Tales from the Great Book

By the 1920s, comic strips were apparently a mature enough bit of newspaper content that they could be trusted to offer serious content. This was when the story strips really got going, and factual and educational strips began to be offered and become popular with readers. 

One of the last realms to be conquered was religion, but biblical stories in comic strip form began being offered in this decade, too, though not with any notable popularity. The idea with these strips seemed to be to ingratiate the newspaper with religious folks, or at least to enliven their Saturday church pages. Quite a few were tried, and some lasted many years, but none exactly set the newspaper world on fire.

No religious strip made any real dent in the syndication world until 1954, when John Lehti convinced Publishers Syndicate that his version of a bible strip would sell big. What was different about it? Well, a combination of ideas coalesced to make Tales from the Great Book a hit. First, it was a very colourful and well-drawn Sunday, not a weekly black and white strip as many had been before. Second, while scrupulously researched, Lehti picked his stories for their ability to translate into exciting graphic narratives. Third, he kept his stories short, rarely more than eight or so episodes, so that the stories moved along and didn’t get bogged down in lots of speeches and philosophizing. Fourth, he told stories that weren’t the endlessly repeated stuff like Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and so on; readers were presented with stories that many of them didn’t already know. Finally, Lehti stuck to the Old Testament so that both Christians and Jews would feel comfortable with the material. 

Here is the article announcing the new strip in Editor & Publisher, March 20, 1954:

Tales From The Bible For Sunday, In Color

By Mather Wallis

 A Sunday release from Publishers Syndicate dealing with great biblical stories is due to make its initial appearance March 21. To be done for color comics sections by John Lehti, ‘Tales from the Great Book” will deal with episodes from such stories as Samson, Joshua and the Walls of Jericho, and Daniel. Plans call for them to appear in that order. Mr. Lehti said titles beyond that re somewhat tentative.

The creator of this feature, who lives with his wife and daughter in Syosset, N. Y., did “Tommy of the Big Top” from 1946 to 1950. A member of the 104th Infantry Division during the war, and wounded in action, Mr. Lehti said he has had the idea for this work in mind for about six years.

 “I’m really keyed up about this,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of biblical and archeological research under my belt, and I’m having a lot of fun doing it. The reason I wanted to do it is not just for the story value, and these stories are the basis for all literature, but to show the feelings of people and how they did things in those days — how they cooked, what they wore, what kinds of door hinges they had on their houses.”

 Prior to service in World War II Mr. Lehti did. as he put, “a little of everything, but mostly advertising art.” For this new feature he said he has been doing “a lot of heavy research for the past six years.

 Born in 1912, Mr. Lehti studied at the Beaux Arts Institute, the Art Students League and the National Academy of Design. Some of his New York sketches have appeared at the Modern Museum of Art. His wife is Jean Tighe, radio and television singer, and he is the grandson of Johann Gustave Lehtinen, chapel designer in Finland and later founder of one of the first Finnish language newspapers in the United States.

 The style of ‘Tales from the Great Book” is clean but immensely detailed with great attention being devoted to dress, artifacts and the tools of war.

 ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

 

Above, sample strips from the first 1954 story and the final 1972 story

Lehti’s strip was practically an instant success. It ran from March 21 1954 and ended April 16 1972. During that time Lehti’s art style changed a bit, but never for the worse. It was consistently one of the most attractive strips in the comics section. He is known to have had at least one assistant, Sid Couchey. 

It is unknown why Tales from the Great Book was cancelled in 1972, but Lehti still saw a clientele for it. He reworked the old material and came up with a new feature he titled Facts About the Bible; the new feature was black and white and was marketed mainly to smaller papers. According to Lehti’s daughter, he prepared ten years worth of weekly material, and it was known to have been still in circulation in reprints until quite recently. 

Here is a complete list of the stories serialized in Tales from the Great Book. Though several titles were reused, as far as I can tell the only story that was actually re-run was Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream, in 1961 and ’71. Apparently the end of syndication came unexpectedly, because a new story (Joshua And The Promised Land) was announced to follow Zechariah a Young Prophet.

Saga Of Samson

03-21-1954

04-18-1954

Joshua Marches on Jericho

04-25-1954

06-06-1954

Young Daniel’s Faith

06-13-1954

09-05-1954

King Saul and the Witches of  Endor

09-12-1954

10-24-1954

Joash the Boy King

10-31-1954

12-19-1954

The Tower of  Babel

12-26-1954

01-16-1955

The Unselfish Love of Ruth

01-23-1955

03-20-1955

The Little Captive Maid

03-27-1955

04-17-1955

Moses and Miriam

04-24-1955

06-19-1955

Young David

06-26-1955

07-31-1955

Jonah and the  Whale

08-07-1955

09-25-1955

Deborah’s  Triumph

10-02-1955

11-27-1955

Samuel and the Voice

12-04-1955

12-11-1955

The Shepherd’s First Christmas

12-18-1955

12-25-1955

Samson and the Philistines

01-01-1956

02-12-1956

Jesus’ Temptation in the Wilderness

02-19-1956

04-01-1956

Joseph’s Loyalty

04-08-1956

07-08-1956

Joshua’s Double Battle

07-15-1956

09-02-1956

Solomon and the Queen of Sheba

09-09-1956

09-30-1956

Abraham’s Obedience

10-07-1956

10-28-1956

Daniel and the Wizards

11-04-1956

12-09-1956

Cain and Abel

12-16-1956

12-30-1956

David and Goliath

01-06-1957

03-10-1957

Rahab

03-17-1957

05-12-1957

Noah’s Ark

05-19-1957

06-30-1957

Samson and the Gates of Gaza

07-07-1957

09-01-1957

Ruth and Boaz

09-08-1957

10-27-1957

Solomon Asks for Wisdom

11-03-1957

11-24-1957

Moses the Egyptian Prince

12-01-1957

02-02-1958

Elisha Saves Two Boys From Slavery

02-09-1958

03-16-1958

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego

03-23-1958

06-01-1958

Jacob Wrestles with an Angel

06-08-1958

06-29-1958

Joshua Battles the Five Kings

07-06-1958

09-28-1958

Esther-How She Became a Queen

10-05-1958

11-23-1958

David and his Harp

11-30-1958

12-28-1958

Samson and Delilah

01-04-1959

04-05-1959

Joseph’s Brotherly Love

04-12-1959

07-05-1959

Daniel in the Lion’s Den

07-12-1959

08-30-1959

Solomon and the Two Mothers

09-06-1959

09-27-1959

Moses the Egyptian Prince (different version)

10-04-1959

12-06-1959

David and Saul

12-13-1959

02-07-1960

Mordecai

02-14-1960

04-10-1960

The Sword of Gideon

04-17-1960

07-17-1960

Moses’ Flight From Egypt

07-24-1960

10-09-1960

Jonah’s Lesson

10-16-1960

01-08-1961

Joshua’s Victory

01-15-1961

03-19-1961

Elijah and the Priests of Baal

03-26-1961

05-28-1961

Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream

06-04-1961

07-23-1961

David’s Fighting Courage

07-30-1961

10-08-1961

Moses in Midian

10-15-1961

11-26-1961

Daniel and the Handwriting on the Wall

12-03-1961

02-18-1962

Jacob’s  Toil

02-25-1962

06-17-1962

Elijah and the Angel

06-24-1962

08-05-1962

Moses and the Burning Bush

08-12-1962

09-02-1962

The King and the Arrows

09-09-1962

11-11-1962

David Outlawed by Saul

11-18-1962

02-24-1963

Joshua and the Giants

03-03-1963

06-16-1963

Gehazi’s Wrongdoing

06-23-1963

09-08-1963

Moses’ Return to Egypt

09-15-1963

11-03-1963

David an Outlaw

11-10-1963

02-23-1964

The Blind Prophet

03-01-1964

04-26-1964

Jephthah

05-03-1964

09-06-1964

Jeremiah

09-13-1964

12-27-1964

David and his Army of Outlaws

01-03-1965

05-09-1965

Othniel’s Triumph

05-16-1965

08-15-1965

The Evil Sons of Eli

08-22-1965

10-24-1965

Moses and the Plagues of Egypt

10-31-1965

02-27-1966

The Evil King

03-06-1966

05-22-1966

David and his Army of Outlaws (2nd version)

05-29-1966

08-28-1966

Elijah’s Mantle

09-04-1966

11-06-1966

Moses and the Red Sea

11-13-1966

01-29-1967

Samuel and Saul

02-05-1967

06-11-1967

Evil Haman

06-18-1967

10-22-1967

David and Saul

10-29-1967

01-14-1968

Nehemiah and the Wall

01-21-1968

06-16-1968

Abraham’s Battle with the Five Kings

06-23-1968

09-01-1968

The Shunammite’s Son

09-08-1968

01-05-1969

Moses In The Wilderness

01-12-1969

02-16-1969

David and his Outlaw Army (3rd version)

02-23-1969

05-11-1969

A Bride for Isaac

05-18-1969

08-17-1969

Isaiah’s Promise

08-24-1969

10-19-1969

Moses in the Wilderness

10-26-1969

12-28-1969

David Among the Philistines

01-04-1970

03-15-1970

Abram in Egypt

03-22-1970

07-05-1970

Death of a King

07-12-1970

11-01-1970

Signs of a Prophet

11-08-1970

12-13-1970

Moses’ First Battle in the Wilderness

12-20-1970

03-07-1971

Nebuchadnezzar’s Second Dream (reprint)

03-14-1971

05-02-1971

Amos the Shepherd Turned Prophet

05-09-1971

08-08-1971

The Greedy Servant

08-15-1971

10-24-1971

Moses and Jethro

10-31-1971

12-12-1971

David Becomes King

12-19-1971

02-13-1972

Zechariah a Young Prophet

02-20-1972

04-16-1972

 

3 comments on “Tales from the Great Book

  1. Hello Allan-
    This was a strip I remember well from my childhood, it was a staple of the Philadelphia Inquirer's ROTOCOMICS section, which meant it, and everything else in it, was seen in it's ideal printing, with those rich, lush colors.

  2. Whoswhoz,this is the same Lehti. He also did a lot of work for Dell/Western, such as the "Tom Corbett" series. According to Lambiek he worked on DC's "Losers" and "Sgt Rock" in the mid-70s but that was news to me.

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