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.
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!