Archive | King Features

King of the Comics!

The popular weekend program “CBS Sunday Morning” profiled King Features’s 100th anniversary today. In case you missed it, here’s a link to their website (complete with plug for our big book, “King of the Comics”)!

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The Syncopated Syndicate

Continuing our look at a century of King Features Syndicate offerings in advance of our King of the Comics retrospective, here are some “DVD Extras” that reflect the state of both KFS and newspaper comics during the period of the 1960s through the 1980s …

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The changes on the comics page that had begun during World War II took firm root during the 1960s. The size of strips shrunk to the point where adventure strips were literally being squeezed off the newspaper page. Gigantic strides made by television—which began the decade by televising the first Presidential debate and broadcast prime time fare “in living color” by 1969—put a further choke-hold on action comics, as the audience increasingly turned to the small screen for its daily dose of derring-do.

The generation gap also played a major role in the 1960s—the audience was growing younger as baby boomers came of age, while the master cartoonists of comics’ golden age were now well into their fifties and sixties, their pioneering days now behind them, an audience they no longer fully understood before them.

Comedy continuity and gag-a-days were increasingly becoming the order of the day, and King Features had new offerings such as Frank Ridgeway and Ralston Jones’s Mister Abernathy. Here’s a snowy New Year’s Day sample from 1962:

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By the middle of the decade King had introduced its own “kids’ strip;” though very different from Sparky Schulz’s Peanuts, the new Tiger, by cartoonist Bud Blake, quickly staked out its own winsome, heartwarming territory on hundreds of newspaper comics pages.

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Combative married couples were a time-honored entertainment trope: The Bickersons had a popular radio run, Jackie Gleason’s Honeymooners were must-see viewing on the DuMont Network, and Bringing Up Father already had a half-decade of comic strip success under its belt. As the ’60s wore down a new single-panel entry into the “Love & Marriage” sweepstakes appeared in the form of The Lockhorns. This delightfully barbed series has entertained readers through the remainder of the 20th Century and into the 21st. This particular example was too muddy for us to consider using in King of the Comics, but the zinger cracked me up so much, I wanted to share it with you here. Plus, one we DID use.

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By the early 1970s social change was visible everywhere. All in the Family had debuted, anchoring what would become a powerhouse Saturday night lineup for CBS-TV while making politics, sex, and the generation gap subjects for thought-provoking laughs. Into that newer, more open entertainment environment, Thaddeus “Ted” Shearer helped put African-Americans onto the daily comics pages with his endearing Quincy:

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The talent behind The Lockhorns, Bill Hoest, took on a second, multi-panel series in the 1970s. Here’s an intro/promotional strip and a late-November 1977 example of his Agatha Crumm:

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As the ’80s unfolded King began acquiring other newspaper syndicates and absorbing their comic strip offerings to expand its own mammoth holdings. Among those acquisitions was the most popular adventure-strip to launch in roughly two decades, a series that was added to the LOAC stable earlier this year. Here’s a 1989 selection from The Amazing Spider-Man produced by the brother Lieber, Stan and Larry:

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To those of us for whom the ’70s and ’80s seem like yesterday, it’s a bit shocking to realize there’s still a quarter-century of King Features history that follows the Spidey strip above … but it’s true. We’ll wrap up our King Features retrospective next time!

Distinctive Features

Continuing our look at a century of King Features Syndicate offerings in advance of our King of the Comics retrospective, I offer these goodies that amount to “DVD Extras” culled from the 1930s to 1950s …

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Goodness knows I could show you representative installments of any number of classic series that debuted in the 1930s, goodness knows. Blondie, Flash Gordon, Secret Agent X-9, Prince Valiant, Buz Sawyer—wonderful, wonderful stuff, but already reprinted by us or some of our friendly competitors. Naturally we’ll offer examples of those strips in King of the Comics, but in this space we’ll offer you some items a bit more off the beaten track.

For example, Charles Flanders was a stalwart in the King Features artistic bullpen. He did yeoman work on Secret Agent X-9 following Alex Raymond’s mid-1930s departure, then spent parts of five decades drawing the adventures of the masked rider of the plains, The Lone Ranger.

In between, he provided art for another lawman on horseback: King of the Royal Mounted. Though credited solely to Western novelist Zane Gray (whose popularity and “name recognition” was sure to attract readers), Flanders was an artistic guiding light of this action-packed series.

Crime, of course, has never been limited to our neighbor to the north, and Radio Patrol offered a more urban look at the sorts of men—and women!—who kept the streets safe in cities all across America. This daily is from January 4, 1938:

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Though started in 1929 and never the subject of much discussion or analysis, Les Forgrave’s Big Sister ran for over forty years (into the early 1970s), with Bob Naylor taking over the production in 1954. Here’s an example of Forgrave’s work, also from 1938:

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In his chapter on King Features in the early 1940s, Ron Goulart points to an early entry in the soap opera comics subgenre: Doctor Bobbs. The “Elliott” referred to in the credits of this September, 1942 strip is none other than Elliott Caplin, brother to Al Capp. Caplin was developing his chops, and in 1953 would help pilot an even sudsier soap, The Heart of Juliet Jones, to the comic strip version of bestsellerdom.

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Many years before Jeff Millar and Bill Hinds made Tank McNamara a consistently humorous part of the newspaper strip lineup, artist Ray Gotto put his quirky baseball series, Ozark Ike, onto many a sports page, which is where we found this July 18, 1946 sampler:

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One cannot think of the 1940s without thinking of World War II. Not every entry in the patriotic rush that followed America’s entry in the conflict was as serious in tone as Johnny Hazard or Terry and the Pirates. Check out Clyde Lewis’s lighthearted panel, Private Buck:

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The 1950s were arguably the heyday of American media—radio and motion pictures were part of the everyday fabric of life, television was blazing its earliest trails (think Ernie Kovacs, thinkPlayhouse 90), but had yet to pose a threat to newspaper, magazine, and book readership.

That decade was also arguably the heyday of the Western, with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans on screen and in comic books, Gunsmoke earning a devoted following on both radio and TV, and two characters—Hopalong Cassidy and The Cisco Kid—seemingly everywhere, including the newspaper comics pages. Here are examples of two of our favorite series, by two of our favorite artists, Dan Spiegle on Hoppy; Jose Luis Salinas on Cisco:

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Not every King Features strip from the ’50s was based on a hot property like Cisco Kid, and not every one was as big a hit as, say, Beetle Bailey. Still, a pleasant gag-a-day series like Frank Roberge’s Mrs. Fitz’s Flats could enjoy a quarter-century run. Debuting in 1957, it shortened its title to Mrs. Fitz in 1960 and continued to be published into 1972.

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As varied and intriguing as these “classic years” may be, there are still six decades of the King Features Syndicate “modern era” that we cover in King of the Comics. I’ll be back soon with two more looks at those sixty years!

 

Rare King Features promos

Despite the fact that KING OF THE COMICS: 100 Years of King Features is so chock full of great art, we still couldn’t fit everything in a single tome. So here are a few rarely seen items that didn’t make the cut. Enjoy! Click (and then click again) on each item for a larger view. (Thanks to Paul Tumey and Brian Walker for sharing these goodies.)

 

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Jewels in the Crown

I’ve been absent in this space for much of the summer—apologies for that. Sometimes Life decides to get hectic and barely leaves us time for the “Must-Do”s, let alone the “Want-to-Do”s. For me, the latter part of July and the first three weeks of August were one of those times.

Now, needless to say (though I’ll say it anyway), I’m back. I’m also more excited than ever about our big King Features Syndicate retrospective, King of the Comics; it’s now at the printer and will be on sale later this year. It’s surely no surprise that in any project like this we can’t include every strip or every piece of research we touch. This forum seems an excellent place to share with you at least a handful of “extra” items we’ve unearthed in our work. Without further ado…


 

The Katzenjammer Kids are part of the bedrock upon which King Features was built. From the May 23, 1909 Atlanta Constitution, here’s a Katzenjammer that reminds us the early 1900s were a lot different than the early 2000s—at the start of the 20th Century this clichéd Native American dialogue and the last panel’s paddling would not have caused anyone to blink, let alone question the propriety of such depictions.H6_KATZIES

Richard Outcault’s Yellow Kid predated even The Katzenjammers as a newspaper comics star. As Brian Walker discusses in our book, The Kid and his Hogan’s Alley gang were incredibly popular, spawning any number of merchandise opportunities and spin-offs including a road-show stage play that came through Ardmore, Oklahoma on New Year’s Day, 1902, as this advertisement fromThe Daily Ardmoreite makes clear:

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Along with Rudy Dirks (Katzenjammer Kids) and Outcault, Frederick Opper and his Happy Hooligan were forces to be reckoned with in the pre-King-Features days. Here’s one of my favorite tidbits uncovered while putting together King of the Comics, a sign of how quickly and deeply comics took root within the American psyche. From the Sandusky, Ohio Star Journal:

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While female cartoonists have been a minority since the earliest days of the artform, they have also maintained a presence in the medium and a popularity with its readers. Check out this lovely Sunday Dimples page by Grace Drayton:

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And here’s an example of Walter Hoban’s Jerry on the Job:

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My friends who remember those 1980s days when we were reading Nemo magazine know I became a TAD devotee at that time, and my interest in and admiration for him has yet to wane. Thomas Aloysius Dorgan was a sports reporter and a trailblazer in the development of the American argot, as well as a prolific cartoonist. I wish we could have devoted an entire chapter to his work and to him, but the book has a nice cross-section of his work to offer you. As a bonus, here’s an example of his anthropomorphic animal series, Judge Rummy’s Court:

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As the 1920s unfolded, Jimmie Murphy presented his view of domestic life, as this January 2, 1926 installment of Toots & Casper illustrates:

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I mentioned female cartoonists just a few paragraphs ago. One of the most renowned of their number is Nell Brinkley, whose influence extended into the world of fashion (her name was prominently featured in any number of fashion ads in papers across the U.S.). Jared Gardner’s chapter of our book offer more background on Miss Brinkley, and as proven by this January 12, 1922 feature taken from The Washington Times, she was clearly willing to do a bit of log-rolling for “The Chief”:

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This focus on Marion Davies and The Bride’s Play was created because—as we’ve discussed in our LOAC Essentials: Polly and Her Pals collection and elsewhere—Davies was the long-time mistress of newspaper magnate and King Features Syndicate impresario William Randolph Hearst.

Finally, today we automatically associate the name “Chic Young” with the comic strip Blondie, but before there were a Boopadoop and a passel of Bumsteads there was Young’s earlier strip,Dumb Dora (run in many newspapers as, Dumb Dora, Not So Dumb). This 1928 sample, with Dora’s guy-pal Rod playing the stock market, foreshadows the even more extreme reactions investors experienced the next year, following Black Friday:

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If I’ve done my job correctly, you’re starting to get as excited about King of the Comics as I am! If I’ve yet to win you over, keep watching this space and check out the “DVD Extras” I’ve selected from the period many consider the heyday of newspaper comics: the 1930s through the 1950s…

When the Rules were Being Written

Our upcoming release King of the Comics, celebrating the centennial of King Features Syndicate, has been a sizable undertaking, a tremendous amount of fun, and a fresh lesson in the incredible breadth of the comic strip medium.

When this book hits store shelves or reaches you from an on-line retailer’s warehouse, in its pages you’ll find the great, the near-great, and the fascinatingly obscure. Of course we’ll showcase examples from the King-syndicated series we’ve already published (Flash Gordon, The Little King, Secret Agent X-9, and so on), but you’ll also find dailies and Sunday pages from King strips that have been or are being reprinted by others – thanks to our friends at Fantagraphics, for instance, we’ll offer samples of Popeye, Buz Sawyer, Mickey Mouse, and Prince Valiant; and thanks to Charles Pelto at Classic Comics Press, we’ll have samples from The Heart of Juliet Jones, Cisco Kid, and more. As they say, there’ll also be more, More, MORE, provided to us from a wide range of sources (many and sincere thanks to them all!).

We’ll put the spotlight onto King Features’s moves into animation and film (remember the 1960sBeatles cartoon? Guess which syndicate’s animation branch was behind that series…along with a few other notable cartoons from some of our misspent youths.

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We’ll be looking at King Features all the way into the 21st Century, allowing the strips you see today on-line or in your local paper to join their forebears between the covers of this comprehensive look at the most powerful force in the history of the comic strip.

The book’s wordage is provided by a rather fabulously fantastical foursome of authors – Brian Walker, SF author and pop culture historian Ron Goulart, Jared Gardner, and me. (Well, three of the foursome deserve to be called “fabulous” and “fantastic;” I’m honored simply to be included among such fine company). Plus some serious help from the likes of Paul Tumey.

Part of my contribution to the book was a chapter on the 1910s offerings of the various syndication branches that were melded into King Features in 1915. Researching strips while writing that chapter’s text was a refresher on how far and how fast the medium progressed, and how at this time the rules of newspaper comics were still very much being written. Not all “daily” strips ran every weekday-and-Saturday, for example. Some strips ran in two-up size. Some papers concentrated their strips on a single page, but many more were sprinkling their comics content throughout the pages of each day’s edition. Single-panel features were more prevalent than perhaps at any other time in the history of the form.

It’s a fascinating period in comics history, a “Wild West” time when anything could go, when styles were cruder and stories simpler, but it was strips launched during this period that influenced the Capps, Kents, and Caniffs of the world. Without Tom McNamara’s Us Boys to influence Jack Kent, would there have been a King Aroo? We’re lucky we’ll never know.

While the “imaginary comics page” that follows from May 21, 1918 strays just a bit from the King Features research that originally spawned it (Fontaine Fox’s Toonerville Trolley was distributed by the Wheeler Syndicate, for example, but since this particular piece, though inspired by King of the Comics, is about comics circa 1910s in general, I couldn’t resist slipping it into the mix). Submitted for your enjoyment, offerings readers in some town or other might have found in their Tuesday newspaper:

• A single panel and a humorous strip running together under the banner of Indoor Sports, generated by the one and only Thomas Aloysius Dorgan (“TAD” to those who know and love him). Be sure to read the four-panel strip from upper left to lower left to upper right to lower right! The rules were still being written, remember – who was to say in 1918 that it would be better to read left to right, top to bottom?

• An installment of the Tom McNamara Us Boys, with its second tier of jokes and fun featurettes.

• The aforementioned Toonerville Trolley panel.

• Jean Knott – who also did the panel comic Penny Ante (sort of a Gasoline Alley for poker enthusiasts) – is represented here with Let the Wedding Bells Ring Out.

Even old friends look different back in 1918 – we’ve included three of them for you to check out:

• Polly and Her Pals, in Sterrett’s original, loose style.
• Bringing Up Father, with rougher-than-we-typically-see-them versions Maggie and Jiggs trading barbs.
• And a Herriman Krazy Kat daily, formatted to run vertically down the side of a page (to one particular editor, it seemed like a good idea at the time).

Needless to say, the images in the book will be cleaned up, restored, and lookin’ just like they did when first printed!

This is also perhaps a good time to suggest being on the lookout in the months ahead for ourLOAC Essentials: Krazy Kat release, which will feature a year’s worth of strips from 1934. Herriman fans, rejoice!

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Dealing with The Syndicate (take two!)

Thanks to movies and television shows, one definition of the term “The Syndicate” is familiar worldwide. Coppola’s Corleone clan was hip-deep in The Syndicate—Tony Soprano ran Syndicate business in New Jersey—Vinnie Terranova infiltrated Sonny Steelgrave’s portion of The Syndicate in the first Wiseguy storyline, while Henry Hill realized his dream of becoming part of The Syndicate in Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas. To Joe and Jane Average, “The Syndicate” means gangdom, la familia—you know, The Mob.

If you’re reading these words, however, you’re almost certainly aware of another definition for “The Syndicate,” one Joe and Jane are likely unaware of … and it’s that newspaper-type syndicate that was on my mind recently.

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The Library of American Comics launched in 2007 and reprinted works from the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate in the form of Terry and the Pirates and Little Orphan Annie.

 

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MIGHTY OAKS FROM TINY ACORNS: THE FIRST ANNIE AND TERRY DAILIES.

IDW was already releasing the third of the Tribune-News “crown jewels,” Dick Tracy, though LOAC took over the series with Volume Seven in 2009. In the previous year we had branched out to reprint a prime offering from the Associated Press: Noel Sickles’s groundbreaking Scorchy Smith.

 

 

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King Features Syndicate (KFS), of course, has long been a major player in the comic strip business, and in early 2010 our first foray into reprinting KFS material with the Eisner-nominatedBringing Up Father: From Sea to Shining Sea.

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THE STATELY KFS LOGO, WITH PEGASUS FRONT AND CENTER.

Syndicates are not gigantic monoliths. They have evolved down through the years—the McClure and Bell Syndicates merged; the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate has changed with the times, becoming TMS News and Features. We’ve managed to offer samplings from large and small syndicates as our range of offerings has grown. Here is a major listing of our titles and the syndicates that originally brought them to the newspaper-reading public. It’s not a comprehensive list—we didn’t get into the details of the way, for instance, King Aroo moved from McClure to Stanleigh Arnold’s boutique Golden Gate Syndicate—but we think it’s still a fun and informative little tally:

Chicago Tribune-New York News:

Terry and the Pirates, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, The Gumps, Crawford, Gasoline Alley

McClure: King Aroo, Archie (early)

Bell: Miss Fury

United Feature: Li’l Abner, Tarzan

Washington Post Company: Bloom County, Outland, Opus

King Features: Bringing Up Father, Flash Gordon, Jungle Jim, Rip Kirby, Steve Canyon, Skippy, Archie (later strips), Blondie, Polly & Her Pals, The Little King, Secret Agent Corrigan

Here’s the best news: any list of LOAC-published features and their associated Syndicates will only grow in 2014. We’ve already announced Essential volumes featuring Alley Oop and The Bungle Family—Batman is on his way—and there are more surprises on the way as the upcoming new year unfolds!

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