Obscurity of the Day, Revisited: Terry and Tacks


Well, once again your senile ol’ Stripper cleaned up some mouldy oldies for Obscurity of the Day only to find out that it already got featured here, in the case of Terry and Tacks a decade and a half ago. Oh well, as the popular saying goes, a happy life depends on a new dose of Terry and Tacks every decade or so.

So let’s see if I can tell you anything about the strip that wasn’t covered back when my blog was just a wee little infink. Hmm…

Okay, here’s sumthin … Joe Farren pretty much disappears off my radar after the 1910s, and it turns out that’s because he got a job in the New York Times art department in the 1920s — no series comics coming out of there of course. And a decade later I found a sports cartoon penned by his kid, Joe Farren, Jr. Who he was working for I dunno, looks like a grade-Z syndicated thing, an evergreen panel about Joe Louis. 

Factoid the second … I think I’ve now nailed down the reprint runs of Terry and Tacks in the World Color Printing sections. How about July 15 1923* to March 15 1925**, and October 6 1929 to June 22 1930***. Dates have been ‘normalized’ to Sundays as some of these papers printed their Sunday sections on other days.

* Source: Pomona Progress

** Source: San Luis Obispo Tribune

*** Source: Mexico Intelligencer

Wish You Were Here, from Rose O’Neill


Here’s another Rose O’Neill card, published by Gibson Art Company. As usual, no copyright dates on these cards. This one was postally used in 1922.

One-Shot Wonders: Professor Jyblitts by Walt McDougall, 1903


Walt McDougall, one of the greatest of the pioneering American newspaper cartoonists, was a bit of a one-shot wonder factory. After his very productive 1890s work in New York, most of it one-shots, he left for Philadelphia where he began a long run of one-shot comics for the Philadelphia North American. Here is one from 1903, appearing in syndication at the St. Paul Dispatch

The book text can be hard to read on this smallish image. In panel one it says “Animal Curiosity”. In panel two “They will pry into things in which they have no concern.” In panel three the back of the book has the title “Animal Curiosity Vol. 2.” In panel four, “…become intrusive at times.” In panel 5 “…this proved by facts.”

Obscurity of the Day: The Clown Folks


Perhaps the most daunting job you could ever have as a newspaper cartoonist is to be chosen as the  replacement for Winsor McCay. And that’s the thankless task tackled by Ap Adams* when Winsor McCay jumped ship from the Cincinnati Enquirer. McCay had drawn the minor classic A Tale of the Jungle Imps for the Enquirer for a little less than a year before the inevitable happened and he was summoned to the big time in New York City. 

Faced with an empty page of their Sunday comics, which were a combination of syndicated and local content (two pages versus one page), the Enquirer picked “Ap” Adams out of the art bullpen and handed him the reins to the local page on November 15 1903.  Initially he collaborated with “Felix Fiddle”, the writer of the Jungle Imp tales, whose real name was George Randolph Chester. The first few episodes of The Clown Folks were very prose-rich productions, just like the Imps tales. Then ‘Fiddle’ decided to change over to a more normal comic strip approach, with one line descriptions under each panel. 

I’m guessing that Adams decided that Mr. Fiddle’s services were of dubious use when he was writing just a few short captions, and on the Sunday page of January 24 1904 the name Felix Fiddle is dropped for the remainder of the series. Neither Fiddle nor Adams was at this point very adept at comic strip writing, so Enquirer readers probably didn’t notice much difference. 

What Adams lacked in writing chops he made up for with lovely art. It wasn’t good enough to make anyone forget McCay, but it was delightful on its own terms. While The Clown Folks didn’t last long, ending on April 19 1904, Enquirer readers would enjoy the delightful art of Adams on a succession of Sunday strips lasting until late 1908.

* I have seen Mr. Adams’ full first name given as Apworth, Anthorp, and Apthorp. I have no idea which is correct.



Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Frank Willard

Frank Henry Willard was born on September 21, 1893, in Anna, Illinois, according to his World War I and II draft cards, and Who’s Who in Chicago, Volume 4 (1926). His parents were Francis William Willard and Laura Kirkham.
The 1900 United States Census counted Willard and his parents in Anna, Illinois on Jefferson Street. Willard’s father was a dentist.
In the 1910 census, Willard, his parents, sister and maternal grandmother lived on High Street in Anna. Who’s Who said Willard graduated from Union Academy of Illinois in 1912, and the Academy of Fine Arts, Chicago, in 1913. 
Oakland Tribune, 1/2/1916
Willard was profiled in The Quill, August 1938. He described his early life and career.
“Nothing much happened there. Got tossed out of the local high school for something or other and was promptly placed in a now defunct institution—Union Academy. After being a sophomore for several years, they decided that the only way of getting me through school was to give me the old heave-ho. Which they did to our mutual delight. After all, I do not think a college education would be a great help in making Moon. …
… “My father had moved to Chicago back in 1909 [sic] for business and social reasons. And since my dough was running low, I thought it would be a good idea to do the same, as I was always very fond of eating.
“I told him I was going to be a cartoonist but he didn’t believe me and neither did anyone else … Then the World War broke out in August, 1914. I noticed they had no cartoon on the front page of the Chicago Tribune, so I went home and drew one.
“Mr. Beck, the managing editor bought it for $15.00 and ran it on the front page. So I got out a pencil and figured if you could make that sort of dough drawing, why work for a department store for eleven bucks a week, and hurried across the street and quit my job. Mrs. Woodrow Wilson died the next day so I made another cartoon about that. Then Mr. McCutcheon, the real cartoonist, came back and there wasn’t much need for my talent.
“Mr. James Keeley over on the Herald talked to me for five minutes and said, ‘Boy, you haven’t enough brains to be a political cartoonist!’ I said how about a comic artist. Mr. Keeley said, ‘Well, maybe you’re dumb enough for that. So he gave me a job. Did a kid page called, ‘Tom, Dick and Harry’ and another called ‘Mrs. Pippins Husband,’ and a so-called humorous cartoon.
“America got into the war. I got into the first draft. Was a pretty punk soldier, had a pretty good time. Out outfit built roads and did no fighting. And we thought they’d left us in France for a souvenir when they finally shipped us home in July, 1919. …
On June 5, 1917, Willard signed his World War I draft card. His address was 5312 Drexel Avenue in Chicago. Willard was a cartoonist at the Chicago Herald. He was described as stout build, medium height, with gray eyes and dark brown hair.
Who’s Who said Willard was with the Chicago Herald from 1914 to 1918. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Mr. & Mrs. Pippin ran from April 1, 1917 to April 28, 1918. Willard drew at least one Charlie Chaplin’s Comic Capers on June 27, 1915; did a week’s worth of strips, November 16 to 23, 1919, for Frank King’s Bobby Make-Believe; assisted Billy DeBeck, in 1920, on Barney Google (according to Alberto Becattini). 
Willard enlisted on October 3, 1917 and started at Headquarters Company, 343rd Infantry, 86th Division. He was transferred to Company A, 311th Engineers, 86th Division, May 1918. Willard served with the Allied Expeditionary Forces from September 21, 1918 to July 2, 1919. 
According to the 1920 census, Herald cartoonist Willard lived with his parents in Chicago at the same address. 
Willard’s move to King Features Syndicate was reported in the Fourth Estate, August 7, 1920. 
Frank Willard, western cartoonist, has joined King Features Syndicate. He has created a new comic strip entitled “Outta-Luck” which will be generally syndicated throughout the United States and Canada. 
The title of Willard’s new comic was suggested to him in France during the war when he was with the 343d Infantry. It was the common expression of doughboys covering a multitude of various unfortunate things that happened them from missing mess to missing mail. Returning to America Willard found an infinite number of humorous situations in civil life where somebody was correspondingly “Outta Luck.” So he sat down and pictured them.
He is a graduate of the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, and for five years his comic drawings appearing in the Chicago Herald and other western papers have been exceedingly popular.
The same information was in the Editor & Publisher, September 25, 1920. 
Who’s Who said he worked at King Features Syndicate from 1920 to 1923. 
Willard’s cartoons appeared in Green Book Magazine, February 1920. 
Who’s Who said Willard married Priscilla Alden Mangold, of Anna, Illinois, on June 11, 1921. They had two children, Priscilla Alden and Frank Henry. 
In The Quill, Willard said
“Then I got a job with King Features Syndicate. Did a very appropriately named strip called ‘The Outta Luck Club,’ which was just that. At the same time doing the Penny Ante series and about everything but carry water for the elephants.
“Perley Boone, a pal of mine, told me that Mr. Patterson was looking for a new comic for the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate and to see Mr. Arthur Crawford, who told me to see Mr. Patterson. After talking to me a few minutes, Mr. Patterson said I should do a roughneck strip. There never had been a roughneck, low life sort of strip and he thought it might be a good idea. And, incidentally, he’s given me plenty of ideas since. [A violent version of the story was told in The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History (1994).] 
The comic strip Moon Mullins was born. American Newspaper Comics said the series began on June 19, 1923. Willard was assisted by Ferd Johnson beginning in August. By 1933 Johnson was drawing the strip and, by 1943, also writing it. Toppers included Kayo and Kitty Higgins. The series ended in June 1991. 
The Sarasota Herald, February 21, 1930, reported Willard’s purchase of a home. The 1930 census (enumerated in April) said Willard and his family were residents of Sarasota, Florida at 2600 Indian Beach Drive. Also in the household were two servants. Willard was a self-employed cartoonist. 
News of Willard’s divorce was reported in the Sarasota Herald (Florida), October 15, 1932.
Who’s Who in Chicago and Vicinity (1936) said Willard married Marie O’Connell, of Springfield, Missouri. Editor & Publisher, January 14, 1933, noted the marriage. 

Frank H. Willard of Sarasota, Fla., and Chicago, widely known as the creator of the comic strip “Moon Mullins,” and Miss Marie O’Connell, of Springfield, Mo., were married at Tampa, Fla., January 7.

The Chicago Daily Tribune, January 17, 1933, published a photograph of the bride. 
Who’s Who in American Art, Volume 1, 1936–1937, listed Willard’s office at 431 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, and home at 1900 Oakmont Avenue, Tampa, Florida.
The 1940 census said the couple lived in Beverly Hills, California at 723 North Roxford Drive. They had a chauffeur and maid. In 1939, Willard earned over $5,000. 
On April 27, 1942, Willard signed his World War II draft card. His address was 907 North Roxbury Drive in Beverly Hills, California. His description was five feet eight inches, 170 pounds, with hazel eyes and brown hair. 
In the 1950 census Willard and his wife were Los Angeles residents at the El Royal Apartments, 450 North Rosemore. 
Editor & Publisher, July 10, 1954, said July 5th was “Moon Mullins day” in Anna, Illinois. 
The Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1958, reported Willard’s heart attack. 
Frank H. Willard, 64, creator of the comic strip Moon Mullins, is critically ill at Cedars of Lebanon Hospital.
Willard suffered a heart attack in 1954, another in 1956 and had a stroke Dec. 27 at his Beverly Hills home. His wife, Marie, has been constantly at his side at the hospital since his admission there Tuesday night. …
Willard passed away on January 11, 1958, in Los Angeles. His death was reported in numerous publications including the Los Angeles Times, January 13 and January 16, 1958; Evening Star (Washington DC), January 13, 1958; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, January 13, 1958; Editor & Publisher, January 18, 1958; Time, January 20, 1958, and the California Herald, February 1958. Willard was laid to rest at Anna Cemetery
Willard’s daughter passed away on January 14, 1970. (There was a Priscilla Willard who was a comic book artist in the 1940s. It’s not clear if she was Willard’s daughter.) His first wife passed away on August 5, 1983. His son passed away on March 13, 1988. His second wife passed away on December 28, 1994. 

Further Reading
Harv’s Hindsights, Frank Willard and A Touch of Moonshine
Heritage Auctions, original art
Sarasota Herald-Tribune, December 25, 1989, Dizzy Dean Meets Moon Mullins 

Firsts and Lasts: Kitty Higgins Less Than Dramatic Entrance and Exit


Comic strip fans like to talk about records, and the discussion of the longest lasting series is a favourite. We tend to ignore toppers when having these discussions, though, and of course there’s a good reason for that — without the main strip there’s no need for a topper, so they are automatically disqualified from being the longest running series. 

But what is the longest running topper? this can be a tough question in and of itself, because the longest running series were still being produced into the 1960s and even 1970s, but they appeared in vanishingly few papers. Some, I’m convinced, were produced but never ended up being printed anywhere. 

By the 1960s the third page strip was the de facto standard, and that format almost never included a topper. By then you would generally only see a topper on some tab or half-page formats. So few papers used these formats, especially for strips that used toppers, which practically begged to be cut down, that tracking the toppers becomes next to impossible. In fact, for my research I’ve often had to base my end dates on original art, which is often the only place you’re going to see toppers of these late years. 

The Sunday strip of Moon Mullins added its topper Kitty Higgins* around the same time as the other Chicago Tribune strips. The first strip, seen above, ran on December 14 1930. The strip was quite obviously an afterthought, with the gags (even the very first) being real mouldy oldies. No doubt production of this strip was by Frank Willard’s assistant Ferd Johnson, and neither of these guys wasted too much brain juice on the feature. Although the first strip was done in a two-tier format, it would quickly settle down into a one-tier affair for its many years underneath the main strip (yes, they’re still called toppers when they run at the bottom of the page). 

The Chicago Tribune-New York News Sunday strips hung onto their toppers much longer than the products of other syndicates. Most of their A-list strips kept doggedly including toppers into the early 1970s, even though they were used by maybe one out of a hundred papers that ran the main strip. For the longest time I thought Kitty Higgins ended in 1973, because that was the last year that it appeared in the Editor & Publisher Syndicate Directory. It wasn’t until recent years that I saw the original art for the May 26 1974 strip, which included the topper and so upgraded the end date to sometime after that. 

Finally I found a newspaper online that actually ran Moon Mullins consistently as a tab in 1974, the Elizabethton Star. The last Kitty Higgins I can find is the release of September 1 1974. The September 8 issue, sadly, is missing the comics section, but on the 15th the topper is gone, and Kitty is co-starring in the main strip — perhaps she had an appearance contract? 

What is either the final or penultimate Kitty Higgins is here, from digitized microfilm:

That gives Kitty Higgins a forty-four year run, a very impressive accomplishment, especially considering that no one, including the creators, really cared much about the strip for that whole time. Does Kitty get the crown as longest running topper? I can think of one or two toppers which might just possibly edge it out. What do you think?

* Technically that was not Moon Mullins’ first topper, but that’s a tale for another day.

Wish You Were Here, from John T. McCutcheon


Here is card #14 in the McCutcheon “A Boy In …” series, which Eddie
Campbell tells us totalled 32 different cards. Copyrights on these cards seem to refer to original appearances in newspapers, and this one apparently ran in 1905. The copyright on the reverse is 1906, and since they’re all
divided-back cards they were likely actually published in 1907 or later.

One-Shot Wonders: Got What They Weren’t Looking For by Skeets (?), 1901


Sometimes One-Shot Wonders aren’t wonders for the art or the gag, but for where they appeared. Here is one of the premier expressions of that last classification. Got What They Weren’t Looking For ran in the short-lived Boston Herald tabloid comic section of 1901. I have been seeking examples of this section for decades with no luck at all, and then finally a few months ago one appeared on eBay. Happy? You’d have thought I found a gold bar selling for a buck.

The section ran for less than six months and offered up a lot of pretty amateur material. There were a few series, but most of it was one-shots like this. This strip is a pretty fair representation of the level of art and humour you could ‘enjoy’ throughout the section. The signature of the cartoonist is very hard to read — I’m guessing maybe it is Skeets?

Toppers: Public Enemies Through the Ages

 Imagine you are a criminal in the 1910s or 20s. You are really in the catbird seat, because whenever you rob or kill someone, your successful escape from the area is practically assured by having a car, even if it’s a lowly tin lizzy. In those days if a policeman discovered your crime even just moments after you left, you are practically uncatchable. The police officer can find a telephone or a call box to report the crime to headquarters, and he might even know what kind of car you drove, but then what? Yes, some cops did have cars, so they could chase you, but assuming they were out on patrol and not lolling around the stationhouse, there is no way for headquarters to tell them to look for your Model T with license plate thus-and-such. 

The reign of terror would finally be over for you, you rotten criminal, when in 1933 the Bayonne New Jersey police force was the first to use a two-way radio link-up between the station and their cars, which came to be known as radio cars. (Detroit had a one-way version in 1928, but it was not nearly as effective in crime-fighting as the two-way version). Now when you committed a crime, the word was out to the entire force of radio cars as soon as the crime was reported, and if they knew where you were, or knew what you were driving, well, your chances of getting away with it just went to bad odds. 

This incredible and impressive use of new technology came at a moment in American history when crime was rampant, so the two-way radio quickly became well-known and the roll of captured criminals a long one. Police “radio cars” were quickly incorporated into all popular media, including comic strips. 

Artist Charlie Schmidt and writer Edward Sullivan came up with a kid detective strip Pinkerton Junior, debuting on August 7 1933 in the Hearst-owned Boston Daily Record where both of them were editors. The strip was popular enough that news of it filtered through the Hearst organization, and it was decided that it might succeed in national syndication. However, what appealed to the syndicate were the radio car cops who co-starred with Pinky. The strip was renamed Radio Patrol when national syndication began on April 10 1934, and the new technology was now the acknowledged star of the show.

Radio Patrol is the very first adventure strip to star uniformed cops, says Ron Goulart, and I’m inclined to agree. There were lots of earlier cop strips, but they were generally played for laughs. When it came to adventure, the police detectives seemed to have cornered the early adventure strip market. So Schmidt and Sullivan had a unique tiger by the tail. Strangely, though, Radio Patrol never did all that well in syndication, appearing mostly in Hearst-owned papers. It wasn’t for lack of quality, either, because both the art and storytelling were firmly in the grade of B to B-, no classic but eminently serviceable. 

Anyway, all this discussion was to get to the one and only topper that ever ran with the Sunday Radio Patrol, and it came and went so quickly you’d need a radio car to chase it down. The reason for the lack of toppers is that Radio Patrol was only available in half or tab format, eliminating the need for Hearst-required toppers on the full size. Tabs did often use toppers, but they were not an absolute requirement, and so Schmidt and Sullivan generally eschewed their use except for the short experiment that was Public Enemies Through the Ages

The criminal history strip Public Enemies Through The Ages began on May 26 1935*, about six months after the Sunday page itself had been added, and the first story reached back a thousand years to tell the tale of Hassan Sabbah, leader of the Order of Assassins. His reputation these days is pretty thoroughly scrubbed of wrongdoing (see the Wiki write-up), but the Radio Patrol version of his life story is of a bloodthirsty criminal mastermind. The story was well-told but I imagine of very limited interest to readers of Radio Patrol. Well, readers didn’t have to put up with it for long. While still in the middle of the Hassan Sabbah bio the topper vanished, last appearing on July 6 1935**. The tabloid Sundays reverted to offering the whole page to the stars of the show, and no other topper was ever used again for the life of the Sunday page, which ended in 1946. 

* Source: San Francisco Examiner

** Source: Honolulu Advertiser

Obscurity of the Day: Robin Hood


We’ve covered some of the series that were rushed into print when Hearst decided to experiment with tabloid Sunday comics in 1935, and here’s one of the most obscure of the bunch. Bearing some hallmarks of a series that was produced in a hurry, Robin Hood nevertheless had a lot going for it. Charles Flanders was a terrific adventure strip cartoonist, but he’s obviously not up to his usual level of work here. The art rather reminds me of Dick Calkins on a time-reversed Buck Rogers — very stiff, flat and tableau-like. But I suppose you could make a case that Flanders was trying to evoke the sort of art that was produced in the medieval period, and if so, I’d say he rang that bell.

The story is of course just a rehash of a few episodes in the Robin Hood legend, and so readers don’t need a lot of blah-blah-blah to follow along. As befits a Sunday-only strip featuring a well-known character, the story progresses at a breakneck pace and the action is non-stop. You’d almost swear it was influenced by Errol Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood, but that movie was still three years away from hitting the theatres.

Robin Hood was a fun strip, but it evidently was only there to take up space while other projects were developed. The strip ran less than three months, from March 24 to June 16 1935*. 

* Source: All dates from Jeffrey Lindenblatt based on New York Journal and New York American.

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