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:


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:


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.


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:


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:


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:



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.


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!


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