In the comic strip world TV tie-ins were initially quite popular (in addition to Dragnet, there were strip adaptations of I Love Lucy, Howdy Doody, Bat Masterson and many others). Few TV-based strips did well, though, including today’s obscurity. The reason in hindsight seems obvious — why bother reading a strip, necessarily a watered-down and simplified version of the television show, when I can tune in the program and see the real thing.
Dragnet was no exception to the rule, though it has to be admitted that the strip did a great job of replicating the feel of the TV show. The dialog rang true, and the monotone ‘voice-overs’, a trademark of the show, were translated to the strip as typewritten captions, a motif that worked perfectly. The art, always slick, cold and flat, was perfectly in tune as well.
The strip proper started on June 23 1952, though many papers ran a one week preview before that. Art was initially by Joe Sheiber. He only lasted until September 20. The strip was uncredited and unsigned until March 9 1953, when Bill Ziegler owned up to it (judging from art style, I think he was doing it during the unsigned period as well). Ziegler lasted until January 9 1954. The last artist on the strip was Mel Keefer, who took it to a final bow on May 21 1955. The feature was distributed by the LA Mirror Syndicate.
The writing on the strip was uncredited, but it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Jack Webb, star, producer, director and owner of the TV show, was at the helm, perhaps editing television scripter James Moser’s plots. Webb was notorious for zealously controlling every aspect of his baby. Ron Goulart in The Funnies says that Webb’s mother-hen rule extended to the artists on the strip – the frequent artist changes were due to Jack Webb’s search for an artist “who could draw him as good looking as he thought he ought to be.”
PS – sorry about the crummy condition of the samples – the paper I took these from (the Albany Times-Union) seems to have never bothered to clean its presses.
PPS – Alberto Becattini tells me that Mel Keefer attributed the strip writing to Jack Robinson, a writer on the TV series. Thanks Alberto!