Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gripsack Si

Gripsack Si by Leet, a 1912 comic strip from NEA syndicate.

Single-panels April 6 and April 7, 1912. Comic strips April 12, May 2, May 25, June 6, Dec 2, and Dec 19, 1912.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Early Days with the NEA

When I first ran into the comics in the pages of the Winnipeg Tribune (which ran from Jan. 28, 1890 to 1976) I thought I had come across a treasure trove of early Canadian cartoonists. There were literally thousands of them, full pages of single-panels and comic strips by unfamiliar names like Steel, Joe Doyle, Grue, Marcus, Meek, and Leet. Turns out I was dead wrong, what I had found were the earliest syndicated comics of the NEA syndicate based in Cleveland, Ohio.
The Tribune featured one cartoonist I knew of,
Walter Allman, famed for his popular strip “Doings of the Duffs.” His first strip appearing in the Tribune was in 1912, six-panels titled “They All Fall For It.” This was followed by a single-panel, “The Great Canadian Home.” Condo’s “Everett True” and other of his illustrations for the joke pages were also much in evidence.

[*Top illustration by Godwin May 7, 1911.]

Allman’s was not the first Tribune comic strip, there were numerous strips by Grue (Johnny Gruelle), Leet, Meek, and Joe Doyle. “Can You Beat It ?” and “Peter the Pesky Parrot” were anonymous one-off strips from 1910. The stereotypical weekly, “Good Night !!!” by Marcus, was also early, appearing in 1910, with a tall, lanky, tiny headed, big-footed comic strip black man for the hero. He was one of those perennial innocents who, on a whim, got caught up in troublesome situations. These appeared sporadically, about five in total.

Leet (*Frank R. Leet, who illustrated some of Don Marquis' newspaper poems, and died at Cleveland, Ohio 8 December 1949 at the age of 68) who had been appearing on the Tribune's sports page since 1909, drew a strip, in that quaint scratchy style common to the times, about a Mutt-like character named “Lubb,” that same year. Another weekly by Leet was “The Joy Family.” In 1912 his style changed for a nicely drawn strip about a boy named “Gripsack Si.” This one showed more of an Opper influence and lasted a few years. One of NEA’s most popular strips was “Hector the Inspector” begun circa 1910 and drawn by F. S. King.

[*F.S. King, Nov 23 1911]

[*Oct 20, 1911]

[*May 7 1911]

Most strips up to this point appeared on a page titled Laughs For Readers of the Tribune” every Saturday. Many were published without recurring characters. King, Leet and Grue were the most prolific strippers. The longest running Tribune strip was “Excuse Me !” drawn in a simple bulbous style by M. Myer. It ran daily from October 28, 1911 till March 27, 1913. There were a large variety of anonymous characters including a talking dog who commented on the japery going on around him. Again his style owed something to Opper. The strip became funnier as it aged and was replaced by a similar strip “O. U. Chump,” by Gosh (not to be confused with the later twenties strip “Charlie Chump” in the Toronto Telegram) which proceeded to May 13, 1913.

The rival Manitoba Free Press comics and cartoons during this period were more familiar titles such as Buster Brown, Little Nemo, and Happy Hooligan. They published the big names , McCay, Outcault, Opper and Dirks. It’s not surprising that Winnipeg would be on the NEA salesman’s route. Winnipeg, Manitoba was a meeting place for Canadian Pacific and Canadian National railroads. To enter the United States trains went through Duluth, Minneaopolis/ St. Paul and Chicago. The Winnipeg Tribune cartoonists came from the Midwestern United States. “Gripsack Si” appeared in Des Moines, Iowa and Fort Wayne, Indiana, while some of Leet’s single-panel cartoons can be found in the Indianapolis Star.

[*Leet 1912]

Most, perhaps all, of the Winnipeg Tribune comics were syndicated by the fledgling NEA syndicate, begun in 1901 by Robert F. Paine and William B. Colver of the Cleveland Press, who started the Newspaper Enterprise association supplying features exclusively to newspapers in the Scripps-McRae (later Scripps-Howard) chain. In 1909 the service was expanded to newspapers outside the chain under the management of A. M. Hopkins. It was in 1909 that the Winnipeg Tribune began publishing the cartoons of Leet, Gruelle, Allman, Gosh, Myers, Marcus and Condo.

[*Leet 1912]

[*Grue Mar 26, 1910]

[*Leet, Jun 18, 1910]

[*Grue, Sept 23 1909]

[*Myers, Nov 12, 1912]

*Thanks to John Batteiger for the update on Frank R. Leet.

Yoe on Fox!

Craig Yoe, once sneeringly described by a pecksniff anonymous detracter on the Platinum Comics Group as a “Hugh Hefner wanna be” for uncovering and publishing Joe Schuster’s fetish art in “Secret Identity,” has had a busy time of it in the media. Starting off the week was a great interview by Tom Spurgeon at Comics Reporter. Then, Jeff Trexler, Wilson Professor of Social Entrepreneurship at Pace University, posted an insightful review of the book titled “Of Superhuman Bondage.”

Tomorrow night, Thursday, May 21st, at 8:00 pm, Craig Yoe and “six erotic authors” will be attending (sounds a bit formal, that) an erotic reading, “In The Flesh,” talking about Secret Identity. That’s at the Happy Ending Lounge, 302 Broome Street, NYC.

Saturday morning at 3:00 am (!) EST/12:00 am PST, Craig will be interviewed on “Red Eye with Greg Gutfeld,” whom he calls “the funniest host and show on TeeVee.”

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Johnny Gruelle (1880-1938)

‘John Gruelle, the artist, used to sit at his drawing board in the Star office, having barrels of fun out of making Jim and Jane Crow, and the pig and the crow on the market page. Then he gave these, who he calls “dear little comrades” up when he was called to other fields. He kept at drawing little original characters until his pencil just naturally makes dainty tiny fairy like things. And Mr. Gruelle says: “I feel that I owe my success (if one can call it success) to the training I got on The Star. The boys worked in harmony and were always glad to help each other out when the occasion demanded. The editors did not forget that at one time they were on the bottom, and they too had had their struggles.”’ > July 2, 1911, Indianapolis Star.

John B. Gruelle was the son of renowned Hoosier landscape artist R. B. Gruelle, and was born December 25, 1880. His first employment was as a chalk-plate artist for a number of small Indianapolis newspapers. He went to work on the Indianapolis Star where he originated the well-known “Weather Crow,” and supplied comics to the supplements and comic magazines of the day. Mr. Twee Deedle (originally Mr. Tweedledee) began as a contribution to a $2,000 prize competition for a new comic strip feature, put on by the New York Herald in 1910 while Gruelle was living with his father at an old mill on a stream, near the town of Norwalk Connecticut.

Mr. Twee Deedle ran in the New York Herald until 1918. Gruelle turned more towards book illustration and supplied drawings to a book based on James Whitcomb Riley’s ‘Little Orphant Annie’ poem for Bobbs-Merrill in 1921. He wrote and illustrated Raggedy Ann which sold more than three million copies upon release and gave birth to a hugely successful series of books. He began another comic page, “Brutus,” for the New York Herald in 1930. Gruelle died in Miami Florida of a heart attack January 8, 1938.

Brutus May 13, 1934

Monday, May 18, 2009

Salesman Sam

George Swanson (‘Swan’) created Salesman Sam (or $alesman $am as it appeared in the title bar) while employed by NEA syndicate and the first strip was published on Sept 24 1921. Salesman Sam appeared both as a daily and a Sunday. Sam was in and out of the employ of J. Guzzlem (‘Guzz’) and was often on the road promoting, selling, and campaigning in wild continuities that took him from the Wild West to the North Pole. He originated the surrealistic screwball style that Bill Holman was to use to good effect on Smoky Stover. Panels were stuffed with goofy advertising signs, teeny men peering around corners in living rooms, kitty kats in trees, and katfish in shop windows.

When Swanson moved on to Editors Feature Service in July 1927 a copyright dispute over the title Salesman Sam led to a change of name, characters, and eventually the appearance of his creations. The new strip was titled High-Pressure Pete and began July 2 1927. C. D. Small took over the original Salesman Sam sticking to the style originating with Swan until it was discontinued on Small’s death around Sept 21 1936.

Swanson began another strip in 1943, Dad’s Family which was to be re-titled The Flop Family. He died in January 1982.

The first Salesman Sam, September 24, 1921

C. D. Small was born in Philadelphia and began comic sketching at age thirteen. He sold his first cartoon fresh out of high school. Small took a comic art course, worked at odd jobs in the advertising field, and contributed cartoons to Life and Judge. Next up was a stint as a sports cartoonist for a New York newspaper before being tagged by NEA to take over Salesman Sam in July 1927. He died in 1936 and Salesman Sam was discontinued.

Some Swan dailies HERE. A large amount of Small dailies can be viewed HERE. High Pressure Pete HERE.

Kats by C. D. Small

Saturday, May 16, 2009

A. D. Condo (1872-1956)

Facts about A. D. Condo, the man behind the “Everett True” comic strip, have been scarce until now, which is strange because Condo’s popularity and fame was immense during the entire period of his long career. A. D. Condo may just have been the most popular cartoonist on the entire continent of North America. One contemporary reviewer of Martin Sheridan’s “Comics and their Creators” decided Sheridan's history was not complete, because it neglected to mention A. D. Condo and Clare Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins, famed for the “Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn” comic strip.

“Everett True” began in 1902 as one of a series of different characters alternating weekly in Condo’s comics. The last comic strip under the Condo name was printed in 1946, forty-four years later. Even then “Everett True” continued as a pale version of its former self well into the sixties under the title “Uncle Ev,” featuring Everett True. Condo’s comic characters were ideal for the stage.

In March 1913 a group of Condo’s characters from the strips, “Oscar and Adolph,” “Diana Dillpickles” and “Mr. Skygack,” the man from Mars were brought to the stage in a musical variety show put on by Joseph Weimer. Fred Schaefer, A. D. Condo’s writer, or “hunch man,” produced a book giveaway for the show which was titled “Oscar and Adolph.” Viewers of a parade in Indiana, in 1913, were delighted to see “Everett True” and “Skygack” among the marchers. The American Bioscope Company produced a movie in early 1916 which starred a frighteningly realistic doppelganger of the original king of Swat in the person of comedy star Bobby Bolder, a native of London, England.

The following article appeared November 18, 1923 in the Montana Daily Independent.



Six thousand pests, or thereabouts, have been swatted -- a good many of them, I hope, into oblivion -- by the iron fist of “Everett True,” militant reformer.

It was way back in ‘04 that A. D. Condo created “Everett True.” This places “Everett” in the pioneer class of comickers appearing daily. Yet he still holds his own with the best of them, growing ever more popular.

Condo preceded “Everett” into the world by thirty years.

He was born (meaning Condo) at Freeport, Ill., in 1872. Shortly afterwards the Condos moved to Missouri, where the father, a Methodist preacher, lost his life in a cyclone.

“Ministers,” says Condo, “were paid little in those days. We hadn’t much. After the cyclone we had less.”

In 1882 the family settled at Findlay, O., where Mrs. Condo taught school.


A fondness for picture-making was born in condo. Even at four years old he was happiest with pencil or crayon, and throughout his childhood his mother often had to shoo him out to play, so apt was he to linger indoors at the game of draughtsmanship.

It was for newspaper art that the boy had a preference from the time when he first began his work seriously, and it was into a newspaper office that he gravitated naturally even before completing the customary course in the Findlay grammar school.

In the 80’s, however, there was no such demand for daily paper illustration as developed a little later, so it was as a printer’s devil that Condo made his start and not until ‘96 did the opportunity come that he had been waiting for.

That was the year of William Jennings Bryan’s first and most spectacular run for the presidency.

With his sensational campaign practically overnight a cartoonist became an essential member of the staff of every up-to-date newspaper.


Accordingly Condo went to work as a chalk plate artist for the Toledo (O.) News.

In 1902 after consolidation of the Toledo News and Bee, he joined NEA at Cleveland, making general comics.

A. M. Hopkins was editor-in-chief at the time. He suggested a series of strips, each series to run a week and then give way to a new one on a fresh subject and with a fresh group of characters.

Condo went to it in co-operation with Jack Raper, now of the Cleveland Press as “hunch man.”

One day Editor Hopkins proposed a weekly series picturing the adventures of an individual of the “Truthful James” type -- a man who always told the truth, regardless of consequences or any consideration of policy, circumstance or convenience.

Out went the series and made such a hit that it was decided to continue it.


Raper, however, didn’t like the name “Truthful James,” and it was on his motion that “Everett True” was adopted.

The “Everett” of those days hadn’t quite the amplitude of girth that distinguishes him at present. That he’s gained more or less weight isn’t surprising. He’s going on twenty years older. But the spirit of the crusader burned as brightly in him in him in 1904 as at this time of writing.

Alternating with “Everett” when he first made his appearance were two other strips, “Oscar and Adolph” and “Diana Dillpickles.” Later they were dropped and “Everett became a daily. Also Condo became his own “hunch man.” He’s remained so ever since.

By the way, he doesn’t consider “Everett” a comic.

“Rather,” he says, “it’s a corrective dose, in sweetened capsule form. It may go down pleasantly, while the patient laughs. But after its down it has a purpose.”


“Also you might say that “Everett’s” no picturization of myself. I never have been a gratuitous pest-swatter, though sometimes I’ve longed to be. I’ve answered that question by mail so often that Id be glad to leave it generally known the answer in the negative.”

Personally Condo’s a person of much gravity, but behind this gravity lurks an ever-ready smile and many a lightning quick-flash of humor.

He has a daughter, now of high school age, who’ll tell you “daddy’s” the greatest man in the world, with “Everett” a close second.

Back in 1910, NEA sent Condo to California to “get art” on the Johnson-Jeffries fight scheduled originally to be held there. Later he returned to Cleveland, but, the opportunity presenting itself, he went back to the Pacific coast and lives in Berkeley this minute.

A. D. Condo (NEA)

*Update: Steven Rowe commented that based on census records "Armando D. Condo (19 Sep 1872 -24 Aug 1956) died in Albany, California."

Friday, May 15, 2009

Irving “Knick” Knickerbocker (1898-1930)

Irving “Knick” Knickerbocker was only active for a very short period, from 1925 to his early death in 1930. If he had survived he may have been numbered among the great cartoonists. After his tragic early death he was quickly forgotten. His obituary follows.

‘Tinymites’ and ‘Little Joe’ Mourn as “Knick” Passes On.

Noted Cartoonist will be Buried at Auburn, Washington.

Cleveland, Feb. 3 1930 (NEA).--

Irving S. Knickerbocker, known as “Knick” to thousands of newspaper readers through his comic drawings and sketches, which appeared daily in newspapers throughout the country, is dead as the result of injuries received in an automobile accident here.

Knickerbocker, who at 32 had established himself as one of the leading comic artists in the country, was killed when the automobile in which he was riding was struck by another car.

With a group of friends, Knickerbocker was on his way home from a dance. The force of the collision drove the car in which he was riding into a telephone pole, and Knickerbocker died of a fractured skull and punctured lung.

Funeral services will be held at Auburn, Wash., the home of Knickerbocker’s parents.

Three feature drawings gined “Knick” a wide following. These were “The Tinymites,” an imaginative daily story for children by Hal Cochran with illustrations by “Knick;” “Dizzy Dugan,” a popular sports feature, and “Little Joe,” a humorous daily sketch of general appeal. In addition “Knick” drew illustrations for feature stories on the news and sports pages.

Knickerbocker was born in Auburn, Wash., and roved over the country in search of adventure while he was still in his teens. He worked on a farm, in a lumber camp and on a railroad, enlisted in the army the day the United States entered the world war, and served in France with the A. E. F. After the war he spent some time as a sailor on an ocean liner, and then came ashore and studied art.

His knack of putting humor into his drawings quickly gained him recognition, and NEA Service, an organisation supplying more than 700 daily newspapers with feature stories and pictures, secured his services.

He is survived by his father and mother, a brother and two sisters, all of whom live in Auburn.

Two coincidences, striking in the light of the tragedy that befell him, marked his last day of life.

Just before leaving his office for the last time, “Knick” dropped five “Tinymite” drawings on the desk of Hal Cochran, NEA art director, and remarked, “Well that’s ‘30’ for me.” “Thirty” is the newspaper expression for “the end.”

The last sports cartoon Knickerbocker drew appeared on the day of his death. Over it “Knick” had written the heading “It was fun while it lasted.”

*Directly above: the opening of the baseball season.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Them Were the Days

Here’s another treat for boxing fans, Wood Cowan’s great comic strip Them Were the Days, which began November 29, 1927 with the story of the first British Heavyweight champ James Figg. The last I could find was on Jan 27, 1927, “The Nelson-Gans Fight.” The comic did have some Canadian syndication in the Halifax Herald. As you can see they practised a strange form of boxing in ‘them days,’ with the fights lasting until one or another fighter was bloodied and oblivious.

Wood Cowan (1896-1977) drew a variety of strips although this is my favourite, He drew ‘Vivian the Vamp,’ ‘Carrie,’ ’Mom ’n Pop,’ ’Oh Diana’, ‘Our Boarding House’ (in 1946), and ’Sissy.’ Barnacle Press has generous sampling of Cowan's ‘Carrie’ comic strips HERE. I don’t know much about Cowan except that he was a resident of Bridgeport, Connecticut.