Obscurity of the Day: Bears in Love

In the 1970s and 80s there seemed to be some sort of competition for who could come up with the sappiest, oversentimental, schmaltzy comic strip. While the undeniable winner, in my opinion, has to be Charmers, Bears in Love gives it a run for its money.

 Eric Meese first came up with the ursine characters as a spoof on his sister’s lovey-dovey antics with her fiancee. The spoof cartoons, shown to his family and friends, seems to have been received without recognizing the ironic intent, and his audience oohed and aahed over the romantic bears and begged for more. Meese’s brother then took some of the drawings to an agent in New York. The next thing he knew, Meese had a contract with Universal Press Syndicate to produce the feature seven days per week.

Based on an interview at the time, Meese seems to have been on a very short leash. He had to submit two weeks worth of strips each week, and the syndicate picked out seven from each batch, and sent notes on how to improve the chosen ones. That’s pretty standard during the development stage for a strip, but rather unusual for one that is actually being syndicated.Considering that Meese, even in his interviews, gives off a vibe of being in way over his head, I think it safe to say that Universal might have been a little too anxious to bring this strip to market.

Bears in Love seems to have debuted on March 28 1983, and lasted until sometime in 1986. Having solved the world’s saccharine shortage, the strip was retired and the bears went to their final endless hibernation.

Herriman Saturday

Thursday, March 12 1908 — The Angel fans were out in force to see another exhibition game against the White Sox. Imagine how excited they were when, after five innings of play, the score stood at 1-0, Angels leading. The Angels’ pitcher “Red” Randolph seemed practically unhittable, and the stands are going nuts at the prospect of beating the mighty ChiSox.

After five innings Randolph is taken out, having done a good day’s work, and a new pitcher, Elmer Koestner, takes up the mantle. And of course everything goes straight to hell from there. Koestner can’t seem to find the plate, and when he does, the Sox knock the pill all over the yard. When the dust clears, the Sox have beat the Angels 6-1.

The irony is that it would be Koestner who made it to the majors, while Randolph never got any further than the PCL. Looking at Koestner’s stats, he was never very good at the major league level as a pitcher. His lifetime batting average of .315, on the other hand, you would think would have counted for something.

Obscurity of the Day: The DeBrees

The DeBrees has been languishing on my E&P Mystery Strips list for years now. Several correspondents swore that they remember seeing it, but none could come up with a sample. Finally, Cole Johnson rides to the rescue with these two Sunday strips from the Philadelphia Inquirer. He says they seem to be the only two strips from the series that the Inky actually found space to run, both in December 1975.

This points out something we have to keep in mind about syndicated features. Just because a paper paid for it doesn’t necessarily mean that they ran it. And here at the Stripper’s Guide, that’s a very important distinction.

No doubt creators Kipp Schuessler (art) and Charles Barsotti (writing) would tell me that the feature was picked up by ‘x’ number of papers, perhaps 10, 20 or even more. But it is quite possible that these few strips that ran in the Philadelphia Inquirer are the only ones that ever actually became ink on newsprint anywhere. Back in the day, papers often bought features for strategic reasons — sometimes to keep a competing paper from getting it, as a favor to a syndicate salesman, as a hedge against the feature at some later date becoming a hot property, or because they liked it well enough but then got cold feet when it came time to drop some other feature to make room.

So, although The DeBrees has lost mystery status, that certainly doesn’t mean there aren’t unanswered questions. Did it run elsewhere, and if so, for how long, and did the advertised daily version ever run?

Obscurity of the Day: Mop O’Hare

A few ardent cartooning fans still fondly remember Sam Brier’s Small World, a newspaper strip that ran 1952-56 in the New York Herald-Tribune and not many other places. And that strip is worth remembering, from what little I’ve read of it. However, an earlier Brier effort (at least I’m told it’s Brier) from the New York Post Syndicate is less likely to spark warm waves of nostalgia.

Mop O’Hare, about a hirsute li’l hellraiser, is pretty standard comedy fare, somewhat hobbled artwise by the reader never seeing the face of young Master O’Hare. The gimmick of having hair falling into the tyke’s face seems like a cute dodge in theory, but it ends up being a limitation. Brier was a pretty good artist, and seeing the kid’s expression could have really helped to put over some rather pedestrian gags.

Ain’t it a shame they never come to Dr. Holtz to fix up their ideas before they get in the paper? Geez. I could save them so much embarrassment.

Anyhow, questions of my marketing genius aside, the other issue with this feature, which was syndicated from July 30 1945 to January 25 1947, is whether the credited creator, Ken Stevens, is in fact Sam Brier. Folks, I’m not going to lie to you. I’ve got it in my notes that Brier and Stevens are one and the same. But where I learned that is a mystery because I failed to cite my source.

And that’s lesson two for the day — always cite your sources, kids! Between that, and having me review all your feature submissions, this world could be a better place for all of us — especially me.

Ink-Slinger Profiles: Wilson Cutler

Charles Wilson Cutler was born in Pennsylvania on April 23, 1903 or 1904. The Social Security Death Index has the year as 1903, while the California Death Index says it was 1904.

The 1910 U.S. Federal Census recorded him in Erie, Pennsylvania at 262 18 Street, where he lived with his widowed mother, Adelaide, and maternal grandfather, Jacob Wilson, in the household of his uncle, Friend Hall, a doctor, and his family. Cutler’s mother was a music teacher; her maiden name, Wilson, was his middle name. About three years later, she took him to California. Her name appeared nearly 200 times in the San Diego Union and San Diego Evening Tribune from 1913 to 1935. She advertised in both papers, which reported her piano performances and pupils’ recitals.

The pair lived in San Diego at 423 Date Street, according to the 1920 census. Cutler’s cartooning talent was displayed in his 1921 high school yearbook, The Russ; his signed his cartoons either as “Cut” or “W. Cutler”.

His achievements were highlighted in the 1922 yearbook. The San Diego City Directory 1923 listed his mother as a music teacher at the San Diego Conservatory of Music and him as a student. The 1927 directory said he was a draftsman. His occupation was artist in the 1929 directory.

He has not been found in the 1930 census, but his mother remained at the same address. The San Diego City Directory 1931 and 1932 listed Cutler as a map recorder for the gas company, and he lived with his mother. They were registered Democrats according to a 1934 voter registration list at Ancestry.com; they lived in San Diego at 1639 Fifth. Sometime during the mid- to late 1930s they moved.

In Los Angeles, California, they resided at 2725 West 9th Street, according to the 1940 census. He was a commercial artist at an advertising agency. Around 1943 he was employed at Douglas Aircraft Company, where he contributed to the company magazine, Douglas Airview; some of his art has been indexed at Wartime Press: September 1943 (“A Douglas Artist Looks at the Swing Shift”—Wilson Cutler sketches Santa Monica workers); January 1944 (“It Takes More than Hairy Ears”—Wilson Cutler sketches the engineers); and April 1944 (cover: The “Old Timer” in an anxious moment, depicted by Wilson Cutler.) American Aviation, December 15, 1943, noted his cartoons on handling cargo. Perhaps his job inspired him to create the strip Rosie Rattletrap. Coronet, December 1944, profiled Joseph Vincent Connolly, the president of King Features Syndicate, International News Service and International News Photos; an excerpt:

…Connolly, too, is boss of the artists who turn out 100 daily-and-Sunday cartoon strips and panels—strips such as Barney Google and Blondie, and panels such as Ripley’s Believe It or Not. He immediately steps into the breach with fresh ideas when a big strip shows signs of growing stale, and he has come up with luncheon-table ideas that have resulted in the creation of wartime comics such as Rosie Rattletrap, featuring a girl riveter in an airplane factory.

The Los Angeles City Directory 1948 listed him as an advertising artist at 756 South Broadway. 

In the early 1950s Cutler created a series of consumer education illustrations for the Better Business Bureau. Two of his gag cartoons can be viewed at Heritage Auctions. He produced illustrations for Brown & Bigelow calendars. He and his mother were Republicans according to a 1954 voter registration list; they lived at 2723 West 9th Street in Los Angeles.

Cutler passed away July 25, 1978, in Los Angeles, according to the California Death Index. An obituary has not been found.

Obscurity of the Day: Rosie Rattletrap

You don’t usually expect a King Features Sunday strip to be so ridiculously obscure, but Rosie Rattletrap sure is. The only examples I’ve found of the feature are from July-August 1944, and the small cache I recently found are the first I’ve seen (or even heard of) in thirty years of collecting.

If the strip were awful it wouldn’t seem so odd that it is obscure, but it’s got a lot going for it. It’s kind of cute, and has some enjoyable, if not overly titillating, girlie art. The subject matter, gals working at a war plant, was a perfect one for 1944, and today lends a social and historical layer to the enjoyment of the strip.

Wilson Cutler seems to have been a magazine cartoonist of some minor repute in the 1940s and ’50s, and a lot of his work that has resurfaced online tends to be on the ever-so-slightly risqué side. This is, as far as I know, his only foray into newspaper strips, though.

Does anyone have additional dates of this feature or know where it ran? I only have unidentifiable tearsheets, but my guess is that they came from the New York Journal.

Herriman Saturday

Thursday, August 12 1908 — Hot-tempered local librarian Charles Lummis has reviewed the Century Dictionary, a monstrous multi-volume American dictionary, and found it wanting, primarily in relation to many words associated with California, Latin American culture, and the West in general.

Lummis originally merely made some less than favorable remarks about the dictionary at an NEA convention, and two of the compilers, Benjamin Smith and Brander Matthews, made the mistake of accepting his remarks with some disdain. Lummis then started raising some very public hell about an entry about ‘chili pepper trees’, an entry claiming the Salton Sea had disappeared, less than complete definitions for rurales, chilacayote, the etymology of caballero, and more of the like.

I don’t know if anything ever came of Lummis’ objections, other than giving Herriman the raw material for a fun cartoon. However, no new editions were produced of the Century, so maybe Lummis did have his revenge.