I guess it must have been pretty darn obvious to the average American, and thus the folks at the comic strip syndicates, that the USA was going to get into World War II well ahead of our actual entry into the conflict. I say that because it is quite astounding how, starting around 1940, the syndicates began to roll out their military strips en masse.
Take for example Draftie. It debuted on January 27 1941, eleven months before Pearl Harbor. And I don’t think I’m far off-base if I say that a strip about a couple of raw Army recruits would not have found many takers in, say, 1937. But by January 1941 Americans generally knew it was just a matter of time, and our comic strips were ready to reflect that. You might say that our newspapers’ comic strip pages went onto a war-time stance well before reality finally kicked in.
Draftie paired up well-established radio and comic strip writer Paul Fogarty with accomplished cartoonist Bill Juhre. For some reason, Juhre signed himself ‘Pony Proehl’on the strip at first.* Well, actually not quite — Juhre mistakenly signed his own name on the first Sunday (oops!). Otherwise, though, Proehl got the art credit through June of 1941, and Juhre did not begin to sign the strip until far into the run, on 9/12/1943. (A footnote — Len Dworkins said he ghosted the art for about six months in 1942).
The credits on Draftie are made even more interesting by an apparent mistake in Dave Strickler’s E&P index. He credits Loren Wiley on the strip in 1942-43, and this information has been popping up in various places around the web, and even wormed its way into my book, I’m very sorry to admit. Only one problem with that credit — there were no E&P syndicate directories in 1942 and 1943, so how could that credit be there? As far as I can tell, Loren Wiley, whoever he is, is a typo of Strickler’s. I’m very glad to put that error to rest, and I hope the folks around the web who refer to this person will update their information accordingly.
Draftie concerns a couple of privates, Lem the country bumpkin and Oinie the Brooklyn-bred wiseacre, as a pair of completely mismatched but devoted best buddies. When the war came, there was an uncomfortably long time lag before the boys caught on. This, of course, is because newspaper cartoonists are generally working 6-8 weeks in advance. Once the boys got into the war, though, the comedy vied with drama, especially in the dailies. The boys shipped out to the south seas, and while the stories still allowed the boys to be their loveable half-witted selves, they were also fighting for Uncle Sam and doing more than their share (usually inadvertently) to help win the war.
As the strip continued, the title seemed less and less apt, and so it was officially changed to Lem And Oinie on October 1 1944.
After the war, the strip tried to hold the interest of returning GI’s by chronicling the travails of Lem and Oinie as they adjusted back to civilian life. There were so many strips trying to remain relevant in the same situation, though, that the goofy duo were fighting their first and last losing battle. The strip managed to soldier on until May 5 1946, when the boys were permanently discharged from the newspaper comics pages.
* That intrepid ink-slinger-tracker-downer Alex Jay tells me that there was an illustrator named Paul Proehl working in Chicago at this time, which also happens to be where Juhre was based in this era. Maybe this Proehl fellow was the original artist on the strip, but I really don’t think so. The style on Draftie appears to be that of Juhre from start to finish. Maybe Juhre was contractually unable to take credit on the strip at this time, and so played a little practical joke on his friend, Mr. Proehl?