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Belated Christmas Greetings from Karl Hubenthal and Burris Jenkins, Jr.

 

The other day I was going through some of Jim Ivey’s voluminous files, of which some boxes still remain in process to be wedded with my filing system. I came across a folder marked “Optical Illusions.” In amongst clips of op art and clever bits of drawing, I found these three clippings that knocked my socks off. Apparently it was a thing, at least for a few editorial cartoonists, to do a Christmas greeting in their regular space. Burris Jenkins Jr. (top two, 1965 and 1960) and Karl Hubenthal (bottom, 1964) produced these incredible cartoons, in which the entire drawing is made up of hundreds or probably even thousands of expertly lettered names to whom they wished to send Christmas greetintgs. I can’t even imagine the time and expertise that went into creating these masterpieces.

There’s no way you’ll be able to read all these names at the size I can put on the blog, and the smallest of the names are tough to read even at full size on the crumbling old yellowed tearsheets filed away by Jim Ivey, but I can supply high-resolution versions to anyone with a serious interest. Just let me know.

The Experiment of Ozark Ike’s Whodunits

 

I love baseball, and my favorite baseball strip, hands down, is Ozark Ike. Ray Gotto’s art completely blows my mind, and the stories are entertainingly ridiculous. I even forgive the hillbilly motif, which you just couldn’t escape in the 1940s when everyone who could hold a brush was trying to steal even a small taste of the juggernaut that was  Li’l Abner.

The strip began as a daily in 1945, and it found enough editors who appreciated it that a Sunday was added on July 27 1947. When the Sunday debuted, though, it didn’t fold itself in on the daily stories, nor did it start a separate storyline of its own. Instead Gotto had the idea to make it a totally self-supporting feature in which his characters would act out a famous event in sports history, with a gag thrown in for good measure. The feature was titled Ozark Ike’s Whodunits

I quite like the idea since it sidesteps the whole knotty problem of setting up separate or blended contiuities with the dailies. And boy is that a major problem. If you run shared continuities, Sundays either become a boring recap of the week’s events, or if they advance the plot, you force editors who bought your daily to either add the Sunday, or if they have no room for it, to drop the daily. 

If you go with the separate continuity option, you can be less likely to sell a newspaper on both the Sunday and daily because readers can be confused by the multiple stories they are supposed to follow. Sure, if you’re Steve Canyon you can get away with it, but if your strip is struggling to get newspaper sign-ups, adding a Sunday can be a sort of zero-sum game while leaving you with a lot more work. 

So Ray Gotto and I both think his solution is genius, but evidently we are adding up this marketing equation and coming up with the wrong answer. Ozark Ike’s Whodunits lasted only about six months, and on February 1 1948 the Sunday was retitled simply Ozark Ike and began running a separate continuity from the daily. 

Did that work out for it? Well, Ozark Ike was never a huge success, but it did garner a pretty decent roster of clients, so hard to say. What do you think is the ideal way to handle a continuity strip on Sundays and dailies? 

PS: If you don’t know the answer to the sample Whodunit above, I’m not telling you. It’s only one of the most famous events (if it really happened!) in baseball history. So either you’re a baseball fan and you know it already, or you couldn’t care less.

Obscurity of the Day: Topliffe Cartoons

 

Tom Topliffe was a cartoonist who came and went from the limelight in practically no time at all. His 6-column wide, skinny untitled comic strip was syndicated by NEA, and ran from May 7 to September 18 1918. 

My bet is that Tom Topliffe is not the flash-in-the-pan enigma he appears to be. My guess, based on the art style, is that Mr. Topliffe is really Lawrence Redner working under a pseudonym. Redner was at this time winding down his engagement with the Cleveland Plain Dealer, producing sports cartoons. Many of the Topliffe cartoons are also sports-related. 

In summer 1918 NEA distributed a promotional piece in which Tom Topliffe is pictured. Is this Redner? I dunno because I have no photos of him. But it would take quite a bit of cheek to do a promo like that and show a photo of a pseudonymous artist! Maybe I’m wrong … ?

The Happy Hooligan Shell Game

 

Today we think of Happy Hooligan as an iconic comic character of newspaper comics’ platinum age. But was it viewed with the same veneration at the time? I wonder if it was perhaps not. Unlike the Katzenjammer Kids, which the funnies reading public seemed to accept as a permanent and unchanging fixture, Fred Opper’s Happy Hooligan seemed to go to some lengths to make his presence unobtrusive, like a crazy aunt who stubbornly refuses to keep herself under wraps in the attic. 

What the heck am I talking about? Our story begins in 1916, when the Happy Hooligan Sunday went on hiatus from January 16 to June 11 1916. In the interim, Opper redoubled his efforts on weekday strips, and introduced a new Sunday page, called The Swift Work of Count DeGink

Evidently the new Sunday page failed to impress funnies readers, or at least the Hearst editors, as it got the thumbs down after a three month run. Happy Hooligan was brought back, now under the title Happy Hooligan’s Honeymoon. In this iteration of the strip, Happy finally weds the fair Suzanne, and they take a rowdy round the world trip. Two years would pass before Opper once again looked for greener pastures. 

On June 16 1918, with Happy Hooligan right in the middle of a storyline in which he is trying to catch a steamer to go find his brother Montmorency, readers opened their Sunday section to find he’s taken a powder, replaced with a new Opper strip, The Dubb Family. Here Opper gave the Sunday page treatment to a favorite subject of his, the disparity between the downtrodden  proletariat (Mr. Dubb) and the avaricious, entitled bourgeoisie (Mr. Dough). Happy Hooligan, it seemed, was no more. 

But wait! Just over three months later, on October 6 1918, the title was changed back to Happy Hooligan, and now Mr. Dough and Mr. Dubb were added to the tin-hatted one’s already extensive list of supporting players. The story seems to pick right up as if it had continued off-stage while we were busy reading The Dubb Family

But Opper was still restless. Two months later, on December 8 1918, the title of the strip was changed to Mister Dubb*, and Happy Hooligan was once again banished, losing out to the weekly sparrings of Dough and Dubb. The title Mister Dubb would last almost two and a half years, until April 24 1921, but after almost a year in comic strip purgatory Happy Hooligan returned to become a co-star in the strip. His re-entry was on November 9 1919.  

Then, on May 1 1921, the strip was retitled Down on the Farm, and the focus shifted to Si, Mirandy and their troublesome mule, Maud. Once again Happy Hooligan disappeared, as did Dough and Dubb. But it wan’t long before Opper tired of the oft-repeated old gags associated with Maud the kicking mule, and by the end of June Alphonse and Gaston had shown up, and then Happy Hooligan came to the farm with Mr. Dubb in tow. The gang was back, just in a new setting. This latest title lasted over two years, until July 29 1923. 

Then, after four and a half years reduced to a secondary character in his own strip, Happy Hooligan was once again granted title billing. And readers might have thought it was for good now, because the status quo remained for over two years. But on August 9 1925, Opper caved in once again to the siren call of his class war strip, and the strip was renamed Mr. Dough and Mr. Dubb. Once again Happy Hooligan was evicted from his own strip, only to be returned as a second banana in December 1925.

Finally on January 16 1927 Opper waved the white flag and caved in to Happy Hooligan, the star actor who would not be denied, and renamed the strip for the last time, back to it’s original title.  From then until the strip finally ended on August 14 1932, Happy Hooligan remained in his rightful spot, top billing. 

I do wonder, though, why Opper went through these gyrations. If he was concerned that Happy Hooligan was no longer a reader favorite by 1916, his many experiments should have shown him the truth without going at it for over a decade. In fact, in my research I have found that newspapers that carried the strip often seemed to take these title changes away from Happy Hooligan as their cue to drop the strip. It must have been blatantly obvious by seeing his client list dwindle that Happy Hooligan was the rightful star and proper title character of the strip. 

On the other hand, if Opper’s meanderings were a result of creative boredom, which seems more likely, how impressive that the Hearst organization allowed him such latitude. They undoubtedly knew that these name changes did nothing positive for the strip’s circulation, and yet they went along with it for the creator’s sake. If that’s the truth, how very impressive.

* Actually titled The Dubb Family the first week back.

One comment on “The Happy Hooligan Shell Game

  1. Hello Allan-
    My take on this was that Opper was pretty much given carte blanche with whatever he wanted to do. He was a superstar of comicsdom, and Hearst was happy to give him all the freedom he wanted, so he could bring his old characters back or leave them dormant for however long he liked. Most all of his old characters did come back. A few didn't, like "Howson Lott", but the successful stars of 1902 could dependably be hangers-on in 1927.
    I would have thought Dough & Dubb would have been short-lived, but they jumped from daily editorial gags to slapstick Sunday stars. In the final years,the top strip regurgitated other old timers like Maude, which often had the rest of the Opper characters guesting as well. The Antedulluvians took the top strip sometimes, but I don't recall Happy, et al, showing up there, but why not?
    A similar situation occured with Swinnerton, right into the 1930's, you might see Sam, Violet or Mr. Batch in on a Little Jimmy story.

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Selling It: Foxy Grandpa for Tuxedo Tobacco

 

In the April 28 1912 edition of Hearst’s American Weekly the back cover was given over to a full page ad from Tuxedo Tobacco. Someone at that tobacco company must have been a big cartooning fan, because cartooning and cartoonists were frequent subject matter for their ads. This early one repurposes a Foxy Grandpa strip that has nothing to do with tobacco. Given how much a full page 4-color ad in a magazine section that ran in every Hearst paper must have cost, it’s surprising that the Tuxedo advertising department didn’t put some effort into finding a strip that had some connection to their product, or tobacco in general.

One comment on “Selling It: Foxy Grandpa for Tuxedo Tobacco

  1. The masthead with Foxy & co. in the goat cart-I don't remember such a device in a Hearst Strip- it looks like something used in one of those big books they made showing a half a stip on each page.

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Obscurity of the Day: Ginger

 

To the admittedly slight extent to which I have considered Ginger, a daily panel about an impish little girl, I always assumed that the creator, Orla Gettermann, was female. Oops! Turns out that we better call him Mister Gettermann, or better yet, Herr Getterman, since he was Danish. 

Ginger was just one of many Dennis the Menace competitors who ran rampant on the comics pages starting in the 1950s, and for the life of me I can’t see what might set Ginger apart from all the others. The art is okay but nothing to get excited about, and most of the gags feel like they could have been recycled from all the other panels of this type. My problem with these features, generally, is that I sense no actual personality in most of these kids — they are just automatons, programmed to produce a wearisome formulaic gag every day.

Ginger debuted in Denmark in 1958*, and got picked up for American distribution by United Feature Syndicate the next year, debuting on September 7 1959. The panel was not picked up by very many U.S. papers, but UFS stuck with it, presumably because they were paying a low re-run rate for the work. 

Ginger had a surprisingly long run in the U.S., almost twenty years. It was last advertised in Editor & Publisher in 1977, and the latest sample I can find is an appearance in the  Gettysburg Times dated September 23. That places the earliest possible end date as September 24 1977. The Times, who evidently felt that impish kids were a necessary ingredient in the paper, replaced Ginger with yet another of these panels, Gumdrop, also from United Feature.

 

* Under the title “Gitte” I think, though there is very little information out there, and most of it is of course in Danish. Any Danes out there to tell us more?

3 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: Ginger

  1. Hello Allan-
    It's impressive this panel lasted so long, as either I somehow managed to never see a paper that took it in my life, or it's so amazingly hackneyed it didn't register.
    Might you consider that a precursor in the shall we say, distaff Dennis panels like "Sweetie pie" may have been, for at least a while, been a hit with client papers, so it brought about also rans like "Ginger" and "Amy?"
    Today's date reminds me of another little girl panel, the uniquely ill-timed "Caroline" panel, about JFK's young daughter, launched in November, 1963.

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Herriman Saturday: May 3 1910

 

May 3 1910: Yet another gag based on the upcoming Fight of the Century. This one features a character never yet seen in real life: the bookie who will give money back.

One comment on “Herriman Saturday: May 3 1910

  1. The fellow in the second panel is the only person in this strip to have the straight dope. $5, in 1910, is the 2022 equivalent of $156, and $100 (assuming that's not a stack of $100 bills) is $3,124. $5 could be classified as big betting money, at least by 1910 standards.

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Halloween Obscurity of the Day: Homer

 

Homer may have been a ghost, but he seldom inspired fear. His particular brand of haunting behavior was to play mild practical jokes, more lilely to inspire grins than screams. In fact, some of his tricks are beneficial, like warning movie-goers about a stinker of a film before they waste their money (above). Homer could even on occasion be downright prudish — he had a penchant for slap-on-the-wrist punishments for even mildly bad behavior. 

Ray Thompson was repsonsible for Homer, a pantomime single-panel daily that debuted on July 2 1945* through the auspices of the New York Tribune syndicate. Papers that signed up often improved the title of the feature by renaming it Homer the Invisible, Hauntin’ Homer, or Homer Did It. Thompson was a journeyman cartoonist who had a few of his own features in the 20s and thirties, collaborated as writer on Myra North Special Nurse and ghosted Somebody’s Stenog for awhile. 

Homer had some high-profile newspaper clients, but evidently not enough to make Thompson or his syndicate happy. The panel feature was exorcised from newspapers on August 30 1947**, just a little more than a two year run. 

Later Thompson apparently found employment as cartoonist on bubble-gum comics The Dubble Bubble Kids, and then as a writer of non-fiction.

 

* Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

** Source: Oakland Tribune

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Obscurity of the Day: Mrs. Worry

 

When C.A. Voight moved to the New York Evening Globe in 1910, he brought along his best strip from the Boston Traveler, Gink and Dink, and created additional new strips to run in tandem with it. One of them was Mrs. Worry, about a … well, you can guess the subject matter I suppose. 

Mrs. Worry started on December 12 1910*, but didn’t last long there because Voight promptly jumped ship to the New York Evening Mail mere months later. His last Mrs. Worry appeared in the Globe on January 3 1911, and appeared in the Mail starting on March 27. 

It continued running in tandem with Gink and Dink and Voight’s other strips  until early 1914, when Voight changed gears and decided to put all his eggs in one basket, with the quasi-new strip, Petey Dink. The last Mrs. Worry installment appeared on June 27 1914. But by then he’d tried playing around with the formula a bit, and the title had been Ishood Worry since May 16 1914.

* Source: All dates from Jeffrey Lindenblatt’s index of the New York Mail and New York Globe.

A One Shot Wonder: The Queer Life of Dipsy Beans

 

About six years ago we covered an obscurity titled In The Good Old Days, a Sunday strip produced by Jimmy Swinnerton in 1918-19 as a temporary replacement for his bread and butter strip, Little Jimmy. What I failed to mention at the time is that the week before that strip began, Swinnerton did a one-shot called The Queer Life of Dipsy Beans. Oddly this one-shot has a lot in common with In the Good Old Days; both were about a sailor (Noah in the latter case) and his animal friends. And, in fact, the one-shot really reads like the beginning of a series. Why Swinnerton did the sudden about-face I have no idea. 

The other thing you need to know about this one-shot is that it is documented in my book as running for two weeks, which it didn’t. I got messed up by trying to triangulate between two papers which ran the one-shot a week apart, giving the illusion, if you don’t have the strips in front of you at the same time, that the ‘series’ ran two weeks. So mea culpa, and take a Sharpie to listing #5223 in my book. 

Thanks to Cole Johnson for the scan.

3 comments on “A One Shot Wonder: The Queer Life of Dipsy Beans

  1. Fun! It does indeed have the makings of a series. Too bad it didn't happen. If I were young and energetic, I would do it!

  2. Hello Allan-
    This might be another time that a "Pilot" was used long after anyone considered its possibility as a series, which seemed to happen several times with Swinnerton art around 1910. Notice he didn't include the year "18" in his signature, as he usually did. It could be a few years old. The format here starts about 1914. The title type font however, started closer to 1916 or 17.
    Why would there be such a thing? Might be a ready to use piece of art to use as an emergency if regular art wasn't ready in time.
    I wish I could recall, but I don't know what paper my brother pulled this from. It would seem like the colours seen in an inside Hearst section, but could be in a big city client paper as well. I say this because most clients would often still run inside pages in one colour. Also, as he had a volume of June 1918 Los Angles Examiner, a top paper in the Hearst chain, and Queer Bean Dip didn't appear there.

  3. The page seems to have had general distribution to Hearst papers and clients who were using Jimmy. The copy in my collection is from the Atlanta American, and got the full color outside page treatment there.

    Good note about the lack of year in Swin's signature. He was generally pretty good about that, so it may be a K-Mart blue light special end of season clearance item.

    –Allan

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