Monday, Feb 1st, 2016
Deserving of a Promotion (Part 1 of 3)
posted by Bruce Canwell
The scientists say time travel is impossible, but we know better, don't we? Everyone involved in The Library of American Comics, from the staff working editorial and production to the readers who support our line of books with their precious leisure time and hard-earned money—every LOACer embarks on a form of time travel every time they crack open a cover and start reading one of our titles.
An LOAC book is a trip through time, sometimes diving back into history almost a century. The strips provide a real "you are there" feeling, and we try to make our text articles both informative and entertaining, offering insights into the lives and processes of the series creators as well as the ways the current events of the day shaped the strip, plus the ways some strips influenced the larger popular culture that surrounded them.
The "time travel effect" is one of the niftiest things about my job. I absolutely delight in sifting through old newspapers and magazines, absorbing what life was like in the 1920s, '30s, '40s, and '50s, and mid-'60s (I was around in grade school when Nixon beat Humphrey in 1968, so from there on I have my own memories that augment the research I do when writing about strips from the 1960s, '70s, and '80s). It provides me the opportunity to see any number of fascinating items…
…Including the ads newspapers ran to promote their own comic strips. Syndicates created a variety of customizable advertisements to support their stable of offerings, and papers inserted their logos or other information—it was a handy way to fill empty space on a page, or to draw attention to key features on the comics page.
Over the next several days, let me share just a small sampling of comic strip promotional ads with you.
We'll start roughly ninety years ago, on December 19, 1925, with an ad that's admittedly different from the ones I just described. This ad from the Appleton, Wisconsin Post-Crescent is designed to build business for the town's First National Bank by referencing Carl Ed's popular comic series, Harold Teen (which was already six years old by this time). One suspects the bank and the newspaper did this without the permission of the Chicago Tribune, which syndicated the strip. The '20s were more of a "wild west" time, when rights and intellectual property were less zealously guarded than they often are today.
Five years later—on Tuesday, October 28, 1930—the Oakland Tribune ran a more traditional promo for Harold Teen:
Next, let's shift back a couple years, to 1928. Some newspapers used only text ads, with no graphics included, to billboard existing or, in this case, new comics. A different Tribune - this one in the town of Warren, Pennsylvania - had just added George Herriman's Krazy Kat to a comics page that already included Polly and Her Pals, Jerry on the Job, Tilly the Toiler, Frank Beck's scarcely-remembered Gas Buggies, and Skippy. The editors used this vertical ad to insure readers were aware of that fact:
I thought it was worth including the Krazy strip the Trib ran on the same day as this ad, because [A] you'll note the typo in the title (Krazy Katz) and [B] the subject matter seems apropos, given the major blizzard that pummeled the East Coast from New York City to deep beneath the Mason-Dixon line.
Garge's work is always amazing—those slashing pen lines do such a beautiful job of conveying the wintry chill of this scene!
We'll wrap up this look at ads with three from the '30s: a smile-inducing 1933 promotion for Segar's Thimble Theatre, the Oakland Tribune's pitch for Little Orphan Annie from one year later, and a very different California newspaper—the Santa Clara Register—offering a spotlight on Donald Duck only eight months after the Al Taliaferro feature debuted.
Next time we'll look at more newspaper promo ads that will take us from 1939, through the '40s, and across the threshold of the 1950s. Please join us here then, fellow time travelers!