Obscurity of the Day: Ted’s Object Spelling Lesson

The premise of Ted’s Object Spelling Lesson is simplicity itself, and I promise that if you try to read more than a couple at a sitting you’ll find your eyes starting to get heavy, but I suppose in weekly doses it doesn’t pall. Every strip (or at least everyone I’ve read) conforms to the exact same rythm of presenting young master Ted trying to learn his spelling, and the two words (always two) come to objective life and pull some sort of prank on him. The story always unfolds exactly the same way, with word #1 introduced in panel 1, coming to life in panel 2, word #2 introduced in panel 4, and so on. The whole thing is so mechanical that I think a decent programmer could write the code to spit out an infinite number of scripts for the strip.

However, it was not a proto-Univac but Fred Nankivel who was the author of this comic strip that appeared in the Philadelphia North American from 8/23/1908 to 5/30/1909. Nankivel kicked around the comic strip biz for about a decade, and this was his longest running feature. He went on to New York in the teens and did a strip each for Hearst and Pulitzer, but he was much more successful in the children’s book illustration business, and is well-known in that genre.

Fred is often confused with Frank Nankivell, who is a different guy. I do recall reading somewhere that they were indeed related (brothers?) despite the different spelling of their surnames. Frank also dabbled in strips, but made his mark in newspaper and magazine illustration.

PS: This is my 400th blog post. Pardon me while I pat myself on the back. I hope I haven’t been as boring and predictable as ol’ Ted up above here. I’m going to be traveling for the next few days, so blog posts will go up if and when I get a chance. Be back for Christmas day for sure.

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