A & M Advertising of Dallas Texas offered quite a few newspaper advertising packages in which the ads attract attention through the inclusion of a comic strip or panel cartoon. These packages sold best in smaller markets, where an advertiser could negotiate a lower price for running their ads with the paper, under the reasoning that they were providing some entertainment — a comic feature — that the paper itself didn’t have to pay for. Such are the ecomomics of running a small market paper.
Most of the A&M-based ads ran in the format you see above, in which the reader is presented with a strip at the top, boxed in with a constantly updated ad for the local business. Some of the comic features were tailored to the type of business — laundromats, car repair, etc. — and in those cases the name of the business could sometimes be pasted in at the proper spot in the word balloons.
Jest Laughs is not like that; it offered gags that weren’t related to the type of business being advertised. In fact, although at first glance it appears to be a comic strip, each ‘strip’ was actually three individual gags, with the last one always headlined Slight Errors for no terribly good reason. This made Jest Laughs a real power-player in the A&M Advertising arsenal, because not only was it generic enough for any business, but each ‘strip’ could even be chopped up and a single gag panel used in three separate ads.
Now that we’ve gotten this far in my blathering, have you noticed the 800-pound gorilla in the room and are wondering when I’ll ever get to it? No? Go take a look at the samples again … I’ll wait.
Yep, the signature on the feature is none other than Bob Kane, creator of Batman! The earliest I have found Jest Laughs used is in newspapers of May 1939*, coincidentally the cover date of Detective Comics #27, the event that caused Mr. Kane’s life story to take a very sharp turn. What I find funny is that as hopelessly bad an artist as Kane was at doing ‘realistic’ comics, he was absolutely fine on bigfoot material, as we see above. In fact (as any serious comic book fan knows), most of Kane’s pre-Batman comic book work was also humor, and also pretty darn capable. I’d say he missed his calling, but I imagine he would politely disagree.
A&M Advertising sold and resold Jest Laughs for many years; the latest appearances I’ve found are from 1948**. The feature was numbered, and the highest number I’ve ever seen is 46 — I wouldn’t be surprised if the total was 52, to provide a full year of weekly ad fodder. Why A&M didn’t continue reselling it I don’t know, but here is a possible reason…
Jest Laughs may or may not have had yet another life. In 1948, as A&M’s use was winding down, H.T. Elmo, head of the bottom of the barrel Elmo Features Service, introduced a new feature to his stable called Jest Laffs. This feature was a single panel gag feature, and it was signed “Robert’. Now practically everything that Elmo syndicated was signed with a pen-name, so you might ask yourself, “did Bob Kane’s overused panel cartoons get run yet again?” I mean, geez, ‘Robert’ for ‘Bob’, right?
In my book I say Jest Laffs was a bullpen type effort, exhibiting signs of H.T. Elmo himself, plus Jerry Iger and Ruth Roche. I frankly don’t see any definite sign of Bob Kane there, ‘Robert’ signature notwithstanding. But, and here’s a big but, take a look at this Heritage Auctions item. Here’s a Jest Laffs panel signed by the man himself. Or is it? I have no idea if there is ironclad provenance on this item. So what do you think?
And while you’re thinking, wonder also how in the world an advertising company in Dallas ended up distributing comics by the creator of Batman. Was the feature just a reuse of Kane material that was already sold to comic books? Was it a syndicated feature that never got picked up? Did Jerry Iger, who bought a lot of work from Kane in his early days, put the feature together?
* Source: North Adams Transcript
** Source: Atlanta World