Category : Topper Features

Toppers: Laura


Felix the cat, one of the biggest of the early animation stars, made the transition to newspaper comics in 1923 with King Features. The strip, which was credited to animation studio head Pat Sullivan, was mostly ghosted by Otto Messmer for the first two decades of its existence. 

When Hearst strips began carrying toppers, Felix was unusual in that it didn’t go through a few different test run top strips before settling on one for the long run. Felix added the strip Laura as its first topper on June 6 1926* and stuck with it for nine years, finally changing to a new strip after the Sunday of June 16 1935**. 

While many toppers reused old characters from the creator’s oeuvre, Laura seems to have been a brand new creation. The strip starred a parrot who quickly learns bits of speech from her owners and repeats them at inopportune moments. The strip was pretty much a one-joke affair for its entire existence, but the gag was pulled off with originality and playfulness that kept it from getting too stale. 

According to some online sources, Laura, or a parrot that resembles her, was later incorporated  into some of Felix‘s film shorts.

* Source: Philadelphia Record

** Source: Washington Star

One comment on “Toppers: Laura

  1. I've seen lots of the Felix cartoons from 1919-37, and though a parrot may show up in one along the way, there never was a role built up for it. That was pretty much one of Felix's character traits; he was Chaplinesque; he was homeless loner.
    If you read the early dailies (began 1927) you will see for many months, they are based entirely on aepisodes in specific, named, actual animated films. That eventually stopped, and that was really the only time the strips made a point of identifying with the screen version. Just as well; the strip outlasted the films by many years.

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Toppers: Old Doc Yak


The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was a johnny-come-lately to the world of toppers, but when they finally caved in to peer pressre in late 1930, their cartoonists behaved much as those at other syndicates and many just revived one of their old strips as the new bonus attraction. 

Before Sidney Smith became one of the most widely known and richest cartoonists in the world for his huge smash hit The Gumps, he had already been a mainstay in the Tribune Sunday section for years with, among other features, Old Doc Yak. The strip starred … yes … a yak. But Doc had very few yak-like properties; his schtick was mainly speeding around in his jalopy, Old Number 348, trying to collect on his doctoring bills, coming up with money-making schemes, or jousting with his son, Yutch.

Despite Old Doc Yak being a Tribune reader favorite, in 1917 Smith came up with the idea for The Gumps, and he felt so strongly that it would be a big success that he actually had Old Doc Yak lose his house to The Gumps when they took over the daily strip. In 1919, with The Gumps obviously the wave of the future, Yak sold his Old Number 348 to them in his final Sunday. The virtual handshake to turn over the reins to the new kids in town was completed.

 So when Smith was called on in 1930 to add a topper, Old Doc Yak was taken out of the mothballs Starting with the Sunday of December 7 1930, half-hearted strips like that above were grudgingly added. They certainly didn’t have the magic of the original Doc Yak strips, and Smith used his clout with the syndicate to finally dump the topper a little over three years later. The last Old Doc Yak topper ran on February 25 1934. Until long after Smith’s death The Gumps Sundays were never again saddled with toppers. 

If Old Doc Yak sounds intriguing to you (the original, not the topper), head on over to Barnacle Press, where they have a substantial collection of Old Doc Yak strips, including the dailies which are (IMO) the most fun.

3 comments on “Toppers: Old Doc Yak

  1. Hello Alan-
    For many years, I've heard that most of the Chicago Tribune characters were devised by Colonel Paterson himself, and the artists just followed instructions, whether they had much interest or not, but would be guaranteed strong backing by the powerful syndicate. That would explain so much mediocrity over there.
    Could the Gumps have started out that way, and that's why Doc Yak had to give up his home and belongings in what seems almost like a surrender ceremony?

  2. My time machine's on the blink again, so who can say. But Smith was an unadulterated comic genius, no two ways about it, and if Patterson had the idea for a comedy – adventure – soap mashup that's all well and good but in lesser hands than Smith's it probably would have gone nowhere. In fact it did, because there were somewhat Gumps-like strips earlier on that rate only obscurity status.

    In fact I've always been a little mystified by Goulart, Horn et al claiming that The Gumps was groundbreaking, the first continuity strip, etc etc. In fact there was darn little continuity in the strip early on, and it followed a path well worn by other 'family' strips that employed light continuity. Seems like it's more that it rang a bell with the Trib readers, and was available just as the Trib syndication sales force was waking up and beginning to knock on doors.


  3. Obviously, the ChiTrib strips often would gravitate to sudsy continuities after establishing themselves as gag-a-days at the start. Guess Roger Bean was the first daily soap opera family melodrama, but the Gumps was the first really well distributed big syndicate one, and that changed the comics world. It was a new and exciting formula, especially for editors, as it proved a compelling hook to sell tomorrow's papers with. Note that Toots and Casper was changed to become a knockoff of the Gumps beginning in the early 20s.

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Toppers: Our Antediluvian Ancestors


Now that we’re all on the same page about the many alternate titles of Happy Hooligan (see the last post, ye of short memory), we’re no longer fooled about that title you see above, Mr. Dough and Mr. Dubb. So now let’s cover the first Happy Hooligan topper, Our Antediluvian Ancestors

As did many cartoonists who were faced with having to add a topper to their strips, Fred Opper simply thought back over the many series he had done in the past, and picked one that seemed to have a little mileage left. Our Antediluvian Ancestors, a delightfully fun strip about cavemen, was originally an occasional weekday and Sunday feature of Opper’s in the period 1900-04. It was dug back up starting on January 10 1926 as a topper. 

For some reason the cartoonists in the Hearst stable rarely stuck with their first topper choices, and Our Antediluvian Ancestors was no exception to the rule. It only ran until May 16 1926, after which it was replaced by another golden oldie from the Opper stable, And Her Name Was Maud

Oh, and if you aren’t much of a logophile, the word ‘antediluvian’ is of Latin derivation, meaning before the Biblical flood; a delightful word to add to your arsenal, as it is usually used more in the sense of just primitive or ridiculously old-fashioned. Our tastes here on Stripper’s Guide do certainly run to the antediluvian.

Toppers: Popeye’s Cartoon Club


In 2019-20, to celebrate Popeye’s 90th birthday, King Features offered an online-only comic strip titled Popeye’s Cartoon Club. The strip was written and drawn by various cartoonists, all given free rein to spin Popeye in whatever direction appealed to them. It was great fun, and much enjoyed by comic strip fans.

While the strips were new, the title clocked in at about 85 years old. E.C. Segar offered a few secondary toppers to Thimble Theatre in the 1930s in addition to the long-running Sappo main topper. The original Popeye’s Cartoon Club debuted on April 9 1934 and offered advice on learning cartooning. Much of it was of the type, “if you can draw this simple shape, then you can turn it into …” Segar gave the feature a little more than a year, ending it on May 5 1935, after which he eschewed secondary toppers entirely for the rest of his days on the Sunday strip.

One comment on “Toppers: Popeye’s Cartoon Club

  1. Ahoy Allan-
    After the cartoon club, for a while, Sappo's strip shrank to one tier, without storylines, and only had Sappo himself "chalk talk" words or initials into full cartoons. It really comes off like a cheap way to dodge work, or something. But by early 1937,Sappo's full strip has come back, leaving cartoons about drawing cartoons behind.
    That after his death, Segar's replacements added the extra panel again, now with stuff like
    "Wimpy's Who's Zoo", they still never restored the "cartoon club".

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Toppers: Things We Can Do Without


Another in George McManus’ secondary toppers was Things We Can Do Without. The title pretty much says it all. This was the first of the Bringing Up Father panel toppers and ran from July 23 1933 to April 22 1934, after which it was replaced by How To Keep From Getting Old.

3 comments on “Toppers: Things We Can Do Without

  1. I love Bringing Up Father! Does anybody know more or less exactly when Zeke Zekely started working with McManus? I know it was in the early-to-mid 1930s. This page looks like it has the Zekely touch. The lines are more crisped-up than McManus ever managed. McM's design was always great, but with Z's inking, the whole thing looks like it's been ironed with starch. Poor Z never got real credit for his improvements. Everybody always praises McM's wonderful Art Deco artwork, but it t'waren't McM who did it.

    Incidentally, I also love these "memory" strips. I have lots of them from the late 40s & early 50s, but this is the earliest one I've ever seen. Anybody know when they started?

  2. To Miss Collins, all,
    I don't know what the first of this memories themed Sundays was, It would seem to me an invention of ZZ's. I do know the last Sunday ever to have McManus's signature (19 December 1954) was one of these good old days pages, and it was by ZZ.

  3. To Mark Johnson: Thank you for the info, although I want MORE. A question, however: you say that ZZ invented the Memories strips. Do you mean to say that he wrote them all by himself? They have always struck me as being authentically penned by McManus, reflective of his own younger years.

    In the early 1980s, I produced a radio show about BUF, for Canada's CBC Radio network. It included a "reading" of a bunch of the memory strips, performed as Jiggs by Don Harron (known in the USA as Charlie Farquarson on the HeeHaw TV show). We played some old-time music in the background, and also had some sound effects. That's how much I love those old memory strips.

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Toppers: “Good Deed” Dotty


The comic strip Dixie Dugan began in 1929 under the title Showgirl, and, just like the magazine serial and Broadway show from which the name came, it starred a heroine who looked like the breathtakingly beautiful young starlet Louise Brooks. In the beginning, the strip was about a beautiful young would-be star, her forays into the entertainment biz and her many ardent beaus. Art was provided by the team of J.P. McEvoy (writer) and John H. Striebel (art). Both men were holdovers from the original appearance of Showgirl as a magazine serial, which was the source of the Broadway play.

While the well-known creators, the Louise Brooks connection and the media-tie-in sold a lot of papers on the strip, for some reason, maybe the onset of the Great Depression, the strip took a a major change in direction. Dixie lost her showgirl ambitions and concentrated on earning a conventional living, and her looks were toned down so that she was attractive but in a much more girl-next-door style. She became quite family-oriented and earnest, almost to the point of being priggish. 

The newly conservative Dixie seemed to be just fine with readers, and a popular Sunday page was added on February 5 1933*. Along with the new Sunday came a one-tier topper strip called “Good Deed” Dotty (yes, complete with self-conscious quotes).  

In each strip little girl Dotty searches for some good turn she can do, and when she does one she writes it down in her booklet of, yes, “Good Deeds”. Her good deeds are humorous but they are all, indeed, truly good deeds — the example above is the tone set throughout the series. 

The strip was often pantomime, which was a favorite form for John Striebel. Before Dixie Dugan he had a wonderful strip feature titled Pantomime which ran for three years.  That makes me wonder if the topper was his baby, and that McEvoy wasn’t involved.  

“Good Deed” Dotty was the only topper Dixie Dugan ever had, and it was dropped on October 17 1948**. From then on Dixie had the page to herself.

* Source: Milwaukee Journal.

** Source: Chicago Sun-Times.

Toppers: Alexander Smart, Esq., Daffydoodles and The Elmer Game



Maurice Horn described Elmer as “genial”, which is probably the highest praise it is ever likely to receive. It seems to be one of those strips that stayed in papers due to inertia. The strip was about a 10-year old kid who got into relatively genteel comic strip boy troubles and escapades every Sunday. Under its original creator, A.C. Fera, the strip had a modicum of life, oddly benefiting from the cartoonist’s flat, scratchy style. But when Fera for some reason left the strip and it was handed over to Charles “Doc” Winner in 1926, it became so formulaic that you can accurately extrapolate the entire thirty years’ worth of Winner Sundays based on any one example. 

When all the Hearst Sundays gained toppers in 1926, Winner (who was still ghosting the page under Fera’s name until late 1926) tried out a few candidates, but finally settled on Alexander Smart Esq., starting with the July 4 1926 page. The character was not an attorney, so I assume that Winner used the term “esquire” in the British sense of someone untitled but of social importance. The strip was just as formulaic as Elmer itself; Alexander tries to outsmart someone, or to attack some problem with his supposed high intelligence, and everything backfires. 

When other Hearst Sundays started adding multiple toppers, Winner added Daffydoodles on July 31 1932 It was a feature in which Winner would illustrate puns and other funny turns of phrase. Originally a single panel, it eventually grew to most often have four single-panel gags. Shortly after the feature began Winner began to credit the ideas to reader submissions. Given that he never told readers how or where to send in their submissions, my guess is that Winner made up a lot of the gags and reader names, but I must confess a spot-check of one unusual  name seen above, Dorothy Ann Starry, came up with an actual person. 

Soon after Daffydoodles was added, a second topper began, called The Elmer Game. This large panel was, I think, the best thing about the Elmer page. Each week Winner would explain a simple game that kids could play with a minimum of equipment and setup. For kids looking for something to do on Sunday afternoon The Elmer Game must have been a real boon. It ran from January 1 1933 to June 9 1935, losing out to an expanded set of weekly Daffydoodles

An interesting bit of trivia about Elmer and its toppers: while the main strip never merited a reprint book, and certainly Daffydoodles and Alexander Smart Esq. didn’t either, The Elmer Game did. The book was titled Games Of Fun and was issued by K.K. Publications in 1934.

During World War II a lot of strips lost their toppers, or at least found fewer and fewer papers willing to give space to the typically second-rate material. Alexander Smart, Esq. and Daffydoodles seem to have succumbed to this trend. The latest I can find them running is on July 30 1944 in the Nebraska State Journal. But they could have been produced longer, and the papers that ran them became so few as to evade my radar. Anyone have any later dates?

Toppers: Bertha the Siberian Cheesehound


Boob McNutt began as a quite extraordinary new Sunday page in 1918*, featuring a dim-witted fellow who was intent on committing suicide. I know it sounds horrific, but in the hands of Rube Goldberg it was hilarious. Unfortunately, Goldberg eventually worked through that vein of black comedy and the strip evolved into a sort of domestic comedy, where Boob’s naivete gets him into mostly uninspired silly situations. 

The strip would eventually rebound around 1927 into a looney adventure storyline that offered Goldberg much better raw fodder from which to make comedy hay. But in between, the strip was quite frankly deathly dull. 

On January 25 1925, Goldberg added a dog named Bertha to the McNutt household. On May 3 1925, the dog began talking in “dog language”, with asterisks translating the nonsense into English. It could have been a cute idea, but 99% of the time the translations weren’t even intended to be funny, they were just pointless comments on the situation.

When the Hearst Sundays added toppers in 1926, on January 10 Goldberg gave Bertha the top of the page, added a very Goldbergian breed name (earlier in the main strip she’d been called an Egyptian Wafflehound), and continued the mostly pointless conceit of translating her dog language.

The title Bertha the Siberian Cheesehound seems like it would be an entry point to some inspired Goldberg lunacy, but it wasn’t. Perhaps recognizing that the strip was terribly weak, it ended after a little over six months, on July 4 1926. It was replaced by a new two tier topper, Bill.

* Many published histories insist that it began in May 1915; it did not.

Toppers: Otto Honk


While NEA offered some very fine comic strips among their blanket service offerings, one real stinker was the Sunday version of J.R. Williams’ fine daily panel, Out Our Way. The Sunday version took one occasional aspect of the daily, a typical suburban family named the Willets, and made them the star of the Sunday show. Despite the Sunday debuting a mere eight months after the daily in 1922, Williams evidently fely secure enough in his position that he probably never touched the Sunday strip. Instead it was handed off to Neg Cochran, who worked on it anonymously until after the death of Williams in 1957 — surely some sort of record for longevity in ghosting a strip? 

But why did the Out Our Way Sunday last so long, you ask, if it was such a stinker? Well, I’ll tell you that Neg Cochran was the son of NEA editor Hal Cochran, and you can draw your own conclusion. But nepotism can’t be the whole reason, because the Sunday Out Our Way, as hard as it for me to believe it, was a popular inclusion to Sunday sections for NEA subscribers even though there were other and better Sunday strip options distributed by the syndicate. Perhaps it was simply that newspaper editors didn’t really catch on that their very popular daily series was, in its Sunday version, a deathly pale imitation. I dunno. 

Anyhow, this post is supposed to be about the topper, not Out Our Way, so excuse my digression. As with most NEA full page Sundays in the 1920s and 30s, Out Our Way‘s toppers were produced mostly by different creators than the main strip. This interesting innovation allowed other bullpen cartoonists to share the Sunday color section limelight, and meant that the presumably hard-working cartoonist of the main feature was given a bit of slack. 

Out Our Way went through several toppers that were Sunday versions of NEA daily strips; the first was Mom ‘n’ Pop, and that was followed by Roy Crane’s Wash Tubbs. After that there was a strange long foray into activity and puzzle features, often wasting the talent of Crane. On August 19 1934* the puzzles were finally dropped and a new topper debuted. This was Otto Honk, featuring a goofball title character who walks into the same sorts of gags that readers older then six have already seen a million times. Penning this was Bela Zaboly, a young NEA bullpenner at this time. It was an inauspicious debut for Zaboly, but you might say that the quality of Otto Honk meshed perfectly with the Sunday Out Our Way

Zaboly got lucky in 1936 when Gene Ahern, creator of the popular NEA feature Our Boarding House, decided to jump ship. Zaboly got yanked off the Otto Honk assignment to help continue Ahern’s orphaned feature; his last Otto Honk ran on March 15 1936**. Left with no creator to handle the topper, NEA opted to assign it to Neg Cochran himself, which finally gave Neg the opportunity to see his name on the Sunday page, albeit only on the topper. Evidently this didn’t strike him as that much of an honor, because he dropped Otto Honk as soon as a replacement could be found. The last Otto Honk appeared on June 21 1936**, and on the next Sunday there debuted the best thing there ever was about the Out Our Way Sunday — George Scarbo‘s fabulously drawn Comic Zoo topper.

* Source: Brooklyn Eagle

** Source: NEA archives at Ohio State University

2 comments on “Toppers: Otto Honk

  1. Out Our Way and Our Boarding House ran side by side in the San Jose Mercury daily edition as late as the 60s. I remember them as oddities, single panels with dialogue balloons and frequent continuities. Our Boarding House appeared in the Sunday funnies; Out Our Way didn't.

    To this day I find myself blurring Out Our Way with Clare Briggs, perhaps because they both used recurring subheads ("The Worry Wart", "Why Mothers Get Gray", and "Heroes Are Made, Not Born" in OOW), had a repertory of recurring characters in different settings, and featured nostalgia, usually involving small town kids.

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Toppers: Dinglehoofer und his Dog Adolph


My father escaped from behind the Iron Curtain after World War II and immigrated, a teenager all by himself, to Canada. He stepped off the ship hardly knowing a word of English but, out of necessity, learned it at breakneck speed in order to get a job and make a living.  In hardly any time at all he had all but mastered the language, a small miracle. Yet no matter how he tried, he could not seem to rid himself of his accent, and it remained through the rest of his life. It wasn’t anything much by the time I came on the scene, just a pronunciation of ‘V’s as if they were ‘W’s — a Volvo was a Wolwo in my dad’s world. 

After the war it was not exactly an asset to have a German accent, and I can only imagine how tough it was for him in this war-weary country (Canada suffered over 100,000 dead and wounded in World War II). That was brought home to me when at a very young age, fancying myself a budding comedian, I stupidly tried to poke fun at him for his accent. It wasn’t ever a subject of discussion in our home, and I was too young to realize that it could be a sore point for him. Well, my father didn’t have much of a sense of humour on his best days, but you would have thought I had stuck a knife in his chest and twisted. He was always quick to anger, but in this case he didn’t get mad. He just gave me a withering look, a look of intense disappointment and betrayal that I can still see in my mind’s eye to this day, and walked away. Although it was never spoken of again, it was a moment that changed our relationship irrevocably. He no longer could completely trust that I was on his side; even his own son was no exception in a world that mocked him openly for where he had the misfortune to be born.

Of course it wasn’t fair to expect a mere child to understand all that, or to blame him for your own emotional scars. But imagine what my father must have been put through, that he couldn’t  brush off a stupidly tone-deaf remark from his own kid. Imagine how much pain he must have been put through because of that accent, that he could not find perspective enough to ever completely forgive his child for a stupid attempt to be funny. It took me many years to come to that understanding, and by then it was far too late to repair the damage; my father went to his grave never believing beyond a shadow of a doubt that his son was his unconditional and absolute ally and defender.

So I said all that because today’s subject is Dinglehoofer und his Dog, a topper strip to The Katzenjammer Kids. A good portion of the humour to be derived from this long-running topper series is the ridicule of the characters’ German accents, just like in the main strip. As you might imagine, that source of humour  falls on deaf ears in these quarters. I can barely make myself read strips like The Katzenjammer Kids, so I’m really not someone equipped to discuss them in anything close to an equitable manner. But, lucky cuss that I am, Mark Johnson in his old Ask The Archivist feature on the Comics Kingdom website, covered the strip so well I that I don’t feel I have anything of value I could add even if I wanted to. So take a trip over to this Ask The Archivist post and learn everything you need to know about Dinglehoofer und his Dog.

One comment on “Toppers: Dinglehoofer und his Dog Adolph

  1. Hello Allan-
    Thanks much for referencing my old blog.
    Sorry to hear your father took the accent mimickry so seriously. I wonder what he made of the Katzies?
    German dialect comedy had been a part of American humor for many years. Often called "Dutch" comedians,(obviously an anglicization of "Duetsch") vaudeville/music hall stars like Weber & Fields kept the tradition going for many years. Comic strips were full of comic germans, especially all those Katzie knock offs.
    I suppose there were for many years, immigrants with such accents coming into America and Canada, so it was a relatable stereotype, just as it was faor so many other nationalities. And it was not only acceptable, most of the time those of those nationalities did their material in dialect. So, Harold Knerr and Rudolph Dirks had no problem in supporting the accent.
    By world war two, we weren't seeing much vaudeville or so many of these immigrants any more, and dialect humor was waning. Certainly Germans were not seen in the same way, yet the Katzenjammer Kids/Captain and the Kids lasted for many years.

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