NEA supplied the majority of smaller daily papers in this country with content that they couldn’t afford from the big New York syndicates. But weekly papers generally couldn’t even afford NEA’s economical service, and the amount of material NEA provided for dailies was far more than they needed for their weekly schedules, anyway. But NEA offered an even more inexpensive service to weeklies, which, starting in 1960, gained its own name, Community Enterprise Features. Before then it generally just went under the banner of the NEA Weekly Service.
Community Enterprises offered mostly ‘evergreeen’ material, as it’s known in the news biz, meaning content that is not date dependent, like breaking news. The content was mostly columns, feature articles, recipes, humor, photos, and, of course, comics. Nothing carried printed dates, and could be used as and whenever the newspaper pleased.
With the new syndicate name, NEA did some updating of its weekly features, and that leads us to Les Carroll‘s Life with the Rimples. Carroll had been doing a strip called The Tillers for NEA’s weekly service since 1943. That strip was about a family of farmers, and I imagine NEA decided that they would prefer content that was more of a suburban character than rural to go with theiur revamped syndicate.
Thus, sometime in 1960, The Tillers disappeared, and in 1961 Life with the Rimples began*. The new strip was the most regimentally typical family strip you can imagine — mom and dad and two kids, one a girl and one a boy. Dad goes off to some unknown office job every day, mom manages the household, and the kids are, of course, a handful. Daughter Tami is patterned after Lucy of Peanuts, and Tomi the boy is sort of a Linus type, but without the blanket or, for that matter, much of a personality at all.
Carroll did a very nice job with the art, and the gags, though utterly conventional, were played out well. However, when he was assigned by NEA to take over Boots and her Buddies, and later Our Boarding House, you could definitely tell that the Rimples strips were getting less and less attention. By April 4 1975, the last time the strip appears in the NEA archives†, the art was only a shadow of its former slick self. Of course, Carroll was also not a young man by 1975, and perhaps it was simply the onset of old age.
* the ending date of The Tillers and start date of Life with the Rimples may actually mesh perfectly, but the NEA archives are missing quite a few of the weekly syndicate books, and I have yet to find a newspaper that printed these features on a consistent enough basis to get definite dates.