The (almost?) Complete Wanda Byrd, by Art Lortie

[Comics researcher and sci-fi fanatic Art Lortie offers a guest post today, about obscure aviation strip Wanda Byrd. But he doesn’t just write about it — he offers you a download of the entire run of the strip, which he laboriously gathered from online archives! He has gathered other interesting strips this way as well, so maybe if you give him some encouragement, he might contribute more of his material — hint, hint. Thanks Art! — Allan Holtz]

And it might even be complete! Its hard to tell! 🙂

Wanda Byrd was one of the first aviation strips, trailing only [I think] Tailspin Tommy (taxied down the runway 5/21/1928),  Skyroads (took off 5/20/1929) and Scorchy Smith (full of hot air on 3/17/1930). This can all be blamed on Charles Lindbergh, of course, who begat a whole slew of other flying fools like Smilin’ Jack (10/1/1933), Terry and the Pirates (10/22/1934), Ace Drummond (2/3/1935), Barney Baxter (9/30/1935), Hop Harrigan (first in All American Comics #1, 4/1939) and Flyin’ Jenny (10/1939); plus possibly a whole bunch more I’ve overlooked. But she was almost certainly the first female flyer! 
Some consider Connie (3/11/1929) an early aviation strip, and though I haven’t read it in a while, I recall all she did was get all gussied up and go aloft on a date or something, never taking the throttle?
Wanda Byrd promos and strips start on June 30, 1930 from the Rome (New York) Daily Sentinel that I grabbed from the gawd-awful Fulton Postcards archive site.

The good thing about these early strips at Fulton, though difficult to find with that !@#$% search engine of theirs, are of great quality — and freakin’ HUGE! I actually shrunk them slightly to get down to a 4000-pixel width! Plus the Rome papers carried the individual strip chapter titles that I love so much!
Sadly the Rome well went dry on January 24, 1931 and I had to switch to a paltry 1200-pixel width (and no titles!) from the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph at I also had to use the Harrisburg paper as a fill-in around New Year’s, 1931, when the Rome paper either didn’t publish or it wasn’t scanned by Fulton-folk.
Other papers I know that carried the strip are the New York Tribune [of course], the Minneapolis Journal and the Los Angeles Times — none of which I have access to.
There’s also some question as to when the strip ended. Harrisburg removed Wanda from their main strip page on May 23, 1931, but — to their credit — ran 2 additional strips buried amidst the whiskey and cigar ads on the 25th and 26th just so her faithful readers — both of them! — knew our heroes survived yet another fine mess they found themselves in!
But Jeffrey Lindenblatt in American Newspaper Comics says Wanda and her male companion, Chesty Cabot [nowadays that would be HER name!] fought the good fight in the Trib until June 13, 1931, a Saturday, which — if the 15-day / 13 strip shift in its reported start date is real — then I might actually have all the strips except 3-4!
Its not a great strip by any means, full of racial stereotypes, a plot ripped off from AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and bad art — but its historically important. Out of curiosity, I decided to find out something about the creators. And that turned out to be more interesting than Wanda and Chesty.
Writer Evan J David turned out to be the real deal. He was a former editor of Flying magazine who had a regular column there keeping the readers abreast of World War I aerial developments. In 1923, when his wife was unexpectedly dying, the combined resources of the civilian and military air forces [such as it was at the time] struggled to get him home in time. He had a later tragedy in the 1930’s when he was the driver in a Massachusetts hit and run that killed 2 people, and seems to have gotten off by marrying the only other surviving witness, who then couldn’t testify against him.
But he also wrote aviation fiction for many magazines and non-fiction on flight and Arctic exploration for the Saturday Evening Post which saw numerous reprints in Australia, who, according to articles I pulled at the Trove website, was considered the go-to guy for info on the fledging air industry.
The artist, John M Grippo, was a more difficult search — but only because it was really Jack-of-all trades Jan Grippo hiding under a pseudonym. Yes — THAT Jan  Grippo 🙂
Jan / John was born December 15, 1906 in Beacon, NY, and parlayed his training at the New York School of Design into an early career as a cartoonist for the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate. He also worked on a strip called either Judy Gallant or Captain Smith – Space Adventurer that I’ve been unable to find under any rock. If it is indeed called Space Adventurer, you can rest assured I’ll be bribing librarians from coast to coast to find it!
In 1937 he took Horace Greeley’s advice and went west, to Hollywood, where between gigs as a stage musician [he taught Veronica Lake to do the card tricks in This Gun for Hire], he worked as an agent, with Billy Conn, the world light-heavyweight champion, and Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall of the Dead End Kids as his main meal tickets.
The Dead End Kids were hard-core street punks in the films Dead End and Angels With Dirty Faces, but Grippo decided they’d have more commercial success as comedic good-hearted kids who get into trouble. So he formed Jan Grippo Productions, sanitized and renamed the group the Bowery Boys and produced 24 successful films. He died March 12, 1988 at the age of 81.
Art Lortie, who is now working on the SF Barney Baxter, Tailspin Tommy, the African American space adventurer Neil Knight, the totally bizarre Peter Pat and a couple of my “SF in All the Wrong Places” entries, before returning (finally) to Brick Bradford.

One comment on “The (almost?) Complete Wanda Byrd, by Art Lortie

  1. A couple of corrections!
    The revised Wanda file [Rev 1] is at;
    Jon Ingersoll tells me the LA Times did not carry Wanda; and
    Fortunato Latella sez CONNIE learned to fly in the first week of her daily strip (start date: March 11, 1929).
    Oops. Murphy is alive and well and has rented space in my laptop. — Art Lortie

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