Screwball Sunday: Ving Fuller’s Doc Syke Meets a True Son of the Beach

Doc Syke – July 8, 1945

I have a friend who is a family doctor and we occasionally meet for coffee. Once, in perhaps a not-so-subtle hint, he told me how acquaintances tended to solicit free medical advice, to his great annoyance. After silently changing my mind about asking him to look at a little rash on my left calf, I sympathetically said, “Golly, some people haven’t got a clue.” Ahem.

Whenever I read this week’s Screwball Sunday comic, I always wonder if Ving Fuller had a physician friend who said the same thing to him. More likely, Fuller probably gathered whatever information he could on what it’s like to be a member of the healing arts since the lead in his Doc Syke comic strip—the biggest hit of his career—is a man of medicine. Today’s example, with its insight into a doctor’s life, is a fine example of the craft that goes into comic strips; even a humor strip needs research.

We know Fuller kept a morgue (an organized collection of photos, mostly clipped from publications, to use as references for drawing; most cartoonists had such a collection, usually stuffed into file drawers and boxes). His nephew told me so in a brief email exchange (see his quote in the Ving Fuller chapter in LOAC’s Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny).

We also know Ving (who employed young writers and cartoonists like Sheldon Mayer and Hal Kanter to help dream up gags) often chose to work with themes for his cartoons and comics, so it’s not surprising he was able to supply Doc Syke with gags related to medicine and psychology for years. As far as I know, Doc Syke was the first (and still one of the few) comics to feature a psychiatrist. After a few years, Fuller changed the strip’s theme a few times, settling on a kid strip called Little Doc. Perhaps he ran out of material but I tend to think the reason for the strip’s changes was more due to sales. Doc Syke never had many subscribers (one reason it is so obscure in 2020) and probably Fuller was searching for a way to boost sales.

There are several beach-themed cartoons among the Doc Syke Sundays, one of several themes within themes in Doc Syke. Here’s another beach comic:

Doc Syke, June 23, 1946

As a rare behind-the-scenes peek into Fuller’s craft, we present below a special bonus gallery of unpublished art, created to sell not comic strips but captioned panel cartoons to magazines, a kind of sideline of Fuller’s as well as many other strip and comic book cartoonists of the era. During World War Two, just before he created Doc Syke in 1945, Ving submitted to various magazines numerous cartoon gag roughs (penciled concept sketches) all on the subject of soldiers and the impact of the war on the home front, including the change in women’s status as they ably replaced men at their factory jobs when they became soldiers.

Some of these roughs landed in the hands of art dealers. The images below appeared in online auctions and offer a fascinating glimpse into a gag cartoonist’s process. No published version of any of these roughs has yet been found. You can read much more about Ving Fuller and his comics in chapter 14 of Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny.

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