Obscurity of the Day: Jasper Jooks

‘Me-tooism’ in comic strips may have reached its modern nadir in Jess ‘Baldy’ Benton’s Jasper Jooks. Introduced by the New York Post Syndicate on April 19 1948, the strip was an utterly slavish copy of Al Capp’s Li’l Abner. Practically the only nod to originality is that the residents of Appleknock Territory wear Revolutionary War attire rather than the hillbilly rags fashionable in Dogpatch.

It’s a shame, too, because copying Al Capp is no small feat. Baldy Benton had both the art and writing style nailed down, an indication that he surely could have done justice to a more original concept. My hope is that Benton didn’t create Jasper Jooks of his own volition, but was directed to copy Li’l Abner by the Post Syndicate. Perhaps the syndicate had the idea that because Capp’s phenomenally successful strip was only available in one paper per territory that a knock-off could find a home at all those other papers that missed out on the strip.

If that was the thinking then the syndicate was wrong. Jasper Jooks didn’t make it into a lot of papers and seems to have expired just shy of a one-year contract, on March 26 1949.

8 thoughts on “Obscurity of the Day: Jasper Jooks

  1. This is amazing. It makes all those Dick Tracy ripoffs look like 100% original material. He even follows Capp’s lettering quirks (“–I’m thinking this–“).

    But as you say, hints of a capable artist with a personal style peek out, especially from the backgrounds. Did “Baldy” do any other strips?

  2. Part 1

    Jess ‘Baldy’ Benton was born on May 9, 1911 according to the Social Security Death Index (his first name spelled as Jesse). Census information on him has not yet been found. As recorded in the U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Benton enlisted on April 17, 1941. He was a Vermont native, single, with four years of high school education, and a commercial artist.

    “Jasper Jooks”, was covered in Editor & Publisher, Volume 81, 1948 (Google Books search).

    Blue Laws, Comic Art Join in ‘Jasper Jooks’
    By Helen M. Staunton

    BLUE LAWS and a territory of New England which never progressed
    beyond Revolutionary customs and clothes furnish setting for the new
    New York Post Syndicate comic strip “Jasper Jooks,” by Baldy Benton.

    “Slightly weird,” Benton grants of the strip, “But I believe that these
    weird things have been enormously successful. Look at ‘Berkeley
    Square’ and ‘Brigadoon’,” he told E&P.

    More than the idea of “Jasper Jooks” is weird. Benton’s art with its
    grotesque features, accent on action and wealth of detail is, he agrees,
    in the comic tradition. Several years an artist and writer for the Bridgeport
    (Conn.) Herald and two years in Hollywood, Benton got the idea for his
    strip, he said, when he was doing a feature story on blue laws. The idea
    stuck with him through a couple of years comics apprenticeship at
    Fawcett Publications and “four years, nine months and 29 days in the
    Army.” Benton has had about 100 short stories published.

  3. Part 2

    “Jasper Jooks,” as the strip narrates, was a twin who stayed in the
    Appleknock Territory when his brother went to Boston to be an actor.
    What with getting put in the stocks, observing curfew and obeying the
    laws of Judge Haz Bean, the strip’s characters provide action in the
    comic and escapist vein. “It has seemed to me that there are some
    people who would have rather lived in some other time,” explained
    Benton mildly. NYP will release the comic April 19.

    View his comic book credits at the Grand Comics Database, http://www.comics.org/credit/name/jess%20benton/sort/alpha. According to the Social Security Death Index, Benton passed away on July 31, 1991; his last known residence was Fanwood, New Jersey.

  4. This is exactly what happened one year ago. It must have something to do with the anniversary.The blog will come back.

  5. The Gooch feature in the American Armed Forces Features is by Benton, as you noted in your post about that. The sample I could find on ebay shows a remarkable resemblance to a filler strip in one of Sterling’s books (I believe The Informer), which I first attributed to Howard Nostrand…

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