Continuing our occasional series spotlighting material shared with us by that longtime Friend of LOAC, Bill Chadbourne. (Go here and here for previous installments. Go ahead and click those links, then come on back – we’ll be waiting …)
Glad to see you again. As we noted in Genius, Illustrated and elsewhere, one of Chad’s key contributions to comics history was his work with Woody Gelman at Nostalgia Press. A benchmark for future comic strip collections, that imprint produced an influential late ’70s two-volume set of Noel Sickles’s Scorchy Smith, only part of its wide-ranging line of volumes that featured a variety of classic newspaper strips. Gelman and Chad also dipped into periodical publishing with Nostalgia Comics, each issue a “Whitman’s Sampler” of bigfoot and adventure series.
Several weeks ago Chad sent me a package of items from his personal archives, including a fistful of clipped strips that he said, “ … had been destined for Nostalgia Comics,” but failed to appear before the magazine suspended publication. We wanted to share a sampling of them with you, including a bit of Chad’s commentary related to each.
Gluyas Williams, though perhaps best known for his cartoons for the “slick” magazines – Collier’s, Life, and most notably The New Yorker – did regular single-panel comics that appeared in national papers, released by the Bell Syndicate. A Harvard graduate (and Harvard Lampoon alumnus) who spent a significant portion of his life living in Boston and environs, Williams delivered a regular feature – Suburban Heights, starring roly-poly, put-upon “everyman” Fred Perly – as well as a feature with no known ongoing title that centered around children and family life.
“Classic!” Chad noted on the package of Williams clipped panels. In an e-mail he went on to say that Williams’s “single panel gags from the late ‘30s were among my favorites. They told so much in so little space.” Here’s a taste of G.W.’s newspaper output, circa 1939:
Regarding a three-month continuity from writer J.P. McEvoy and artist John Striebel, Chad said, “I had held onto the Dixie Dugan strips because of the artwork. As a kid, I never spent more than a moment on them. I admire the artist’s spare style, and had kept them, hoping to study them for my own evolving style.”
Dixie first appeared as the star of a pair of late-’20s prose novels by McEvoy, titled Show Girl and Hollywood Girl; she was featured in no fewer than three motion pictures between the years 1928 and 1943. Yet it was in the comics medium that she thrived – Dixie Dugan was distributed by the McNaught Syndicate from 1929 through 1966. As her story unfolded Our Heroine gave up show business for a string of less glamorous (but still interesting) occupations, with a steady dollop of romance and fashion woven into the mix.
The 1938 sequence Chad clipped deals with a youngster, Gerald Gruntley, who could give Dennis the Menace a run for his money for the title of “Kid Troublemaker.” At one point his fibs led his mother to slap Dixie’s face, and over time built up so much spite within Mrs. Gruntley that she falsified evidence in order to make Dixie appear to be a thief!
In between those two incidents Gerald does his best to torpedo a party in his honor, but an encounter with a curly-haired Shirley Temple look-a-like named Betty starts Gerald on the path to redemption. In the tale’s penultimate December 30th installment, the Gruntley maid tells her butler beau, “That scamp son o’ hers certainly turned out t’be a swell l’il fella.” (Dixie helped kindle the romance between the two domestic servants, naturally).
The maid’s observation shows there is a happy ending at the road’s end, but as these eight strips from the story outset show, it was a looooong haul before Gerald could be viewed as a swell kid!
Dixie’s artist, John Striebel, had provided the illustrations for the character’s original novel publication when Show Girl was serialized in Liberty magazine in 1928, preceding its release in book form by Simon and Shuster. Striebel had worked for the Chicago Tribune and had his own comic strip prior to launching Dixie, which became something of a family affair since, starting at age fourteen, his daughter Margery Ann was Dixie’s letterer.
Chad’s last selection of clippings came not from newsstand periodicals, but instead from the pioneering 1970s fan publication, The Menomonee Falls Gazette. The name is based on the hometown of its creators, Jerry Sinkovec and Mike Tiefenbacher; the Gazette’s purpose was to spotlight adventure comic strips, which had become increasingly marginalized as newspaper editors (and, they would have told you, readers) increasingly shifted their interest from adventure to gag-a-day comics. The strip from that fine publication that caught Chad’s interest: the seafaring saga, Tug Transom.
“Love this loose art style!” Chad said. “That slap-dash look appealed to me (which I somehow achieved inadvertently, doing my time-travel pages). Nonetheless, I do not know the strip’s origin beyond that.”
A bit of research on our part dug up some Transom tidbits: this British series ran from the mid-1950s to the late-’60s, with Modesty Blaise writer Peter O’Donnell spinning yarns of high-seas derring-do on the part of Captain Transom and the doughty crew of the merchant ship Dulcie May. Tug was produced for the Daily Sketch, a national newspaper based in Manchester (UK), though the strip’s greatest popularity was in the Netherlands, where it was translated and appeared as Kapitein Rijkers.
Before starting work on Tug, artist Alfred Sindall drew another UK action comic, this one based on Paul Temple, the detective star of BBC Radio (and, eventually, BBC-TV). Sindall’s other major claim to fame was as an illustrator for the Biggles young-readers novels written by W.E. Johns (and later outrageously satirized by the members of Monty Python’s Flying Circus).
Tug Transom’s only known US printing was in the pages of The Menomonee Falls Gazette – its occasional use of mild four-letter words likely kept it from drawing interest from more mainstream outlets. Chad had a pair of continuities clipped from the Gazette; here we present the bittersweet end of the series:
If you enjoyed this excursion into Bill Chadbourne’s files, be sure to watch this space for what we’ll share with you next …