If you are a serious student of comic strips, the above title might seem a little odd. Sure, you say, General Features wasn’t exactly a top-shelf syndicate, but it’s certainly not all that mysterious. But I’m not referring to the General Features of the 1940s-70s that brought us strips like Jeff Cobb, Drift Marlo, Boy and Girl, Little Sport, Mister Tweedy and others. No, the General Features Syndicate that I’m referring to is one that, until recently, could only be found listed in the Editor & Publisher yearbooks of 1937-42, advertising a short roster of strips that have stubbornly stayed on my Mystery Strips list until now.
Recently, fellow comic strip researcher Art Lortie made one of his intrepid forays onto that annoying Fulton Postcards website. He downloaded a selection of material from the weekly newspaper Hastings News of Hastings-on-the-Hudson, New York, which he shared here. Art almost offhandedly mentioned that there was some oddball material in 1937 that included a strip by Bob (Batman) Kane. That certainly got me curious. Well, as it turned out, Art had uncovered what is most likely a complete run of all the General Features Syndicate strips.
Now frankly none of the strips are ever going to be on anyone’s list of classics, but they are a curious bunch, by an assortment of odd and interesting creators. But before we look at the strips individually, let’s spend a moment on General Features Syndicate itself.
Who were the folks behind this unsuccessful attempt at syndication? Editor & Publisher doesn’t give much of a clue. They list a downtown New York address, and nothing more. I’ve seen no advertising therein for the syndicate; just the features listed in the yearbooks. Bob Kane, too, is mute about the syndicate; his autobiography mentions not a single word about it. The rest of the creative talent, as far as I know, did not publish their memoirs.Copyrights were pulled for all the strips in 1936, but they give us no insights about the syndicate either.
Finding the Hasting News run, however, tells us some things. First, the fact that the strips all come and go in approximately a year indicates that the syndicate probably produced no more material after that. Though the strips were advertised in Editor & Publisher from 1937-42, I’m quite confident in saying that if they were indeed selling anything to anyone after February 1938, it was reprints of that one year’s worth of strips. As proof, we need only consider that Bob Kane had gone on to bigger and better things for most of those years, and was certainly not producing his strip.
But there is something about the presentation of the strips that strikes a familiar chord. It is the local advertising we see surrounding the strips, featuring the characters’ endorsements (you’ll see samples with tomorrow’s post). I’ve seen this marketing gimmick before, and it was with the Van Tine Features Syndicate. They favored newspaper clients with boilerplate drawings of their characters, too, so that they could act as pitchmen in local ads.
And that leads to the next interesting tidbit — General Features material starts appearing right after the demise of Van Tine’s original run. In fact, the Hastings News was running Van Tine features up until the week before their General Features material debuted.
It seems pretty certain to me that when Van Tine ran out of original material, they for some reason changed their name and tried the same strategy all over again with an entirely different batch of strips and creators. Why they did this is a mystery. The really weird part is that they (or someone) continued to sell the Van Tine material for years after the original run, but without advertising it in E&P. On the other hand, the General material was advertised for six years, but no one has yet found the material running as reprints after the original run.
Tomorrow: The Comic Strip Series of General Features Syndicate