Early Syndicate a Shabby Business?

Just stumbled upon a little gem in H.L. Mencken’s “Newspaper Days 1899-1906”, a book I recommend highly. In a discussion of an artist friend, Mencken throws us comic strip nuts a snapshot of the earliest cartoon syndicate I know of that was not run by a newspaper:

“…the magazine [Dixie] was at least getting notice for some of its illustrations. They were done by a pen-and-ink artist named G. Alden Peirson, Turning away from the uptown prides and glories of Baltimore, he went down to the waterfront for his subjects, and there produced some very charming drawings. The newspaper artists of the town were naturally miles behind him, but they, too, had their quest for an earthly Grail. It took them to a dark office in an old building under the elevated in North street, where there lurked a syndicate man who was always ready to buy a comic drawing of the sort then in fashion. Unhappily, there had to be a he-and-she joke to go along with it, and inventing these jokes usually stumped the artists. When they could not find a literary reporter able to supply one, they went to the Pratt Library and dug it out of the back files of Puck, Judge or Texas Siftings. The market price for joke and drawing was $1.” (page 61-62)

The syndicate, though unnamed here, is undoubtedly the International Syndicate. At the turn of the century this tiny syndicate did exactly what Mencken describes – they syndicated little panel cartoons with the so-called ‘he-and-she jokes’. They provided these to newspapers in addition to a budget of general art cuts that could be used for sprucing up ads and fillers. Later on the International Syndicate would be one of the first to offer true daily comics, the first of which was Scoop The Cub Reporter.

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