Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Literature of the Lower Orders

“To such of our readers as have toiled through Eugene Sue's dullest and most popular work “The Mysteries of Paris”, “The Mysteries of London”, now lying before us, will be sufficiently explained. If it be possible to conceive of anything more miserable, murderous, immoral and reprehensible than the succession of scenes which constitute that darling of the Parisian boulevards -- that grosser conception will give an idea of what the mysteries of the modern Babylon are like.” -- Daily News 1847

In late Regency and early Victorian times writers freely slandered each other in the press, often saying horrendous (and hilarious) things that led to duels or public horse-whippings. By the time of our story those rowdy times were gone and there is no record that G. W. M. Reynolds, author of Mysteries of London and Pickwick in France, ever came to blows with his traducers at Bradbury & Evans, or for that matter Charles Dickens.

The Daily News was established in London on 21 January 1846 and the price was dropped to a penny in 1868. An anonymous author (William Hepworth Dixon) made a ’vile, ruffianly and cowardly’ attack on G. W. M. Reynold’s publications (“apparently the productions of husband and wife”) and his wife, Suzanna Reynolds, author of “Gretna Green,” in the Daily News, on 2 November 1847 in one of a series of articles entitled “The Literature of the Lower Orders.” Almost the whole of the article painted a devastating word picture of corruption, depravity and chaos.

They (Reynolds’s publications) act more directly and openly upon the worst passions stimulating them to precocious and unnatural activity, and exercise an unsettling and disturbing power over the moral consciousness of the reader. The former deal principally with the criminal -- the latter in the licentious and the blasphemous… we denounce the impurity, but we cannot soil our pages with it -- not even as a warning.

Mention of Reynolds’s wife was a bad mistake, Reynolds flew to her defense, and the News quickly printed a retraction. The following was Reynolds defense of Cheap Literature (I have added breaks not in the original for easier digestion):

Reynolds’s Miscellany No. 57. Volume III. Saturday, December 4th, 1847.

Notices to Correspondents.

The “Daily News.”-

This wretched print cuts as pleasant a figure in undertaking the office of Moralist, as a sweep would present were he to set himself up as a lecturer on personal cleanliness. But we will explain the reason wherefore Messrs. Bradbury and Evans, the proprietors of the Daily News, have directed their literary scrub to pen the articles entitled “The Literature of the Lower Orders.” The motive was purely a trade one.

Bradbury and Evans are the proprietors of numerous works, which, being very dear, do not sell; and they therefore vent their spite on the cheap and successful rivals. First there is Douglas Jerrold’s Shilling Magazine, which used to have a good circulation when enriched with the writings of the talented gentleman whose name sanctions its issue, but which has dwindled down into a losing concern since the strength of that eminent author has been applied elsewhere.

Then there is Charles Dickens’s Dombey and Son -- a clever work whose only defect is that it will not sell well. Next we have Mr. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair -- a publication of extraordinary talent and great originality, but each Number of which falls almost still-born from the press. Fourthly there is A’Beckett’s Comic History of England -- the most contemptible trash on which paper and print were ever wasted, and which has been pronounced by every reviewer to be a miserable failure.

Fifthly Bradbury and Evans have Punch, which is going down as rapidly as possible. Sixthly they have the Daily News, which is notoriously an awful abortion; and seventhly they have the Express, which could not live a second were it not a mere evening issue and ekeing-out of the articles already published in its morning precursor. All the publications just enumerated are in a most sickly and unsatisfactory state; and Bradbury and Evans finding that they can obtain a good sale for nothing, vent their malignity and spite on the cheaper rivals that do enjoy a good sale. But in denominating cheap works “The Literature of the Lower Orders,” Bradbury and Evans put a gross, vile, and base insult upon the Industrious Classes of these realms.

They wantonly throw dirt in the face of the honest artizan, and working man of every class and description. They moreover propagate an infamous falsehood when they represent such periodicals as The Miscellany, the London Journal, and the Family Herald to be read only by the lower orders; for they circulate widely amongst the middle class, and the Volumes obtain a sale in the richest sphere. And now let us see whether the proprietors of the Daily News - those particular gentlemen who direct their penny-a-liner to decry Cheap Literature,-- let us see whether they have not in their own employ any one who has himself dabbled in the same class of writing?

In Mr. Bunn’s “Word With Punch” we find it stated that Mr. Gilbert Abbott a’ Beckett, one of the writers for Punch, and the author of the Comic History of England, went through the insolvent’s court in 1834, and described himself in his schedule as follows:-

“Gilbert Abbott a’ Beckett, formerly of Hyde Street, Bloomsbury, Middlesex, gentleman ! afterwards and late of Staples Inn, Holburn, Middlesex, proprietor and editor of certain periodicals called the Figaro in London, and the Wag, having an office for The Wag at Temple Bar, Fleet Street, London; and also lately proprietor of The Evangelical Penny Magazine, Dibdin’s Penny Trumpet, The Thief, Poor Richard’s Journal, and the People’s Penny Pictures; in co-partnership with Thomas Littleton Holt, of Edmonton, having an office for the publication thereof at 194, strand, Middlesex. Also formerly on my own account proprietor of the periodicals called The Terrific Penny Magazine, The Ghost, The Lover, The Gallery Of Terrors, The Figaro Monthly Newspaper, The Figaro Cantatrice Gallery; and lately lessee of the Fitzroy Theatre, Fitzroy Street, Tottenham Court Road, Middlesex !!!”-- Here is enough of the Blood-and-Murder Literature, heaven knows! -- and how admirably does that extract from the schedule shadow forth the versatility of Mr. A’Beckett’s genius, when it proclaims him to have been the proprietor of the Evangelical Penny Magazine, and of the Gallery Of Terrors! There was Religion for the Millions on one hand -- and Murder for the Millions on the other!

How happens it that a gentleman who plunged so deeply in penny horrors and halfpenny terrors some years ago, should now be so intimately connected with these pious, moral, sanctimonious printers who entertain such an abhorrence of the respectable Cheap Literature of the present day? Ah! Bradbury and Evans - it was a fine attempt to play the Mawworm and the Cantwell on your part;- but you are unmasked - and the trade feeling exhibiting its cloven foot, the selfishness and hypocrisy which dictated the articles in your Daily News (such news indeed as it contains!) are laid bare to the public gaze.

Note:- The ‘Bunn’s “Word With Punch”’ mentioned above was designed for Bunn by George Augustus Sala to resemble Punch magazine’s design. Bunn, a theatrical promoter, was tired of being attacked in print by Punch, and the tactic seemed to work. Sala however, became persona non grata at the Punch offices for many years.

In Reynolds’s Miscellany, Vol III. No. 59 Saturday, December 18, 1847, Reynolds had a further crack at the Daily News and this time issued a physical threat to the Author:

The “Daily News” and the “Express”-- We have received innumerable letters congratulating us upon our success in “bringing to book” the sneaking, paltry fellow who dared to pen a lying attack on the character of “Gretna Green;” and we are delighted as well as grateful, to find that our cause has been taken up by the public in the warmest and kindest manner. It is quite clear that the silly fool who wrote the attack in the contemptible threepenny parodies upon a newspaper thought he was performing a brave as well as a safe act in wantonly, malignantly and spitefully assailing the reputation of a lady; but he has received a rebuff which he will not easily forget. We know who he is; and should he ever dare to show his face in the Miscellany office, he will find his way into the street much more quickly than he entered it.

That he has injured the two abortions which were made the vehicles of his ruffianism, cannot be said; because they really have nothing about them to injure, -- neither reputation, influence, circulation or respectability. They are useful in one way only: namely at the butter-shops; -- and it is really very kind of the proprietors to provide the persons keeping those shops with so much waste paper at such a cheap rate. A daily journal at threepence, if it be conducted in a manner calculated to place it in competition with the fivepenny newspapers cannot possibly pay its expenses. There are correspondents to maintain in all the principal European capitals, and in the colonies; and good writers at home can only be procured on liberal terms of payment. Then the outlay in procuring the best and latest intelligence from the provinces is great. Does the Daily News afford the slightest internal evidence that it incurs in its management any such expenses as those just glanced at?

Its Foreign Intelligence is absolutely worthless: its Leaders are the most mawkish twaddle ever penned; - and its miserable size renders it necessary to give the most meagre reports of even the most interesting and important occurrences. A slight alteration in a joke published some time ago by the Times, will afford an illustration of the general impression relative to the morning threepenny abortion: A gentleman enters a coffee-room, and says, “Waiter, to-day’s Daily News!” “We haven’t to-days News, sir,” is the reply: “but here’s yesterday’s Times, which is much better.”

The fact is that the “Daily News” was a mistake from the beginning. There was no room for it, even if it were given away, unless it were managed as well as the Times; and between the two there is as great a difference in value as between a farthing and a guinea. That the News has proved a most awful failure, its known history indicates. Else why was it tinkered about in a most disreputable manner? Why was every “artful dodge” tried to force a circulation? First it was fivepence: then twopence-halfpenny; and lastly threepence! Do these experiments indicate success? And unless a newspaper be deemed successful, it loses all the prestige of authority. It can have no influence, unless it seem to have taken hold upon the public; and heaven knows that the News has taken hold upon nothing save its owner’s purse.

Stick to your Punch Messrs. Bradbury and Evans; and do not aim at being newspaper proprietors. You have not the spirit, nor the intelligence, nor the weight to make a newspaper go down - otherwise than to perdition. Your utter ignorance of how a newspaper property can be created, was proved by entrusting Mr. Dilk of that obscure affair, the Athenaeum with the management of the News;- and your total want of discrimination was shown by getting that person’s son to “do the morality” for you. No -- no: you are not fit for newspaper proprietors. Get rid of the News as soon as you can, by all means. In any case, keep clear of calumniatary attacks: or, if your precious scribe must assail somebody, bid him be careful whom he selects for his onslaught in future. As for ourselves, and so far as any malignity against us must be concerned, we shall only now say to the contemptible hireling scrub, in the words of Sir William Draper to Junius: -- “Cease, viper : thou bitest against a file !”

Nor was this the end of it -- Charles Dickens, probably still smarting from Reynolds’s appropriation of his creations for the story “Pickwick in France,” which ran serially in the Monthly Magazine during 1839, gave him a slap in his ‘preliminary words’ to the inaugural issue of “Household Words” (30 March 1850):

“Some tillers of the field into which we now come, have been before us, and some are here whose high usefulness we readily acknowledge, and whose company it is an honour to join. But, there are others here -- Bastards of the Mountain, draggled fringe on the Red Cap, Panders to the basest passions of the lowest natures -- whose existence is a national reproach. And these, we should consider it our highest service to displace.”

The first issue of Reynolds’s Weekly Newspaper dated from 5 May 1850 and almost a year later, 8 June 1851, launched a vicious attack on “That lickspittle hanger-on to the skirts of Aristocracy’s robe --“Charles Dickens Esq.” -- originally a dinnerless penny-a-liner on the Morning Chronicle…” The attack was made against a “desperate onslaught upon the Chartist Programme, in a trumpery monthly print which he edits… this wretched sycophant of Aristocracy -- this vulgar flatterer of the precious hereditary peerage -- is impudent enough to consider himself the people’s friend!”

“Of course Mr. Dickens, while denouncing with virulent bitterness and hateful malignity the Chartist Programme, levels his filthy abuse against G. W. M. Reynolds and his writings. Immaculate Mr. Dickens! who dramatized his own novel of Oliver Twist and was compelled to endure the ignominy of seeing the Lord Chamberlain prohibit the performance of the piece on the English stage as one calculated to debase, corrupt, and demoralize the people! But this is not all.

The writer of Oliver Twist -- the creator of the characters Fagan and Bill Sykes -- the author of a drama prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain as vicious and immoral, went some time ago to a dissenting chapel in or near Portland-street, and requested permission to address the audience.

At first the deacons were going to hand him over to the custody of a policeman for disturbing the congregation; but the minister, on ascertaining what his object was, suffered him to proceed. Accordingly Mr. Dickens, in a canting, whining, sniveling tone besought permission to be admitted into the “blessed flock” assembling at that chapel; promising that he would be found “a savoury vessel” and so forth. The request was granted; and thereupon he knelt down and took the sacrament with the rest of the congregation.

Yet this same Mr. Dickens mercilessly ridiculed all dissenting ministers in the character of Stiggins in the Pickwick Papers. Relative to his politics, we must not forget to observe that he was sworn in as a special constable on the 10th of April, and went swaggering about the vicinage of the Regent’s-park with the staff in his hand, while he knew perfectly well that the Chartists were over at Kensington -- five miles distant! But enough for the present concerning this impertinent upstart. Let him dangle at the heels of Lord John Russell and enact the fawning sycophant in the saloons of Belgravia, where he nevertheless must feel himself as much at home as a pig in a drawing-room.

If he had undertaken to meet the Chartist Programme with argument, we should have been spared the necessity of passing these strictures upon him: but inasmuch as in the natural vulgarity of his disposition, and following the example of his aristocratic patrons, he has chosen to have recourse to invective, ridicule and abuse, we have thought it right to unmask the imposter and show the public what sort of character he really is.”

Monday, May 30, 2011

Walter Crane (1845-1915)

Walter Crane (1845-1915). Crane must have been working right up to the end of his life as this charitable bookmark is dated 1914.

Forty Years a Free-lance

Writing Children's Stories Forty Years as a Free-lance, by E. Newton Bungey, Chambers's Journal 1945

Saturday, May 28, 2011

The Iron Teacher

A selection of covers and comics about the Iron Teacher from D. C. Thomson's Hotspur. "You can't play truant from the Iron Teacher."

Friday, May 27, 2011


Adventure story paper was launched by D.C.Thompson and Company of Dundee, Scotland in 1922. Rover and Wizard came out the same year, 1922, followed by Skipper in 1930, and Hotspur in 1933. Here is an amazing selection of Rover covers from 1947.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Comic Strips, Cold War and Vietnam

George Orwell said that “all art is propaganda,” which is true in a sense, but whether propaganda is “good” or “bad” is all in the eye of the beholder. “Maus” is good propaganda, unless you are a holocaust denier, in which case it’s bad propaganda. Ernst Zundel, defending himself in Toronto on the archaic charge of publishing false news in 1985 said Canadian children were “brainwashed” by anti-Nazi films, pocket-books and comic books. “We were cowards, animals, romantic dreamers, butchers, Colonel Klinks. We were the butt of all jokes. I would not be party to such a blanket condemnation of my people.”

In 1935 the Italian comic magazine Marc Aurelia published cartoons of the British hanging Africans “with British phlegm,” Vichy France published comic booklets on “How to be a Nazi in 22 lessons,” and the Japanese in May 1944 set up a “greater East Asia comic strip study” in Tokyo to be “utilized in bolstering the fighting spirit.” As columnist Drew Pearson commented in 1948 “There is nothing like comic books to tell a friendly propaganda story.”

In September 1950 a comic book featuring the idol of servicemen round the world, Frank Baker’s gold-bricking Private Sad Sack, meant to “spur enlistments,” was attacked in print by Senator Homer Capehart (R-Ind). “This alleged comic book looks to me like socialistic propaganda, aimed at discrediting American industry. It relates the experiences of a soldier discontented with army life who gets out and finds civilian life even worse. He finally draws his paycheck -- 5 cents after all the deductions have been made, and the nickel turns out to be a counterfeit one. So he goes back to the army.”

Ten days later Sixth Army headquarters at Fort Ord, California ordered “several unopened packages of the colored books, containing several hundred copies…thrown into the incinerator.” The army had spent $17,544 on 500,000 copies to be distributed world-wide to American army posts. The Day (New London, Conn.) commented that “Sad Sack, to whom the peeling of a potato represented an almost insurmountable challenge, must have been in a state of near shock to hear himself charged with such high-flown and socially significant activities.”

In 1960 the Red Chinese were distributing comic books in Vietnam with “a villain who always looks curiously like John Foster Dulles and a hero who looks like Chou-En-Lai or Ho Chi Minh… Children of 10 or 11 read the comic books to their illiterate elders at night.” Russia and China ran full-time publishing houses supplying books written in Urdu, Japanese, Kurdish, Hindi, Indonesian, Thai, Bengali, Chinese, English, French and Cambodian.

By 1965 the United States was engaged in psychological warfare against the Vietnamese. One tactic was to drop toys, dolls, rubber balls, candy and pamphlets containing comic strips into North Vietnam. One comic strip, “ANH (brother) NAM,” was a scrawny character (likened by one reporter to Sad Sack) who outwitted the Viet Cong. “A typical episode shows a Communist molesting a girl. Anh Nam holds up a camera and takes a picture. The Communist rushes at Brother Nam and grabs the camera which proves to be only a box containing a mouse.”

In 1967 David M. Kunzle, British author of a two-volume history of the comic strip, came under fire from congressman Durward G. Hall for receiving a U.S. grant to study comic strips while publicly attacking the U.S. war effort in Vietnam. “The Red Chinese and Russia certainly are using comic books today as propaganda devices, said Kunzle, “and so are we.”

That same year in Havana the government made plans to crack down on a “thriving market” in street stalls (doubling as cigar and shoeshine stands) selling American ‘sex-and-sin” paperbacks and comic books. They were “especially interested in doing away with scores of different editions of American comics they say were translated into Spanish in Mexico City years ago.”

The government explained that “This black market is competing with governmental publishing houses seeking to bring culture to a people poisoned for years and years with non-literature and pornography.” Stall owners profited on each sale by requiring that the buyer trade in another book or magazine “of the same type,” thus ensuring a full stock.

Left unmentioned were the government sponsored comic books described by an American tourist in 1962: “Bright-colored comic books show children how “wicked” the Americans are. They depict granite-faced Americans whipping Negroes or prodding them with bayonets.”

In 1971 American troops stationed in Vietnam, demoralized by the unpopular war, were using drugs to ease the tours of duty. The Pentagon issued the men 150,000 “gaudy propaganda books” originally made for distribution in Washington, D.C. schools. One comic, called “Beware the Booby Trap,” with lurid pictures of women tormented by hairy spider-like beasts with bugs crawling all over their bodies, was criticized by Admiral Mack: “Shock-type illustrations, when overplayed, are detrimental to one’s credibility with this audience…

“The use of equivocal intimidating statements is ineffective. The statements ‘many young people are in mental hospitals because,’ or, ‘there is no doubt a person’s mind will be destroyed by LSD’ both appear. The target audience would summarily dismiss both as establishment ‘bull.’”

The American comic strips, which had proved so useful during WWII, carried their propaganda into the cold war. The following article is from Toronto Saturday Night, 10 Feb 1962 >

How to win the cold war: send in Little Orphan Annie

When Roy Crane accepted the Silver Lady award as cartoonist of the year last November from the Banshees -- a club of King Features Syndicate writers and columnists -- he recalled that when he first started drawing comics in 1924 “the popularity of the strip could almost be gauged by the number of jokes a cartoonist had.” Comic strips have changed. A few weeks after he said this Crane’s Buz Sawyer was removed temporarily from the pages of the Toronto Star because, as the editors told a reader who wrote in to complain about sawyer’s absence, “There may be a place for cold war propaganda but we don’t believe it’s on the comic pages.”
When the Star objected to Sawyer, the naval aviator was in Japan foiling a gang of communist agitators who were stirring up demonstrations against U.S. bases by paying the demonstrators 500 yen apiece. Sawyer is just one of the American adventure strip heroes (not comic: these strips are about as funny as the editorial pages of the New York Times) who have recently become preoccupied with international politics and the struggle against the communist conspiracy. Some of the others:

*Terry and the Pirates. Terry is now in England, without pirates, as an air force major there to “give the striped pants people on our side some cards to play at a bargaining table.” To prove to Terry “how enchanting, how aesthetic (the) Russians really are,” Lady Delphinium Druid of the village of Hurly Cum-Burly, where Terry’s squadron is stationed, invites Walska, a beautiful Russian ballet dancer, to perform at a party she is giving for the Americans. Terry applauds the performance but refuses to talk to Walska because “her act gets drowned out by the sound of the Soviet bomb tests.” Terry, of course, is right. Walska it turns out is a spy.
*Winnie Winkle, who is now in Moscow with a show of American fashions. The Russians want to embarrass Winnie because her designs have proven too popular with Russian women, but Winnie easily outwits the Russian secret police -- not a noticeably dull lot outside the comic strips -- and returns triumphant. This is not at all improbable as Henry Radouta, a writer of Winnie Winkle, explains it, because “Winnie is a pretty bright girl herself. She’s head of a big fashion house and we like to think of her as being in the $50,000 to $75,000 a year class.”

*Little Orphan Annie, whose Daddy Warbucks has been waging a lonely battle against such things as the New Deal and public welfare since the 1930s. Recently, though, Daddy decided to take on a helper, Johnny Quick.
After Daddy recues Johnny from the island of Tributo, where Johnny has just hanged the dictator Mustachio Toro from his own balcony (Johnny had to escape very quickly because the natives were getting very restless) the two talk things over calmly. Commenting on Johnny’s summary execution of General Toro, daddy says: “You’ve hanged a dirty pirate and saved over a hundred people; even got your hijacked plane back. That used to be O.K. back in the days of wooden ships and iron men as they say. But today? Hmmm. Oh well, you know the score.”

When some of Daddy’s enemies parachute onto his secret island Daddy captures one of them but the prisoner refuses to talk. Daddy’s ubiquitous Indian bodyguard, Punjab, jabs the little man in the back with his sabre and says” Here are no soft judges, shyster lawyers, or sniveling bleeding hearts to turn a killer free. Here a hoodlum talks loud and clear.” This message is carried in 372 newspapers with a combined circulation of 31,600,000.

International politics aren’t new to comic strips. As far back as 1936 Joe Palooka was calling the Nazi’s “rats” and in 1937 Terry and the Pirates took the side of the Chinese against the Japanese in Manchuria. But since the start of the Korean war, when most of the heroes in adventure strips rejoined the armed forces, the amount of undiluted propaganda on the comic pages has been steadily increasing. Roy Crane, who travels extensively to gather material for Buz Sawyer explains it this way: “I’m not involved in politics except for anticommunism. I’m simply reporting the news of the day in a different medium for people who don’t read the editorials or the international news.” -- David Lewis Stein.

When George Wunder retired from Terry and the Pirates on Sunday, 25 February 1973, following a decline in readership from 300 to 100 newspapers, he said it had a lot to do with the Vietnam war, even tough Terry was never a participant. Long -running strips like Terry and the Pirates, Smilin’ Jack, Little Orphan Annie, Buz Sawyer, Li’l Abner and Steve Canyon had been losing international readers by the ton, particularly in Canada where the increasing political stance of the strips was seen as painfully obvious American war propaganda.

Milton Caniff had begun Terry and the Pirates in 1934, and in 1947, anxious to have control over his creations, dropped Terry to start Steve Canyon. The artwork on Terry was taken over by George Wunder, historically still a vastly underappreciated cartoonist, with help from ghosts George Evans and Russ Heath. When Wunder retired from Terry and the Pirates he laid the blame partly on television and partly on the Vietnam war.

“The fighter pilot,” Wunder said, “is no longer the glamorous, reckless defender of the free world against all comers. He’s now the cold-blooded professional dropping napalm on women and children.”

Terry’s story-lines had not involved him in Vietnam, although he was an intrepid Cold War soldier battling Red China and the Soviet Union; most likely the strip was a casualty of editors linking Terry with Milton Caniff’s ham-handed Vietnam propaganda in the Steve Canyon strip in the late sixties.

Milton Caniff said at the time of Terry’s demise that “I hadn’t thought about Terry’s early years for a long time, but when I heard it was ending, all the memories came crashing back into my skull. Thirty-nine years is a good run but it was designed to run forever.”

When Japan invaded Manchuria in 1937 Milton Caniff quickly involved Terry & Co., even though America was neutral. Signs of trouble with Canadian editors had begun to appear as early as 1939 when Harry Hindmarsh of the Toronto Daily Star dropped Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates temporarily for disparaging the allied troops already fighting in theatre. Jack Mosher wrote in Saturday Night on Aug 1961 >

“Despite some coolness at times in Canada and other parts of the world where editors feel this comic strip type is taking too many liberties with the local terrain -- Caniff was recently criticized for having Canyon treat the Dew Line as if it were U.S. territory -- Steve Canyon continues to appear in over 600 dailies, reaching close to 60 million readers.”

Caniff had begun featuring Vietnam as a locale in Steve Canyon as early as 1964. A simplistic and jingoistic sequence begun in Feb 1967 raised the ire of Canadian newspaper editors who must have been struck dumb by its bone-headedly naive support for Vietnam. Editors in Canada and other neutral countries began dropping Steve Canyon and other war strips like hot potatoes. The Toronto Star, last Canadian paper to carry the strip, cancelled Steve Canyon in 1968 when, once again, a sequence was set at an experimental radar base in Northern Canada.

Caniff’s loss of the dozen or so Canadian papers was not large, but in R. C. Harvey’s words he was “chastened” by the turn of events. All of the newspapers cancelled because of Caniff’s support for Vietnam. It was only the beginning -- even though Caniff dropped Vietnam from his comic strip locale he was identified as a war-monger by a public fed up with Vietnam and American newspapers began cancelling as well. Caniff found out (as Al Capp had with his 1967 “Joanie Phony” sequence in Li’l Abner) that readers wanted entertainment and escape in the funnies, not lectures -- and editors were not about to cut him any slack.

The great comic and adventure artists were on the way out at any rate, the artists were aging, retiring, or dying, the stories were no longer fresh, and page-sizes were dwindling. Buck Rogers ended in 1967, Harold Gray’s Little Orphan Annie in 1968, the last Roy Crane page on Buz Sawyer in 1969, Abbie an’ Slats in 1971, Smilin’ Jack and Terry and the Pirates in 1973, Li’l Abner and Gould's last Dick Tracy in 1977.

Caniff and Capp (who attended the described meeting between comic artists and editors) should have paid heed to James S. Pope, editor of the Louisville Courier-Journal, who said in 1950 that there was a “tremendous uprising” by editors against any form of comic strip propaganda. “Editors seem to want to pick out their own targets for editorial crusades.”

During World War II there was a consensus among the allies that they were fighting a just war, while the Vietnam debacle was unpopular everywhere except in Washington. The great comic artists of the thirties were on the wrong side of history by the sixties and by 1968 the comics had begun a long slow decline into irrelevance. Propaganda had outlived its own believability, and today’s audiences, by and large, don’t believe everything they read in the newspapers, or see on TV.


* “Editors and Artists take Closeup on Comics,” Lewiston Morning Tribune, 23 April 1950.
* “How the Comics Keep Whooping it Up,” Saturday Night, 19 Aug 1961.
* Interpreting the News, Lethbridge Herald, 23 May1962
* “How to win the cold war: send in Little Orphan Annie,” Saturday Night, 10 Feb 1962.
* “Last Exploit for Terry, Pirates,” Beaver County Times 22 Feb 1973.
* “Caniff’s Private War to save Steve Canyon,” by R. C. Harvey, NEMO the Classic Comics Library, No. 32, winter 1992.
* “Meanwhile…A Biography of Milton Caniff,” by R. C. Harvey, Fantagraphics Books 2007.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sexton Blake Knockout Comics

Amalgamated's old story paper adventure hero Sexton Blake was dusted off in the fifties in Knockout comics. They were drawn by a variety of different artists. "The Stolen Jet-Plane" was the work of Graham Coton who continued working on comics throughout the sixties and seventies.