Sponsored Comics Exposed! An Interview with Howard Beckerman

Howard Beckerman was co-creator, with writer Carl Memling, of the Miss Chipps feature in Family Comics. He contacted me after finding my blog post about the strip. Here’s our conversation:

Holtz: You initially contacted me to tell me that my post about Miss Chipps was wrong, that you weren’t responsible for the Schoolhouse Rock series. Sorry about the mix-up! I got that piece of misinformation from a website discussing your work.

Beckerman: Although I know the guys who did School House Rock, I wasn’t one of them. It may have gotten mixed up with the Sesame Street, the Electric Company and other children’s educational spots that I did in the 1970s.

Holtz: Let’s see what light you can shed on the mysteries of Sponsored Comics. Was it run by Zeke Zekley or Norman Maurer or someone else?

Beckerman: I dealt with Zeke Zekley and assume that there were others involved but don’t recall any names.

Holtz: How many issues of Family Comics were produced?

Beckerman: There weren’t many issues of Sponsored Comics. I probably did about a dozen strips. I always felt that the paper was in distribution less than a year.

Holtz: Was it really only available at a few California grocery stores? Was that the intended marketing plan?

Beckerman: As far as I know it was always available in California supermarkets. I assume they would have liked to broaden the distribution in the future.

Holtz: Did the more traditional syndication of some of the features attempted in 1960 (as advertised in E&P) ever get off the ground?

Beckerman: The strips that were used had mostly been those that had been previously turned down by major syndicates. But though they were all done by experienced working cartoonists, I don’t think any of them reached the big time. [ed – only Kippy did that we know of]

Holtz: Was Miss Chipps created specifically for Family Comics, and did it have any further life after Family Comics folded?

Beckerman: We had sent it around and got good responses from major syndicates and were in the midst of making changes in it when we got the acceptance from Sponsored Comics. It never appeared anywhere else. Both Carl and I were busy with other pursuits, the usual problem in trying to sell strips. We never returned to Miss Chipps. As a working animator with a family to feed, the steady pay check took precedence over trying to judge the whims of syndicate editors and the uncertainty of that line of work. More power to those that can do it, and also to those who are happy with what they are doing and never think about the possible glories of a syndicated strip.

Holtz: You say you got accepted by Sponsored — how did you know they existed in order to submit to them? My assumption was that Zekley just sort of got a group of his buddies together to fill the section, but this sounds like they advertised for submissions. Do you recall how you found out about them?

Beckerman: We found out from other cartoonists. Either Zekley contacted people he knew and they passed it on, or the word went out through the National Cartoonists Society. Carl Memling knew local cartoonists such as Gill Fox and David Gantz and several others. I’m sure we heard about it from one of them.

Holtz: Did Sponsored have you do all the 10-12 strips up front in a batch, or did you submit the strips on a scheduled basis?

Beckerman: Sponsored bought most of our sample strips and then I did new ones to meet the deadline, so maybe I did more than a dozen, maybe 20. It’s a vey long time ago. What bothered me was that I was just hitting my stride and really enjoying drawing the strip, when the paper was discontinued.

Holtz: Do you recall if they just paid you a flat fee per strip or was there some sort of arrangement based on circulation? For that matter, did you end up getting stiffed on the job?

Beckerman: We signed a contract and were paid a fee per strip. I believe we were paid for everything we did.

Holtz: Do you recall anything in particular about how the enterprise ended — was it simply a case of not enough clients or was there more to its demise?

Beckerman: I have no idea why it ended. There were many possibilities, including that the stores may have decided not to continue the paper, otherwise I have no idea. Zekely died a short time ago, so I can’t tell who would know what transpired.

Holtz: Many of the other Family Comics cartoonists produced two features, one with their name on it, one with a pen name. Do you recall if they approached you to do the same?

Beckerman: No. The guys with two features may have been asked to do that to look like there were more cartoonists contributing, or there was some other obscure reason.

Holtz: Sponsored reappeared with what was apparently a similar section in the mid-1980s (this is second hand – I haven’t seen this version). Were you approached for this version? I ask because some of the original creators apparently did new material for this version.

Beckerman: I didn’t know about this, but Memling had died by then and there were enough strips around without contacting me. In fact, there are always strips around in drawers and which have never seen the light of day. As I say, it’s a tough business.

Holtz: Howard, thank you very much for shedding some light on the Sponsored Comics mystery!

Beckerman: Regarding the Miss Chipps strip, it was wonderful seeing these 1950s drawings again. Carl Memling died prematurely many years ago, but I’m still around. I’m teaching animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I have a website at howardbeckerman.com.

One comment on “Sponsored Comics Exposed! An Interview with Howard Beckerman

  1. So Zekely it is… great to see publishing your research this way works! Cartoonists and family members everywhere, make contact!

    I have always been intrigued by ‘unsold’ comics. As Mr. Beckerman said, every artist had a few. Many have been shown in fanzines through the years. I am aspecially interested in the one done in the late fifties by comic book artists making a last desperate attempt to get into the newspaper business. Some turn up at Heritage, some are lost forever… and I am sure some are still in those drawers…

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