The Early Comics Series of the International Syndicate Part 1: The Hunt Begins, with Tweedledum, Tweedledee and the Other Triplet

Baltimore’s International Syndicate was one of the earliest distributors of newspaper cartoon content, starting in 1899*. Unfortunately their output is hard to track because the syndicate very rarely displayed a copyright on their material. The earliest features I was able to include in my book were Zimmie (a weather cartoon) and the long-running Scoop the Cub Reporter, both of which debuted in 1912 (Zimmie had been distributed earlier but not by International).

That leaves at least a decade of the International Syndicate unaccounted for before the advent of their first known series. That was in no way alarming to me, because it was my belief that the syndicate specialized in non-series gag panels.

International Syndicate did in fact specialize  in gag panels and text jokes. In that I still seem to be correct. However, what I didn’t know until very recently is that they offered this material not only as a collection of bits and pieces for newspapers to use willy-nilly, dropping in a panel here, typesetting a joke there, but also as a cohesive page. This page went under the consistent title The Funny Side of Life for many years.

The above page is among a small selection I purchased recently. All from the Detroit Free Press of early 1903, the pages have a recurring series by William F. Marriner on many, plus a selection of gag cartoons and text jokes. The text jokes are all credited as originally appearing in various publications.

A question you may be asking is why I believe that these pages came from International Syndicate. After all, there are no copyright stamps on them. The thought came to me based on this page and several others having cartoons by ‘Hamb’ — that’s A.Y. Hambleton, a Baltimore cartoonist.

That wasn’t nearly enough to pin the blame for those pages on International, but it piqued my curiosity enough that I selected some nice clear text from one of the cartoons and started searching online. To my surprise, I found a few newspapers that ran the complete page on a regular weekly basis, some for long periods. Many others cut the material apart, but these papers offered the material as I imagine it was supplied by the syndicate, masthead and all.

I began tracing the page backward and forward in time, and I had to get back all the way to 1901 for the real “ah-ha” moment. In that year The Funny Side of Life was replete with cartoons by the fabulous C.E. Toles, who we know from John Adcock was the editor of the International Syndicate. As far as I’m concerned, that sewed up the case.

The fun part was that although the vast majority of the cartoons on these pages are one-shot gags, the syndicate did actually offer some half-hearted series. In the coming days I’m going to feature these series on the blog. All of our samples from here on will come from digital microfilm, so bask in the quality of today’s sample, which comes from real live pulp paper. Today we’ll start with the first series I found …

Tweedledum, Tweedledee and the Other Triplet

This series by William F. Marriner has been featured on the blog before, way back in 2006. That previous appearance, unfortunately, turns out to have offered only misinformation. At the time I believed that this series originated with the Chicago Chronicle. The Chronicle called their 1903 comic section a production “by Chicagoans for Chicagoans”, so you can see where I could have been misled.

Tweedledum, Tweedledee and the Other Triplet offered the typical Marriner big-headed urchins. In this case it’s a trio of little terrors who send their victims into a neurotic fit thinking that they’ve been drinking too much and are seeing triple. This series first appears in the January 3 1903 page, and is last seen on April 5 of that year**.

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* This date and lots of other info provided in John Adcock’s biography of C.E. Toles. My spidey sense says that the real start of the syndicate is 1892, though, when it was known as the Comic Sketch Club of Baltimore.  Adcock doesn’t say that the two companies are related, but the similarity of their business models and personnel make the connection seem very likely. I prepare to stand corrected. In my favor, though, I’ll let the cat out of the bag now and say that I was able to trace the International page back to 1896, so no matter what company name it went by then, it was active in distributing this page. Jeffrey Lindenblatt has traced it even further, to July 1895 in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

** Source: Louisville Courier-Journal.

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