Thursday, December 14, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 14 Part 2

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 14

The Magic Back of "The Funnies" (part 2)

link to previous installment   link to next installment

[I'll be offering some footnotes for the material in this chapter. They are numbered in red, and the footnotes will be found at the end of the post. -- Allan]

Newspaper Feature Service lost none of its militance in the rout of the Buster Brown League. Two other promotion plans were pressed forcefully. Both were missionary campaigns. They were designed to tinge and, if possible, to modify the tastes of newspaper readers. Following a logical course, each would ultimately advance the sales of our budget by sharpening the public demand for dailies in which the features appeared. First, it was necessary to assure this appearance. That entailed displacement of items under current commitment. Such changes usually meant added cost to the publication. There was the chief obstacle.

The average publisher measured a syndicate offering with an expense yardstick. He was unprepared, if not unfitted, to estimate its value as a productive unit. Unless it was a feature of commonly recognized merit, it fell into his classification of miscellany. This set up one of my favorite targets. Batteries of statistics, reasoning and ridicule hammered at the term “miscellany.” Its inclusion in the inventory of a metropolitan daily was denounced as a disgrace. It was merely a polite name for filler—“the dregs of journalistic torpor”—the type kept standing to “plug holes” in page forms. No other shortcoming of the publishing craft was more widespread. It hung over from the days when the collection of news was as arduous a labor as its selection had since become.

Broadsides and brochures expounded the theory that the filler not only cheated the reader, but also disparaged the worth of adjacent linage. Here is a condensed extract from one of the pamphlets with which newspaper offices were besieged:

“Filler” is a good word, but it represents a bad idea. If a man ate sawdust to fill his stomach, there would be no quarrel with the sawdust. The quarrel would be with the man. The reason “filler” represents a bad idea is because it is THE SAWDUST OF THE NEWSPAPER MEAL. . . .

A simple filler, worst when it is long, but bad whatever its length, is not merely wasteful, not merely an obnoxious preemption of good selling room; it is an affront to every principle implicit in the very name “newspaper.” “Shorts?” Yes—shorts that are as good in quality as the long stories; shorts that bear the same relation to the newspaper repast that any edible does to a proper meal. ... So, here’s a pledge not even to use the word “filler” in a newspaper office. Let us substitute “short” and maybe the better thing will a little sooner follow the better way.

The anti-filler campaign boldly aimed at inflation. Higher appraisal of a newspaper’s compass would prompt closer scrutiny of its prospective contents. And, with a confidence that in any other circumstances would have been too presumptuous for tolerance, Newspaper Feature Service foresaw in the new order a decisive advantage over its competitors. This was not an empty conceit. It was backed by the performance of a tutelary role safe from assumption by any rival organization. No other feature-making bureau at that time could have cited as authority for similar pretensions a managerial record covering all departments of metropolitan dailies. And there was no one with the “audacity or effrontery” to share my right of way on a path of “patronizing, meddlesome intrusiveness.”

Abstention from such “meddling” by other syndicates left Newspaper Feature Service an open field for the promulgation of its major thesis—habit-forming, the core of newspaper supremacy. In the structure of this theme abide the relationships that bind seekers of current intelligence to the printed word. It houses the principles, the formula, the methods and the secrets of circulation growth. It is the domicile of reader interest. A different latch hangs at every entrance, but one master key is held by the mightiest force extant—habit.

The vitality of the newspaper being bound up in the mental habits of the reader, Newspaper Feature Service frankly addressed itself to multiplying and intensifying those addictions. An effective instrumentality lay at hand. It was a day-to-day suspense achieved with serial treatment. The device held little novelty. It had reached my attention first in several weeklies that prospered greatly during my boyhood, among them The Fireside Companion. The technique was obviously simple. Each story installment concluded with a breathtaking crisis. It was a trial to wait for the next issue to learn whether the hero saved the heroine or whether the villain hurled her from the brink of the precipice to which she had been hanging by her golden tresses.

Similar effects, sharply modified, of course, were sought with various units of the budget of Newspaper Feature Service. On the Chicago American, ten years earlier, it had been my practice to handle outstanding news along parallel lines. When the facts lent themselves to the purpose, the principals were put through the paces of a real-life drama.

Faithful adherence to the actualities precluded any idealization, but the different characters were projected into the intimacy of a painstaking novelist’s portrayal. Their early environments, their friendships, their hopes, their fears, their indulgences, their sacrifices, their admissions of fault and their claims of virtue were spun into the texture of the main narrative. Lively reader interest was maintained in some cases for weeks or months at a time. When a lag of events retarded the flow of action, the pitch of the yarn was sustained by prodding the curiosity that had been excited concerning the dramatis personae. Mystery—whether it curtained a crime, a romance or a tragedy—yielded the richest opportunities to sow the seeds and reap the harvests of this continuity of attention.

A wide-awake editor of that day, unlike many of his successors, did not flinch from the accusation that he fostered criminality by dissecting it. He brushed aside the mawkish charge that notoriety, no matter how baleful, dangled an aureole over a felon’s head. He respected his readers. He didn’t believe his circulation embodied a formidable section of dormant outlawry that awaited only the recounting of banditry to be roused into imitation. He did believe that a challenge to society, by any grave violation of law and order, should be laid bare in its full significance. Its implications must be explored with the thoroughness of a surgeon probing an ulcerous tissue. The journalist and the physician rendered cognate services. Each performed a sanitary function. But the newspaper operation was merely a phase of a highly specialized skill—“the knack of developing a story.” It had no master who excelled my mentor, Foster Coates. It fell into disuse under the manifold pressures of news readjustments attending and following the first World War. It has become a lost art.

It may be said of this type of ingenuity that it died a double death. For several years it had found duplex expression. Its exploitation in words was accompanied by presentation in pictures. The writer and the photographer vied in sequential dramatization of the same news on the same pages. An instance of this method was given in an earlier chapter describing the capture in 1903 of Gustave Marx, one of the infamous Car Barn Bandits. A growing sensitiveness to criticism gradually nudged this sort of pictorial objectiveness out of the daily press.

Publishers shied from a bogey of sensationalism. Many bowed to the condemnation of those who charged that telling a yarn in action photographs exemplified yellow journalism at its worst. They relinquished this mode of reportorial vividness only to witness its creation of enormous circulations in subsequent years by such weeklies as Life, Look, Pic and Click. Some of the journalistic nabobs who had shunned the field found solace in a sense of virtuous forbearance. Their feeling received affirmation from those magazines that indulged excessive “candor of the lens.” These covered a multitude of sins in uncovering a multitude of skins.

It was the boast of Newspaper Feature Service that its budget provided a full complement of daily and Sunday features for metropolitan publications—’“everything except local and telegraphic news and the backbone of character which the editorial page must supply.” Magazine and colored comic sections composed the bulk of the Sunday schedule. For each week day, the releases included two pages devoted in the main to women’s interests, four humorous strips and cartoons, and gossip for the sports department. This was amplified with a variable catalogue of signed articles on popular topics. Since a syndicate serves clients of all shades of political bias, these contributions were prepared in scrupulous avoidance of controversial repercussions.

The serial quality was injected into every feature susceptible to the ministration. Where episodic dosage was impossible, tonics of self-interest were concocted to titillate reader expectancy. A daily essay on health, by Dr. L. K. Hirshberg, was a prime example. He interspersed medical lore with fascinating theories as provocative in the boudoir as in the gymnasium. One treatise discussed “Why Your Eyes Are Brown and What Brown Eyes Mean.” “What Happens When You Blush” and analogous subjects permitted Doctor Hirshberg to beguile his readers with introspective games. It was less difficult to devise the titles for his articles than it had been to find the physician willing and able to write the texts. The science of medicine has never been overly cordial to journalistic adventure.

If ownership were obtainable through priority of practice, it would have been possible for me to vest Newspaper Feature Service with the exclusive right to serialize comics. I introduced the process in the Chicago American with A. Piker Clerk. Clare A. Briggs drew that feature under my direction in 1904. It was the first serial comic strip published in an American daily.1 It was the prototype of A. Mutt, which appeared three years later from the pen of H. C. (“Bud”) Fisher and which developed into the preeminently successful Mutt and ]eff.

It would be a dereliction for me to leave the life of A. Piker Clerk to chroniclers less familiar with his sterling service as a pioneer. The history of the art demands a more accurate, if not a more sympathetic, account of his inspiring career than others have vouchsafed. Gilbert Seldes, in his sprightly work, The Seven Lively Arts, placed Piker’s habitat in the Chicago Tribune. More grievous was the cavalier affront inflicted by William Murrell in A History of American Graphic Humor. It is accentuated by the laborious research incorporated in that tome. Murrell credited Bud Fisher with “the first comic strip to be printed daily.” That would deny to A. Piker Clerk not only his patriarchal status, but also his ancestral relationship to Fisher’s A. Mutt.

The atmosphere of bubbling spirits and carefree exhilaration, commonly associated with the generation of popular humor, was missing from the birth of the first serial daily comic. The labor pains were pitiable. The accouchement of A. Piker Clerk might be bracketed in some respects with the parturition of Pantagruel. The Rabelaisian progeny attained a greater longevity but occasioned fewer childbed worries. The conception of Piker was the climax of a toilsome struggle with reader capriciousness. Incidentally, it instanced the exhaustive and protracted drudgery sometimes required to dig a single well of newspaper entertainment.

A nip and tuck contest between the Chicago American and the Chicago Daily News for circulation leadership had reached a peak in 1904. Max Annenberg managed the American’s distribution. Together we studied the fluctuations shown in every district report. Printing schedules were revised. The fleet of trucks was reorganized. Zones of delivery were shifted. Despite all the maneuvers we executed, the Daily News held its lead. The weakness of the American’s position lay in the fickleness of buyers of the edition called “Final Sports.” The ultimateness indicated by that title was, in the chaste language of Max Annenberg, “a come-on.” The press run began at 3:30 p.m. Its finality was repeatedly canceled with replates containing fresh news. The order in which these appeared was marked by stars alongside the “ear” or label. Usually, four such asterisks identified the very last or honest-to-goodness “Final Sports.”

The sales record of this quadruple issue seesawed between a maximum of 110,000 and a low of 60,000. If these figures could be pegged midway—at an average of 85,000—the American’s daily total would reach 315,000. That would exceed the Daily News’s latest statement by more than 10,000. The problem was up to me. Its solution lay, not in external manipulation, but inside the columns of the newspaper. The “Final Sports” files for several months were thoroughly searched. Every element was subjected to microscopic analysis. All pertinent data were collated— weather conditions, the rise and fall of public concern in general affairs as reflected by headlines and cash collections from news dealers, large out-of-town excursions and other mass distractions. This information was checked against the calendars of sporting events. The intensive survey compelled one conclusion. The inconstancy of the final edition readers was confined to those who bought it for its sports pages.

Clearly, something beyond the ordinary flow of news or the specialties already offered them was necessary to convert the desultory custom of these buyers into a steady demand. It should implant in them every day a piquant curiosity that could be satisfied only in tomorrow’s American. In retrospect it would seem that a wearisome postgraduate inquisition dug up a conclusion that should have been manifest to a primary-grade student. But so did Columbus with his egg trick. Moreover, that was some years before Newspaper Feature Service launched its campaign for recognition of habit-forming as the central pillar in the building of a newspaper.

The value of a journalistic idea is set by its integration. Incorporeal, it may be more of a nuisance than an asset. So, the decision to bolster the “Final Sports” with a feature holding day-today suspense was merely the beginning of the job. First, a satisfactory vehicle must be found. It should be a pastime with the widest following and the fewest interruptions. Prize-fighting was illegal in many states. Basketball was yet in the adolescence of its popularity. Baseball, football, tennis, golf and other sports with seasonal intermissions were excluded. My choice rested on the chief sport with all-the-year-round activity—racing.

With the turf as the background for a serial, it was important to find an elastic medium of narration. Neither romance nor serious adventure was suitable. Linked to the paddock or the track, either would be narrowed to a pattern of limited appeal. Not by preference, but by a methodical procedure of weeding out less logical possibilities, pictorial humor was chosen for the storytelling channel.

No severe strain of imagination was required to visualize a small-time blow-hard with abundant eagerness but deficient wherewithal to back the horses. The average reader would surely notice in the type some familiar quirk or facet. Thereafter, it would be only customary to keep a watchful eye on the fortunes of this amusing busybody. Each day, the ludicrous predicaments through which he floundered to obtain betting funds would whet interest in tomorrow’s outcome, especially the results of his wagers. Thus was evolved the theory of the first serial comic. Its success would depend on the skill with which it was translated into a daily strip with pen and ink.

Clare Briggs
Clare A. Briggs was then the Chicago American’s local cartoonist. We had worked together before. Eight years earlier, in St. Louis, he made chalkplate illustrations of stories I covered for the Globe-Democrat. The warmth of our friendship continued through the years of his growing fame, long past When a Feller Needs a Friend. Briggs undertook enthusiastically to endue with graphic life my fancy of a character equally as irrepressible as scalawag or boob. He drew a dozen sketches. I picked one showing a lanky fellow with receding chin, pompadour hair, a bushy mustache generally affected in those days, scrawny neck, eyes always popping with astonishment, striped trousers, frock coat, obtrusive spats and a silk hat that hinted strongly of absentee ownership.

The next step was to prove that the series could be maintained consecutively with day-to-day suspense. Eighteen connected episodes— three weeks’ releases—were blocked out. The drawings were turned over to Ernest L. Pratt, head of the copy desk. He was to invite suggestions for a main title from the seven sub-editors or copy readers under his direction. Pratt, himself, offered the name that I adopted. Such was the inception of A. Piker Clerk, the first serial comic, which happened also to be the first newspaper strip printed daily in full-page width 2. The whimsicality of its fate was in sharp contrast with its laborious origin.

A. Piker Clerk scored an instantaneous hit. It was reflected in the Chicago American's circulation reports. Briggs shared my gratification. We had scarcely quit swapping back-slaps when Foster Coates, my sponsor in the Hearst organization, dropped into Chicago on an unheralded visit. Coates’s trips of inspection were seldom without a particular purpose. On this call, he disclosed no special errand. My angling for a comment on our latest feature elicited only a perfunctory response. This unusual reticence was puzzling. The mystery cleared as Coates was telling me goodbye. “That’s a great idea you’ve given Briggs to handle,” he said with strained casualness, “but Mr. Hearst has some doubt about it. I’m afraid he thinks it’s vulgar.” 3 That was the anathema maranatha of the Hearst establishment. No offense inside its precincts was more damnable than vulgarity in print. This recollection, tracing a tangent with the journalistic, social and political currents of that period, attaches to A. Piker Clerk a tag of historic symbolism. It frames a pungent paradox.

It is doubtful whether all the other publishers in America incurred as much violent criticism as was directed against Hearst personally. A great part of this censure was based on the assumption that his publications were unforgivably meretricious—that their contents teemed with lascivious suggestion. Yet not a dozen newspapers in the country were edited with more meticulous regard for decency than the Hearst press.

My concept of the regimen was partly expressed in this instruction: “Never use a term or a phrase that might prompt a thirteen year-old girl to ask such a question as you would find it embarrassing to answer to a neighbor’s child.” This was carried to the verge of prudishness. The baneful words “rape,” “abortion” and “seduction” were strictly banned. Under prohibition also were clichés like “criminal assault,” “betrayal under promise of marriage” and “born out of wedlock.” In the atmosphere of these taboos, Foster Coates’s message from Hearst sounded the death knell of what at the time was the dearest offspring of my brain.

Despite his inglorious and untimely end, the progress of the comic art was punctuated with various observances of the memory of A. Piker Clerk. Once, he was apostrophized in a copyright suit. A tribute of exquisite irony was jointly presented more than a decade after his demise by three Hearst newspapers in New York. They published simultaneously during several years three different strips, all in zealous, though unflattering, simulation of A. Piker Clerk. 4

Briggs had delineated a ridiculously busy betting fan. His New York imitators presented sordid race-track habitués rejoicing in caddishness. One series, Ken Kling’s Joe & Asbestos, outpikered Piker. It turned into a touting agency. Evidently, Hearst’s sensitiveness to this sort of vulgarity had undergone marked abatement. The transition was not explained by the ancient adage, “Times are changed and we are changed in them.” Privately, Hearst was no less the aesthete than ever. Professionally, he had taken on a full partnership with opportunism.

The conventional furniture of the humorous strip in 1913 was built out of the “gag” and the “wise-crack.” The chief purpose of the usual set of paneled scenes was to point a joke. The funnier the characters, the bigger the laughs they would command for the artists’ witticisms. These popular figures constituted assets to be jealously guarded. Their value had been proved as puppets on strings tied to fixed staples of entertainment. Most of their creators were dubious about tangling those strings in skeins of unfinished yarns. Comics that had fared well on gags and wisecracks with daily finales might not thrive on a diet of unclosed incidents with a continued story dressing.

Tom E. Powers, the noted caricaturist, cast a quaint light on this state of uncertainty. Powers enjoyed relaxation from his powerful cartoons in the frequent but irregular drawing of Mrs. Trouble and Joys and Glooms. He turned down a proposition to pilot Mrs. Trouble through a six-days-a-week routine. His refusal was based on my requirement for “overlapping the next day.”

“That is a slave-driving editorial trick to double the art work,” he declared. “You expect to make two laughs grow where only one grew before. It used to be enough just to leave ’em laughing. Now, you want us to kiss them coming and going with the same smack. You won’t get away with it unless you hire novelists or playwrights to wet-nurse the artists. And at my time of life, I couldn’t think of wearing diapers.”

Cliff Sterrett and Duke Wellington were among the large contingent of newspaper fun-makers who did not share Powers’ view. Sterrett, with his Polly and Her Pals, and Wellington, with That Son-in-law of Pa’s, enlisted in the Newspaper Feature Service phalanx of serialization. Twenty-eight years later both series were still among the popular favorites, though neither had maintained unbroken adherence to the “carry-over” style of plot construction.

An outstanding classic of syndication evolved from a preparation equally assiduous as the hectic approach to A. Piker Clerk. There was no buoyancy of competitive effort or any lift of lively imagination in its genesis. It was the goal of my search for a continuing element of compelling interest to the greatest single class of desirable readers—the family circle. The extravagance of its preliminary title—Revelations of a Wife—was at sharp odds with the mathematical care that guided its planning. It stretched into the longest story ever told in print.

Turning the twenty-seventh year of its serial life in 1941, this unending yarn, having been again and again renamed, had run to approximately 8,509,000 words. That exceeded by more than nine times the length of Shakespeare’s works. Its statistics are no more striking than its anecdotal color. It was the pivot around which swung many a newspaper skirmish. It clinched the sale of a daily and added $100,000 to the selling price. That transaction furnished an index to the '‘pull” exerted by this extraordinary feature. It is worth recital.

J. David Stern, the human dynamo who afterward operated concurrently the New York Evening Post, the Camden Courier and Post, and the Philadelphia Record, was publishing the News-Record in Springfield, Ill. He had moved to Illinois from New Brunswick, N. J., four years before. He enrolled as one of the early clients of Newspaper Feature Service. Thomas Rees, publisher of the well-entrenched and prosperous Illinois State Register, had not allowed the newcomer to make him alter the even tenor of his ways. He traveled extensively. It was on his return from a pleasure trip late in 1918 that Rees was shocked out of his feeling of security. He learned that the News-Record was claiming more local subscribers than the Illinois State Register could boast and that its claim was probably correct.

Rees canvassed the situation in thorough alarm. His circulation manager reported that the chief factor in the News-Record’s growth was a serial story of family life—Revelations of a Wife. Rees was incredulous. That sort of thing hadn’t happened in Springfield before. But the farther Rees’s inquiry progressed, the more his incredulity receded. At last he decided on a heroic measure. If this to-be-continued-tomorrow tale had such potency, he would take it away from the News-Record. He would outbid Stern. The Illinois State Register’s offers to Newspaper Feature Service finally reached a figure seven times greater than the amount Stern paid.

Strenuous pressure was put upon me by both Rees and Stern. The tempting increase of revenue tendered by one was met by the other’s assertion of a moral right. Rees was not merely negotiating for a feature. He was striving to acquire—so far as it was transferable—a vogue that had been implanted and cultivated in the community. The seeds had been supplied by the syndicate. But the crop stood on the soil of the News-Record. Even before Rees’s proposition to Newspaper Feature Service had been declined, word reached me confidentially that he was dealing direct with Stern. In May, 1919, he consummated what in that time and section was a highly sensational newspaper coup. For the purposes of the transaction, he and his partner, Henry Clendenin, associated themselves with Lewis H. Miner, owner of the Springfield Journal. The News-Record was bought and put out of existence. Rees complained that $100,000 of the price exacted was chargeable to my refusal to close a contract with him for Revelations of a Wife. “That represents what Stern collected for what you should have delivered to me,” he explained.

Few undertakings with literary flavor ever set out along more methodical lines than marked this feature. First, the plane of reading interest was plotted. It touched at every angle the housewife in modest financial circumstances. The next task was to find the greatest common divisor in each department of her outlook. It is amusing to recall the ponderosity of this research, especially in the light of its result. It had been an arduous quest for a flagrant fact. A sea of psychology had been explored to discover its surface. The lady in question was wholly perspicuous. Household events dominated her life. Their importance to her ranked in the order of their nearness. Only second to her own were the domestic affairs of those close at hand. She would be held in rapt absorption by the daily diary of the woman next door.

The range of sympathy open to the compulsion of such a record of intimacy would be fixed largely by the number of social averages that it comprehended. The diarist’s middle class must be jealously preserved. She must not be a pampered pet. Nor should she be a soulless drudge. She must have a certain modicum of culture. She should have sufficient grace and poise to turn the bitter things of existence into lessons of reasonableness and understanding. She should have a generally optimistic viewpoint. She must, of course, be married. Her husband and children should be nice enough to round out the normalcies of her setting. She must have worked before marriage. Only thus could she have assimilated her sense of money values, together with a fitting appreciation of the comforts of home and an adequate realization of her husband’s workaday problems with a consequent compassion for his struggle. She would complete the rhythm of this theoretic structure if she had been that vestal of the American hearth—a schoolteacher.

Checking and re-checking these specifications brought me to the selection of a builder. Like every other idea at the same inarticulate stage, the fate of the design rested on the manner of its execution. This was a job for a woman. It required great objectivism. It demanded unlimited facility for losing oneself without being lost in the very mind and actual manners of another. It would be ghost-writing for a synthetic heroine. Interpretation of a flesh-and-blood principal would be an easy stint in comparison.

Search for a satisfactory candidate for this assignment dragged for months. In her absence, Newspaper Feature Service began its activities without the feature which had been counted on for a headliner. Then fortune pointed to the woman who, in the argot of Broadway, was “the natural” for the story. As Nana B. Springer, she had been the star sob-sister of the Chicago American during my tour as managing editor. Not only had she been an indefatigable worker, but she flashed more journalistic fire than any of the men on the staff. In the stress of an unfolding yarn, she made light of food and rest. It was not unusual for her to snatch a few hours’ sleep on a pile of exchanges in the newspaper morgue.

Once she saved an innocent man from the gallows in Chicago. Jocko Briggs, married, with an infant son, had been convicted of a hold-up murder. Miss Springer, then writing under the nom de plume of “Evelyn Campbell,” became convinced that there had been a miscarriage of justice. Briggs’s lawyer, Robert E. Cantwell, contended that the victim’s dying statement was misunderstood. The expiring man had moaned “Chack! Chack!” Police witnesses had satisfied the jury that he was crying “Jack! Jack!,” the name by which Briggs was known to him. Cantwell asserted that he meant “Check! Check!,” referring to the bank scrip of which he had been robbed. Evelyn Campbell’s energy, driving through the boil of fervent appeals in the American and backed by her well-arranged presentations of fact, brought about a stay of sentence. Then she forced a new trial. Jocko Briggs was finally acquitted.

Pleasing to the eye, with an attractive personality, Nana B. Springer was persuaded to give up journalism for wifehood. She married a fellow reporter, Martin A. (“Matty”) White. The couple moved to New York, where White became general news editor of the Associated Press. Two children had been born to them. It occurred to me that Nana might welcome an opportunity to enhance the funds available from her husband’s salary for her children’s education. My hunch was confirmed. Mrs. Martin A. White resumed journalistic work as Adele Garrison.

That name was made up to hit as close as possible to the median line in the American social fabric. Mrs. White accepted it and all the other sailing directions for her voyage on the serial main with characteristic enthusiasm. She had lost none of the high spirits that carried her through reportorial feats a decade earlier. She exulted over the qualifications that particularly fitted her to fill the shoes of Adele Garrison. Definite affinities linked the fictitious with the real personality. There was even a vocational parallel. Mrs. White had been a schoolteacher in Milwaukee before she became a newspaperwoman.

All this made startlingly incredible the charge of plagiarism subsequently advanced by a competing syndicate. It was the strangest assertion of copyright infringement that ever engaged my professional attention. The complainant was Newspaper Enterprise Association. Originally organized to exchange features among units of the Scripps-McRae League of newspapers, this bureau had expanded into the business of selling its materials to unaffiliated dailies. It developed an extensive traffic in these byproducts.

Notice of Newspaper Enterprise Association’s claim reached me in a formal communication from John H. Perry, then general counsel for the E. W. Scripps interests. It demanded the immediate withdrawal of Revelations of a Wife from distribution “in any form whatsoever.” Failure or refusal would result in application for a writ of injunction. Meanwhile, Mr. Perry’s sorely aggrieved principal was reckoning the extent of the damages that had been inflicted by Newspaper Feature Service, with a view to suing for their recovery and for the assessment of a punitive award.

Portentous as were the contents of this letter, its signature would have been even more impressive some years later when the newspaper operations of John Holliday Perry assumed first-tier magnitude, including Western Newspaper Union and American Press Association, with a combined clientele of approximately 10,000 publications, a chain of dailies in Jacksonville, Pensacola, Panama City, Fla., and Reading, Pa., and other important corporations.

Strenuous investigation yielded no evidence on which to question the sincerity of Perry’s statements. Yet it was impossible to stomach the alleged grievance as sound or genuine. The main allegations were reviewed in my reply to Perry, a condensation of which is given here in brief:

But beyond these analogies there is no substantial similarity between the stories. The two narratives are essentially different. There is no likeness either in action or development. The sameness in outward trappings may have been wholly fortuitous. From the facts in hand, I am satisfied that any other conclusion would run to the prejudice of your client.

We have no means at this time of telling whether the Newspaper Enterprise Association serial was inspired by the Newspaper Feature Service, Inc., serial. We do know, however, that any disadvantage growing out of the similarities in the two features must redound to the damage of Newspaper Feature Service, Inc. That conclusion flows from a consideration of the relatively inferior clientele of Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Such conflict as may be discoverable in the two titles tends to cloud the standing of your client. I call your attention to the fact that in 1904, during my managing editorship, the Chicago American published a so-called continued story of married life entitled Confessions of a Wife. It was written by Elizabeth Miller Yorke.

In view of these circumstances, I demand that Newspaper Enterprise Association cease forthwith to publish Confessions of a Wife, since it is at best a poor imitation of our current feature and fails to warrant publication as original matter. 5

Perry’s clear vision showed him that if the controversy were carried to a judicial decision, the contention might turn around the copyright on an angle of unfair competition. The litigation would entail expenses and inconveniences greater than the stake in sight. He chose a Fabian strategy. The issues were never joined at law. Perhaps that omission scored an error against me. However, Revelations of a Wife ran on like the babbling brook, while Confessions of a Wife eventually petered out. The Newspaper Enterprise Association serial, written by Idah McGlone Gibson, was discontinued in August, 1918. By 1941, Adele Garrison’s diary, then appearing under its latest title, Marriage Meddlers, had grossed a syndicate revenue in excess of $750,000. It had earned for the writer something less than a third of that amount. But its financial phases took minor rank beside its social aspects. The same processes that tied its threads into the reading habits of millions of American families also entwined them in the cultural history of the generation.


1 - Clare Briggs was an extremely gifted and inventive writer of comic strips, so Koenigsberg's claim that he created and directed the strip seems almost certainly to be self-congratulatory hyperbole. Unfortunately as far as I know Briggs never commented on this strip to set the record straight.

When Koenigsberg says that A. Piker Clerk was a "serial strip" he means that in addition to it running daily, that it told a continuing story from day to day. With no complete run of the Chicago American in existence, all we can say is that, based on Bill Blackbeard's collection, A. Piker Clerk seems to have not appeared as a true daily, but was more of what I term a 'weekday strip', missing a day here and there. The first daily comic strip, in any case, pre-dates this strip by a few months (The Importance of Mr. Peewee), and it may even qualify as a 'serial' strip.

Bill Blackbeard, used to say that you could not tell for sure about the strip being a true daily, because it frequently ran in only one or a few of the many editions of the American that were issued each day. Therefore, since no one can claim to have a complete archive of the American's many daily editions, no one can say for sure. Though I cast a jaundiced eye on that comment way back then, Koenigsberg's narrative seems to suggest that it may be true -- that A. Piker Clerk may have been used to enhance sales of particular editions.

2 - Although it is true that many weekday strips of that era tended to run in boxed two-tier format, and therefore did not extend across the entire 7-column page, it is patently untrue that it never happened before A. Piker Clerk. Perhaps Clerk can be said to have been the first to consistently run in that format.

3 - It seems utterly bizarre that the king of yellow journalism nixed a comic strip for being vulgar -- especially one that was supposedly such a circulation boon. However, it must be said that Hearst did have a capricious nature, and without any comment from Briggs or other Chicago American almuni, we can to take this statement with a grain of salt, but cannot dismiss it entirely.

4 - I cannot fathom what Koenigsberg is referring to here. In the mid-teens, Hearst had the American and the Journal running in New York, and neither had a horse-track fiend starring in them (Mutt and Jeff, of course, had long since eschewed that genre). The Mirror did not become his third paper there until 1924. Joe and Asbestos, mentioned in the next paragraph, did not become a tip sheet strip until the 1930s.

5 - Koenigsberg should be ashamed of himself to characterize the episode this way. To say that NEA's serial might have been 'inspired' by NFS's is ridiculous - the former started two years prior to the latter. In any case, the title "Confessions of a Wife" and the general gist of both serials is stolen from a serial that began in 1902 in the Century Magazine. Koenigsberg's declaration that the Chicago American ran such a serial in 1904 thus just makes him a serial plagiarist.

Chapter 14 Part 3 in Two Weeks         link to previous installment   link to next installment


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Wednesday, December 13, 2017


Ink-Slinger profiles by Alex Jay: Fred Zumwalt

An anonymous comment asked about Fred Zumwalt who drew the Nutt Family strip that appeared in the Northwest Worker, a Socialist newspaper published in Everett, Washington. Zumwalt and the strip are not in American Newspaper Comics (2012). Nothing relevant was found when I searched the key words “Fred Zumwalt” and cartoonist. I replaced cartoonist with Socialist and got a hit at the Internet Archive. The American Socialist, (Chicago, Illinois), November 13, 1915, printed this item in the first column: “Fred Zumwalt, Greenfield, Ill., fires in seven subs [subscriptions] and gets one of our souvenir Socialist pennants.” A second hit was at the Old Fulton New York Postcards site. The Socialist newspaper New York Call (New York City), May 6, 1917, published Zumwalt’s letter in its magazine section.

Two important bits of information were Zumwalt’s locations, Greenfield and Nebo, both in Illinois. I started a new search by replacing Socialist with “Nebo, Illinois” and found Zumwalt in Zumwalt in Parts of Missouri and Illinois, Volume 1 (2007). Zumwalt and his father, Newton, were residents of Nebo. Zumwalt, a photographer and painter, married Cora Shelby Hack on July 1, 1920 at Carrollton, Illinois. She had three children from her previous marriage. Zumwalt was granted a divorce June 28, 1928. Zumwalt was mentioned in Hamner Heritage: Beginning Without End (1981): “…Cora’s second marriage was to Fred Zumwalt. They were divorced and Cora married Harry Petry in California. Cora died in Hermosa Beach, California in 1972….”

With this information I found Zumwalt in five records at In the 1900 U.S. Federal Census, Zumwalt was the oldest of two sons born to Newton, a railroad laborer, and Louella/Luella. They lived in Spring Creek, Pike County, Illinois. Zumwalt has not yet been found in the 1910 census.

On September 12, 1918, Zumwalt signed his World War I draft card which had his full name, Fred Almer Zumwalt. His birth date was November 14, 1883. The self-employed artist resided in Nebo, Pike County, Illinois. He was described as tall, medium build with blue eyes and dark hair.

Zumwalt and his parents were in Spring Creek in the 1920 census which was enumerated in January. Zumwalt was a widower who had a photography studio. Later that year in July, Zumwalt married Cora.

Zumwalt has not been found in the 1930 census. A 1930 Alton, Illinois city directory listed him as a sign painter residing at 517 Cherry.

According to a transcription of Zumwalt’s death certificate, at, he passed away December 23, 1939 in Alton. Zumwalt was born in Nebo on November 13, 1883; his draft card said 14. His occupation was sign painter. Zumwalt’s residence was Wood River, Madison County, Illinois. An obituary was transcribed at Genealogy Trails

Zumwalt, Fred Almer, 56 years old, owner of a Wood River photographic and sign business, died Saturday evening, Dec. 23 after an automobile accident at Cottage Hill, three miles north of Alton. His sudden death was attributed to heart disease, aggravated by excitement. Fred had stopped his car on Highway 140 to let a woman customer out at her home. She was partly out of the car when another driver coming behind them struck Fred's car lightly, being unable to stop his machine easily because of slush covered pavement. The impact knocked the woman passenger down and she fainted. Fred and the other driver carried her onto the porch of her home and Fred collapsed. He was dead on arrival at St. Joseph's Hospital, Alton.

Fred Almer Zumwalt was the second son of Newton and Luella Zumwalt, born three miles south of Nebo, November 13, 1883. He had spent a greater portion of his life in and around Nebo and was well known because of his natural talent as a photographer and sign painter. He was married to Alta M. Long, October 4, 1906, death claiming her September 10, 1908. Immediate survivors are his aged mother, two brothers, Charlie and Robert. Services were held at the home of his mother in Nebo, Tuesday afternoon, conducted by Elder C. E. Hudson of White Hall, a former pastor of the local Baptist Church. Those having charge of the singing were: Jack Greenstreet and wife, Charlie Pearson, Mrs. Cora Webb. Interment was made in the Allison Cemetery. Pallbearers were: H. E. Greenstreet, Ernest Ewers, John Zumwalt, Cecil Zumwalt, Harry Craig, Alfro Turnbeaugh. Honorary pallbearers: Mauric Zumwalt, Bob Zumwalt, Jr, Geo. Boyle, Loren Boyle, Evans Franklin, John W. Pruett.
The Alton Evening Telegraph, December 28, 1939, reported Zumwalt’s death and the result of an inquest. Zumwalt was laid to rest at Allison Cemetery.

Because of Zumwalt’s Socialist and artistic background, I believe he created the Nutt Family strip.

—Alex Jay

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Tuesday, December 12, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Life in the Suburbs / Community Capers

We've discussed Al "Mutt and Jeff" Smith's weekly comics service before, and for the record, I'm still looking for newspapers that ran the complete output of the syndicate for long periods of time. Anyone? Bueller?

The syndicate's offerings were pretty well cemented in during the 1950s, but a latecomer was Life in the Suburbs. It was drawn by Al himself, who was already contributing Rural Delivery to the syndicate page. I'm guessing that Smith was looking to add a feature that was geared specifically to non-rural newspapers, which were his typical clients. Suburban papers were a good market (they generally paid better than rural papers) and so Smith evidently swept the hayseeds away in hopes of appealing to them. In fact, to make sure his appeal was broad, Smith offered this panel series under an alternate title, Community Capers, to further appeal to newspapers that were non-rural, but also not in the 'burbs.

The weekly panel was first advertised in 1964, but Mark Johnson has managed to find what might be the first panel, appearing in the first week of December 1963. Under the title Life in the Suburbs, the series was advertised until 1994, whereas the Community Capers title seems to have been dropped after 1972. I'd lay a pretty sizeable bet that in later years Smith recycled material for this series, as he did with most of his other offerings.

If you have my book, it's time to get out your red pen. Even though I knew at the time that the two panels were the same (the fact is noted in the Community Capers listing) somehow I goofed and ended up giving entries to both titles. So take your pick, but put a big red X through either the Community Capers listing (#1257) or Life in the Suburbs (#3582).


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Monday, December 11, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: The Leap Year Society for the Getting Back at Mere Man

In 1904 to 1906, Robert A Graef, a young illustrator who was just starting off on what would be a long and productive career, made a stopover at the New York Herald. There he authored three quite delightful series for the Herald's Sunday funnies section, of which the first was The Leap Year Society for the Getting Back at Mere Man.

Notwithstanding the very long title, Graef's gags were punchy and the artwork was splendid, showing an innate sense of humor. Graef would later make his mark as a serious illustrator of magazine fiction, including some memorably bizarre sci-fi pulp covers, but his Herald work shows us that he could have also left a mark as a cartoonist.

Many of us cartooning fans tend to forget that the tongue-in-cheek tradition of women being allowed to propose marriage in leap years did not start with Al Capp's Sadie Hawkins. It's  much older than that, though the actual origin is in dispute. Graef uses this tradition as a jumping off point to explore other turnabouts that women might appreciate in those leap years. His Leap Year Society held its meetings in the Herald funnies section from May 1 to August 14 1904 (a leap year, of course).


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Saturday, December 09, 2017


Herriman Saturday

June 5 1909 -- A concerned citizen, apparently not a cat fancier, has petitioned the city council to institute a tax on cats ... well, what he really wants is licensing, but Herriman and the news writer are happier categorizing it as a tax.


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Friday, December 08, 2017


Wish You Were Here, from Kin Hubbard

In 1907 the International Postcard Company issued a set of Abe Martin postcards. Hubbard's feature was only three years old at this time, running in the Indianapolis News. As best I can guess, they just used existing Abe Martin sayings, because few of them are really suited for use on a postcard (the above being an example of that).


The "Card Club" referenced would be, judging from the confiscated items, a ladies' house party social function where they'd play games like Whist for prizes. The humor of the situation is that said constable is the law man of such a backward hick town that this raid is as close an approximation as could be managed to a city version where full scale, big-bucks gambling takes place
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Thursday, December 07, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 14 Part 1

 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 14

The Magic Back of "The Funnies" (part 1)

link to previous installment   link to next installment

[I'll be offering some footnotes for the material in this chapter. They are numbered in red, and the footnotes will be found at the end of the post. -- Allan]

Newspaper Feature Service, Inc. was the first independent syndicate organized to supply a complete budget of features to seven day-a-week publications 1. Its program met a somewhat mixed reception. Not a few editors resented the newcomer. They viewed its parent purpose as an invasion of their individual prerogatives. To begin with, their pride balked at a technique that “lowered them to the plane of ‘boiler plate sheets.’ ”2 The phrase bore reference to hundreds of dailies and weeklies made up with patented stereotype shells shipped from central points in their respective sections.

There was nothing despicable about the mechanical ingenuity of this system. The implication of contempt lay in the use of matter prepared in such form as to preclude editorial revision. The “boiler plate,” except for being sawed up, must be used as received. There were no facilities for textual amendment. These conditions also applied to the papier-mâché matrices in which Newspaper Feature Service incorporated the bulk of its output. Apprehensive executives considered their dignity only a part of the professional domain under attack. They visioned the involvement of economic factors. They believed their earning power was gauged by the relative proportions of the printing space over which they exercised full control. They feared that every column withdrawn from their area of authority would reduce their rating. It was a depletion of sovereignty. Disparagement of regular elements, created outside the orbit of their direction, varied with the imagination of these critics. Most devastating was the allusion “canned junk.” Package goods had not yet risen much above the standing of patent medicines. “Handmade” continued as a hallmark of superiority. And many a managing editor refused to classify material appearing in his editions as “handmade,” unless it had passed through his fingers in every stage from conception to publication.

To overcome this prejudice was more difficult than to gain the approval of another but much larger group of editors dominated by journalism’s abiding passion for “the latest and best way.” To them, syndication spelled the promise of a limitless auxiliary force. Its processes were still in the formative stage. Eventually, it evolved into the heaviest ordnance used for the capture of newspaper readers. Providence timed my entrance into this special arena at a most opportune juncture. In the year 1913, the list of daily publications in America reached its maximum—2,622. Of these, only a scant 800 were equipped with stereotype plants for the handling of matrices such as were supplied by Newspaper Feature Service. But this 30 percent embraced more than four-fifths of the 28,000,000 aggregate circulation.

Forty-odd syndicates were in existence. Fully half struggled along on a hit-or-miss basis. None of the managers had a background of thorough newspaper training. So, the success that came to me in this field during the next fifteen years was attributable in part to the quality of competition I encountered. It was my fortune to enroll a clientele with the largest reading circle to which an identical budget of features had yet been presented. The total ultimately exceeded an average week-day distribution of approximately 18,000,000 copies.

It would have been impossible to attract and hold such a volume of popular interest without the collaboration of an extraordinary assemblage of talent. A cavalcade of genius swept me onward in the galloping advance of syndication. To that brilliant array of artists, writers and editors must be assigned a considerable share in shaping the trend and projecting the spirit of the American press. Their roster included all the luminaries of the Hearst constellation. No privilege ever accorded to me is so rich with stimulating memories as their comradeship. Their contributions to newspaperdom marked a climactic phase of the evolution of the syndicate.

The infancy of that institution has been recited by a number of chroniclers, but its adolescence and maturity have engaged only the superficial attention of historians.3 That is readily explainable. The phenomena of this branch of journalism seldom emerge into full view. They fit so intimately into the mesh of production as to remain—except to those directly concerned— practically indistinguishable from the collateral routine. Ordinarily, they escape the understanding of the detached observer. Often their complexities baffle the insider.

Once it became advisable for me to make a thorough survey of these obscurities. The reactions of the reading public were especially significant. The syndicate was practically an undefinable entity to 90 percent of newspaper buyers. Not one out of ten paused to consider the difference between articles and drawings that originated with the publication’s regular staff and those that were obtained from outside agencies. There was little inclination to ponder the diversity. In that indifference lay one of the secrets of feature fecundity. It let down editorial bars, permitting an unrestricted range of acceptance.

In the quarter of a century following the inauguration of Newspaper Feature Service the number of active syndicates increased more than 300 percent. And this was in the face of a continuous decrease of buying units. The 2,622 dailies of 1913 had fallen to fewer than 2,000 in 1941, a decline of more than 23 percent. Continuous growth of a supply depot, in the face of a steadily shrinking market, remained for years one of the anomalies of syndication.

It was not until the 1880s that the term “syndicate” won preference as a description of the form of journalism which the word has since continued to denote. Roughly, it covers any centralized traffic in matter desirable to publishers. Specifically, it signifies the acquisition and sale of rights to reproduce for publication the works of authors and writers. That seems a simple formula. Actually, its threads run through nearly all the editorial convolutions of mass circulation.

Early web press

The revolutionary effects in various branches of the printing art, toward the close of the nineteenth century, combined to set out the 1890s as the dynamic decade of newspaperdom. Challenging coincidences marked the completion of inventions that had been in varying stages of development. The ’80s presented experimental models. The ’90s brought widespread installation of the finished implements. It was a spectacular sequence. In the forefront were the web press and the typesetting machine. Together, they gave to speed the captaincy of the craft. It multiplied production. It made possible the inclusion of today’s news in today’s editions in the brief time intervening between the origination of fresh intelligence and the homeward dispersal of the buying public. It was the charter of the large circulations of afternoon dailies.

Equally impellent to the forces of journalism was the advent of photo-engraving. No other adjunct of the newspaper page has exceeded its power to attract and hold readers. Its potency sharpens the controversy over its origin—whether the process was first perfected by S. H. Morgan in the New York Daily Graphic in 1880, by G. Meisenbach in Munich in 1882, or by Frederick E. Ives in Connecticut in 1885.4 Yet the substitution of the halftone etching for the chalkplate was dilatory. The need for technical training of local crews retarded the change.

This transformation from line drawings to camera images was still under way when another sensational advance stirred the publishing guild. It was the printing of multiple colors on the same page on a web press. That was a memorable feat of mechanical engineering. It was accomplished when four curved plates, whirling on separate cylinders, at hundreds of revolutions per minute, impressed their raised surfaces with pinpoint accuracy in an identical space on a fleeting sheet of newsprint, the web from which the press derived its name.

From this mechanized magic emerged the Sunday comic page. That infant prodigy might be termed the first progeny of a union of expedience. The color-press—pride of many long-deferred hopes—faced for a while a dilemma like that of a bedraggled bride waiting at the church. The trouble arose not from the dereliction of a groom, but from indecision concerning him. Like a parent vacillating between suitors for his daughter’s hand, the editor wavered in the selection of a medium for the output of the pressman’s latest marvel. There was pointed occasion for his hesitation.

It was at the peak of the mauve influence. Certain statutory crimes were less abominable in that generation than public offenses against prevailing taste. Mere novelty in itself has always been disturbing to some readers. In the ’90s it would be more than a mere novelty to splash primary hues where only monotones had previously appeared. Then, there were subjects to which treatment in colors might lend a false sensationalism. These surely should be avoided. A blunder with this innovation might prove disastrous.

There were two men in America for whom these considerations bore unique significance. One was Joseph Pulitzer; the other, George Washington Turner. Once associates, they had become enemies. Several years before, Turner quit the business of selling firearms to attach himself to the New York World. He won Pulitzer’s complete confidence. He was appointed general manager. In 1891, he left to assume charge of the New York Recorder, the daily behind which stood for a spell the cigarette millions of the Duke family. Turner took with him a comprehensive knowledge of Pulitzer’s plans. Among these was a pet project to perfect a chromatic printing device with which a Parisian inventor had been experimenting.

In the winter of 1892-93, Carvalho, then Pulitzer’s general manager, learned that R. Hoe & Company were erecting a press especially designed for Turner. It would apply red, blue and yellow inks, singly and in combinations, to the same page. Carvalho managed to get a peep at the contrivance. He saw enough from which to draw a rough sketch. Within a few hours, Walter Scott & Company were engaged in a construction race with their Hoe Company rivals. During the machine-building contest, staff meetings canvassed the best vehicle with which to parade the forthcoming victory of the graphic arts. Pulitzer himself terminated the discussions on the World. He ordered that the new press turn out facsimiles of famous paintings in the leading galleries of Europe.

Turner won the machinery duel. His press was delivered seven days ahead of Pulitzer’s. But the Recorder extracted more embarrassment than advantage from this victory. Its first four-color work appeared in the edition of April 2, 1893. The results were execrable. During the next twenty months—until regular weekly production began on December 9, 1894—chromatic printing was presented by the Recorder in only three issues, June 18, July 2 and August 20, 1893. In each of these the chief feature was a page entitled “Cosmopolitan Sketches—Annie, the Apple Girl.” It was a rather sad series.5

Seven months passed before the Pulitzer machine was put into production. The Recorder was furnishing valuable lessons in what to avoid. The World made several unsatisfactory trial runs. Pulitzer’s plan to duplicate famous paintings went awry. The reproductions were atrocious. A jury of critics, invited to comment on the enterprise, denounced it. Their artistic sensibilities were jarred. They grieved over possible harm to youthful readers. Such distortions of classic art could scarcely fail to unbalance appreciation of the masters. The edition was killed on the press. Copies of women’s gowns were next tried. The outcome was equally displeasing.

At last, on November 19, 1893—one year earlier than the date commonly accepted—the World issued its first colored supplement. The front and back pages respectively showed St. Patrick’s Cathedral at nine-o’clock mass and a Saturday-night scene at Atlantic Garden. Inside, in black and white, were panels culled from Die Fliegende Blaetter, Punch, Truth and other humorous periodicals. The printing disgusted Pulitzer. He shut down the apparatus to which he had looked for a captivating triumph. For nine months, the “wonder job” of the Walter Scott & Company shops stood idle in the New York World plant.

At this point, it becomes necessary to set forth the fallacy of a popular tradition. Contrary to a general notion, the colored comic did not issue from a genius for humor. It was born, not in a flash of afflatus, but in the travail of editorial minds straining to solve a problem. It was the answer to a mechanical conundrum. It is in no light spirit that the authenticity is here denied of a shrine at which millions have made sentimental obeisance. The genesis of a great social influence must not be lost in apocryphal incunabula. Posterity will be entitled to an accurate accounting of such a distinctive heritage as “the funnies.” It might guide the historian to a hidden bridge—the link between the quick laughter and the sober purposes of a strong people. It may bore the aesthete, but it should kindle the philosopher.

The newspaper comic has been an organ of modern culture. A great muscle that flexed the spirit while it quickened the pulse, it has been a powerful determinant of national character. It has sown cheerfulness, it has put to scorn the narrowness of little men; it has discredited the defeatist; it has lifted the heart and broadened the vision of numberless seekers for a smile; it has spread optimism by whetting the eagerness to live; it has promoted realism through disillusionment; it has kept America face to face with itself. Its opulent contributions to lingual imagery are appreciated even by some of those who refuse to find delight in the drolleries of such creations as Barney Google, Mickey Mouse, Joe Palooka, Li'l Abner, Freckles and his Friends, Katrinka, Popeye the Sailor, Blondie, and The Gumps.

Several of Pulitzer’s lieutenants felt that it would be flying in the face of providence to abandon the new machine and thus neglect the latest advance in the making of newspapers. One was General Manager Carvalho. Another was the Sunday editor, Morrill Goddard, who had already shown evidence of the surpassing ability that was to establish him as an outstanding figure in journalism. Carvalho urged that the color press would redeem itself if supplied with suitable material. Goddard agreed. They argued that they had been on the right track, with the right engine but the wrong fuel.

Pulitzer was willing to be persuaded. Through the summer of 1894 a number of editorial conferences were held. Pulitzer studied reports of the debates. Goddard favored the use of comics. He pointed to the growth of Puck, Judge, and other weeklies devoted to pictorial humor. A majority of his colleagues clung to their preference for women’s gowns. As much by a process of elimination as by affirmative selection, Goddard prevailed. The summer passed before Pulitzer assented.

Here again we confront a myth that must be laid. According to popular legend, the World’s first comic supplement, published on November 18, 1894, introduced The Yellow Kid by Richard Felton Outcault—“the comic from which all other comics are dated.” That impish creature did not arrive on the scene until more than a year later 6. And then he was the product of a synthetic evolution. The truth about this celebrated figure deserves accurate recording. Not only was it recognized as the foremost exemplification of a new art, but it acted as the inspiration for a historic term—“yellow journalism.”

Outcault, a draughtsman on the Electrical World, had been recommended to Goddard by Walt McDougall. This was the McDougall who drew the first full-page comic printed in colors. Outcault was slow to appreciate the possibilities of the gamin on whose shoulders he climbed to fame. It is true that he included in most of the parties in his “Shantytown” sketches the urchin with one snaggled tooth in a one-piece costume which might have been euphemistically described as a nightgown. It is also true that this tad was always burdened with the same elephantine ears that fixed his identity in later pages. But the lemon-tinted habiliment that endowed him with both his name and his role was the work of outsiders. It was no phase of Outcault’s conception. Nor was it the result of a search for comic effects. Its origin was utterly remote from any fine impulse of artistry. It grew out of the use of vulgar tallow fat.7

Chemistry embraced one of the most vexatious problems in the early days of multi-color printing on a web press. Between the choice of satisfactory hues and the achievement of a clear imprint, many difficulties intervened. Each fluid pigment was disposed to bolt its reservation or to back up in perverse tackiness. The reds and blues were unruly enough; but the yellows were worse. Experiments were made with all sorts of binders and varnishes. The outstanding need was for an efficient drying formula. Animal fats were tried without end. Tallow fats came into favor to arrest the fugitive tints and to hold them in docile consistency. To get the fullest service from this coarse agent, its efficacy was directed against the most refractory of the inks. The tallow was set to manage the yellow.

Control of the results required constant observation over an adequate area of printing surface. This must be sufficiently extensive to demonstrate degrees of penetration and absorption, variations of evaporation under thermal and atmospheric changes, and emulsive and other irregularities which a clever pressman in that era could sense more readily than he could describe. Saalberg 8, foreman of the tint-laying Ben Day machines, picked the spot. It was the white space inside the outline garment worn by Outcault’s barefoot guttersnipe. When the “Hully gee!” brat next appeared he was clad in brilliant new raiment. It was the shade of a slightly bleached orange. It turned the wearer into The Yellow Kid. A moderately popular feature was thus transformed into a capital hit.

The furtive ways of life of Outcault’s roguish hero lasted four months. Up to then he had drifted through Hogan s Alley and Casey’s Alley, nameless and unattached, careless about his wardrobe accessories and obviously unaware of the spectacular future that awaited him. Once he was seen in a pair of boots too big for the corner cop. At another time he was clad in violent red. All this came to an end March 15, 1896. On that day, he donned the resounding yellow which he never thereafter discarded and with which he began his dual career seven months later. 9

Starting October 18, 1896, this enchanting street arab showed regularly for several years in both the New York World and the New York Journal. Outcault had joined the Pulitzer-to-Hearst gold rush recounted on an earlier page. He installed en masse in the Journal the mirth-making denizens of “Shantytown.” The flavor of this epochal event is preserved in the announcement made by the Hearst paper on October 17, 1896, as follows:



An expectant public is waiting for the “American Humorist,” the NEW YORK JOURNAL'S COMIC WEEKLY—EIGHT FULL PAGES OF COLOR


Bunco steerers may tempt your fancy with “a color supplement” that is black and tan—four pages of weak, wishy-washy color and four pages of desolate waste of black.



That’s the sort of color comic weekly that the people want; and they shall have it.

This advertisement is offered as a tonic for the sophisticated reader. It should be observed that the notice dwelt not so much on the goods to be delivered as on the package in which they would be wrapped. It promised more in exciting colors than in exciting comedy. Not a few publishers later adopted this standard of values. They could see the reds, blues and yellows with the naked eye. It required something beside optic equipment to see all the humor. This psychology was profitably employed for years by a Philadelphia syndicate. 10

It would be misleading, however, to consider the New York Journal's ballyhoo in that category. Hearst was playing a sure thing. He knew his press could print more colors on more pages than was possible with Pulitzer’s machine. Also, the most noteworthy item of information—the coming of The Yellow Kid— involved a ticklish fact. The feature was not to appear exclusively in the New York Journal.

The New York World, having copyrighted Outcault’s Shantytown characters, assigned a talented illustrator to continue its own series without interruption. His page was richer in pictorial than in humorous content. The drawings were strangely dissimilar to the studies in oil which leading museums exhibited a quarter of a century later from the brush of the same artist, George B. Luks.

Ervin Wardman
The question of “Who put the yellow into The Yellow Kid and why?” grew far beyond a whimsical Park Row controversy. It kept pace with the spreading fashion to attack “the saffron press.” Park Row coddled a theory that the World’s Ben Day foreman, Saalberg, was trying to put over a joke on Outcault when he unintentionally contributed more to the success of the comic than its creator had thus far supplied. The truth about trying a tallow drier on a stretch of ocher ink was too prosaic to command publicity. It was decidedly too commonplace to compete for attention with the countrywide taunt that the yellow in The Yellow Kid was a badge of yellow journalism. This imputation— given vogue by Ervin Wardman, then editor of the New York Press—did not detract from the popularity of the feature. It did affect the trend of Outcault’s later work.

In his next creation, Outcault lifted the plane of his humor from the slums to the walks of the well-to-do. He brought forth a mischievous specimen of privileged youth. Counterpart of Little Lord Fauntleroy, this new star of the funnies, Buster Brown, imparted a distinctive tinge to American boyhood. No matter what may have been his influence upon the moods, his sway over the modes of his generation was immense. He shuffled the fashions of juvenile apparel. No detail of his attire escaped coast-to-coast imitation. Twenty years after his disappearance from newspaper circulation, manufacturers were still distributing “Buster Brown” articles of clothing under royalty licenses.

Outcault held a unique position in the world of comic art. He alone achieved two “double runs.” The Yellow Kid's feat of showing simultaneously in rival newspapers was repeated by Buster Brown. Outcault left Hearst to join James Gordon Bennett on the New York Herald in 1897. It was five years later that he brought out Buster Brown. The feature won a livelier appreciation from the readers than from the managers of the Herald. Outcault, demanding an increase of salary, received, as he afterward described it to me, “the age-old but none-the-less too previous horse laugh.”

E. W. Reick, the managing editor, was genuinely astonished at the nerve of Dick Outcault. This fellow evidently considered himself indispensable. He asked a higher rate of compensation than was paid to his fellow-worker, Winsor McCay. It happened that Reick was partial to McCay’s Little Nemo and Dreams of a Rarebit Fiend. But he thought $150 a week was liberal recompense for any pen-and-ink artist. Dick wanted more than that. Reick scoffed at his threat to resign. Copyright lawsuits between Bennett and Hearst corporations followed Outcault’s return to a prodigal son’s welcome on the New York Journal.

The final decision has since served as a judicial milestone. The Herald’s ownership of the Buster Brown series was confirmed. On the other hand, the decree protected Outcault against any abridgment of his right to work. He was at liberty to carry on with the children of his brain and hand. So he ushered the entire cast of characters into a Sunday page of the New York Journal. Debarred from the label Buster Brown, the Hearst paper used the caption Buster and Tige. An earnest young man, William Lawler, bound to slavish imitation of the originator, kept the feature going in the Herald under its initial title.

Meanwhile, the colored comic supplement had captured the ascendency that it continued to command. Publishers ranked it as their leading Sunday circulation “puller.” Incidentally, it was their most expensive section. Its cost per page was a great deal more than any other part of the paper. But the results would have warranted even a higher price.

In reviewing Outcault’s career, we find a perspective of the early stages of syndicate development. Also, we note conditions that qualified the making of newspapers for a number of years. Reick’s treatment of Outcault typified a considerable group of editors. Endowed with ample capacity for the handling of news, they go astray in the field of features. They seem unable to appraise either the potential or the immediate values of amusement elements.

It is a mistake to assume that they lack a sense of humor. Instead of a deficiency, there may be too sharp a discrimination, particularly where personal preferences have been cultivated. Funnies wilt in the chill of a special taste. Prejudices of the palate are no more helpful in compiling a restaurant bill of fare than crotchets are useful in selecting a menu of comics for a daily.

Reick’s willingness to lose Outcault meant readiness to rely on a substitute for a star. That was a common trait among executives. Capitalizing newsprint personalities was still an infant industry. The anatomy of a comic was an inchoate mystery. Its physiology was terra incognita. Reick believed there would be only a negligible difference between Outcault’s Buster Brown pages and those produced by his successor. A number of his compeers— clients of the New York Herald syndicate—shared in this judgment. Apparently, they were unacquainted with the parallel of “the perfect violin.”

That analogy long served as one of my favorite illustrations of counsel for aspirants to journalistic primacy. It postulates two virtuosi rendering an identical composition. Both play every note in the score. They start and finish at the same time. Each gives a technically flawless performance. Yet one is lionized by audiences paying $5 a seat, while the other earns scarcely a pittance above the labor union’s scale. The demonstration is completed by interchanging the violinist’s bow and the comic artist’s pen.

When Outcault joined Newspaper Feature Service in 1913, he had shaken off all imitators. He fell in heartily with an elaborate promotion project. It was to establish Buster as the permanent leader of a section of Young America. A recital of the plan and its outcome is offered here as a solemn service. The record merits emphasis whenever soi-disant statesmen gather to ventilate their wisdom in matters of war.

A “Buster Brown League” was formulated, open to every boy and girl in the country. The token of membership was a button designed by Outcault. It symbolized faith in an informal philosophy based on Buster’s resolutions. One of those pledges appeared in each Sunday page. It was the epilogue of a hilarious adventure. It was inscribed on a pillow tied around Buster’s person at a position explanatory of his penitent spirit. It epitomized a reason for better behavior. Here are three specimens:

Resolved—That I must have sleep if I have to stay up all night to get it. The peace that passeth all understanding comes with honest, healthy sleep. You can’t buy it. If you could, I’d want to own a sleep store.

Resolved—-That the best policy is to be honest. But don’t let anybody know it. . . . People won’t believe you; but it makes you happy and prosperous to be honest and you’re not afraid of the dark.

Resolved—That truth is all right if used at the right time and place. . . . Tact and truth are two different things. Tact is the polite name for lies you have to tell sensitive people.

A preliminary order for 3,000,000—based on a total of 7,000,000 —membership insignia was placed with the Whitehead & Hoag Company of New Jersey. Arrangements for their distribution and for measures of organization maintenance were perfected with newspapers using the Buster Brown feature. Editors assured me of their cordial approval. Their circulation managers were highly enthusiastic. Public announcement was to be made at a formal function in Washington. This was to be attended by a dozen men and women conspicuous in the movement to modernize the education of youth. In addition, letters were addressed to a carefully chosen list of 250 leaders of the then vigorous “uplift trend.” The recipients were invited to serve as councilors and to authorize for publication their endorsement of the Buster Brown League. The result astounded me.

The plan, which Outcault had flatteringly hailed as “a meteoric idea,” was twisted into a knot. The meteor turned into a blackout, not because it was tied to the tail of a comic, but because it scorched the tail of a national behemoth. The Cerberus of pacifism— personified by an impressive circle of ministers, philanthropists, authors, sociologists and clubwomen—growled disapproval. Tart notes of remonstrance reached me from all directions.

Jane Addams, of revered memory, head of Chicago’s Hull House, emphasized both displeasure and sorrow. Censorious comments came from Judge Ben Lindsey, Anne Morgan, Rev. Messrs. C. H. Parkhurst and Thomas F. Dixon, Carrie Chapman Catt, Samuel Gompers, Joseph W. Folk, Gertrude Atherton, Clarence S. Darrow, United States Senator George W. Norris and a number of notable “uplifters.” More astonishing than the unanimity of these rebuffs was the unity of reasoning that prompted them.

Consolidating the messages in a composite communication, while retaining a bit of the emotional phraseology, would have produced something like this: “We have gone through a generation of peace-making. We are at the threshold of the brotherhood of man. We have reached this high point of human development after sustained research, thinking and planning for permanent peace. We have found that the most fertile field for the seeds of war lies in the regimentation of youth. We have uniformly opposed any and all attempts to regiment the young. Now, when we have come so far away from that field of deadly ferment, you ask that we help you lead a return to the regimentation of youth. It is a vicious proposal that calls for vigorous opposition.”

Suspicion, partly engendered perhaps by disappointment, prompted an inquiry into the genuineness of these sapient deliverances. Charles V. Tevis, my assistant, was directed to interview a number of the writers. His report left no doubt about their sincerity. That was in April, 1914. Three months later came the outbreak of the World War. The Buster Brown League passed on, ephemeral victim of a timeless heresy. And that was twenty-five years before appeasement took its stand beside pacifism.

1 - As unlikely as this claim seems, I cannot refute it. Koenigsberg's listed conditions are (1) the syndicate cannot be remarketing material used by a parent newspaper, and (2) the material offered must include both daily material and Sunday material. McClure and World Color Printing had both dabbled a bit with offering dailies by this time, but their offerings were sporadic, so I'm not going to count them. NEA and International Syndicate, on the other hand, offered daily material only. Pretty much every other player was associated with a home paper.

2 - Boilerplate syndicate material was very well-known, popular and accepted by 1913. It seems very doubtful that Koenigsberg got any push-back. This is fairly typical Koenigsberg, trying to build himself up by belittling others.

3 - By the time Koenigsberg was writing this material, syndication history had been explored in a grand total of one slim publication (which you will find reprinted in full here on Stripper's Guide). Journalism histories had (and even continue to have) a habit of ignoring syndication, despite it being in many ways the brick and mortar that holds together most modern American newspapers.

4 - The halftone process does indeed have a number of 'inventors'. Oddly, Koenigsberg doesn't mention the leading contender, Frederic Eugene Ives, whose process supposedly became the de facto standard not only for newspapers but most other printing. Perhaps he is seeking to give the mantle to the newspaper press technicians who actually put the concept into use in the real world?

5 - While the New York Recorder was indeed the first paper in New York to do four-color printing, the Chicago Inter-Ocean was turning out full-color material starting almost a full year earlier.

I have a bound volume of the 1893 Recorder where I unfortunately cannot currently reach it, and my recollection is that their experiments with color were primarily in the genre of ladies fashions along with the art reproductions whose printing quality was so infamously awful. I do not, however, recall a continuing titled series like Koenigsberg seems to be describing.

6 - Not quite. The first identifiable Yellow Kid, though at the time wearing a blue nightshirt, was in May 1895.

7 - Koenigsberg is about to relate the tale of the Yellow Kid being a testbed for printing a large area of yellow. As can be plainly seen in these early comics sections, yellow was being used regularly and successfully long before the Kid was ever colored yellow (see here for samples). Unfortunately, this tall tale continues to be repeated in pop histories to this day.

8 - This is Charles W. Saalburg, star artist and technician of the Chicago Inter-Ocean color sections of 1892-4. He sometimes did apparently spell his name Saalberg.

9 - The date cited is actually the first time that Outcault wrote words on the Kid's nightshirt. He'd been in yellow for awhile before that.

10 - One has to wonder which Philadelphia syndicate Koenigsberg is insulting here. Frankly, the three major players -- the Inquirer, the North American and the Press, all had comics sections that were ripe for ridicule.

Chapter 14 Part 2 Next Week         link to previous installment   link to next installment


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