The 1941 comic strip Odd Bodkins was a case of a cute idea that suffered from bad handling. It’s unfortunate because the creators were both quite talented, and should have done better.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell — young country bumpkin Odd Bodkins finds a sword stuck in a stone. He assumes that if he can do the King Arthur routine that he’s a very special young man indeed. Well, he succeeds in pulling the sword from the stone. As it turns out, the stone was recently poured concrete, and the sword was stuck in it while still in the scabbard. Hence, a baby could have pulled it out. But Odd doesn’t know that.
Odd things immediately start happening around Odd, events which people around him misconstrue as being evidence of Odd being super-strong. Odd, having just pulled a sword from a stone, and being as impenetrably thick-headed as Li’l Abner, immediately believes the same thing and starts taking crazy risks with his imaginary ‘powers’. Luckily for him the deus ex machinae are coming fast and furious, and every time he sticks his neck out, circumstances favor him and his legend just keeps on spreading.
The idea certainly has merit, although one wonders how long before it might become stale. But writer Fred Fox, whose only credit up to this point was as the replacement creator on Good Time Guy a decade before, didn’t have to worry about reader boredom setting in, because right from the start he had trouble writing a good comic strip continuity. The storyline takes wild leaps and bounds, making you wonder from strip to strip if you missed some episodes. It also doesn’t help that Odd is so dumb he’s more annoying than endearing, or that the ersatz super power exhibitions are more ridiculous than clever or cute. Frankly, the quality of the writing on this strip makes me wonder about Fox’s assistant/ghost-writing credit on Ella Cinders in the 1930s. If he did, it seems to me he probably got a lot of help from Bill Conselman. Apparently, though, Fox found his voice, because later he definitely wrote not only Ella Cinders but also other strips. For more on Fox, see Alex Jay’s Ink-Slinger Profile tomorrow.
Chase Craig, who would soon be well-respected for drawing comic strip and comic book versions of animation properties, on the other hand, did a creditable job on the art.
The strip was offered by Esquire Features, a tiny newspaper syndication venture run by the magazine of the same name. Manager Irving Philips evidently saw something in the Odd Bodkins submission that he liked, and he managed to talk some pretty big papers into running it (Washington Post, for example). However, Esquire evidently didn’t feel too attached to the strip. The strip debuted on June 16 1941, and was sold off to the Chicago Sun when that newspaper debuted in December. The Sun tried to syndicate the strip themselves and were met with no interest at all. The feature was cancelled just six months later, at the end of the one-year contract, on June 20 1942.
A couple footnotes; first, somewhere I saw an indication that the Chicago Sun ran a Sunday version of the strip. However, I have been through the microfilm and see no evidence of it. Second, there seems to be some confusion over which of the creators did the art and writing on this strip. To me the art looks like that of Craig, with no particular Fox influence. Therefore I assume Fox (who was also a capable cartoonist) did the writing. Anyone disagree?