For some reason John Lehti’s delightful Tommy of the Big Top strip never found its audience. The art was wonderful, the stories good, but it just never seemed to take off. Perhaps an early sign of the demise of the story strip?
The strip started 10/28/1946. Young Tommy was living with his older sister, the parents not in the picture for reasons I haven’t discovered. Sister, who looks to be a teenager, is being successfully courted by a loathsome fellow, and Tommy wants nothing more than to be out of the picture in case the pair get married.
A circus comes to town and he resolves to join it, and our sample strips show a snippet of that sequence. Continuing this sequence the circus manager insists that the sister give permission for Tommy to join the circus. To keep the story from bogging down at that point, Lehti has good ol’ sis acquiesce to the proposal without so much as batting an eye. So Tommy is off on his adventures with the circus.
What I like about the strip is that it tries not to follow the well-worn path of just having the circus as a backdrop for stories about the kid solving mysteries and foiling crimes. The stories (at least as much as I’ve read of the strip) really try to evoke the exotic atmosphere of circus life, and the adventures are down to earth and believable. The stories very deliberately try to evoke the thrills and mysteries of circus life. In this era, running away with the circus was a standard youthful obsession, and Lehti milks that desire like a real pro by showing kids a highly sanitized but nevertheless exciting view of what a kid might experience if he or she acted on the fantasy.
Tommy of the Big Top ended sometime in 1950 (can anyone supply a specific date?) and Lehti went on to have far more success with his Bible story strip, Tales From The Great Book.