Category : Topper Features

Toppers: Jane Arden’s Wardrobe

 

Art by Russell Ross

Art by Jim Seed

 

Art by William Hargis

 

Jane Arden was a successful strip about a female reporter that ran for over three decades, debuting in 1928. One might also call it pioneering as the first major strip, I think, to star a professional woman outside the traditional stenos and secretaries. Unlike later strips to star women, this one never had a female writer or cartoonist during its long run.

I confess that I’ve never been able to bring myself to read enough of Jane Arden to say what I think of the stories. The art, though by many different hands, was so uniformly stodgy or just downright bad that I can’t get past it to find out if the writing is good. So have you tried reading Jane Arden? Tell me what you think about the strip in the comments please. Maybe I’m missing out on something fantastic?

The Jane Arden Sunday page started in 1932, and after a few months running topless added a topper strip, Lena Pry, and a paper doll feature, Jane Arden’s Wardrobe, on December 4 1932*.  

The daily strip art at this time was by Frank Ellis, but his work was so primitive that when the Sunday was added, they brought on a new hand for the page. This was Jack W. McGuire, whose art was not that much better but impressed the Register & Tribune Syndicate enough for him to get the gig. 

Two years later McGuire was needed to take over the art on R&T’s western strip, Bullet Benton, and after trying to keep both plates spinning for awhile, he was dropped from the Arden strip in favour of Russell Ross. Ross had taken over the daily a few years earlier, and became the artist on the Sunday, including toppers, starting February 17 1935*. Ross was a much better artist, but his artwork has a sterile quality to it. There just never seems to be any joy, any attempt at fireworks; the art just sort of lays there on the page with all the flavour of a hothouse tomato.  

Ross had by far the longest tenure on the strip but you’ll never know that from the strips themselves, because for some reason he stopped signing the daily back in the late 1930s, and the Sunday was uncredited most of the time after the death of the original writer, Monte Barrett, in 1949. Why he preferred to work anonymously I have no clue. Ross’ art is distinctive enough that I feel pretty comfortable in saying that he was at the helm, probably with more and more assistance as time went on, on the Sunday until 1956 when Jim Seed began getting art credit with the January 29 Sunday**. 

Seed’s art is very much in the Mary Worth/Judge Parker mold, draining what little attractiverness Ross had brought to the party. That sort of art was in vogue, though, so Seed was just following the market. With Seed’s tenure the paper doll each Sunday was now just a stat of the same very unattractive Jane Arden figure. I mean seriously, Jane is wearing her frumpy granny’s underthings and looks like she’s steeling herself to undergo a painful medical procedure. 

Seed left the strip after the Sunday of September 4 1960, to be replaced by William Hargis. Hargis’ art style is very similar to Seed’s, and he used the same frumpy vision for Jane in her skivvies as his predecessor.

By this time the Jane Arden Sunday was running in a tiny list of papers, and so it was dropped on September 3 1961***, making that the end of the topper Jane Arden’s Wardrobe as well. 

* Source: Des Moines Register

** Source: Most info on the Sunday strip in the 1950s and 60s is from the Toronto Star.

*** Source: Editor & Publisher, July 29 1961.

One comment on “Toppers: Jane Arden’s Wardrobe

  1. Always glad to lend a hand…there are a couple of late 1940s Jane Arden reprint comics over at Comicbook+. "Pageant of Comics" #2 reprints four daily continuities credited to Barrett and Ross. I read them to save you the trouble.

    The stories are all whodunits with Jane, a police inspector, and occasionally a standard Handsome Guy Friend picking up clues and finding the murderer. The writing is much like the art: simple, diagrammatic, excitement-free.

    From Russell Ross' artwork I gather that either he was either totally unimaginative or totally unmotivated. His drawings are pretty good, though composed in endless static, eye-level shots. But whenever there's the least hint of a complex scene–Jane discovering a ransacked room, the cops photographing a murder scene–Ross goes out of his way to draw as little as possible. There are a remarkable number of shots of peoples' feet. Maybe after twenty-something years he was just tired of it all.

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Toppers: How To Keep From Getting Old

 

George McManus played along with King Features’ policy of multiple toppers by adding a panel cartoon to his Bringing Up Father Sunday page from 1933 to 1937. Rosie’s Beau was amputated slightly, which was no great loss, leaving enough room for the additional feature. A total of four different panel titles were used, of which How To Keep From Getting Old ran from April 1 1934 to May 19 1935. The panel offers a simple but effective gag, showing how McManus’s dolt of the week puts his or her life in danger.

One comment on “Toppers: How To Keep From Getting Old

  1. Hello Allan-
    The Hearst strips all sprouted these panel cartoons in the Sundays at about the same time, some were ambitious, like the Katzenjammer jigsaw puzzles by Harold Knerr, or the cut out dolls by Murphy in Toots & Casper, or even, surprisingly enough, by Alex Raymond in Flash Gordon.
    Most of them were just one-off single panel gags, but the standout was Chic Young's over Blondie. The first one was all gags under the title "Sideshow", but in early 1935, it became the re-occuring characters series "Colonel Potterby & the Duchess", which, after only a few weeks became the top strip, and eventually a seperate strip, lasting until 1963.

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Toppers: Smilin’ Jack Cut-Out

 

Zack Mosley’s long-running aviation strip, Smilin’ Jack, never really went in much for toppers. In the very early days of the Sunday there was a short-lived feature called Air Facts, but that was even before the feature had gained it’s permanent name — the first few months were titled On The Wing

The next topper debuted on August 25 1935. It was a cut-out feature that occasionally ran under the title of Smilin’ Jack Cut-Out or Smilin’ Jack Airport, but was usually untitled. Each week readers could cut out a different model of plane. By the time Mosley tired of the panel feature and discontinued it after October 4 1936*, kids who faithfully cut each one out had quite a collection. 

The topper was included in both half page and half-tab formats. I don’t have any full tab versions from this era (were they even offered?) so I don’t know if that format included it. 

Smilin’ Jack would go ‘topless’ for well over a decade before deigning to try a new topper, another factoid feature. 

 

* Source: All dates from New York Sunday News

6 comments on “Toppers: Smilin’ Jack Cut-Out

  1. I didn't realize that a "topper" could consist of just a single panel like this one. Would something like "Kitty Korner" (accompanying "Heathcliff") count as a topper, too?

  2. Hello Allan-
    It would seem that Smilin' Jack was only offered as a half and half tab size. I knew Mosely, that is, as a young corresponding fan. He was assembling some reprint collections, using his own file of original proofs in the late 1970's, and I asked him why the Sundays were only in that size. He said that's all there ever was.
    I forget the reason he gave; he would tend to prefer to kid around rather than bore himself with retelling dull facts, but my guess is that though it was a long running member of the Trib/News line up, SJ had nowhere near the popularity of their other action adventure series, and so with a small client list, maybe it wasn't worth the extra syndicate production.
    Mosely would end his letters with the farewell, "CAVU" (which was pilot argot for "Ceiling And Visibility Unlimited.")

  3. Hi Joshua —
    That is a great question! The definition of topper is a little loosey-goosey. Here is the definition I offered in my book:

    "Toppers are auxiliary strip or panel features that accompany the main feature. They are expendable portions of the feature that make reformatting for smaller spaces simpler. … Although the classical style of topper was all but gone by the 1960s … other auxiliary titled features, usually a single panel, survive to the present day, like Dick Tracy's Crimestopper's Textbook. Although not toppers in the classical sense, they are documented as such" for continuity's sake.

    There is lots of room for argument with that definition, and I welcome anyone who wishes to come up with a definition that allows us to classify toppers separately from what you might call Auxiliary Features. That could be tough to do, because it is seemingly not as simple as strip vs. panel — I think the many panel auxiliary features to King Features strips of the mid-30s deserve the appellation 'topper', but maybe I'm wrong?

    -Allan

  4. Hi Mark —
    Actually Smilin' Jack was offered as a full tab, because I have some in my collection. I have a few from 1934, then a long fallow period, then quite a few starting in 1938, until they finally trail off in 1953 (check out the Baltimore Sun online for late samples).

    –Allan

  5. I have come to call those extras like Dinny's Family Album, Popeye's Cartoon Club, the doll cut-outs,, etc. as "Panel Companions" to differentiate them from the actual multiple panel comic strip toppers.
    Though I do not have a problem with anyone referring to them as toppers.

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Toppers: Fisher’s History of Boxing

 

Joe Palooka had many toppers, but it was only the very luckiest Palooka fans who got to see them. The early toppers ran in both full and tabloid version of the strip, but starting in 1936, toppers began getting lopped off of certain formats. By the 1940s they were very rarely seen because they were dropped from pretty much every format except some oddball ones. 

But that’s as much as I’ll say about that today, because today we’re covering Fisher’s History of Boxing, a topper that was included in the full and tab versions of the Sunday page in an era when anything less than that was relatively rare. This topper debuted on September 3 1933, and each week offered up short vignettes from (surprise, surprise) the history of boxing. The text on these strips was relatively mundane, but sometimes the drawings added a little levity to the proceedings, like in the sample above.

The strip ran for almost three years, finally ending on June 20 1936 by chronicling James J. Braddock’s win over Max Baer, which happened in 1935. By 1936 the topper was no longer included with all tab formats; it was still available but the paper had to employ an extra long tabloid format to accommodate it. Fisher’s History of Boxing would prove to be the last Joe Palooka topper seen by most readers of the strip, as subsequent series were used by fewer and fewer papers. 

Toppers: Progress of Flight

 

The aviation strip Tailspin Tommy would eventually be responsible for quite a few toppers, but in the early years it could only manage a single panel, titled Progress of Flight (not counting the comic stamp feature, which we here at Stripper’s Guide don’t deem worthy of tracking). 

Tailspin Tommy was one of a long list of strips that owed its existence to Charles Lindbergh’s historic flight, and despite lackluster art it was consistently one of the most popular of the genre through the 1930s. I think much of that initial success must be due to the slam-bang writing of Glenn Chaffin, which though a bit wordy, really gave flying-mad kids a strong dose of high-flying medicine. Artist Hal Forrest, on the other hand, who semed much more comfortable with doing art for humour strips, always seemed to produce terribly rushed looking work until he evidently found a good assistant in the mid-1930s.

According to a contemporary article in Editor & Publisher, the Tailspin Tommy Sunday page was added for a release date of October 6 1929. However, I’ve never been able to find a sample of that first page earlier than October 20. Bell Syndicate muddied the waters by allowing papers to run their strips late, making such determinations a bit of a crapshoot. Progress of Flight, a panel offering factoids about early models of airplane and famous aviators, was added with Sunday page #28; counting from October 6 1929, that would put the start date on April 13 1930, but it’s not been seen appearing earlier than April 27 1930. Yes, dealing with Bell Syndicate strips can be a trying task. 

Progress of Flight started it’s timeline as early as you could, discussing early mythological stories of flying. The feature slowly gamboled through the Renaissance, the Montgolfier brothers, and finally to modern aviation. Early panels were numbered, but that practice eventually stopped. The feature ended with Sunday page #220, after which the top spot went to a new strip, The Four Aces

Calculating from the supposed start date, that would put Progress of Flight ending on December 17 1933, but once again, I’ve not seen that occurring any earlier than the Sunday page run on December 31 1933, which seems frankly like a more auspicious date on which to usher out the old and welcome in the new. It is also the last Sunday written by Glenn Chaffin; artist Hal Forrest would be credited from then on.

If anyone can offer any direct evidence that the Tailspin Tommy Sunday began on October 6 1929 in any paper, I’d be thrilled to hear from you. 

UPDATE PRIOR TO PUBLICATION: I looked at a sampling of Tailspin Tommy Sunday original art at the Heritage auction site, and I think I have the final answer. On most of the originals there is a pencil notation written outside the art area giving the strip number and publication date. The same hand seems to be responsible for other presswork notations, so I don’t believe the dates were added later. In each case, the date combined with the number calculates back to a date for Sunday page #1 of October 20 1929. I’m calling this mystery solved, and saying that was the official release date; the article in Editor & Publisher had it wrong.

2 comments on “Toppers: Progress of Flight

  1. Tailspin Tommy rated two serials and a run of Monogram programmers. I've seen the serials, which are both available on DVD. "Tailspin Tommy" was released in 1934 by Universal, and it may be the only serial where the hero lives with his parents and the heroine is a waitress (who has a pilot's license, but still). Tommy gets a job with a modest air freight firm up against an unscrupulous rival, but that is sometimes forgotten as the action wanders all over (a sojourn in Hollywood has him stunt flying for a WWI epic). It's a bit folksier than the usual cliffhanger. The following year brought "Tailspin Tommy and the Great Air Mystery", a more generic product with heroes and villains constantly invading and escaping from each other's camps.

    Other comic strips that got serials: Dick Tracy, Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, Tim Tyler's Luck, Red Ryder, Mandrake the Magician, The Phantom, Radio Patrol, Red Barry, Terry and the Pirates, Secret Agent X-9, Brick Bradford, Brenda Starr, Jungle Jim, and Don Winslow of the Navy. Off the top of my head.

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