Category : Archives Sub-Basement

From the Sub-Basement of the Archives: Ads for “All The Funny Folk”

Here’s a pair of ads for the 1926 children’s book “All The Funny Folk”, which starred the whole galaxy of Hearst comic strip stars. The Rochester Journal-American is willing to discount the large hardcover book to a mere 98 pieces of copper. I don’t know what the regular price was, but I have seen that Cliff Sterrett autographed copies in a Brooklyn department store that Christmas, and charged a buck apiece. Two cents for the autograph of a famous cartoonist seems quite the bargain, even in 1926!

If you’re trying to remember what this book looks like, simply look at the cover of your copy of American Newspaper Comics — An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. The cover is adapted from that 1926 tome.

From the Sub-Basement of the Archives: Radiotoon

 

If there were a prize for the most cryptic cartoon feature ever, it has to be Radiotoon. Cryptic, that is, until you read the lengthy instructions for decoding the cartoons.

Radiotoon actually looks like someone’s conception of radio waves emanating from a hodgepodge of sources, which is pretty cool and quite inscrutable. But all will be revealed, kids, when you listen to Uncle Kay-Bee on the radio. He will give you a list of numbers and if you draw lines between them a cartoon will be revealed. In other words, this is just a connect-the-dots puzzle, but the connections must be made by following the ‘radio waves’ from number to number. 

Usually the hidden pictures in connect-the-dots puzzles are pretty easy to figure out just by looking at the pattern of dots, but in this case, with all those ‘radio waves’ obfuscating things, the revealed picture will really be a surprise. Nicely done Ralph Reichhold, creator of this feature. 

Being an activity feature, Radiotoon sadly doesn’t qualify for Stripper’s Guide, but I couldn’t resist showing you this neat feature. It ran in the Pittsburgh Press on Sundays in 1927.

2 comments on “From the Sub-Basement of the Archives: Radiotoon

  1. Hello Allan-
    I can't find any transcriptions of Unc's instructions, and it'll be quite a wait until they rebroadcast him, so I tried doing the puzzles on my own. But I had to chuck in the towel, as I developed a case of Venn poisoning.

  2. The second picture seems to be a profile of a boy holding a ball. The first seems to be portrait although I cannot make out the features of the face. Maybe a clown?

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From the Sub Basement of the Archives: A Giant Leap Backward to the Bad Old Days

 Ken Kling‘s Joe and Asbestos was the premier American horse-racing tip strip, running almost a half a century (with a few hiatuses). It started as a syndicated strip in 1923, then eventually settled in at the New York Mirror and when that paper folded, the New York Daily News, where it lasted until 1968. 

Asbestos, the second banana of the strip, was a black character drawn in the typical minstrel-show blackface style of the 1920s. This was the standard depiction of cartoon black characters in those days. In the 1940s, though, that imagery finally started losing traction on the comics page. Some black characters were redesigned in a more racially sensitive style, but most, to be perfectly frank, just disappeared. My guess is that many cartoonists were so used to the minstrel depiction and the mushmouth argot that nearly always went along with it, that they had no clue how to make a funny black character without resorting to those stereotypes. 

Given that Asbestos was a co-star of his strip, Ken Kling stuck with the character. I know that in the 1940s Asbestos continued to be drawn in the original way. Unfortunately I don’t have any samples of the strip in my collection from the 1950s, but I have enough circumstantial evidence to say that the minstrel look made it well into that decade, maybe all the way through.

What I do know is that by 1963, when the Mirror folded and the Daily News took on the strip, Asbestos had finally been transformed into a normal looking character. How he made it so long in blackface amazes me, especially in a progressive city like New York, but never underestimate the force of inertia. 

Kling kept the strip running in the Daily News until June 1968, when he was well into his seventies, but then he became ill and the strip faded away without so much as a farewell. Kling passed away in 1969.

Despite Ken Kling going to his reward, the late race track tout somehow managed to sell Joe and Asbestos to a new paper in town. The name of that paper was the New York Mirror. Wait, huh? I just said the Mirror folded. So the name is worth a short digression. When the original Hearst-owned New York Mirror went belly up in 1963, the New York Daily News had purchsed the trademark to the name of their arch-rival paper to assure no one could use it. Apparently, though, they failed to renew the trademark at some point and the name became fair game. So when a new prospective publisher came to town wanting to publish a slightly sleazy tabloid (which is what the Mirror was) he gleefully took the trademark. End of digression.

It is safe to say that Ken Kling probably didn’t have all that much to do with the strip by the 1960s. It certainly doesn’t look like his artwork. So my guess is that the 1960s ghost is who offered the strip to the new Mirror. The Mirror already had a pullout race track sheet, so they liked the idea. So sometime in 1971 the strip came back from the dead, still bylined and signed by the very much dead Ken Kling. 

So I had to tell you all that as background. The real point of this post is this: I recently found in my giant ‘to be filed’ piles a short stack of New York Mirrors from July 1971. Checking out the issues, I came across something pretty darn unsettling. My first issue is Saturday July 10 and here is the Joe and Asbestos strip they ran that day:

As you can see, Asbestos is featured in his normal post-minstrel version; the version that had been used for at the very least almost a decade. Now here is the strip of Monday, July 12:

“What’s the idea?” is right, lady! Starting on this day, Asbestos has taken a giant leap backward to the bad old days.Not only is he wearing the ‘blackface’ makeup, he’s also using the mushmouth dialect of yore. And this isn’t just a strange one-day trip to the bizarro world, this was the new (old) look of Asbestos that would continue at least through the rest of my Mirror issues of July 1971.

I’ve thought about this a lot, and I’ll be damned if I can come up with an explanation that makes any sense. Why in 1971, so long after such images were considered fit for publication, did the New York Mirror decide  that it was a good idea to revert Asbestos to this outdated offensive version? Just a note to those of you reading this who are too young to know the world of 1971 — no, such imagery was NOT considered okay This was the era of Wee Pals, Quincy and Friday Foster, not Old Black Joe for goodness sake.

Unfortunately, the 1971 version of the New York Mirror has not been digitized as far as I know, so I have no way to find out if there was any sort of reader backlash.  I do know that the strip ran there until December 1971, so the ghost creator and his comic strip obviously did not get summarily kicked out of the paper. This is one of those ‘WTF’ discoveries that may never be answered, but it sure is weird. And pretty sad, too.

9 comments on “From the Sub Basement of the Archives: A Giant Leap Backward to the Bad Old Days

  1. Long long ago read a piece somewhere, sadly unillustrated, about comics created by black artists for newspapers serving black readers. One was a humor strip about an affable loser. With the advent of WWII the hero was somehow transformed into a super soldier and had serious adventures, some of them fantasies that commented on race and racism. After the war the artist abruptly turned him back into a comical schlepI, dismissing the heroic wartime adventures as a dream. Ring a bell?

  2. Hello Allan-

    "Joe and Asbestos" was originally a strip called "Joe Quince" for the Bell syndicate. Joe was more or less, a tall Barney Google. Asbestos joined him as his valet/jockey/flunky early on, and was apparently so well recieved that he managed second billing. Some papers were calling it Joe & Asbestos as early as 1926. It was a regular strip, the tout tips componant came later, I'm pretty sure by 1927. Another strip that DID have the tips of the time was "Moe & Joe they get the dough" drawn by Bob Dunn for the minor league Hearst syndicate "Star Company". I wonder if it maybe came first and "inspired" Kling.
    I don't know if there was much licensing, I've seen them used to dress up real tout sheets,probably illegally, from that era. Joe and Asbestos were in a few late 1930s Vitaphone shorts with titles like "Under The Wire" and Boarder Trouble" I don't know who the stars were.
    I remember seeing J&A in the 1950s in the Boston Daily Record, and they had been reduced to just a two column headstone with their faces on opposite sides of the title, and a straight rundown of just tips went below.
    It would seem these really late ones are all, in fact recycled. Sure remember the gags beings so. That first one was one of Kling's favorites.
    I think there was an earlier break in the series. The man that drew the examples presented today was Paul Frehm.
    Kling died on 3 May 1970.
    I once asked my Grandfather, who was a regular turf supporter in those days, if there was any possible substance to the race suggestions J&A offered and he thought one would have to be stupid or childish to even look at them.

  3. DD — Thanks very much for pinpointing Asbestos' transformation.

    DBenson — prior posters are correct, it is Bungleton Green, which ran in the Chicago Defender.

    Mark — various comments: the horse-racing tips began earlier than I too expected, they are actually seen in 1924.

    Kling had his own 'tout sheet' (or it was licensed by him), so that's probably where you saw the duo featured.

    J&A were indeed also used as mere 'headtones' in some cases by the 40s, but my impression is that is a separate syndicate offering, a tip column. Given my lack of source materials from the late 40s on, though, maybe there were no strips or they took vacations?

    Finally, is your Paul Frehm ID based on art style or some other info?

  4. Hello Allan-
    Sorry, I meant WALTER Frehm. I have an article in SUBURBIA TODAY (19 July 1981) that gives a bio of him, stating that he did J&A "After the war" among his many freelance gigs. If you look at the style of the two strips, especially the second, wouldn't say that looks like it could be Frehm's later work?
    According to Daily Variety (10 December 1924), The strip stopped running tips in the racing off-season, causing precipitous drops in circulation for papers like the Evening World that ran it, and a large increase for papers like the Baltimore Sun when the season reopened. This would probably reflect that cities like NY and Baltimore are in areas heavily populated by race tracks.
    Yes, Kling did have a racing publication, but there were others, actually a kind of motif in the tout sheet world was J&A, or fake,nameless close lookalikes would adorn them.

  5. Obliged to all. Found a nice bio of Jay Jackson that include several strips, including the one where superman Bun is converted back to schlep Bungleton, after a guy with a sci-fi weapon promises to turn him into a pathetic comic strip character. In those days when such irony and meta-references were rare in comic strips, one can only wonder how fans reacted.

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From the Archives Sub-Basement: The Topper that Outlived its Parent Strip

 

On my third post for this blog, waaaaaaay back in 2005, I showed the final strip of Ace Drummond, which ran on July 2 1939. In that post I gave Maurice Horn and Ron Goulart a little poke in the ribs for getting the end date wrong in their books. They both stated that the strip ran until 1940. A mere decade and a half later and I have just uncovered the probable reason they got it wrong. 

The Ace Drummond strip was unusual in that the topper, a strip about famous fliers and their planes called Hall of Fame of the Air, was penned by a different person than the main strip. Clayton Knight, famed aviation artist, had done the art for the first two years of Ace Drummond, but then had relinquished the main strip to Royal King Cole. He did keep doing the topper, though. Maybe that’s why we had a very unusual, perhaps unique, situation in which a topper outlived the main strip. It was a bit of a feather in the cap of the Puck comic section to have the well-known Clayton Knight contributing, so presumably when he volunteered to keep doing Hall of Fame of the Air they were happy to oblige. 

It is a rare Puck section that ran Hall of Fame of the Air after the end of Ace Drummond, because as fine as it might be, the urge to replace a half-page strip with an ad was very strong — Puck had lots of advertising. Luckily, I was able to purchase a scrapbook of some kid who was absolutely bonkers over this strip, and he (okay, perhaps she) managed to track down a huge number of these toppers from 1935 through 1939, and yes, even 1940. Even our HOFOTA superfan could not manage to amass a complete run, but there are quite a few 1940 installments. The latest one in the scrapbook was November 24 1940, which may not be the last that was published, but I’m guessing it is pretty darn close. 

So why did Goulart and Horn get the end year of Ace Drummond wrong? My guess is that they both saw some of these 1940 Hall of Fame of the Air strips, and very reasonably assumed that Ace Drummond was still being produced, but was pre-empted by an ad in all the ones they’d seen. 

Wow, I kinda feel like Robert Ripley with this post. Believe It or NOT!

From the Archives Sub-Basement: Katzenjammer Kids – Foxy Grandpa Crossover

 

A February 23 1902 Hearst comics section shows us what sort of shenanigans could happen when cartoonists worked alongside each other in newspaper bullpens. Such crossover strips would eventually become very rare, but in the 1890s and 1900s these treats happened more frequently.

3 comments on “From the Archives Sub-Basement: Katzenjammer Kids – Foxy Grandpa Crossover

  1. Allen, if I have this right, Hearst had only very recently moved to poach Schulze and his strip from the New York Herald. Could this "crossover" appearance of the Katzenjammers have been a sort of promotional stunt, welcoming Grandpa and "Bunny" to the Hearst papers?

    — Griff

  2. Hello Allan, Griff,
    This is also one of the only times Foxy made it to the cover, mosly he was an inside half page, and eventualy, only seen in the extra comic page that might go in the back of the magazine section.

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