I would be greatly amiss if I didn’t rave about an amazing online resource for the study of early American newspaper comic strips. Allan Holtz is a comic strip historian, and author of “American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide.”
His blog, Stripper’s Guide, is a fantastic outlet for all manner of interesting, oddball and rare material related to comic strip history. It is also a forum where others interested in comic strip history are encouraged to participate by submitting comments, or even by contributing articles.
He covers a wide range of content including all the most famous comic strips and cartoonists, but also delves into more esoteric territory by featuring “Obscurity of the Day”. These are all the strange and baffling comic strips that dared to appear somewhere in some hard-to-find newspaper. Allan also compiles much needed histories of artists with his “Ink Slinger Profiles”. “Sci-Fi Friday” currently features some rare space jockey fun from 1967 with Adam Chase by Russ Morgan.
This pitiful overview of Allan’s work just barely scratches the surface of Stripper’s Guide . What Allan Holtz does best thru his love for these old comic pages is nothing short of the the reclamation of the real comic strip history of this native American art form. Primarily a historian and archivist, Allan (and his trusty crew) have set the facts straight regarding the real history of American Newspaper Comic Strips. A lot of that history was generalized and propigated by syndicates as news features for promotional purposes. Some of this nonsense was replicated in the various early books detailing the history of the Comics. No blame shall be cast here! For we have Allan Holtz. This guy actually goes to libraries, newspaper archives, microfiche (really?), and other classified sources for his research. Mr. Holtz also has much in common with a certain Mr. Sherlock Holmes in his tenacity at solving really complex but essential issues like, “Verified Start Dates and End Dates”. His research has revealed a much more fluid history of the comics completely intertwined with the enormous industrial and social changes the early 20th century experience was to bring about.
For every successful cartoonist there were countless others not able to break into the syndicates. Some of these fellows would have a short strip for six months in 1910 and then one final shot years later in 1919. And then you find out that this same fellow was resourceful and instead of sitting on his laurels (sorry, Stan…), he started one of the many embryonic syndicates popping up and marketing their comic strips to newspaper chains. He knew it was foolish to try and compete with the big boys so he specialized, he developed his client base from the third-tier type of publication; the coupon and ad newspaper with the local bits, want ads, games, puzzles, and a small spattering of really bizarre and obscure comics. This gentleman small syndicate found a successful niche and continues to this day in the providing comic strips to the PennySaver and other like papers.
But the main thing here, (and a veritable gold mine it has proved to be to myself), is the systematic archiving of George Herriman’s work at the Los Angeles Examiner during the 1906-1910 period before his comic strip successes. Allan has researched, scanned and cleaned up Herriman’s cartoon cornucopia of political, sports, and special interest features. Herriman is revealed to be a workhorse cartoonist who fills the daily issues of the Examiner with an astonishing range of submissions. Ads for a subscription drive. Full page cover illustrations. Special art for holidays, Fleet Week, Auto Races. The scope of Herriman’s output is impressive and a real thrill to follow as it plays out day to day. In the past I’ve always wondered what seminal event or situation allowed Herriman, after nearly seven years at the drawing board, to finally find his mojo. It’s amazing to experience Herriman’s daily transformation into a consumate artist of extraordinary skill. All the early signs of later greatness are brewing here…the bizarre comic situations, memorably outrageous characters. The text was full of poetry, music, and a fondness for weird words and dialects. Already little vignettes of animal soap opera were evident including the ever-changing backgrounds of Coconino County. Goosebury Sprig, the Duck Duke, was the popular star character of this zany zoo.