Category : Chicago Tribune Comic Book

The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: The Drums of Fu Manchu

Waaaaaayyy back in the summer, when we were young and life was gay, I published a long series of posts covering the comic strip series that ran in the Chicago Tribune Comic Book. Unfortunately, that blog series was not absolutely complete, as there were two titles for which I did not have the necessary samples to do a proper show and tell.

Luckily for us, Kurt Gore has come along and offered me scans of one of those series, making us 50% closer to our goal. Thanks Kurt!

The Drums of Fu Manchu was a comic strip adaptation of a Republic movie serial of the same name. The first episode of the movie serial was released on March 15 1940, and the first episode of the comic strip, which told the first episode’s story via stills from the movie, was printed in the March 31 Chicago Tribune Comic Book — the inaugural edition of the new Tribune feature.

Each episode was recounted in three pages of the comic book. The stills didn’t work all that well because the printing was quite muddy. Although Tribune retouchers worked hard to make the photos reproduce better, often by removing backgrounds and outlining the characters, the results were less than spectacular. This method was finally dropped, and starting on June 2 the feature was drawn, probably by a Tribune bullpenner. The only clue the cartoonist gives us to his identity, beyond his style, are the initials N.P. on each strip. The new strip was much more attractive, but the movie serial only had so many episodes, so the strip had no place to go after adapting the whole run. The last comic book episode ran on June 23 1940.

Those N.P.  initials don’t match anyone at the Trib that I can think of. In fact the only American cartoonist of the era with those initials I can come up with is Nick Penn. But I doubt it was him. The style has sort of a generic Tribune look to it. Gus Edson, Stanley Link, Al Posen, Carl Ed … any of those Tribune guys could, I think, have whipped off this sort of thing. In fact, the second panel looks like a Caniff swipe. Hey, could it be? Nah. Caniff couldn’t draw this mediocre on a bet.

Oh, by the way. If you’d like to see a good helping of the movie serial, head on over to The Serial Squadron, where they offer a half-hour video clip from the serial, and have a fully restored DVD available for sale when you just can’t survive without knowing what happens next.

P.S. Before you expend a lot of brain juice trying to figure out the secret identity of N.P., I have to tell you that our resident super-sleuth, Alex Jay, has come up with nearly incontrovertible proof of the artist’s identity. I have to say, when he revealed it to me, I was rather pleased. But that’s all I’m going to say — you can wait for Jay’s Ink-Slinger Profile tomorrow to learn … the rest of the story. Good day!

One comment on “The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: The Drums of Fu Manchu

  1. Could be anyone, as you say. Maybe even Ray Bailey? I still have tohave a look to see if the 'standing rock' formation that Bailey drew in 30% of his strips was something he took from Caniff or something he added to it… but there is one in the June 2 strip as well.

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The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: A Wrap-Up

I hope you enjoyed the last month of posts about the Chicago Tribune Comic Book and its creators. I know that Alex and I enjoyed doing the research to bring the series to you. If you really, REALLY enjoyed the comic book features themselves, you might drop a line to the good folks at IDW Publishing expressing that interest. I talked to editor Dean Mullaney about doing a book of these features, and he felt they were a mite esoteric to warrant a book. He’s probably right. But if there was an upwelling of fan interest, well, you just never know.

I really enjoyed getting the feedback on this series as I learned a lot from you folks as well. Given the level of knowledge out there in the readership, it has long ago stopped surprising me that you folks took me behind the woodshed on a few points.

First there was the question about the identity of the Bucks McKale creator. Used to be that the smart money was on Vin Sullivan,  until Alex Jay practically pulled a rabbit out of his hat, finding a cartoonist named E.B. Sullivan who was known to sign his work as Sullie. Although we don’t know for sure if either of these gents is the creator, at least the puzzle is now on the web, where perhaps others will continue to weight in with evidence.

The bigger bombshell, and it only came to light very recently so that the posts do not reflect it, is that the Chicago Tribune Comic Book lasted longer than I believed. Y’see, I had this crazy idea that the research about the Comic Book features was best done with the microfilm of the Chicago Tribune. Foolish, foolish me. Turns out that while the Tribune itself gave up on the comic book format itself in April 1943, and the former comic book features petered out in their regular comics section over the next six months, the Tribune’s clients weren’t quite so cavalier.

Only a few papers other than the Trib are known to have run the comic book. The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Post did, and I would bet that the Detroit Free Press did, although I don’t have any samples from that paper. It never occurred to me to spend any time with these papers in regard to researching the comic book, and that was a mistake.

The Los Angeles Times comic strips are indexed on Dave Strickler’s website. If I’d bothered to just pay attention to what is there in black and white, it appears that the Times ran the comic book section intact for three months longer than the Tribune, cancelling it and all the features on July 4 1943. That means that while for many of the comic book features I still have later end dates, for the ones that the Trib dropped shortly after the end of the comic book section itself, like Bucks McKale, the Times is a source for additional episodes.The other difference in the Times is that they did not run Lew Loyal except on one isolated occasion. It appears that in the LA Times comic book, Brenda Starr stuck around much longer than in the Chicago Tribune version, and Lew Loyal was not needed.

Boston Post Comic Book, courtesy Cliff Erickson

I only realized this because of a message from reader Cliff Erickson — and Cliff had bigger news than that. He told me that he also had later dates on Tribune Comic Book strips from the Boston Post as well. Turns out that the Post, while they apparently had given up on the comic book format per se, kept the comic book features in their own separate section, not printed on a space-available basis in the regular comics section like the Tribune, to the bitter end.

As you may have noticed, many of the Chicago Tribune comic book strips ended in that paper at the end of October. Here’s a tally of Chicago Tribune end dates:

Bucks McKale – 4/11
Fighting with Daniel Boone – 5/9
Speed Berry – 8/29
Mr. Ex/The Whizzer – 9/26
Hy Score – 10/31
Lew Loyal – 10/31
Rocky the Stone-Age Kid – 10/31
Streamer Kelly – 10/31
Vesta West – 10/31
Gertie O’Grady – 11/14

Cliff told me that of his four scattered dates of the Boston Post comic book section, his latest was October 3, and that the section still ran Bucks McKale, Speed Berry and The Whizzer, all of which had been gone for varying times from the Tribune. Like the LA Times, the Post did not run Lew Loyal, but rather used Brenda Starr as their headline strip.

It seems obvious then that the Chicago Tribune, while having given up on the comic book section itself, was meeting the demand (or contract requirements) of a few client newspapers for it. Based on the last episodes that run in the Tribune itself, it seems likely that October 31 might very well have been the final edition of the comic book section offered to clients. Or maybe November 14, or maybe even later. The only way we could know for sure is to; first, determine when the Boston Post last ran its comic book section, and second, cross-reference the last episodes printed between the Tribune and the Post, And third, hope that no other paper was still running the doggone thing!

Although I have spot-indexed the Boston Post of the 1940s, I have nothing in my notes indicating that I saw these comic book sections. That may be because they weren’t microfilmed, or it might be because I had no interest in them since I thought I was already in possession of definitive information from the Tribune. For now the research path is cut off as I don’t see myself getting back to Boston anytime soon to check that information. Any Boston folks reading this who would like to try their hands at some research work?

By the way, Cliff Erickson tells me that the sort-of-superhero that took over the Mr. Ex strip, The Whizzer, appeared to be printed on a consistent basis in the Post. Here is the last episode he has, from October 3, Thanks again Cliff!!

The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: Gertie O’Grady

 One of the longest running features in the Chicago Tribune Comic Book insert of 1940-43 was Gertie O’Grady. The strip debuted on June 30 1940, shortly after the comic book itself, and managed to outlive the comic book section by a short while, ending November 14 1943.

Gertie O’Grady concerns a middle-aged Irish woman, whose role in life is never really spelled out in any great detail. She seemed to be a maid in early episodes, then a boardinghouse proprietor, but through most of the series she had no clear career. Her comedic foils started off on the zany end, with a mad professor and a giant ape, but later switched to a poor Irish immigrant girl named Fortune, and then she finally hooked up permanently with Uncle Shanty, an Irishman of the old school. The Irish humor in the strip was stereotypical, of course, but 180 degrees away from the coarse, racist Irish humor you would have seen in strips thirty years earlier. In Gertie O’Grady, the Irish are treated as loveable in their picturesque, idiosyncratic ways.

Cartoonist Paul McCarthy was at the helm of the Sunday-only strip. I know little about him other than that apparently he later went on to be one of the artists behind the extremely successful Sad Sack line of comic books.

EDIT 12/31/2017: Just found a half-tab example of Gertie O’Grady dated 3/20/1949 — six years after the end of the original series. Although there’s no overt clue on the tearsheet,  my guess is that this is from the New York Sunday News, and they commissioned this as one of their filler strips. It is apparently new material, because Gertie has slimmed down and prettied up considerably, while Uncle Shanty has become more decrepit looking. Has anyone seen any other later examples?

3 comments on “The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: Gertie O’Grady

  1. I recently acquired the original art by Paul McCarthy for an original Gertie O'Grady Sunday dated "5-1" with a copyright indicia stating "(c) 1949 News Syndicate Co., Inc." The depictions of Gertie and Shanty look to match the character descriptions from your 3/20/49 example. Bob

  2. Hi Bob —
    Thanks for the info. I checked the online archives of the Sunday News, and the strip is not there on 5/1/49. However, the one online appears to be the city edition, and these fillers generally ran only in the national edition as far as I know. So Gertie may or may not have actually run on 5/1/49. Michael Vassalo, the NY Sunday News expert, might well know. If you are a Facebook user (I am not), you might ask him. Please pass it along if you get an answer. –Allan

  3. Alan, in addition to the "5-1" date in the art, the reverse of the original reads in black handwritten (what looks to be) crayon, "Used by News May 1, 1949". On the front, above the art, is handwritten (again in black crayon) "May 1st" and, separately, "49 9". Not sure any of that helps in determining the 1949 run dates of the strip, but more info is better than less.

    I am also not a FB user and so am unable to ask Mr. Vassalo about the strip.

    If I learn anything further about the strip, or Mr. McCarthy (1910-196?), I will pass it along.

    As an aside, I LOVE your American Newspaper Comics An Encyclopedic Reference Guide. As a collector of original strip art, it is my collecting "bible", and I refer to it on a pretty much daily basis. Thanks for all your efforts in putting it together, as well as with this blog, which is both entertaining and informative. Bob Carlin

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The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: Vesta West and her Horse Traveler

Vesta West was the last new strip to appear in the Chicago Tribune’s Comic Book section. It debuted on August 30 1942, about seven months before the section itself was cancelled. Vesta West survived the section, but not for long, ending on October 31 1943 along with most of the other refugee features from the Comic Book.

The strip was a pretty conventional present-day Western, with a little added sex appeal from a girl heroine. The strip was created by Fred Meagher, whose excellent bio on Yesterday’s Papers is highly informative, except on the point of why he turned the strip over to Ray Bailey after just two months. I’m afraid I’m no more in the know on that issue. The fact remains, though, that Bailey took over with the strip of October 11 1942, and stuck with it until the end. Before this assignment Bailey had primarily been an assistant, working on Terry and the Pirates and The Gumps, both Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate properties.

The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: Mr. Ex

Mister Ex was some sort of a secret agent, forever embroiled in international intrigue of all sorts. The stories, breathlessly told with no time wasted discussing background, tell us just about nothing about our hero. His gimmick, I’m told, is that he was a master of disguise, but that seldom figured into the plotlines in any significant way.

At the beginning of the series,which debuted January 19 1941, our hero was bearded, a rarity in those days. Bert Whitman, the creator of the strip, probably thought it would be a great way to identify his main character. However, I guess the American public just wasn’t ready for a hirsute hero, and the soup strainer disappeared in less than six months.

The strip started off slow, with Ex in a small-time drama regarding a mistreated kid. It wasn’t long, though, before the hero was getting involved in a banana republic revolution, then pretending to be a Nazi to infiltrate a spy ring, then going for a nautical adventure hunting German subs. It was all very exciting, and once Whitman got into the groove he wrote a pretty good little adventure strip. Once the Comic Book section ended, though, Mr. Ex only made it a few months in the regular comic section, ending July 4 1943.

But that’s not quite the end of the story. In the final panel of that July 4 Sunday it was announced that the strip would continue, renamed The Whizzer. However, the next Sunday no whizzing was to be found in the Trib’s comic section. It wasn’t until September 5 that a strip bearing that name appeared. The renamed strip only ran once more, on September 26, before it disappeared for good. Question is, did The Whizzer appear on a regular basis elsewhere? All I can say is that I haven’t found it anywhere. Anyone? [I originally posed this question way back in 2006, and I haven’t heard anyone yet volunteer any additional information]

3 comments on “The Chicago Tribune Comic Book: Mr. Ex

  1. The quality of the artwork sure took a dive between the second and third strips you reproduce. Whitman was feeling deadline pressure, perhaps? Interesting, though; I'd like to see more of this strip.

  2. Hi Alan,
    I have come across two more dates for The Whizzer comic page – September 19th and October 3rd, 1943. These are both from the Boston Sunday Post (I also have the Sept. 26th example you mention above). Cliff

  3. Hi Cliff —
    Great catch there. Any chance that you could send a scan of one of these, preferably the final one? Would love to share with thje blog readers.

    Thanks, Allan

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