Thursday, Apr 16th, 2015

Ad Astra (part three)

canwellposted by Bruce Canwell

Concluding our look at the prominence and dominance of comics in the newspaper pages of the 1920s through 1950s…

As I browse old newspapers while researching LOAC text features, I'm reminded that merchandising of comics characters is a practice far older than today's carpet-bombing of tchotchkas featuring the popular super heroes. Today we see the costumed heroes proliferating on both the big and small screens; in the 1930s and '40s many newspapers carried radio station programming schedules in which programs like Little Orphan Annie, Archie Andrews, Terry and the Pirates, Dan Dunn, Gasoline Alley, Joe Palooka, Dick Tracy, and many more were listed every day. When a comic strip character made the jump to the silver screen—either in a feature film (Little Orphan Annie, Skippy) or as a weekly chapter-play (Terry, Tracy)—the "theater" page would often carry the news, as well as an ad from the local cinema making sure the newspaper audience knew their favorites were Now Playing. Here—from the March 6, 1939 Emporia, Kansas Gazette—is an example of the sort of coverage a comics-based film could receive:

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In later years, as television caught hold in living rooms throughout the country, comic strip-related TV appearances also became promotable events. Here's a 1957 ad touting Chester Gould's appearance on Edward R. Murrow's Person to Person interview series, using artwork we featured in our Dick Tracy Volume 17.

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Naturally, toys and give-a-ways with high "kid appeal" were also part of the comic strip landscape, and many newspapers carried advertising from customers that featured a comic strip tie-in. Here's one of my favorites—did Dick Tracy ever wear his "Air Detective" cap and flying goggles? They must have made quite a contrast with his yellow coat!

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Orphan Annie was a heavyweight champion in this "tie-in" arena. Her connection to the drink Ovaltine has been well documented and discussed; here are two different "send in and receive" Annie Ovaltine cups, each made of "genuine Beetleware"—any self-respecting kid would want to have Beetleware on the kitchen shelf!

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Finally, as Jeet Heer chronicled in his text feature for our tenth Annie volume, the war-years "Junior Commandos" became tremendously popular. This ad for the Tribune combines many of the themes we've been discussing recently in this space: it serves as an advertisement for Little Orphan Annie in general, as well as promoting upcoming events in the one specific Sunday strip. It pushes the "Junior Commando" concept and calls attention to the contest tie-in. (Wouldn't you love to see some of those "Beat the Axis" slogans sent in by eager youngsters?)

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If you've enjoyed this trip into the newspaper pages of the past, you understand why I like to say there is both plenty of work and plenty of fun involved with writing and exiting text features for The Library of American Comics!

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