Category : Advertising Strips

Selling It: Uncle Abner Says


At first blush you’d think Uncle Abner Says, a panel that ran from 1936-38, is just another one of those ubiquitous panels of cracker-barrel wisdom like Abe Martin, Ching Chow or their many copycats. When you look over the gags, though, you find that ol’ Abner is a bit of a one-note local yokel. He’s pretty gosh darn unhappy about the gov’ment, specially the way they pick his pocket with them goldurn taxes. And not just his pocket, by cracky, he’s fuming over the way that Roosevelt feller is taxing big corporations, too!

Hey, wait a minute now. A bewhiskered rustic like Abner complaining about taxes? Well, sure. But concerned about corporations? Hmm, that seems a bit out of character. I hate to even suggest it of such a kindly old soul as Abner, but …. could he be on the take?

I hate to be the one to break the news, but it’s true; Abner is a shill. He doesn’t say a word that isn’t bought and paid for by secret interests. Not surprisingly, those interests just happen to be big corporations. To lay all the cards on the table, Uncle Abner Says was a production of Six Star Service, a newspaper syndicate created by the National Association of Manufacturers*, a trade association and lobbying group of big businesses. They sent out propaganda material like this to newspapers free of charge: the newspaper filled some space with something mildly entertaining for free, and the manufacturers got their message out surreptiously, without running ads that few would bother to read. You might call it a win-win situation, except there were losers involved — the newspaper readers who got a daily brainwashing session from what seems like an innocuous panel cartoon. 

This sort of hidden advertising material was usually sent out in small batches, but in the case of  Uncle Abner Says it was a full blown daily panel that ran for a very long time. I can track it from June 22 1936 to April 30 1938**, an unheard of almost three year run.

For almost the first year the feature was unsigned, but finally in March 1937 Nate Collier was allowed to start signing his work. I’m a big fan of Collier, but his talents, which skew to the goofy, are utterly wasted on this panel. But hey, it put food on the table at the Collier household, no foul there. I also feel sorry for Nate if he was tasked with creating all these gags, which get pretty darn monotonous in their one-note dirge for lower taxes. Not only did Nate have to write six gags a week on the same subject, but undoubtedly had to submit them for review to some corporate minister of propaganda who last smiled when Herbert Hoover was elected.  

* Source: reported in Pittsburgh Press, June 26 1936.

** Sources: start date from Belvidere Republican, end date from Edinburg Courier.

3 comments on “Selling It: Uncle Abner Says

  1. Hello Allan-
    Odd you should, (in jest, naturally) mention a possible "corporate minister of propaganda" who would have some sort of oversight to a N.A.M. project. The Trotskyite weekly "THE MILITANT" shrilly decried said project, citing the Abner componant with feigned indignation that it was a COMIC STRIP! FOR CHILDREN!Like it was pornography or something. They concluded that Goebbles would be green with envy.
    Obviously they didn't ever really see what they were outraged about, or care, really. The effectiveness of the panel utterly negligable. Goebbles would not be impressed. That The Militant made this observation in 1944,eight years after the N.A.M. news release about the project, and six years after Abner ended, makes one wonder what they're bothering about.
    Collier, however, was happily content to keep putting out toons for the N.A.M.,with a new batch of one-shot editorial panels offered by them just after the war. Don Herold contributed too.

  2. Being nearly a decade late to the protest, I guess one could perhaps forgive The Militant for having bigger fish to fry in their goal to foster a worker's utopia. Normally I'd be interested to read an article like you've uncovered, Mark, but having indexed decades worth of The Daily Worker, I've seen how their reporting can drain the interest out of any subject with their monotonous Marxist droning. I imagine The Militant was just as bad or worse.


  3. Hello Allan-
    Though, if we were to be strictly in keeping with seeking obscure strips, There's an untapped Pyrite mine of them in the leftist papers like the various iterations of the Daily Worker, the New York Call, etc. I used to have a batch of them, and they are indeed, joyless things. Though they look like regular comic strip art, the funny, cartoony characters do cringemaking treks to join the Wobblies or to Tom Mooney rallies, or kids that tell'em where to get off at a Dies committee hearing. Maybe the funniest part is they're so deadly serious about it.

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Selling It: Mrs. Drear and Mrs. Cheer


After a long and lucrative career, Rose O’Neill by 1932 was out of fashion and becoming financially strapped. The creator of the Kewpie doll was reduced to taking a job illustrating a series of Oxydol ads under the running title Mrs. Drear and Mrs. Cheer. O’Neill did excellent art for these ads, but to add insult to injury, some of the ads in this series have her signature cut off. Evidently her name was not considered any particular draw. 

O’Neill produced twelve ads for the series. It must have been considered a successful campaign, because the series was run three times; March to May 1932, then September to October, then March to May 1933. In all three series the ads were the same batch, just reruns.

Clare Briggs’ Kids All Cleaned Up to Sell Clothes

Clare Briggs was not above using his characters in marketing, as can be seen in this 1917 ad for the B&M clothing store in Iowa City. Briggs’ kids are usually a bit ragged around the edges and in need of a bath, but he’s cleaned them up here and decked them out in the finest the B&M has to offer.

Given that a small clothing store in Iowa City is unlikely to have made a deal with Briggs on their own, I guess the cartoonist was offering niche-specific pre-made cuts through a marketing firm. He probably got the idea from Richard Outcault, who made a very nice cottage industry out of selling cuts of the Yellow Kid and Buster Brown to local stores of various specialties.

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan.

2 comments on “Clare Briggs’ Kids All Cleaned Up to Sell Clothes

  1. Hello Allan-
    This will show you how annoying and petty someone with time on his hands can be.
    You mention above that My brother sent you the Briggs ad from an Iowa City paper. He, or I never had papers from that town, though I had a run of a Dubuque paper of that vintage. So I did a little research to see if that paper carried ads for a town twenty or more miles distant. But the problem is, there's no such address in either city, outside of very rural, very short country lane that would never have had a store on it.
    In fact, I found "The B & M" clothing store at 201-3 S Adams Street is (or was) in Peoria, Ills. The ad had to have come from a small batch of the Peoria Journal-Transcript we had from the opening months of 1917. I "Google Map"ed the address, and whatever the "B & M" store looked like, it's been replaced by a bland, modern two story structure bearing the words "Illinois Central College" on it's surface. Fugit inreparabile tempus.

  2. Ya got me dead to rights, Mark. Cole did not tell me what paper it was from, and I spent a ridiculous amount of time when prepping this post trying to figure out where this d**n B&M was located. I thought I had finally found it in Iowa City, but it may be that I was looking at an Iowa City paper and they were referring to Peoria, though that seems a pretty fur stretch. According to Mr. Goog, it is 153 miles distant.

    Well, if I have to make a mistake, mislocating a long-defunct midwest clothing store is exactly the sort of fact I'd like it to be on!

    Thanks, Allan

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Advertising Strips: Dulcy the Beautiful Dumb-Bell

Movies have advertised themselves by way of comic strips practically since the two mediums were initially popularized. In the early 1920s and before, the tendency was to advertise the characters rather than the movie plot per se, and Dulcy the Beautiful Dumb-Bell follows in that direction.

The 1923 silent film Dulcy starred Constance Talmadge as a scatterbrained young beauty who tries to help her husband get ahead in business through a wacky scheme. This scenario is about as tired a plot device as you can imagine, but in the hands of George S. Kaufman, who co-wrote the original play, and Anita Loos, co-screenwriter, I imagine it was a fun film. Sadly, the film is now considered lost.

The advertising comic strip, which seems to have run for 24 installments, or four weeks of dailies, advertises the character of Dulcy by trotting our some of the most basic jokebook ‘dumb blonde’ jokes and managing to execute them badly. The joke writer, whoever it was, plays a mean trick by assigning writing credit to movie star Talmadge, who should have sued for defamation. Luckily, the strip looks fabulous. Lauren Stout has never been on my radar before, but the lively and highly stylized art  on these strips makes certain I won’t soon forget his name.

Although these ad strips were handed out to newspapers for free, I have yet to find a paper that could stomach running all 24 episodes. The earliest appearance I have found is in the Harrisburg Evening News, and based on that appearance I assign ‘official’ running dates of July 31 to August 27 1923, though don’t hold your breath looking for such an actual appearance.

Advertising Features: It’s True!

Among all the handout freebies that were offered to newspapers, few were as handsomely drawn as Wiley Padan‘s It’s True. The feature was distributed by the Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio, and it offered up interesting little factoids about the stars in the studio’s current movie offerings. Usually this sort of advertising feature was run only by the smaller dailies and weeklies, but this one was so attractive that it can be found popping up in major city newspapers on occasion. This would seem like a great score for MGM, except that newspapers also had a habit of running these panels whenever the mood hit them, and that was frequently long after the movie that was being hawked had left theatres. Oh well, this was in the days of the studio system, so at least the panels were keeping the public thinking about the stars in the MGM stable.

Based on the numbering of examples I have on hand, I get the impression that It’s True was offered at the rate of about one panel per week (I used to think two per week, but digital archives show otherwise). According to my book the feature ran from the mid-1930s to mid-1940s, but Alex Jay has dug up better information on the start date, which you can come back tomorrow to read in his Ink-Slinger Profile of Wiley Padan. As for the end date, the last new movies I can find advertised in It’s True are from 1948, but though credited to Padan, the art does not look to be his. The latest I find Padan’s work appearing is for 1947 films. The highest numbered panels I’ve found are in the high 500s.

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