Obscurity of the Day: The Kelly Kids

Kahles version
Collier version
Lyman Young version

The Kelly Kids was the last major attempt by World Color Printing to keep their foundering Sunday comic section alive after its heydays in the 1900s and early 1910s. After the truly awful Dem Boys was finally put out of its (or is that our) misery, it was replaced by The Kelly Kids on July 13 1918. You’d think after killing one outright Katzenjammer Kids rip-off, the folks at WCP would try going in a different direction. Well, you might think that, but you’d be wrong. The Kelly Kids was yet another Katzenjammer Kids pastiche, this one with the frightfully original angle of having the family be of Irish descent rather than German.

At least in the move from Dem Boys to The Kelly Kids readers could be heartened that the new strip was at least competently drawn. The strip was penned by old hand Charles Kahles, who was apparently looking to augment the income he received from his main bread-and-butter strip Hairbreadth Harry, which was being syndicated by rival C-grade syndicate McClure.

Kahles never signed The Kelly Kids, but there’s no doubt of his distinctively stiff and formal style. Being anonymous on the strip, Kahles evidently saw no great need to put a lot of effort into the proceedings, and about the best you can say for The Kelly Kids during his tenure is that the strip is professionally done, and does the basic job of pulling off standard Katzie-style hijinks.

Kahles remained on the strip for five long years, finally jumping ship after the installment of May 20 1923. He was replaced by the great Nate Collier who, sadly, gave WCP as much effort as he was being paid for, which evidently wasn’t much. Although Nate occasionally penned a somewhat funny original strip (see above), usually he stuck to the standard prank-pulling silliness expected of him, seldom even bothering to make the pranks stand up to basic logical scrutiny. What’s more, Collier’s normally crisp penwork was nowhere to be found on this strip, leading me to wonder if he was subbing out the artwork to an assistant. As this was one of the few times that Collier did a newspaper strip, it is doubly sad that he evidently considered it not worth his while to make it attractive and breezily funny, which are otherwise his hallmarks.Collier left after two and a half years, his last strip appearing on September 4 1925.

Next to take the helm was Lyman Young, later to create the long-running Tim Tyler’s Luck, in his earliest known professional newspaper cartooning job. On The Kelly Kids Lyman exhibited a barely professional grasp of humorous cartooning, which he would apparently later cure as much with the liberal use of art assistants as with improvement of his own skills.Young’s run on the strip is marked by the addition of a topper strip called Bill and Sue, the tale of a swain and his sweetie in the same vein as George McManus’ topper strip Rosie’s Beau.

A note about Lyman Young’s run on The Kelly Kids. It has been put forth, apparently first by Maurice Horn, and then repeated ad nauseum, that the kids were brother and sister, and that Young’s next strip, The Kid Sister, was an offshoot of The Kelly Kids in which the sister was elevated to the starring role. Of course, the Kellys are a pair of brothers, and looking through a stack of Young’s Sundays, I find no addition of a sister character. So please folks, let’s put that bit of mythology to bed.

What I do find (vaguely) interesting about Young’s version of The Kelly Kids is that he wasn’t too fond of the standard Katzie prank-pulling. He added a recurring fantasy element (see above for an example) and often elevated the adults to starring roles, sometimes sneaking the kids into the background of just a single panel of their own strip.

Lyman Young stuck with the strip for a year and a half, signing off with the episode of March 6 1927. Next up was a fellow who generally only signed himself ‘Ring’, and whose full name was George Rohlfing. Rohlfing’s style was a pretty close approximation of Lyman Young’s, in other words not exactly memorable. His contribution to the strip was to add another occasional topper titled Silent Silas, which occasionally ran in place of Bill and Sue. Rohlfing’s tenure was brief, ending after just five months on August 7 1927.

That date is also the last of the original material Kelly Kids. Although the strip would be a part of the World Color Printing comic section until the bitter end in the late 1930s, from then on it would be a mishmash of reprints from each of the four creators.

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