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).


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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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Wednesday, December 06, 2017


Ink-Slinger profiles by Alex Jay: Hedrick

Tubman Keene Hedrick was born in Illawara, Louisiana, on February 15, 1873, according to the Book of St. Louisans (1906). His parents were Cyrus Alan Hedrick and Ella Augustine Travis.

In the 1880 U.S. Federal Census, Hedrick was the youngest of three children. His father was a manager of an unspecified business. The family resided in East Carroll, Louisiana.

The Book of St. Louisans said Hedrick was educated at country schools in Louisiana and at public schools in Mineola, Texas, until 12 years old, and after that he was self-taught. Hedrick was a newsboy at 12, then a postal clerk at 14. In 1890, Hedrick was a contributor to the publications Louisville Courier Journal and Louisville Truth. A 1891 Louisville, Kentucky city directory had a listing for “Keene Hedrick”, a draughtsman at S.C. Gates, who lived at 1824 Brook.

Hedrick spent time in Texas as a railroad clerk in Mineola in 1891. He was a cartoonist for Dallas newspapers from 1892 to 1894 and later, in 1895, at the Houston Post. The 1896 Dallas city directory said Hedrick was a photo-engraver, an occupation mentioned in Cartoons Magazine, April 1917.

The Globe-Democrat in St. Louis, Missouri was Hedrick’s next stop from 1896 to 1903. Hedrick contributed illustrations to Harry B. Wandell’s One Purple Week; and Then— (1898).

Hedrick was in his mother’s household according to the 1900 census. The cartoonist resided in St. Louis at 1382 Lucretia Avenue. In the 1903 city directory, Hedrick’s address was 3502 Pine.

Hedrick married Mary St. Clair McCamish in Mineola, Texas, on December 10, 1903.

Hedrick was a member of the Single Tax League. A 1901 issue of the Single Tax Review reported this item: “T. K. Hedrick, the able cartoonist of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, and writer of the department in the paper called ‘The Echoes of the Streets,’ is a member of our league.”

After his stint with the Globe-Democrat, Hedrick was a freelance magazine writer and cartoonist. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Hedrick produced Mister Hypo for the Globe-Democrat which ran it from June 4 to July 30, 1905.

In June 1904, Hedrick was one of the American Press Humorists at the St. Louis World’s Fair. A group photograph was published in the Inland Printer, August 1904.

In the 1908 St. Louis directory, Hedrick’s home was 5149 Ridge Avenue. The address was 1355 Clara Avenue in the 1910 census. Hedrick and his wife had two sons, Travis and Edward. Hedrick was a freelance journalist. According to the Chicago Tribune, August 11, 1935, Hedrick moved, in 1910, to Chicago and worked for the Daily News.

When Hedrick signed his World War I draft card on September 12, 1918, he was a resident of Chicago at 849 Lafayette Street. He was an editor employed by Victor Lawson. Hedrick was described as short, slender build with brown eyes and dark hair.

Two daughters, Mary and Ella, were listed in the Hedrick household in the 1920 census. The family of six resided at 5640 Kenmore Avenue in Chicago. Hedrick’s home in the 1930 census was the Hotel Broadmoor Apartment, 7606 Bosworth Avenue.

In 1921, the Bobb-Merrill Company published Hedrick’s book, Orientations of Ho-Hen.

New York Tribune 4/9/1922

Hedrick passed away August 10, 1935 according to the Cook County, Illinois death index. His death was reported the following day in the Chicago Tribune.

—Alex Jay


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Tuesday, December 05, 2017


Ink-Slinger Profiles by Alex Jay: Don/Dom J. Lavin

Dominic John Lavin was born in San Francisco, California, on December 9, 1874, according to his Social Security application. Lavin’s World War I draft card had his full name. He has not yet been found in the 1880 and 1900 U.S. Federal Censuses. San Francisco city directories for 1890, 1891, 1896 and 1897 listed a Dominic Lavin, at 911 Vallejo, who was a clerk at H. Huddleston & Co.

Information regarding Lavin’s education and art training has not been found. According to a 1900 Chicago city directory, Lavin was an artist residing at 5660 Madison Avenue. In the 1901 directory Lavin was at the Chicago American, which became the Examiner in 1904, and lived at 648 65th Street.

The Cook County marriage index said Lavin married Amelia Esther Preston in Chicago on April 17, 1901.

Lavin was with the Examiner when he exhibited forty works in the First Annual Exhibition [of the] Newspaper Cartoonists’ and Artists’ Association at the Art Institute in May 1905. In the Chicago Tribune, March 28, 1949, Frank King recalled when Lavin hired him to work in the Examiner art department (see page 14).

The Tribune, September 30, 1909, reported a tragic accident at Lavin’s home (see column 3).

The 1910 census did not record Lavin’s occupation. He and his wife had an eight-year-old son, Robert, and employed a housekeeper. They resided in Chicago at 6510 Ingleside Avenue.

Lavin illustrated for a number periodicals including Wayside Tales, The Idler, The Day Book, and The Green Book.

Lavin was associated with the Federal School of Applied Cartooning and Federal School of Commercial Designing.

Lavin was an instructor at Chicago's American Academy of Art where one of his student’s was William Juhre.

During his time at the Tribune, Lavin was an avid golfer as noted in The Scoop and The Fourth Estate.

On September 12, 1918, Lavin signed his World War I draft card. He was art editor at the Tribune. He was described as tall, medium build with gray eyes and brown hair.

In 1919 Lavin left the Tribune and joined the the Charles Daniel Frey Company. 

Tribune 3/21/1919

Lavin’s address was unchanged in the 1920 and 1930 censuses. He worked in advertising. Advertising Arts and Crafts (1927) had this listing for him, “Lavin, Dom J., 63 E. Adams, Wab 6480 Chicago, Ill.”

Lavin drew The New Deal in Pictures for the NEA which ran it from July 27 to August 10, 1933. American Newspaper Comics (2012) said Lavin drew Do You Know? for the Chicago Defender. The panel ran from April 4 to June 6, 1936.

At some point Lavin moved to California. The 1940 Paseadena city directory listed commercial artist Lavin at 335 Parke and the name of his second wife, Hazel. Cartoonist Lavin was at 262 Palmetto Drive in the 1947 directory. The Pasadena directories from 1949 to 1956 had Lavin’s address as 364 Rosemont Avenue.

Lavin passed away June 14, 1958
. His death was reported in the Independent Star-News (Pasadena, California), the following day.

Don Lavin, 83-year-old veteran newspaper artist and contributor to The Independent Star-News, died yesterday at a Pasadena rest home.

Lavin, who resided at 364 Rosemont St., Pasadena, was admitted to the home four weeks ago of treatment of a heart condition.

A native of San Francisco, Lavin was head artist for the Chicago Tribune for many years before coming to California. While here, his work appeared from time to time in this newspaper.

He is survived by a son, R. Preston Lavin, of Chicago, and a close friend, Ernest Spaulding of Pasadena.

Funeral services are pending at the Lamb Funeral Home.

—Alex Jay


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Monday, December 04, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: The New Deal in Pictures

The NEA syndicate would eventually become nearly constant purveyors of closed-end newsy comic strip series, but until the late 1930s, they were seldom offered. One of the earliest attempts at telling a news story through the comic strip format came in 1933, when they offered The New Deal in Pictures.

Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs were coming fast and furious, and the alphabet soup of new bureaus and programs was tough to keep up with. NEA's solution was to offer a short, punchy explanation of them all in the form of a comic strip series in thirteen daily installments.

The official running dates of the series, per NEA archives at the OSU cartoon library, are July 27 to August 10. However, as was often the case with these series, many papers ran them late, out of order or incomplete.

The text was written by John M. Gleissner, who was a Washington DC newspaper editor in the 1920s, and apparently then went to work for NEA. The art was by Don J. Lavin, whose biggest mark was as head of the Chicago Tribune art department in the 1910s. He did a little work for NEA between 1932-34, with this feature the only comic strip series. According to Alex Jay, his full given name was Dominic, which leads me to wonder if he is the same fellow who did Did You Know? for the Chicago Defender in 1936 as Dom J. Lavin, rather than his more typical 'Don'. Most likely he did, since Chicago seemed to be his home base.

Thanks to Cole Johnson, who supplied the sample strip ... probably with a clothespin on his nose as he scanned it, as he was definitely not a fan of FDR. Sadly I have lost any comments he made about the strip; I imagine he had a few bon mots to say on the subject of the New Deal.


Judging from the memoirs of Herbert L. Block ("Herblock"), who was a staff editorial cartoonist at NEA in the 1930s, NEA (owned by Scripps-Howard) was generally a conservative place. Mildly surprising they would have a pro-New Deal strip.
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Saturday, December 02, 2017


Herriman Saturday

June 2 1909 -- Herriman's 'Guess Who' sports series continues, this time highlighting the official timer at one of the local boxing venues.


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Friday, December 01, 2017


Wish You Were Here, from Fred Opper

Somehow the Mutual Book Company of Boston, a somewhat cheapsie sort of outfit I gather, got the rights to an Opper postcard image in 1905. Also rather odd that Opper, if he was in fact the author of the caption, chose to appropriate a very similar term to one popularized by his Hearst compadre, F.M. Howarth (Mr. E.Z. Mark). But I doubt Opper chose the caption, because I was able to find one other Opper postcard in this series, and that one appropriates the gag from a popular postcard series of the time "The Whole Dam Family".  Seems like the folks at the Mutual Book Company were trying to play piggy-back on proven sellers.

The cartoon itself is a bit opaque to me -- I guess Opper might be saying that oysters served at a church fair are a good bet to make you sick (you're a Mr. Easy Mark). If that's the gag, it seems like the oyster might have been drawn to make it obvious it is noxious. This one looks like a fine upstanding citizen.


Mystery solved. Opper illustrated a book by Eugene Field ...

... which included a bit about how one oyster is responsible for all the weak oyster stew sold at church fairs ...

The Easy Mark is most likely anyone who buys the oyster stew this fellow is involved with.
Great sleuthing Donald! Thanks.
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Thursday, November 30, 2017


King News by Moses Koenigsberg: Chapter 13 Part 2


 King News by Moses Koenigsberg

Published by F.A. Stokes Company, 1941

Chapter 13

  Monsieur Veto (part 2)

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The cycle from 1909 to 1913 was for me an uninterrupted ride on an international merry-go-round. The longest period devoted to any one panoramic segment lasted four months. That was in 1910, my first trip abroad. Farrelly arranged it. Ostensibly, it was a bonus for services rendered to the Hearst syndicate. Incidentally—if not principally—it was intended to gather information regarding a possible English market for the Hearst output. A study of British humor was, perforce, a preliminary to my research.

In high elation, I brought back a covenant of alliance with Henderson Bros., Ltd. A Scotch publishing organization, this firm issued regularly twenty-odd different periodicals for circulation throughout the British Empire. The price of two hundred guineas weekly was fixed for the right to reproduce in the various Henderson editions a selection of Hearst materials in original or revised form. Farrelly was delighted. The opening of this wholly new field suggested many possibilities. But Farrelly’s exhilaration was short-lived. Hearst peremptorily canceled the deal. Why should a British publishing house turn to its profit the talents of his own staff?

The willingness of a successful English magazine company to make such an indenture was, in effect, a guaranty of British hospitality for these newspaper elements. The reasoning may have been sound, but it was not sustained by the outcome. Hearst launched a weekly in London. Its title was The Budget. It contained a number of the comics and pictorial items most popular in the Hearst papers. Efforts were made to adapt them to English tastes.

The Budget was an amusing plaything. Calculated by Hearst’s standards, it was relatively inexpensive. He dropped it before the losses had gone far beyond a quarter of a million dollars. And that was a negligible sum compared with the profits later returned to him by Nash’s magazine and the English edition of Good Housekeeping, both monthlies of the silk-stocking class. British readers, unwilling to spend a penny for Hearst in dominoes, paid sixpence for him in frills.

My quadrennium of journalistic excursions concluded with the most piquant errand that it was my fortune to undertake. For three months I labored in vain to hand over to the leading citizens of San Francisco, then the metropolis of the Pacific Coast, a substantial favor, with worldwide garniture, from their fellow townsman, William Randolph Hearst. The offering snagged on a disbelief in Santa Claus. An unrelenting newspaper rivalry had something to do with the inception of this skepticism.

The Panama-Pacific International Exposition was in course of preparation to open eighteen months later, in 1915. It was to beckon to California visitors from every quarter of the globe. Hearst wanted to make sure that this beckoning attracted the fullest possible attention. He thought that could be accomplished with a campaign of pictures to be distributed throughout the world. Hearst believed that his own facilities for such a dissemination— his newspaper syndicates and services—would exceed those of anyone else likely to be interested in the work. He decided to do the job.

The effectiveness of such a promotional program would depend largely on control of the sources of pictorial supply. This could be commanded through an exclusive right to the use of cameras in connection with the exposition. That would be the photographic concession. It was my assignment to get this. Why the choice fell on me was never explained. Assumably, it was to be followed by the duty of mapping out a distribution system.

My instructions were to guarantee for the privilege a compensation larger than that proposed by any other bona fide applicant. Hearst was giving, not receiving, a boon. No neighbor would be in position to say that he had bargained for an advantage from his native city. This was practically a subvention. How could it be declined? Why had it been considered necessary to send someone across the continent to urge its desirability? Through the answers—as complex as the questions seemed simple—showed some of the strands of that mystic texture from which was woven the unique mosaic of San Francisco’s Hearst and Hearst’s San Francisco.
Michael H. DeYoung

Gen. Michael H. DeYoung was chairman of the concessions committee of the Panama-Pacific Exposition. He was also the owner of the San Francisco Chronicle. Though born in Missouri, DeYoung considered himself a native son of California. Common nativity with one’s neighbors around Golden Gate meant much more than a social coincidence. It spelled an incantation. It laid upon those within this magic circle an inviolable obligation to unite against the outsider. But nothing in this union relieved a member of the need to protect himself from every angle and shadow. And during my sojourn in San Francisco, angles and shadows appeared to enjoy the special auspices of the marvelous California climate. They sprang up everywhere. General DeYoung was disconcertingly courteous. He seemed worried about my safety. His secretary was permitted to whisper an explanation. The general expected me momentarily to be trampled by the Trojan horse I was leading.

Thrusts from the rear complicated my mission. The former superintendent of police, Fred Esola, announced himself as an associate of Andrew M. Lawrence in an application for the photographic privileges. Only a few years before, Lawrence had been chief executive of the San Francisco Examiner. Now he was Hearst’s agent in the Middle West, and the pull of his relationships was still to be reckoned with in California. Some heads of the exposition company were uncertain whether to fear or to favor him. But it was easier to dislodge Lawrence as a contender than to overcome the negative influence of the resident Hearst viceroy.

Dent H. Robert, once my city editor on the St. Louis Republic and currently publisher of the San Francisco Examiner, found nothing to approve in my presence. It was an intrusion. There was something of the Pharisee in Robert. He was especially intolerant of Hearst men employed east of the Rockies. Most of them, he felt, were parasites subsisting on the wealth that was siphoned from Hearst’s West Coast profits. He believed Hearst had been adequately represented in California before my arrival. He didn’t feel that my coming had bettered this representation. Robert was rather explicit on that score during a wrangle with me. The quarrel occurred in the hearing of several Exposition committeemen.

Hearst did not get the photographic concession for the Panama- Pacific International Exposition. A time limit for the acceptance of his proposal was permitted to lapse. Three months after my return East, a committee of regretful San Franciscoans came to New York. They wanted to revive Hearst’s interest in the project. Maybe there was a strain of Santa Claus in him, after all. My cooperation was requested. It was not painful to say, “Too late.”

There would be small point to the recollection of these trivia if their significance related only to the camera privileges at an international fair. They make an integral chapter of a life that repeatedly touched world crises. In these circumstances, with kindred manifestations, was contained my solution of the engrossing Hearst riddle—the nature of his influence on public opinion. This explanation indexed the amazing fluctuations of that force. It dissected a power capable of pivoting a national movement, yet incapable of budging a city’s electorate. It reckoned the potentialities of a private citizen who might balk presidents, premiers, emperors or dictators while being himself balked by petty local bosses. It traced the phenomenon of a recurrent factor in world affairs incurring futile failures in county politics; Hearst’s major share in campaigns affecting international treaties contrasted with his defeats in municipal contests.

To Hearst must be attributed the breaking up of more political careers than crumpled under the assaults of any contemporary. One need search no farther for that record than a single performance— the publication in 1908 of letters of John D. Archbold, vice-president of the Standard Oil Company. The result went far beyond the discrediting of United States Senators J. B. Foraker and Marcus A. Hanna of Ohio, Boies Penrose and Matthew Quay of Pennsylvania, and Joseph W. Bailey of Texas. It smashed one of the strongest cabals that ever infested our Congressional branch of government. The fact that the correspondence was stolen did not lessen the effects of the exposure.

Crooked politics underwent a memorable setback. But encomiums did not hush the execrations. That was owing mainly to the mode of attack. It stimulated conjecture regarding Hearst’s motives. It gave color to his enemies’ charge that he was more interested in advancing his individual program than in serving the public. It is true that he reserved the Archbold revelations for a special purpose. They punctuated his advocacy of his handmade party and presidential candidate—the Independence League and Thomas L. Hisgen. But that didn’t mar their validity.

Hearst has suffered from the acid reactions of his aggressiveness. He was an explorer of turpitude—of the shadows of sinister or ulterior designs to which he pointed behind nearly every shining light. He inculcated distrust. The counsels for suspicion, that he so forcefully and so continuously directed toward others, now and then turned against himself. In the backwash of currents whipped by his methods, some of his own magnanimities foundered. We have seen his neighbors decline his donation of money and services.

The average intelligence clings to unities. Hearst’s activities were unified in the prevalent understanding with breaking up rather than building up social elements. Superman in political demolition, he. was described as “The Great Wrecker.” The characterization clicked in millions of minds. Hosts hastened to help him tear things down. Few tarried to build anew. That has been the popular custom through the ages. It would be a mistake to think Hearst had wholly lost their allegiance when his followers ignored his summons for special labors. Again and again he rallied the same or as many adherents as before, though they mustered not to toil in the fields, nor yet to tend the flocks, but always and apace to smite the Philistines. Monsieur Veto, after a lapse of a century, once more became a realistic title. Louis XVI gained it through legislative action. Hearst won it through the prowess of his pen.

“The Great Wrecker” bore a connotation more of honor than of opprobrium. The devastation it implied was limited to quarters undeserving of sympathy. Otherwise, it could not have been wrought. Only structures honeycombed with culpability can be destroyed by the light of publicity. Their removal is less an engineering than a sanitary function. Hearst, having performed an Augean renovation, might well—if he chose—swap the appellation “The Great Wrecker” for “The Great Sweeper.”

In any case, Hearst held regularly the sustained interest of more of his fellow citizens than was commanded over the same span of time by any American outside the White House. Even if this attention were convertible only into one-way dynamics, it was inalienable from Hearst. It maintained his publications in a group supremacy unattained by any of his rivals. The sum total was a record without contemporaneous parallel.

~ ~ ~ ~

Whether because of training or of a quirk of providence, it has been my experience to be driven to deeper introspection by minor annoyances than by major crises. Important events usually clamped upon my emotions the stern rule of reason, while a petty nuisance prodded an impatient search for the cause of corollary irritations. Realism paved its own firm roadbed. Subjectiveness rode on wobbly rails. So, vexations of the unsuccessful mission in San Francisco led to another survey of my affairs. It was not gratifying. Four years of a unique occupation were drawing to a close. There had been plentiful luck and excitement in hunting, trapping and fishing for journalistic game and in plowing newspaper and adjacent fields. But there was not a bag, a catch or a crop for myself. Bull’s-eyes had been scored often enough, but the trophies were not awarded to me. It was like a travel schedule that embraced all directions with no arrival.

The time had come long since to choose a definite destination. A drastic step was necessary to enforce the choice. There must be a severance of the connection that had kept me drifting. My resignation was forwarded to W. R. Hearst. Twice before in the previous two years, I had resigned. Once, Farrelly persuaded me to remain to work out an especially intriguing problem of telephone news circuits. The second time, the vulgar attraction of more money induced the renewal of my personal service contract. My compensation was increased to $150 weekly. Now, there must be something besides a salary advance to hold me.

If the mettle were in me to reach the top, it must be proved without further delay. My thirty-fifth birthday was approaching. At that age, a journalist should be either aboard or underneath the chariot of destiny. Few men in my profession had undergone a more thorough training for main-event contests. Either my hand was already fitted for the handle of a first prize or it was doomed always to rummage through the grab sack. This must be determined by my next venture.

The doors of one arena stood invitingly open. The newspaper feature syndicate offered measureless opportunities. Most attractive was the absence of time barriers. Signal achievement was possible almost overnight. Practically no capital was needed for plant investment. An organization to serve hundreds, even thousands, of publications could be set up with less cash or labor than would be required to launch one daily. Highly alluring was the expanse of operation. Its limits were fixed only by the merits of the output—the effectiveness of the materials designed to challenge and hold readers. State lines didn’t dim the sparkle of ideas.

The problem of finances had been solved before it arose. The solution was entwined in the gratitude of a publisher who believed it was my advice that had turned a steady loss into an annual profit of $200,000. This over-appreciative friend was Rafael R. Govin. He then owned El Mundo and La Prensa in Havana, Cuba. Later, he added to his string of publications the Post and the Telegram in Havana, the Advertiser and the Telegram in Elmira, N. Y., and the Journal of Commerce in New York City.

Our acquaintance, beginning in Chicago, ripened into a lasting cordiality. It was Govin who, in 1905, authorized me to offer to the City of Chicago an immediate conversion of its street railway system into municipal ownership. At that time he represented the local traction trust. Gradually, he withdrew from the money marts. Our intimacy grew with each step that he took away from Wall Street. Now, early in 1913, he proposed a business partnership. He would supply the funds for the installation or purchase and operation, under my management, of either a news service or a newspaper.

My plans for a syndicate, long in incubation, won Govin’s enthusiastic approval. He regarded such a business as a modified news service. At any time we chose we could expand our activities and add telegraph or other transmitting devices. On my estimate of the sum necessary to safeguard success, he agreed to make available in suitable installments over a period of thirty months, a bank credit of $150,000. Fifty-one percent of the stock would be deliverable to me at a price to be determined by the amount of the aggregate cash investment. Govin worked out a sliding scale exceedingly generous to me. There was no haggling. He expected handsome dividends and he wanted to stimulate my efforts to hasten them.

The conversation that assumably closed the deal with Govin took place ten days after the posting of my resignation to Hearst and three days after my return from San Francisco. That was in February. The date of expiration of my last indenture was two months earlier. Not the slightest doubt occurred to me about complete freedom to devote myself to any work I might choose. Formal announcement of my severance from the Hearst organization had been prepared. It was intended for the scores of publishers and editors who, from time to time during the previous four years, had indicated interest in my plans for the future. It would be the first gun in a campaign for promotion of the syndicate on which I had resolved months earlier. The cards were in the mails before the conclusion of my conferences with Govin. The Rubicon was passed—but not triumphantly. My agreement with Govin was unexpectedly spiked.

Under an interpretation of law by the New York State Court of Appeals, I was still bound to Star Company, the Hearst holding corporation. The rule was little known. It stipulated that a continuance of relations at the end of a personal service contract might be construed as a renewal of that instrument. Thus, either the payment or the acknowledgment of compensation restored the compact. There had been no interruption of my salary. Therefore, my contractual obligation was binding ten months longer, the remainder of the year.

Notification of my status came from Carvalho. He seemed to get a treat out of my surprise. His statement smacked a good deal of pedantry. The master enjoyed demonstrating a ligature hitherto unknown to the interne. But Carvalho was conciliatory. It was at this meeting that he extended the olive branch. Our business relations thereafter were uniformly pleasant and—to me —stimulating. There had been no design to trick me, he said. On the day my farewell letter to Hearst was written, Carvalho had received instructions to arrange a new assignment for me. Its delivery was timed for my return from the West Coast. That was done to avert any leakage of the facts—Carvalho’s inescapable obsession—and to perfect certain preliminaries.

A wrench came with the recollection of the engraved notices that were speeding to a long list of my newspaper friends. How could that be explained? It would be stultifying enough to affect my usefulness. Carvalho tossed that thought out of the window. What I had done fitted most happily into the plans for the enterprise to be entrusted to me. It would be just as well to face the world as a former member of the Hearst family. Indeed, that course was highly recommended. My work would be performed in complete independence of the Hearst establishment. The success of the project would be determined by the degree of vigor that entered into its rivalry. Mr. Hearst wanted me to organize and operate a new feature syndicate!

Here was a stretch of coincidence to strain its longest reach. There could have been no deliberate synchronization of these incidents. The facts seemed obvious. Yet they got snared in the gullet of credibility. They left a lingering urge to peek under desk pads and table covers. Consideration of Hearst’s motive brought one no closer to the point of this poser. Why should he create and support a competitor? Carvalho had a convincing explanation. But it wasn’t complete. It required several years to envisage the full meaning of this novel strategy.

Carvalho outlined Hearst’s purpose to insure against a let-down in the production of features—not so much in quantity as in quality. Normal incentive wasn’t adequate. It might languish under decreasing pressure from other publishers who didn’t share Hearst’s insatiable desire for more and better elements of newspaper entertainment. He would have two teams on the field instead of one. No race would be thrown, because each crew would strive to its uttermost to surpass the other. Nothing would be permitted to divert the paramount purpose of keeping both squads on edge. Concurrently, Hearst would enjoy an undisclosed vantage in the discovery and development of new talent.

Despite the attractive aspects of Hearst’s syndicate program, it did not turn me from the resolve to secure a proprietary share in both the direction and the fruits of my labors. Unwillingness to work for a regular stipend should disqualify any employee. A candid declaration of this attitude should bring about my separation from the Hearst payroll and thus permit the carrying out of my arrangement with Govin. But Carvalho had a persuasive rejoinder. It was purposed to allot to me the equivalent of a partial ownership. And this would not involve any pecuniary risk on my part. Mr. Hearst wanted me to receive a percentage of the profits. Since that would constitute a portion of my remuneration, there would be no interference with my management. Otherwise grounds might arise for claims that my emolument had been impaired by faulty judgments. My proprietorship might be limited, but my authority would be undivided. I would be my own boss. That was my goal. Yet now that it lay at arm’s length, it gave me no thrill. It was a second choice. There would have been a higher lift in breasting the tape the hard way with Govin. And it was still for him to determine what course I should follow.

Govin was one of those rare mortals in whose presence friendship became an altar at which one felt it a high privilege to stand beside him. First, he released me from any pledge to him. Then he proposed the reinstatement of our agreement as a dormant covenant to be revived at my instance at any time within three years. I was free to carry through the Hearst project with the comforting knowledge that a desirable anchorage lay to windward.

An incorporation certificate was issued to Newspaper Feature Service by the State of New York on August 16, 1913. The usual formalities installed me as president and general manager. The syndicate’s first release of features appeared in newspapers of Sunday, September 7th. Of course, many weeks had been devoted to their preparation. They initiated a service to which may be traced appreciable effects on the reading habits of America.

Chapter 14 Part 1 Next Week   
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Wednesday, November 29, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Hitz and Mrs.

Starting at the end of 1923, Milt Gross embarked on a long and almost unbroken run of very successful comic strip titles -- Banana Oil, Nize Baby, Count Screwloose of Tooloose, Dave's Delicatessen, That's My Pop, and others. One of his last brushes with obscurity was with the series Hitz and Mrs., which ran from April 9 to December 29 1923. It was produced for Pulitzer, where he would stay until he jumped ship to Hearst in 1930.

While Hitz and Mrs. did not set the syndication world on fire, Gross was definitely beginning to hit on all his comedic cylinders. Fowler Hitz and his better half are prototypical Gross shlemiels, even if Gross was not yet letting his Yiddish hang out in public view. The raucous gags and sometimes bizarre humor are prototypical Gross.

On October 27, Gross added an extra panel cartoon to each installment, titled Applesauce. The term was contemporary slang that was an expression of incredulity and disbelief. In other words, if the used flivver salesman told you that a car was only driven by a little old lady to church on Sundays, your response would be "Applesauce!". This panel cartoon went on for a month, until Gross had an even better idea. Instead of the existing slang term, he'd invent his own equivalent. On the strip of November 26 and thereafter, the panel was renamed Banana Oil, and an idiom was born. Here's the first strip to use Gross' newly minted bit of slang:

On the final week of Hitz and Mrs., Mr. Hitz keeps getting handed a piece of paper that says "Banana Oil" on it. This was Gross' equivalent to a pink slip for the Hitz duo, and the next week he dumped the Hitz family and renamed the strip to Banana Oil.

I do wonder why Mr. Gross happened to pick this term. Oddly enough, banana oil is actually a real thing. It is the common name for the chemical compound isoamyl acetate. This somewhat nasty chemical, which can be produced from banana plants, is used in low concentrations to flavor foods. In higher concentrations it is used as a solvent, in making brass coatings, and for stiffening aircraft surfaces. In newspapers of the day, you can find advertisements offering it for sale, and occasional news articles in which it is blamed for making people very ill from the fumes.


Vaughn DeLeath on the subject of Banana Oil:

I don't know if you can see this, but here's the sheet music cover to "Banana Oil," with of course a Milt Gross drawing.
Could that dentist gag on the first "Banana Oil" panel have been suggested by the infamous John "Scarfoot" McCrory? McCrory was an early film animator who worked in the style of Paul Terry. He did a cartoon series in the early 1930s in sound, called the "Krazy Kid" cartoons.
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