Thursday, July 08, 2021

Comic Cuts — 9 July 2021

I've spent most of the week reading through some of the most curious comic strips I've ever seen.

As many of you will know, I have been a long-time fan of bad SF books from the cheap end of the market because... well, a good analogy might be that a first draft is like a sculptor hacking a block of stone out of a cliff; the skill of the writer (and the sculptor) is what they do with that first draft through reworking and rewriting. At the cheap end of the market there's no time for luxuries like editing and revising, which is why some books are so fantastically bad — some just painfully so, but others are so bad that they're enjoyable. At the cheap end you tend not to get the best writers, just newcomers who might not have developed their skills yet, or hacks who are just doing it for the money.

Well, there are comic equivalents. Looking through issues of Gerald G. Swan's New Funnies and Topical Funnies, I've found some strips that fit into both categories. Swan attracted some talented people, but paid them badly, so they had to churn out pages that were paid at a fraction of the rates paid by Amalgamated Press or D. C. Thomson—and that payment included both art and script.

The only memoirs I've been able to read relating to Swan are from artists who came along after his first issues were published. I rather wish there was some information about where he advertised, because he included the work of six different artists in his first comic and only two had previously experience as strip artists. Four names are unique to Swan and none of them lasted long as other (and if I'm being honest), better artists arrived and squeezed them out of the comics. At the start, Swan's editor (perhaps Swan himself) seemed simply to accept anything, and the end product was a bizarre mish-mash of strips which you wouldn't have expected to satisfy any audience: it wasn't a kids comic, nor a comic for young adults, and it wasn't an American comic book, which it tried to emulate.

Take Richard Philips as a for instance. His drawing style is juvenile, his joke sets simplistic, and most of his strips lasted only a single episode. He produced perhaps two dozen pages for Swan, half a dozen of them pages of jokes, many of them related to the war, amongst them 'Buzzoff the Spy', 'Wendy of the WATS' and 'Willie the A.R.P. Warden'. He also drew a mad inventor, 'Professor Branewave' and a handful of other characters.

The language, too, shows none of the verbal dexterity of other strips published in the same issues. William Ward was notable for his characters using slang (both English and American) and a phonetic form of Americanese for some of his strips ("It's all along of my nat'ral love of law an' order, as I find meself in this desp'rit predickament!" "How come, Pete? Ef you wuz so fond of law an' order, how come yo're our wust bad-man?").

So how did Richard Philips come to learn that Swan was launching a comic book line? If Richard Philips really was a youngster, would he have been reading a newspaper like the Daily Telegraph, which was a popular paper to advertise in? It's not out of the question, as you could leave school aged 14 in 1940 and Philips may have been looking for work in the early months of the war and stumbled across Swan advertising for artists.

Here are some examples of Philips' work (including a readable version of 'Captain Spud') for your delectation and... delight? If I get a chance, I'll post some more examples of some of the lesser-known Swan contributors shortly.


  1. Your service to the comic community will not go unremembered...exposing us to such riches!

  2. Steve Holland — reading and writing about this shit since 1981 so that you don't have to...

  3. Who could forget 'The Adventures of Marmaduke Ponsonby-de-Baggem' (see Topical Funnies 11), which is signed Richard Phillips, but does seem more accomplished



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