Like many people, I tend to ignore a comic strip if the art is unattractive. That’s a bit unfair, because in some cases those badly drawn strips were successfully syndicated based on the strength of the story or gags. So while there are plenty of strips around that make you scratch your head in wonder that any editor picked them up, some badly drawn strips are jewels in spite of their artistic shortcomings.
I admit to not ever having read any of Tom McNamara’s Us Boys until recently despite plenty of opportunities. The strip is downright painful to look at, with amateurishly drawn characters, no backgrounds, and a surfeit of text in many strips. But I was clipping a month’s worth of 1921 Columbus Dispatch strips the other day, and I was looking for a good candidate for running on the blog. So I forced myself to give Us Boys a chance.
As you can guess from its appearance here on the blog, I think I’ve stumbled upon a minor gem. First of all, I didn’t even realize that the strip had a continuity. Nor did I realize that the continuity seems to have included the Sundays , a rare thing in the early 20s (the Dispatch didn’t run the Sundays but there are obvious gaps and recaps that indicate such). The gags are thoughtful, sometimes quite inventive. And most importantly, the strip had a humanity about it that I never would have guessed from the primitive drawing style. In this sequence McNamara has a low-key way of presenting the societal ill of poverty that is powerful in its understatement. He teaches kids morality lessons in such a sly off-hand way that they won’t realize they’re being educated (naturally, kids are instinctually repelled by entertainment with a lesson ).
So give Us Boys a try and let me know what you think. The sequence, which ran in the Christmas season, will only be about three and a half weeks of strips. And if you care to share with other blog-readers and myself some of your picks for undiscovered gems, by all means please do.