Screwball Sunday: Ving Fuller and the Unofficial Betty Boop Strip

Ving Fuller created the first newspaper comic strip adaptation of the wildly popular animated character, Betty Boop—sort of. The strip was called The Original Boop-Boop-A-Doop Girl and the byline read “by Helen Kane.” The first five strips are drawn by Ving Fuller, who even signed his name on most of them. The below cartoon was published on August 26, 1934.

Ostensibly, the strip portrays the “real-life” adventures of singer Helen Kane, a long-time vaudeville singer who was known for interpolating her numbers with a phrase that sounded like “boop-boop-a-doop.” Kane brought a lawsuit against Paramount for appropriating her shtick for the Fleischer Studio’s animated Betty Boop cartoons. Even though the studio had indeed done this (much later, animator Grim Natwick admitted this to Leslie Carbaga in The Fleischer Story), Kane lost the suit.

The resemblance between Helen Kane and Betty Boop is unmistakable. Pittsburgh Post Gazette, April 20, 1934.

This was in early May, 1934. Three months later, King Features launched The Original Boop-Boop-A-Doop Girl in the Hearst-owned New York Mirror. The page had a short run, from August 5 to Oct 21. Ving Fuller drew the first five Sundays and an unknown cartoonist drew the remaining seven, making the character look much more like Betty Boop, in the process.

Some sources indicate that King Features was eager to license Betty Boop for a Sunday strip (a daily was already being published, having launched July 23 of the same year) and created the Helen Kane version to prod Paramount. In effect, the Hearst outfit was proving they could do it with or without a deal and using the sore spot of the issue of copying Kane’s act as embarrassment. Paramount gave in, and the official Sunday Betty Boop comic page began November 25, 1934 while the Helen Kane version vanished. Both the daily and the Sunday were signed by Bud Counihan.

A very hard-to-find comic some 80-odd years later, The Original Boop-Boop-A-Doop Girl only ran in only one paper: The New York Mirror. You can read one of the rare Ving Fuller pages in my book, Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny. I was able to find and purchase two of the Fuller pages for the book, but space only allowed us to run one of them. So, today I have for you the second Helen Kane comic, unrestored, to enjoy. Note this scan also includes the charming wordless topper strip Fuller created about an itinerant musician, Major Opus. It is interesting to compare Fuller’s treatment with the animated version. The result is a more realistic version of Betty Boop with all the sex appeal and none of the freakish features such as the huge head and big, rolling eyes (or the puppy dog ears in the first cartoons). Instead of attempting to mimic Boop’s world, Fuller had the challenge of emulating it to satisfy readers without actually outright copying it (hence no Bimbo or Koko the Clown characters). I think Fuller successfully caught the goofy energy of the cartoons and certainly jived on their naughtiness. In the first page, Kane walks past an open manhole filled with gawking men. In another, she slides across a car roof, exposing her lacey underwear. There’s nothing quite so obvious in today’s Screwball Sunday, although Ving does give Helen a fetching polka dot miniskirt.

Ving Fuller comic from BROADCASTING (August 23, 1944)

A working cartoonist never throws anything away. Ten years later, Fuller revived the striped-shirt, stubble-faced tough guy character design he used in the Kane Sunday page to create some striking advertising art. The character is a sort of a grown-up Sluggo from Ernie Bushmiller’s Nancy. This is interesting to consider, since Fuller and Bushmiller started out together as staff cartoonists at the New York Evening Graphic. Ving Fuller’s entire biography and many examples of his comics can be found in Screwball!

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