Obscurity of the Day: Bill Hustle of Harlem

Here we have a comic strip series that poses more questions than it answers. First of all, I don’t know why our excitable, blustering hero in this cartoon is associated with Harlem. Were people in Harlem at the turn of the century particularly in a hurry? Or is Bill Hustle hailing from Harlem so that he has a reason to have a commute into the city. I dunno.

Bill Hustle of Harlem was drawn by a fellow by the name of A.(or H.) Methfessel for the New York Evening World. I know nothing about the cartoonist except that there is some slight evidence that he did editorial cartoons in the 1890s, and he did one other strip after this one for the Boston Traveler. I don’t even guarantee I’m right about the initial A, but many hours of squinting at blurry microfilm have left me with that impression (despite it looking like an H in our bottom sample here).[EDIT — Alex Jay, as we will see tomorrow in an Ink-Slinger Profile, has managed to find TWO Methfessel’s in this period who were cartoonists, one with the initial A. the other H. — oy vey!]

The weekday series ran from April 20 to September 11 1907. However, those of you who really know your comic strips are saying right now, “that Holtz fellow is full of hooey — the Evening World didn’t run strips in color, and besides, any fool could see that the lettering of the title is in the style associated only with the Chicago Tribune of that period.” Well, right you are, my wise friend. The reason is that our samples are indeed from the Chicago Tribune, where some strips from the World series were reprinted in the Tribune’s Sunday comics section, with color added, from August 27 to October 25 1908. The “of Harlem” portion of the strip title was, of course, dropped for the reprint series.

The Tribune used several Evening World strips in this way in the late oughts, and I have no idea how this unusual reprint scheme came about. Why Pulitzer wouldn’t have simply offered them regular Sunday strips like any other paper I can’t fathom. One thing I’d bet on, though — Mr. Methfessel didn’t get any reprinting royalties!

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scans!

3 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Bill Hustle of Harlem

  1. At the turn of the 20th century, Harlem was still known as a white, middle class-to-upscale commuter neighborhood.

  2. Hello, Allan—–Somehow the by-then lowly INTER-OCEAN got the contract for the Pulitzer Sunday comics in Chicago, and the TRIBUNE had to make do with their daily strips. The TRIB blew up and put empty spaces in them in order to re-fit them to half page size, the result looking like the reworked halves and tabloid sizes of the 1930's.

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