Obscurity of the Day: Alonzo

Ralph Yardley — 10/10/1908

Ralph Yardley — 10/17/1908

In 1908 the San Francisco Call, a real also-ran sorta rag in that city of great newspapers,decided to attract children to its Saturday issues with a kid’s section. I guess their Sunday issue, which featured the Pulitzer Sunday funnies, was doing well, and so they decided to try to get the kids to annoy their parents for the Call two days a week instead of one.

The new Saturday kids section, with spot color on the cover, featured a comic strip starring a dog named Alonzo, titled (at first) Have You Seen Alonzo?, and Ralph Yardley, who was apparently the head of the art department at the time, took on the task of drawing the weekly strip.

Although the strip is no classic, and Yardley certainly didn’t wrack his brain for days coming up with the gags, it seemed to appeal to the tykes, and Alonzo became the mascot and weekly front-page feature of the section.

Yardley handled the strip for the first ten months, from October 10 1908 to June 12 1909, and then handed it off to a young and inexperienced kid named Paul Terry. Of course, Terry would someday go on to bigger and better things as the head of the Terrytoons studio, but at the time he was a wet behind the ears 22-year old with minimal drawing ability.

Charlie Judkins, whose blogpost alerted me to the existence of this feature (which can be read in its entirety in the digital Call available from the Library of Congress), tells me that Paul Terry recalled the strip in a 1970 interview. Sixty years later Terry’s memory might have been just a bit hazy — his recollection was that he did the strip for King Features after moving to New York. Did he revive the feature there after he left San Francisco? I tend to doubt it. I have no record of Terry creating any continuing series for Hearst, and certainly not for King Features, which didn’t even exist until 1916. In fact I can find no reliable record of Terry working for Hearst at all. The Wikipedia entry for Terry says he worked for the New York Press, which it calls a Hearst paper. Nope, it wasn’t. Any animation fans out there have anything to contribute on the subject?

Paul Terry — 6/19/1909

Paul Terry — 6/26/1909

Paul Terry — 7/3/1909

Paul Terry stayed on the feature for a little less than a year. His last strip was published on May 7 1910, and the next week there was a different cartoonist, but from the same family, taking over. John Terry had a much less distinguished career ahead of him than brother Paul, but at the time he carried on Alonzo with, if anything, greater competence than his brother.

John Terry — June 26 1910

John didn’t stay on the gig as long as his brother, less than two months in fact. His last strip was on July 3 1910. Following him was a cartoonist named Mike Randall, another relative short-timer who only signed the feature until October 30 1910.

Mike Randall — July 10 1910

Next up was a fellow who signed himself just ‘Tam’. Tam wasn’t altogether keen on comic strips, it seems, because under his stewardship Alonzo’s adventures started to turn into illustrated stories. At some points Alonzo was reduced to barely more than a mascot. Tam stuck around for over a year, ending his tenure on February 24 1912. He was spelled once, on August 26 1911, by a guest cartoonist who ended up being the next one to take over the feature. Jim Navoni ran the show from March 2 to June 8 1912.

Tam — 11/6/1910
Tam — 8/12/1911
Jim Navoni — 4/27/1912

After Navoni only one additional cartoonist signed the feature, and then only with his initials. Somebody named H.M. stuck around for three months, ending on September 28 1912. [HM has now been identified as Herbert Morton Stoops — thanks Charlie!]. After H.M. the strip was unsigned for the last month of its existence. On November 2 1912 the final appearance of Alonzo was run in what was also the last Saturday kid’s section of the Call.

Herbert Morton Stoops — 9/18/1912

I think the most impressive thing about this frankly forgettable feature is that the quality, which granted was never stellar, was maintained at a decent level through a parade of seven cartoonists. The design of the character never went way off base and the cartooning was uniformly decent. That’s no mean feat when cartoonists are playing musical chairs.

Tomorrow: an Ink-Slinger Profile of Ralph Yardley, the originator of Alonzo.

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