Amongst its other offerings, the Howard Lowery Gallery has been selling a lot of original comic strip art over the past year or so that bears a copyright to Sponsored Comics. Much of the work is top-notch and many collectors are wondering what Sponsored Comics was and where the strips appeared.
When the art started appearing on eBay I asked the Howard Lowery people about the mystery and they claimed that they really didn’t know anything about it. With nothing else to go on except the art itself, that left me worrying that I have a gaping hole in my Stripper’s Guide listings. Sure, Sponsored Comics might have just been a project that didn’t go anywhere, but if those strips ended up appearing in some newspaper somewhere I wanted to know about it.
A lot of time passed with no leads appearing, but finally I found some evidence that clears up most, if not all, of the Sponsored Comics mystery. It turns out that the Sponsored Comics material did actually appear in print. It ran in a newspaper-style weekly tabloid supplement called Family Comics. It consisted of 16 pages — 11 pages of color Sunday-style comic strips, four pages of black and white recipe and homemaker articles, and an ad page on the back cover. The ‘magazine’ was on newsprint and priced at 5 cents.
The magazine was marketed to food store chains, mainly in California. I can vouch for two chains that used it – Shopping Bag Food Stores and Hughes Markets. It may have been marketed to other businesses as well, but for that I have no evidence. The food stores got their name in the masthead, ads on the back cover plus sometimes an additional ad inside. The marketing gimmick was obviously to get kids to beg their moms to shop at that grocery store chain every week so that junior could keep up with the funnies. To that end, the strips were tipped in favor of continuing adventures.
That leaves the question of who was responsible for putting together these magazines. Here I have to go off into conjecture, but I am pretty sure that the man with the plan had to be Norman Maurer. Family Comics listed their address as Beverly Hills California, and we know that Maurer was based there. He contributed a strip to each issue, so we know he was involved at some level, and from what I’ve read of this fellow over the years, he was constantly coming up with marketing gimmicks of this type. You can read more about Maurer here on Wikipedia.
The first issue of Family Comics was dated the week of May 4-10 1959, and the latest issue I have is #10, dated July 6-12. If there are later issues we could probably determine it easily enough from original art as most of the strips were coded with the issuing week. For instance, on the strips in issue #10 each has the code 7/6-12 lettered on it.
So now that the mystery is pretty much solved, time for some fun. In the coming days I’ll be featuring samples of the strips that ran in Family Comics on the blog. Be here tomorrow for the first in the series.