Idly ruminating as springtime winds down and summer gets ready to pounce — “No more pencils!/No more books!/No more teachers’/Dirty looks!” — it occurred to me that while LOAC and its friendly competitors have brought scores of classic newspaper comics back into print for the enjoyment of modern-day audiences, there are still many, many series from the early-to-mid-20th-Century that today are on the radar screens of only the most dedicated strip fans. I did a bit of research to share a trio of them with you today.
In the days when female newspaper reporters were commonly referred to as “sob sisters” because they were typically assigned to answering letters to the lovelorn or covering society events, Register & Tribune Syndicate hired writer Monte Barrett and artist Frank Ellis to give readers a woman news-hawk who was as scrappy and crusading as any of her male coumnterparts. Jane Arden debuted in 1928, well before Brenda Starr. Several artists followed Ellis on the feature, and by 1937 a Jane radio show was on the air. The next year the intrepid Miss Arden headlined a motion picture that failed to catch the public’s imagination, but her newspaper adventures continued for more than three decades afterward.
Several significant papers carried Jane Arden: here’s a 1932 ad for the strip that ran in the Des Moines Register:
Barrett, according to a syndicate biography, “was a newspaper correspondent during two Mexican revolutions and was twice wounded. It was while he was recuperating from his second wound that he met the girl who would later become his wife. Mrs. Barrett, herself a girl reporter, is the author’s inspiration and critic and she lends realism to the character of Jane Arden.” Three years later the Minneapolis Star ran this ad, one of many touting their contest to find a real-life Jane Arden:
You may be asking (doing that Bugs Bunny impersonation for which you’re so noted), “What’s all the hubbub, bub?” Here’s a bit of a taste of Jane Arden with a pair of strips, the first from November 23, 1935, the second from August 11, 1936 (note Russell Ross was drawing the strip at this time):
And here are a pair of back-to-back strips from June, 1940. Clearly, this rapscallion, Bissell, doesn’t know he’s picked the wrong gal to try scamming!
Two years after Bissell tried to rope Jane Arden into a shady operation, the comics pages saw the newspaper game being worked from a different angle thanks to the husband-and-wife team of Herb and Dale Ulrey. Hugh Striver was a teenaged newsboy who got mixed up in melodramas of small and large scope. Here’s an ad for the series, as it appeared in the Sunday, October 4, 1942 Minneapolis Star:
And here’s another that ran a month later, in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin:
Dale Ulrey was perhaps better known as Dale Conner, who had worked on Apple Mary and endured a rocky creative relationship with that feature’s eventual writer, Allen Saunders, who morphed Apple Mary into Mary Worth. After marrying Herb Ulrey, Dale teamed with her husband to create Hugh Striver. Here are three examples of their work, the first from November 2, 1942, the second dated November 11, 1944, and the last from January 29, 1945:
The chiaroscuro effects in the 1944 strip are especially eye-catching, aren’t they? Despite the talents of the Ulreys, the strip had less than a month to live following the January, 1945 strip above.
During the final months of 1942, as some papers were adding Hugh Striver and touting it to their readership, the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate was pushing a new launch of its own, one that would flame out even more quickly than did Striver. This new strip was the product of two fascinating women. Neysa McMein was a suffragette in her 20s, was involved with the major talents who gathered around the Algonquin Round Table, and was originally named “Marjorie” before she took on “Neysa” upon the recommendations of her numerologist. She built a stellar career in magazine illustration, including a fifteen year run as cover artist for McCall’s. In 1942 she partnered with Alicia Patterson, none other than (as Jay Maeder characterized her in a 1995 article) the “pampered socialite daughter” of Captain Joseph Medill Patterson, founder and ramrod of the New York Daily News. The two ladies produced a comic strip about an Egyptian princess who escaped her enemies by drinking an immortality serum that allowed her to remain in suspended animation even after being wrapped in a mummy’s shroud and locked away for thousands of years. In 1940, after Professor Hoot unearths her sarcophagus, she returns to life and finds action and exotic adventure in the then-modern world.
The name of the strip was Deathless Deer …
The three strips above, taken from the Los Angeles Times and spanning November 16, 1942 to February 12, 1943, give no sign of the problems that would plague this series. Her career in illustration left McMein unprepared for the rigors of pictorial storytelling and the grueling demands of the daily newspaper schedule. For her part, Patterson had no long-term plan for Deer and her supporting cast, and her attention was compromised by Newsday, the New York paper she and husband Harry Guggenheim had launched in 1940. Alicia’s father brought in some of his reliable talent to try to save the strip, which he had launched to great ballyhoo. Zack (Smilin’ Jack) Mosley was the chief firefighter, but he was incapable of preventing Deathless Deer from crashing and burning. Time magazine once dubbed the series the worst comic strip in history; it lasted for less than one year.
Tastes differ, of course, and one thing we’ve learned is that every comic has a following of some size and enthusiasm. So who knows? One day you may see one of these strips — or one of their cousins that have similarly faded away with the passage of years — in an LOAC edition …