Now my convention report turns into a Library of Congress report. I spent three full days nose to the grindstone at the microfilm viewer. Managed to get the Brooklyn Eagle indexed from 1932 through 1942 (pretty much ending my indexing of that paper) and the Chicago Daily News from 1930 – 34, reaching the end of their syndicate activities. I also got through another several years of the Philadelphia Record (1921 – 1925), and did some miscellaneous spot checking of data in the New York Tribune, New York World, Los Angeles Times and Boston Globe.
Can’t say that there was much excitement in these papers to report. I did find start and end date for Chester Gould’s The Girl Friends, a rare strip that ran only in the Chicago Daily News. Turned out to be a pretty good strip, too. I also finally got all my ducks in a row on Foxy Grandpa. The last Sunday version of that series, which ran in the New York Herald, was for some reason omitted in Ken Barker’s index of that paper. Foxy Grandpa was also recently pinned down further when Cole Johnson reported the existence of yet another series, this one a daily, that ran in the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1922 (by the way, Cole, please send me an email — I can’t find your email address).
For those with an interest in science fiction strips I’ll report the discovery of what might be the most obscure one yet. The Brooklyn Eagle ran a sci-fi adventure titled The Mysterious Island in their Sunday kiddie section for just two months in 1935.
Another good find was an absolutely certain end date for Keeping Up With The Joneses. I’d always been perplexed that the standard references all place the end of this strip in the 1940s, yet I’ve never seen any from later than 1938. The Brooklyn Eagle put an end to any question by running the last strip on 4/16/38 which has Pop Momand and his characters officially announcing their retirement.
For those who are interested in photo-comics, as I know several blog readers are, I have one to add to the list. I knew that there was a comic strip series titled Two Black Crows (featuring a popular blackface comedy team of the era) but what I didn’t know is that the strip used photographic images of the main characters’ faces in the strip, which otherwise was drawn in the normal manner.
After a productive three days at the Library of Congress I swooped back into the convention festivities for the final reception and dinner. In previous days I’d gone through the list of convention attendees and made a list of those who have done strips or panels. My mission at the party was to corner those whose information was sparse in the index. I realized that I wouldn’t get particularly specific information out of anyone in the middle of a cocktail party, but I did want to touch base.
I started with Paul Fell who did the art on a feature titled Mulch. Mulch was a strip about a handicapped Vietnam vet. It was written by Bob Shill for whom the strip was semi-autobiographical. Shill created the concept and shopped it around to syndicates with no takers, so he resolved to syndicate it himself through his own company, Signature Features, with a relative beating the newspaper bushes to find takers. Fell was brought on board to handle the art chores and worked on the feature from June 2000 until sometime in 2002. Seeing little progress in the number of papers taking the feature Paul finally had to drop out from the art chores. He recalls that Shill was trying to find another cartoonist to take over for him but never heard if they had any success in that search.
I next cornered Elena Steier, who was on my list for her strip Dinosaur Circus. The strip was distributed by the tiny syndicate DBR Media from 2001 until 2003. I was particularly interested in finding out how DBR Media operates. It turned out that Elena confirmed my guess — DBR paid creators a flat fee so they never received any feedback about the number or identity of papers running the features. This was unfortunate but expected, as I’ve had a heck of a time tracking DBR’s output until recently. I now subscribe to a newspaper called the Lake Region Times out of Minnesota which runs their complete output every week.
With cocktail hour waning I managed to find Vance Rodewalt, who did a strip titled Chubb And Chauncey. I learned that it was only available in the US for one year, but that it continued outside this country for an even dozen. Rodewalt initially placed the strip with Tribune Media but found the sales in the US disappointing. He switched over to the Toronto Star syndicate (Rodewalt is Canadian) and had much better success. The Toronto Star apparently had an agreement not to sell into the US market, so Rodewalt lost all his US papers (a fact of which he wasn’t aware when he switched syndicates). All turned out okay, though, because he also placed the strip with Editors Press, a syndicate that sells worldwide. Rodewalt told me that the strip was very popular in far-flung places such as India, where it ran for many years in the India Times.
Rodewalt and I were still in a huddle after the reception was over, and we ended up having to take it on the run to find the banquet. I do regret very much never having a chance to talk with some of the others who were on my hit list. I missed my last chance to talk to Tom Toles, Jack Ohman, Mike Luckovich, Scott Stantis, Ed Stein, Gary McCoy, Bruce Plante, comics legend Jerry Robinson and many others who were all due for a Holtz inquisition. One I particularly regret is Daryl Cagle — I wanted to let him know that his very short-lived panel cartoon True! is one of my all-time favorites.
Arriving late at the banquet I found my customary place alongside Ivey and Harvey was unavailable, but was lucky enough to find a seat at the table with Lucy Caswell and Steve Greenberg. Greenberg brought me up to date on the long sad tale of the San Francisco Examiner’s demise. Steve had the questionable distinction of being their last staff editorial cartoonist before the grand old paper was remade as a rather pathetic freebie. Greenberg and I found that we had something else in common – I’m embarrassed to admit that I had completely forgotten that Greenberg is a fellow Hogan’s Alley magazine regular. He writes the excellent column in each issue about editorial cartooning. So we both got to complain about editor Tom Heintjes (kidding Tom!).
The dinner program was packed with interesting stuff, enough so that no one got to do more than take a few quick gulps of the dinner fare in between speakers. The founding fathers, Ivey among them, were all asked to speak again, this time with a properly working microphone. Rob Rogers had produced a cartoon depicting the founding members as cavemen which gave everyone a good laugh.
David Wallis spoke about his book Killed Cartoons, including his fight with the book’s publisher. The publisher, showing an amazing lack of backbone, refused to reproduce a cartoon by Doug Marlette featuring a Mohammed caricature in the book. Considering the subject of the book, this was not only pathetic but also downright bizarre. Wallis told the publisher that their decision would come to haunt them, and apparently media reaction has borne him out on that prognostication.
The featured speaker for the evening was Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich. Although his campaign hasn’t exactly garnered a groundswell of support, I for one maintain a soft spot for Dennis. Beyond his being the only candidate completely and unabashedly committed to peace and an end to the Iraq debacle, I’ve always liked him simply because on a previous trip to Washington, hanging out in my usual haunts at the Library of Congress, I saw him strolling to work, briefcase in hand one morning. No limo, no security, no aides. Just Dennis. And here’s the kicker – it was a Saturday! That’s the kind of guy we need in Washington. Not to mention that his wife is a total babe.
Kucinich was in danger of losing the crowd right off the bat. He led off talking about his love of old comic books, and how his hometown of Cleveland produced Siegel and Shuster. The editorial cartoonists were grumbling, wondering if Kucinich didn’t know the difference between comic books and editorial cartoons. Luckily his next schtick went over much better, a very funny plea for the cartoonists to cover his campaign. He showed some cartoons drawn especially for the event showing the cartoonists how easy it is to caricature him, playing on the old “Draw Me” matchbook cartoon course ads. Everyone got a big kick out of it. Kucinich then closed with a very moving story of visiting gravesites on a recent trip to the mideast.
That was it for the big show. Jim and I turned in immediately because we had an early plane flight, but we found the next morning that editorial cartoonists really know how to party. We were up at 6 AM and ran into cartoonists in the hall who were just them stumbling to their rooms after an all-night beer bash.
So that was our trip. Hope I didn’t bore you with too many details, but Jim and I really had a great time, and I’d like to once again thank the AAEC, Rob Rogers and R.C. Harvey for making it all possible. See you guys again for the 60th anniversary?
BELATED EDIT: Matt Fletcher tells me the rest of the story regarding “Mulch”:
I was recruited by Bob Shill to do the artwork for Mulch, which continued via self-syndication, for another two and a half years. Bob had seen one of my strips on a website Tribune Media had set up to feature new artists.You may not be aware, but Bob Shill is a quadriplegic. He would write the scripts and e-mail them to me for artwork. It was a real pleasure working with Bob. Towards the end, I think Bob became more interested in other creative pursuits, so the scripting duties fell to me. Self-syndication ultimately proved too difficult, and in the end we chose to pull the plug on the strip in May, 2004.