Little Johnny and the Teddy Bears (9/1/1907 – 2/28/09) is one that makes me scratch my head. Not for the subject matter, which was nothing particularly noteworthy. We have a kid whose teddy bears have come to life. Their misadventures are told in rather pedestrian verse, supposedly to appeal to the younger kids. (By the way, I don’t recall having any particular preference for stories told in rhyme as a youngster – I’m not sure how this convention originated in the funnies.)
What’s odd is that this Sunday comic strip was copyrighted to Judge Inc. (the noted political humor magazine), and the verse was written, at least initially, by Robert D. Towne, the editor of the magazine. Now anyone who has read Judge would agree that it did not cater at all to juvenile audiences, so I don’t really see why they would have been producing and distributing this sort of strip. I’ve read a few episodes of the strip, thinking that maybe the teddy bears are a commentary on Roosevelt, but I see no undercurrent of political opinion.
Anyway, the strip seems to have been distributed by the North American Company (syndication arm of the Philadelphia North American), and the strip was very well-drawn by J.R. Bray, later to make a name for himself in the animation game. Robert Towne wrote the verses until March 1 1908, then Constance Johnson took over the duties for the remainder of the run.
The strip either wasn’t marketed all that well, or the subject matter didn’t appeal, because you won’t find this strip running in very many papers. On the other hand, until the 1910s it was a bit unusual for papers to mix strips between different syndicates in their comic sections. Most just bought the standard 4 pages of material from one source and didn’t put any brain juice into picking and choosing the best individual strips. So an oddball strip like this, sold as a special item to take over the front page of a paper’s comic section from the regular fodder probably caught a lot of editoors wondering, “Why bother?”