in those days were quite rare, but Brown’s strip used that motif every week in ways that still seem quite fresh today.
Brown had the good sense not to overdo the strip, and it ran for only about four months, from November 18 1906 to March 10 1907. It was one of only two comic strip series he is known to have done.
In the mid-teens, some weekday Hearst strips suddenly sprouted companion features. These features were meant to be used sort of like the Sunday toppers of a decade later — if the paper didn’t have the space they could be lopped off. An extra benefit of these daily ones was that the companion feature could be clipped off and run elsewhere in the paper or as ROP, a nice little boon to page composition.
Jean Knott’s Penny Ante (aka Eddie’s Friends) used these weekday companion features much longer than the other Hearst bullpenners. The first companion strip to it was It Can’t Be Done, an unassuming feature that used the same tagline every day. Although the temptation is to say the idea was too limited to last, the strip is rather like There Oughta Be a Law and They’ll Do It Every Time, so I guess no idea is so limited that someone can’t flog it for decades.
Knott included It Can’t Be Done with Penny Ante from June 13 to September 25 1916, and then replaced it with Let the Wedding Bells Ring Out, a companion feature that proved popular enough to also run on its own for many years.
Thanks to Mark Johnson for the samples!
Sorry folks, ran out of time to prep my Herriman post for today. So instead here’s a few questions we’re pondering; maybe you can help!
Our Gang Ad — Cole Johnson sends this Royal Gelatin ad, saying that it might be by Virginia Huget. I see no particular resemblance to the art style I associate with her, but it’s also well established that she was pretty good at aping other styles. Anyone want to weigh in with an opinion on whether this is Huget, or maybe you’d like to nominate some other cartoonist?
The Grizzwells — I was just clipping a few current strips the other day and noticed that The Grizzwells by Bill Schorr seems to have a second creator credited within the strip. Looks like ‘Smith’ to me, but at postage stamp size it is hard to tell. Found nothing on the web saying that the strip now has two creators. Does anyone know anything about this Smith person and his/her role?
Newspaper Archives on the Web — I know about Newspaperarchive.com, of course, and the Library of Congress has a selection of digitized newspapers, and then there’s Google Newspaper Archive as well. There’s also Newslibrary.com, which I know very little about. There’s also some localized websites like this one for Utah and one for New Jersey papers, for which I’ve somehow lost the link. If you know of other sources for digitized newspapers available on the web, either free or fee, I’d like to know about them. I think a link collection for digitized newspaper sources would be a great resource. Ideally we’d also tabulate a list of newspapers and date ranges as well, but that may be impossible to do as it is a pretty swiftly moving target.
|October 15 1905|
|December 10 1905|
|January 14 1906|
|March 4 1906|
|September 23 1906|
|October 21 1906|
|February 10 1907|
|September 22 1907|
|November 3 1907|
|March 22 1908|
|April 12 1908|
If I was to ask you to name cities that have been hotbeds of newspaper cartooning activity, Newark New Jersey would probably come pretty far down on your list. But there have actually been quite a few local features in the papers of that city. Why? Mainly because it is close enough to New York City that, in the old days of exclusive territories for newspaper comics, Newark was frozen out from most of the mainstream strips which were gobbled up by the Big Apple.
Although newspapers in Newark and other cities in the shadow of NYC always managed to make do, usually on a steady diet of B-grade syndicate features, there was an exceptional receptiveness at these papers to local features.
Blog reader Fram, who braves the dark waters of the Google Newspaper Archive in spite of an annoying interface, spotty coverage and buggy digitization, discovered the feature sampled above, perhaps the earliest local feature to appear in the Newark papers.
The Newark Call began publishing a weekly strip by Louis Kniep in their Sunday edition on or before October 15 1905. (Most of the dates cited in this post will be approximations — many issues of the Call are missing from the Google archives.) The strip usually starred animals, though none were nominated for star billing for a long while. The strips are certainly not notable for quality of art or gags — in fact they are quite firmly in the amateur category. What is notable is the level of cruelty and violence depicted — Fram aptly described them as outdoing Tom and Jerry in that department, practically verging on Itchy and Scratchy territory.
Starting in September 1906 a dog named Towser takes star billing on occasion, and kids named Peter, Freddy and Tommy are named more than once. By 1907, though, Towser has been renamed Fido, and Fido he stays for awhile.
Finally in September 1907 Kniep makes a breakthrough and comes up with a consistent star player he calls the Wooden Man. Other than being drawn in a weird blocky way, the substance he’s made of doesn’t seem to be a major plot consideration, but hey, at least Kniep finally made the effort to develop a running character. The Wooden Man’s horse, also presumably wooden, is more memorable than his master — he sports a belly-side door in the Trojan style.
While Kniep was zeroing in on the comic strip convention of recurring characters, his writing was getting increasingly disjointed. Not that Kniep’s work was ever the model of clarity, but some of the strips I perused near the end of the run were downright incoherent. Finally the Call seems to have had enough and the series ends on or soon after April 12 1908.
So, besides the minor novelty of this amateurish local comic strip lasting over two years, what can we say of interest? Fram offers this nugget — he did a little digging on this Louis Kniep fellow and discovered that a Newark native by this same name competed as a gymnast in the 1904 Olympics! If it is the same fellow, he was about as good a gymnast as he was a cartoonist. He placed 44th in his best event.
Here’s a strip that lends itself to a little ‘inside baseball’ on comic strip research. Doddlesby’s Home Tasks is a Chicago Daily News strip of 1901. I indexed the Daily News by ordering the microfilm of the paper through inter-library loan, five months of reels at a time. The Daily News was notoriously cavalier about naming their strips, so I took voluminous notes on the strips that appeared and went over them with a fine-tooth comb to determine which represented continuing series.
Doddlesby’s Home Tasks, a cute little gem about a fellow who can’t seem to successfully fix anything around the house, was easy to recognize as a series once the main character was named. Unfortunately that happened months into a very sporadic run, and cartoonist Charles Fletcher Batchelder did many non-series strips and panels at the same time to throw me off the scent. Unfortunately, once I’d finally recognized the strip as a series, the previous batch of microfilm reels had been sent back to the lending library and my notes, copious as they were, did not yield a start date for the series prior to the naming of the main character.
Perhaps not fascinating information, but it is my excuse for now saying that the series first gained a named star on October 15 1901, but that the proto-series predates it by a few months. I can say with authority, though, that the series last appears on November 14 of the same year. So there.
Thanks to Cole Johnson for the samples!