Obscurity of the Day: Encyclopedia Brown

Since we covered Can You Solve The Mystery? last week, it seems only fair that we also spend a day with its undeniable forebear, Encyclopedia Brown.

The Encyclopedia Brown book series began in 1963, written by Donald Sobol and illustrated by Leonard Shortall. The book series continues even today, though its heyday was in its first two decades when it was a favorite of kids who ordered the books at school through the Scholastic catalogues.

The comic strip series hit the market on December 3 1978 as a Sunday and daily strip distributed by Universal Press Syndicate. Sobol was given credit as the writer though the scuttlebutt is that Elliott Caplin actually wrote the scripts for this series. Frank Bolle was tapped to provide the art. Bolle was a strange choice given his slick illustration style, so different from Shortall’s folksy cartoon illustrations so associated with the book series.

The comic strip seemed mildly successful, but in the world of licensed characters that is seldom good enough. With the pie sliced thin for licensing fees apparently Encyclopedia Brown just wasn’t solving the mystery of making money in this venture. The series ended on September 20 1980, a bit shy of two years in syndication.

9 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Encyclopedia Brown

  1. While Frank Bolle draws beautifully and I'm happy to see his artwork anytime, anyplace, in my mind Encyclopedia Brown will always be drawn by Leonard Shortall. No matter how good any of the other artists are who have drawn him, it's just doesn't have the same feel. Kind of like when "The Andy Griffith Show" went to color and lost Barney.

    Still, as I wrote, I'll take any chance to see Frank Bolle's work.

    PS to Jim Keefe: Love your Flash Gordon art. Comic Revue and Missing Years covers are great too!

  2. As a kid, I was a big fan of the book series. Next to comics, this was my favorite read back in the Day. I never even knew there was a comic strip based on the character until now.

  3. I never even knew about the character..just learnt about Encyclopedia Brown from Katherine Boo's NYT interview.. my inner boy scout brings me here though am in my 30's 🙂
    great blog..hope to be visiting more often..
    btw, do these 10 strips have the complete story?

  4. No Shaggy, this isn't the complete story of the stolen Picassos — since these strips are in copyright we didn't run a whole story, which could be seen as going beyond fair use for review and research purposes.


  5. Hi! I just found your guide, while i was looking up Encyclopedia Brown. I was saddened to learn that Sobol passed away last year. I had just been reading some of Sobol's "Two Minute Mysteries", and that got me thinking about one of my favorite childhood detectives (besides Frank, Joe, and Nancy). I didn't get to read any of the Encyclopedia Brown comic strips (that ran from 1978-1980) and i was wondering if you could tell me how many mysteries (including Sunday strips) were published between 79-80? I know there was a book, published in 1985, that had 49 of the comic strip mysteries mysteries in it; This book was published as "Encyclopedia Brown's Book of Comic Strips: Volume #1
    (indicating that there might have been more strips to be published in a possible volume #2).

    Thanks 🙂


  6. Hi Jeremy —
    The daily strip mysteries seemed to vary from 1-3 weeks in length, typically three weeks. The Sundays all had self-contained mysteries. I'd guess that the 1985 reprint book used the Sundays. There was only the one book that I know of that was published.


  7. I didn't know of the comic strip either. I loved Encyclopedia Brown books as a kid! I tried to get my older kids to read them, ( they're in their 20's). I have luck with my youngest daughter who is 9. She loves them also and reads them at school. I warned her not to look at the back for the answers! I told her that I consider them to be a prerequisite to read Sherlock Holmes books. They are a bit young for a 4th grader, but IMO it teaches kids to absorb info while reading so they don't miss the "clue"! So many young kids almost "peruse" books just enough to pass a test!

  8. Loved the Encyclopedia Brown Books when I was a kid, and was happy to discover that Donald Sobol wrote a few more of them after I had grown up, although, sadly, the new books don't have the art of Leonard Shortall. I never knew there was a comic strip. Now I'll have to see if I can find them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.