Obscurity of the Day: George Washington’s Travels

Another in the long roll call of educational strips is George Washington’s Travels. It is quite rarely seen, a condition not uncommon with historical strips (with the notable exception of Highlights of History, which was phenomenally popular in its day). This strip, though, richly deserves its obscurity because it is about as dry and dessicated as day old toast.

The author, James W. Brooks, seems to think he’s writing a college term paper. There’s not a hint of life in the narrative, a “story” that boils down to a litany of facts cribbed out of a reference book. The art by Calvin Fader does nothing to liven things up, which is a shame because Fader’s usual bigfoot style is anything but stiff. But here, faced with illustrating a series of uninvolving factoids, Fader seems to be competing with Brooks to see whether art or text will bore the reader to death first.

Although the strip never carried a syndicate stamp, it was definitely distributed by Western Newspaper Union. The majority of the papers that ran the series were weeklies, and the ones I’ve found were WNU clients who rarely purchased material from other syndicates. Even if this were not the case, the strip gives its distributor away with that final filler panel, a WNU staple on all its strips.

Although distributed by WNU, the strip itself may have been originally commissioned by something called the American Highway Educational Bureau. This organization issued a reprint book of the complete series in 1932. Shockingly the book failed to make an appearance on any bestseller lists.

The strip ran for a total of sixty dreary episodes, and few client papers printed it to the end of the series. Most of the clients being weeklies, sixty weeks is an awfully long commitment for a feature that only a devoted Washington-phile would read past the third episode.

Papers printed the strip at various times, mostly in 1932. The copyrights on the strip, though, indicate that the series was probably first made available in 1930. Cole Johnson recently sent me a photocopy of a strip (the one pictured above as a matter of fact) that ran in 1931 in the Bristol (PA) Courier. This is also the first daily paper I’ve seen running the feature.

No definitive start and end dates can be given since the series ran at the whim of editors, but the Bristol paper so far has the earliest found run, which, if the paper printed the strip regularly, would have started around October 5th and ended December 12 1931.

Thanks Cole for sending the sample strip!

One comment on “Obscurity of the Day: George Washington’s Travels

  1. Hi,

    I just stumbled across your website. I was searching for Calvin Fader online. He is my grandfather. My dad has tons of his comic strips at home. My father rarely talks about his work. I would be curious to pick your brain a litlle bit. I agree with you, I obviously have seen much of his work and this piece is a little stale.
    Thank Kathy
    kjtufts@yahoo.com

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