Few comic strips have yielded so many mysteries as this innocuous-seeming teenage girl strip, Candy. Here’s a jumbo-sized post to match the jumbo-sized headaches that researching this strip induces:
Mystery #1 — Who’s on First?
For starters, the comic strip version of Candy debuted on October 2 1944, distributed by the small Chicago Times Syndicate. A comic book version of the same character, apparently drawn by the same cartoonist, Harry Sahle, debuted in Quality Comics Group’s Police Comics #37, dated December 1944. So whose version is the original, and who owned the character? As comic books are typically dated three months in the future of their actual shelving date, the comic book Candy and the comic strip Candy debuted almost simultaneously.
|First Candy strip, October 2 1944|
Mystery #2 — Candy’s Dandy … Apparently
As a backup feature in Police Comics, I don’t see any indication that Candy was expected to set the world on fire by any means. Her introduction didn’t even make it into a cover blurb. And in the one promo I have for the Candy newspaper strip, there is no mention of her appearances in comic books. So why was this particular character, out of the plethora of new characters being created for comic books every month, chosen as a multimedia starlet, but not marketed as such?
|Only Candy promo I’ve seen; ran September 30 1944 in Columbus Dispatch|
Mystery #3 — the Mystery Writer
While the comic book version of Candy was apparently credited solely to Harry Sahle, the comic strip version offered credits to Sahle plus (presumably) a writer. Said writer’s name seems to be impossible to pin down. According to my run of the early Candy strips from the Columbus Dispatch, the feature was by “Sahle and Goggin”. According to Ron Goulart, who is no slouch when it comes to accuracy, the writer was named Ed Groggin. And to cap things off, various and sundry websites which purport to impart comics history tell us that the writer was Elmer Groggin. So which was it? I asked Alex Jay to do some sleuthing in the genealogical world and he can’t come up with any likely candidates.
Mystery #4 — Never on a Sunday?
Okay, here’s a minor one. Just to give us a breather. According to Dave Strickler’s Editor & Publisher index, in which he sometimes inserts an extra bonus factoid about a strip that isn’t sourced from the E&P directories, he says that a Sunday strip version of Candy began sometime in January 1945. I have never found any other evidence that there was a Sunday strip of the feature, and no Sunday was ever indicated in the E&P directories. What was Strickler’s source for this item, and does it hold any water?
|Candy, March 1945|
Mystery #5 — the Very Modest Harry Sahle
Here’s another quickie. Since Harry Sahle apparently was happy to take credit on his comic book works, signing them regularly, why is it that he never seems to have bothered to sign the comic strip? Surely the prestige of being at the helm of a newspaper comic strip was not lost on Sahle? Maybe not a full-fledged mystery, but odd nevertheless.
Mystery #6 — Sahlipsism
So let’s say you’re Harry Sahle, and your time is divided between drawing a newspaper comic strip (the very definition of the big-time to most cartoonists) and drawing a backup feature in Police Comics. Then, presumably for lack of time, you had to drop one. Which one do you drop? Your answer, of course, is to keep the newspaper strip. Even a not particularly successful newspaper strip probably pays better than backup stories in comic books. And the newspaper strip could offer a bright future if more clients sign on. Comic books certainly didn’t offer cartoonists any realistic promise of fame and fortune. But apparently Harry Sahle didn’t see things the same way. No, his credit did not survive on the strip into 1946, but he apparently continued working on the comic book stories.
Mystery #7 — Harry Sahle’s Foggy Timeline
We know that Harry Sahle left Candy, presumably taking that mysterious Goggin/Groggin fellow with him. Next question is, when did it happen? Since Sahle didn’t bother to sign the strip, that’s a tougher nut to crack than it should be … and it doesn’t help that I had some very sloppy notes on the subject.
Ron Goulart says Sahle “stayed with the strip through 1945.” But according to my book, Sahle’s last strip appeared June 2 1945. Problem with that is that I failed to cite my source. That turned out to be a lucky break, because in rechecking based on online newspaper archives, I found that I had made a pretty big error. I looked for the new creator to start signing in the Wisconsin State Journal, and found the first signature on June 3 1946. I think that however I got that 1945 date, I was a year and a day off, and the credit change I was supposed to be documenting was to the debut of the new creator, not the end of the original one.
Now that doesn’t really get us an end date for Sahle, but looking at the strips, I’m going to basically go along with Goulart in guessing a late 1945 end. The changeover certainly isn’t obvious except for some subtle design changes to Candy herself, and style changes from day to day indicating a creative team in flux. I suppose that Sahle got enough help on the strip that he and his assistants and ghosts all sort of melded together in that Quality Comics house style. Even when we get to June 1946, when the new creator begins signing, the change in art style is certainly not changed like a light switch by any means.
Goulart mentions that Bernard Dibble ghosted some sequences in 1945. According to online sources, Dibble was working at Quality Comics in this timeframe, so perhaps he did lend a hand. That goes to show, I think, that the bullpen at Quality Comics was the real source of the strip when you get down to brass tacks.
|November 1945 — Harry Sahle’s art style on the wane|
Mystery #8 — the Enigma of Tom Dorr
So what about that new creator? As of June 3 1946, someone named Tom Dorr began signing the strip. If we search around the web for Mr. Dorr, we find a painter of Western subjects by that name, and several websites that discuss the strip Candy say that this is the same Tom Dorr who drew the strip.
Sorry, but no. I asked Alex Jay to see if he could find a birthdate for the painter Tom Dorr, and he came back with 1950. So that puts the painter Tom Dorr about as far out of the running as you can get. But thanks, you websites, for throwing out that red herring without so much as an “I think” or “maybe” clause in sight (yeah, I’m lookin’ at you Lambiek).
That still leaves us with a named but background-less Tom Dorr. Alex Jay’s research yielded no artists of the appropriate age by that name in the genealogical records. He did, however, find in the Grand Comics Database a note that Tom Dorr is actually a pseudonym of Russell Stamm.
But does that make sense? Well, maybe. Russell Stamm was serving in the military until late 1945, during which time his modestly successful comic strip, Invisible Scarlet O’Neil, was ghosted. When he got back from the war, it seems a pretty reasonable assumption that he took up where he left off with his own strip. However, both his strip and Candy were produced for the same small syndicate. That seems like a pretty big coincidence. There’s also the fact that Tom Dorr’s signature has the same curlicue on the first letter of the surname as Stamm’s, not to mention the repeated final letter. More coincidences?
Goulart hedges his bet. He says that Tom Dorr “drew very much in the Russell Stamm vein.” I’m going to go farther. My proposal is that Russell Stamm returned from his wartime adventures and got right back to work on Invisible Scarlet O’Neil. But perhaps he had a little free time to help out with Candy. Let’s shift focus a bit, though, to Mr. Stamm’s wartime ghost, who did a plausible imitation of his style. This fellow would seem to have now been without portfolio, as they say in the governing biz.Why not have him take over Candy from this gaggle of cartoonists in the Quality Comics bullpen? Maybe Stamm could lay things out and nameless ghost could do the finishes, or some such arrangement? Together they could call themselves by a house name, Tom Dorr.
But who was this ghost guy? Well, it might have been Emery Clarke, who later ghosted, and then got co-credit with Stamm, on Invisible Scarlet O’Neil. However, there is no documentation that I know of that suggests he was the Scarlet O’Neil ghost during the war years. And there’s reason to think, at least in my mind, that we could have a different ghost here. My reasoning? Clarke had a habit of drawing women with rather ridiculously long necks. I do not see that sort of conceit in the 1946 strips. On the other hand, however, that odd stylistic tick of Clarke’s might not have appeared in his art until much later, or Stamm’s layouts might have steered him away from indulging his neck fetish.
[Note: in a belated commentary on this post, Jim Ivey tells me that he remembers a Tom Dorr — he describes him as an ordinary looking chap, a bit chubby — visiting the Washington Star art department when he was there (1949-52). Jim says that the old-timers in the art department seemed to know him well, and that he was in cartooning. If Jim’s memory of a one-day visitor 60+ years ago is accurate, there really is a Tom Dorr out there somewhere.]
What I can say just about for sure, and you know I never make art IDs lightly, is that by 1948 the art on Candy has morphed to the point where I can say with 90% certainty that Emery Clarke is at the helm. Those long necks are just too obvious to be ignored. Compare to these Scarlet O’Neil strips from 1951, which I believe were ghosted by Clarke.
Mystery #9 — Counterfeit Penny
So now we have a pseudonymous Emery Clarke at the helm of Candy. What could go wrong now? Well, around 1950 Mr. Clarke seems to have been pulled off the Candy assignment, probably to assist Russell Stamm full-time. We now have a new artist on Candy. Unfortunately, the signature remains the same; good ol’ Tom Dorr. Par for the course…
The interesting thing about our new cartoonist is that he is obviously quite enamored of Harry Haenigsen’s comic strip, Penny. The whole tone and art style of Candy changes to mimic that strip. Sometimes the strips look so similar that if they both appeared on the same funnies page, you’d only be able to tell them apart because Penny is a redhead and Candy is a brunette. Candy’s teenage pals, who used to be constant co-stars, have mostly moved offstage so that Candy’s foil is her dad — just like Penny.
Who is this Haenigsen imitator? Well, I guess my sleuthing tank has run dry. I have no clue, and I’ve never heard anyone else venture a guess.
Mystery #10 — Struggling with Sterling
At the very end of 1950, December 30 to be exact, Candy‘s syndicate, which was now Field Enterprises after the Sun and Times merged back in the 40s, decided they’d had enough. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Candy continued on for over three years, until sometime in 1954, distributed by a syndicate I know absolutely nothing about, Sterling Features Syndicate. This was Sterling’s only known feature, and I have come upon not so much as a whisper about it in Editor & Publisher or elsewhere.
One possibility is that Sterling was a self-syndication company for our anonymous Haenigsen imitator,since his style remains on the strip until the end. But if so, why not start signing the darn thing with your real name if you’re the chief cook and bottle-washer?
An alternate guess is that Sterling was run by Quality Comics. With superheroes on the wane, and teenagers, including shapely girl-type teenagers, a new genre that was selling well, Candy was evolving into an important property. She had even gained her own title in 1947, and it lasted until 1956. So was this newspaper strip now being produced again in the Quality bullpen? Was Quality in such dire straits that they needed to scrape the barrel for syndication money with this property? It would take someone with way more comic book knowledge than I have to provide an answer. Perhaps a Quality Comics expert could even offer an ID of that Haenigsen imitator. Volunteers?
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After posing all those mysteries, allow me to finally offer a solution to one. There are websites around the ‘net that talk about the comic strip Candy having run for 25 years, or say that Tom Dorr produced the strip into the 1970s, etc. That’s all plain, unadulterated bunk. What happened is that the Sterling Syndicate portion of the daily strip run was sold off to a few bargain basement syndicates, who then sold the Candy material in reprints. I know of two outfits (or maybe they are two names for the same outfit) that did this reprint syndication. There was the National Weekly Newspaper Service offering in the early 1960s, and the Community & Suburban Press Service in the 1960s-70s. No new material was produced past the mid-50s, I promise.
Tomorrow: Alex Jay weighs in with an Ink-Slinger Profile of Harry Sahle.