Belated Christmas Greetings from Karl Hubenthal and Burris Jenkins, Jr.

 

The other day I was going through some of Jim Ivey’s voluminous files, of which some boxes still remain in process to be wedded with my filing system. I came across a folder marked “Optical Illusions.” In amongst clips of op art and clever bits of drawing, I found these three clippings that knocked my socks off. Apparently it was a thing, at least for a few editorial cartoonists, to do a Christmas greeting in their regular space. Burris Jenkins Jr. (top two, 1965 and 1960) and Karl Hubenthal (bottom, 1964) produced these incredible cartoons, in which the entire drawing is made up of hundreds or probably even thousands of expertly lettered names to whom they wished to send Christmas greetintgs. I can’t even imagine the time and expertise that went into creating these masterpieces.

There’s no way you’ll be able to read all these names at the size I can put on the blog, and the smallest of the names are tough to read even at full size on the crumbling old yellowed tearsheets filed away by Jim Ivey, but I can supply high-resolution versions to anyone with a serious interest. Just let me know.

Under The Radar: Muggsy

 

Being over a hundred years old, Muggsy could certainly qualify as an Obscurity of the Day, but I think he is a better fit for Under The Radar since the strip had an incredibly long run for those days,  two whole decades. 

You may be thinking to yourself, if the strip ran that long, and I’ve never heard of it, was it some local thing? Nope, it ran in lots of higher profile papers. What makes it utterly forgotten is the fact that it was pretty literally the SAME DARN GAG for its whole long run. The question, then, is why it lasted so long, and for that question I have no answer, but I’d sure like to know why myself. 

Muggsy, as you’ll see when you peruse the samples above, is not only the same gag over and over, but the art is clunky to boot. The cartoonist, Frank Crane, came onto the comic stripping scene in 1900 with this full-fledged style of his, and it never grew or changed appreciably over his entire career. 

Muggsy may have only had one joke, but he didn’t have only one syndicate. He debuted in the Philadelphia North American on December 1 1901* and ran there until April 20 1902. Crane was actually a much more important player at the New York Herald at this time, and apparently decided Muggsy was too good for the less auspicious comic section of the North American. He moved the strip to the Herald starting there on May 18 1902.

Whether the Herald tired of the strip, or the North American balked at the loss, it remained there only a short period. It ended in the Herald on August 24 1902, and reappeared in the North American on October 12. 

From then on the strip ran consistently, 99% of the time as an interior half-pager, in the North American section, except for one long hiatus from April 15 1906 to August 25 1907, coinciding with Crane taking on some extra work for the Boston Herald with Val the Ventriloquist

Muggsy kept up his ultra-repetitive shenanigans until the Philadelphia North American‘s Sunday comic section ended on July 4 1915**. At this point Crane went back to the New York Herald, where he tried out several new strips. None of them caught on though, and Crane seems to have retired from newspaper cartooning in 1916, and he died in 1917. 

But even that couldn’t keep Muggsy down; World Color Printing bought the backlog of quite a few North American strips and ran Muggsy in reruns from 1916 to 1920, rounding out the total run for this strip to a nice even twenty years.

* Sources: All dates from Philadelphia North American, except New York Herald dates from Ken Barker’s Herald index, and World Color Printing info from various papers in my collection.

** A comic section I’d dearly love for my collection — the North American strip characters all get blown to kingdom come by fireworks.

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Wish You Were Here, from Albert Carmichael

 

Here’s an example of what may be Albert Carmichael’s scarcest series, Taylor & Pratt Series #669. These cards all featured fish and they’re usually worth a bit of a grin, so I don’t know why they didn’t sell. The series seems to have been produced in 1910, or at least that’s how Carmichael dated them. 

Postcards related to hunting and fishing were quite popular, a quick and convenient way for a fellow on a sporting expedition to let the family at home know he was still alive.

Herriman Saturday: May 15 1910

 

May 15 1910 — Another Fight of the Century strip, this one featuring Johnson as a huckster, showing off his prize possession.

Obscurity of the Day: Jungle Jingles

 

Clarence Rigby seemed to be trying to prove himself at the New York Herald, putting out some of his best work there in a short stint 1900-02. During this time he was also producing work for others, but I get the feeling he really wanted to secure his position at the Herald. It’s too bad that his series for them, while very well drawn, didn’t have much of a spark to make them long-term series. 

Jungle Jingles, a series which consisted of a square of individual panels for each installment, featured  impressionistically drawn animals and a bit of verse for each one. The concept had already been done to death, so despite the lovely drawings (that zebra in particular blows me away) it was doomed to a short run — not to mention there aren’t all that many iconic jungle animals to cover. 

Jungle Jingles ran from July 21 to September 1 1901*.

* Source: Ken Barker’s New York Herald index.

The Experiment of Ozark Ike’s Whodunits

 

I love baseball, and my favorite baseball strip, hands down, is Ozark Ike. Ray Gotto’s art completely blows my mind, and the stories are entertainingly ridiculous. I even forgive the hillbilly motif, which you just couldn’t escape in the 1940s when everyone who could hold a brush was trying to steal even a small taste of the juggernaut that was  Li’l Abner.

The strip began as a daily in 1945, and it found enough editors who appreciated it that a Sunday was added on July 27 1947. When the Sunday debuted, though, it didn’t fold itself in on the daily stories, nor did it start a separate storyline of its own. Instead Gotto had the idea to make it a totally self-supporting feature in which his characters would act out a famous event in sports history, with a gag thrown in for good measure. The feature was titled Ozark Ike’s Whodunits

I quite like the idea since it sidesteps the whole knotty problem of setting up separate or blended contiuities with the dailies. And boy is that a major problem. If you run shared continuities, Sundays either become a boring recap of the week’s events, or if they advance the plot, you force editors who bought your daily to either add the Sunday, or if they have no room for it, to drop the daily. 

If you go with the separate continuity option, you can be less likely to sell a newspaper on both the Sunday and daily because readers can be confused by the multiple stories they are supposed to follow. Sure, if you’re Steve Canyon you can get away with it, but if your strip is struggling to get newspaper sign-ups, adding a Sunday can be a sort of zero-sum game while leaving you with a lot more work. 

So Ray Gotto and I both think his solution is genius, but evidently we are adding up this marketing equation and coming up with the wrong answer. Ozark Ike’s Whodunits lasted only about six months, and on February 1 1948 the Sunday was retitled simply Ozark Ike and began running a separate continuity from the daily. 

Did that work out for it? Well, Ozark Ike was never a huge success, but it did garner a pretty decent roster of clients, so hard to say. What do you think is the ideal way to handle a continuity strip on Sundays and dailies? 

PS: If you don’t know the answer to the sample Whodunit above, I’m not telling you. It’s only one of the most famous events (if it really happened!) in baseball history. So either you’re a baseball fan and you know it already, or you couldn’t care less.

Obscurity of the Day: Pot-Shots

 

Ashleigh Brilliant, who in my opinion quite handily lives up to his family name, began coming up with witty and wise epigrams in the 1960s, and sold them on illustrated postcards. The postcards sold well, and Brilliant went on to put what eventually became known as his Pot-Shots on other products, and to publish book collections of the material. He also recognized that these would make for a fine daily newspaper feature. The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate agreed, and began syndicating them sometime in 1975. The partnership was dissolved around 1984, and by 1987 or perhaps earlier (they are really hard to track) Brilliant was self-syndicating Pot-Shots. Although Brilliant says on his website that the feature continues to be available, I haven’t seen any papers running it in a long while.

An interesting aspect of Pot-Shots is that the cartoons/illustrations are drawn in many styles, everything from classic detailed illustrations to the simplest stick figures. Despite checking several of his books and reading considerable online  material about him, I can’t find a single word that mentions whether the illustrations are all clip art or if some are drawn by Brilliant, or by collaborators. 

If many of these drawings are re-used art, as seems pretty certain given the wide variety of styles, this becomes more interesting. Brilliant is an ardent and ferocious defender of his copyrights, which courts have ruled can cover epigrams. (Which reminds me to say that all the Pot-Shot examples above are copyrighted by Ashley Brilliant, the Pot-Shots name is a registered trademark, and the examples shown above are used in the context of a review) So with Brilliant’s presumed use of a huge amount of artwork by and presumably copyrighted by others, has he never violated the intellectual property laws of artists himself?

Brilliant decided to stop publishing new Pot-Shots postcards after he hit #10,000 (each postcard is numbered). That means that if a paper had started running the feature in 1975 they could have had a new Pot-Shot every day for over 32 years, and would have had to start offering recycled wisdom around 2007. 

 

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Wish You Were Here, from Little Nemo

 

Here’s another card from the Little Nemo series, copyrighted to the New York Herald and issued by Raphael Tuck as their series #6. The shame is that this series does not feature art by Winsor McCay, but by some lesser artist who apparently copied the scenes from various Little Nemo strips. I’ve only had one other of these cards on the blog so far, and D.D. Degg identified the original strip from which the scene was adapted. Can someone find this scene in a Little Nemo strip?

Herriman Saturday: May 14 1910

 

May 14 1910 — Herriman runs the prejudice gauntlet here, calling Jack Johnson — if I get this right — a womanizer, a glutton, a scofflaw, a dandy, a money-grubber, a laughingstock, and a pretender to wisdom. All of which, in this cartoon, are looked upon as positive character traits by black mothers. 

Nice job George, hope you slept well after drawing this one.

Obscurity of the Day: Howie

 

Howie Schneider’s claim to fame is the popular NEA comic strip Eek and Meek, which ran from 1965 to 2000. But Schneider made other attempts to get into the newspaper strip hall of fame, least successfully with the self-titled strip, Howie

United Feature Syndicate, the big brother of NEA, took the strip on despite finding very few clients, evidently feeling that the popularity might build over time. It didn’t, but you have to give them points for giving it a try. Howie is a quasi-autobiographical daily only comic strip about a cartoonist interacting with family and friends, or just waxing philosophical. The strip was very well-drawn, using a more detailed, less cartoony version of Schneider’s normal style. Theoretically the strip followed his life day by day (the strip was sometimes subtitled A Comic Journal), so not too surpringly it often portrayed him sitting at his drawing board trying to come up with ideas for his comic strip.

Perhaps newspaper editors couldn’t see readers identifying with a cartoonist, or maybe they just saw it as a too-egocentric exercise. In any case, Schneider and UFS gave it a year to catch on, and it didn’t. The strip began on November 12 1984 and ended on December 2 1985*.

* Source: United Feature Syndicate internal records

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