Obscurity of the Day: Such Is Life

Walt Munson, a fixture at the Brooklyn Eagle, created a panel cartoon series in 1923 titled Time to Crab mainly for his employer, but it was also distributed to a small client list of papers by the Register & Tribune Syndicate.

The Register & Tribune Syndicate, based out of the Midwest, found few takers for the panel, which was decidedly urban, not to mention urbane, in nature. Munson delighted in drawing tenement houses, street vendors, tough slum kids — in short, not the sort of material best sold by a syndicate situated amid the cornfields of Iowa.

In 1928, Munson switched syndicates to the Philadelphia-based Ledger Syndicate, where for syndication purposes, it was retitled Such is Life (the Eagle and some client papers stuck with the original title). The syndicate change might have seemed like a smart move, but Ledger’s much better location was offset by their sales force’s seeming inability to sell any of their wares to a substantial list of clients. Such is Life‘s client list did seem to get a little longer, but it still appeared in comparatively few papers.

For readers, this might have been a blessing. Not having to contend with a lowest common denominator approach, Munson’s cartoons on occasion comment honestly and unabashedly about society in ways that would have certainly had some editor somewhere up in arms. This became even more noticeable during the Depression, when Munson’s New York City (for the city he drew might have been un-named, but it could be no other) was depicted as a pot full of haves and have-nots all stirred together and chafing mightily.

Munson’s run on the feature ended on March 14 1936. It was immediately dropped by the Brooklyn Eagle, but was continued in syndication by Bo Brown. Brown was evidently on a one-year contract, because he jumped ship after precisely that interval, his last panel appearing on March 13 1937.

Still not content to let the panel die, Ledger Syndicate go-to guy Kemp Starrett was assigned to the panel. This led to some lovely art on the feature, but it certainly wasn’t seen by many folks other than readers of the Philadelphia Evening Ledger. Fourteen months into Starrett’s tenure, the Evening Ledger itself dropped the panel on May 14 1938. Although the panel was advertised in E&P in 1939, I find it hard to believe that it was still being produced.

Be that as it may, it wasn’t quite dead in those late-1930s years, as Munson’s back-stock had been sold off to someone, and was being sold in reprints to minor papers under the title Life’s By-Ways.

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