Comments on comic-strip “date-establishment” dangers and snares, with particular reference to Frank Godwin’s comic strips . . .

First of all, I should probably say that I am by no means the foremost expert on problems that arise in attempting to establish the dates of comic strips.  But I have run into a number of problems, and I have thought somewhat about some of the dangers.

And, be it noted, I have run across these problems in connection with most or all of the major Frank Godwin comic strips, including Vignettes of Life, Connie, Roy Powers, Eagle Scout, and Rusty Riley.  (I haven’t seen every problem with every strip, though!)

First, I think it is a good idea to admit that human beings are mistake-prone in general. People often make mistakes in serious matters, where lives are at stake.  So, it should not be surprising that many of them make mistakes in their research and presentations regarding comic strips.

The mistakes made regarding comic strip dating come from many causes.  People make unwarranted assumptions.  People make guesses as to things on which they have incomplete information.  People are too trusting of information that they read. I suppose that people make sloppy transcriptions.  These and other things contribute to the making and perpetuation of mistakes.

So, without any particular method, I am going to touch on a few of the specific things that happen in trying to determine “what happened when.” The points below deal with different aspects of the broader “dates” question.

Of course, collectors often want to know, basically, “What was the date that was printed on the newspaper in which this strip in my collection appeared?”  They also want to know, “Was that the date that the strip in question was originally intended (generally) to be published?”  (A strip might appear early or late, or on the generally intended date.)

Collectors also want to know basic information about the time period during which the strip ran.  For example, they want to know on what date the strip was first published.  And they want to know when the strip last appeared (in its first or only run).  And actually they want that information for both the daily and Sunday strips, if both were published.

But here are some of the problems:

1.  A Sunday strip may be published in a Saturday paper.  I have many Connie Sunday strips that were extracted from a Saturday newspaper, with the Saturday date on the newspaper. (Also, I suppose that a Saturday paper could be released the preceding Friday.  So, the first appearance of a strip could be two days before the supposed date of the strip.)

2.  A Sunday newspaper could easily be distributed on a Saturday.  (Of course, a newspaper Sunday page will never, or virtually never, indicate that!)

3.  Normally, in the foregoing cases, I suppose that the strip would be appearing “early.”  But conceivably the strip published on a Saturday could actually be the strip for the preceding Sunday.

4.  I have seen an original Rusty Riley daily dated “1-1,” with the copyright notice showing 1954.  Yet plainly the strip was the one for January 1, 1955.

5.  Sometimes collectors write the dates on strips extracted from newspapers.  It is to be feared that occasionally those dates are wrong.

6.  You may find a strip where the “handwritten date” that would normally be printed on the strip (2-25 or 1-31 or whatever) has been removed before printing (you may see an empty square where the date should be).  That may raise a suspicion that the strip was not appearing on the date originally “intended.”

7.  If the strips themselves are undated, this can raise significant doubts as to the “real” date of publication.  That apparently created problems in the Hyperion reprint of certain Connie strips.  The first strip in the book was itself undated, but it had appeared on May 13, 1929, in the newspaper that was relied upon.  Sometime later in the run, many of the strips were dated.  It fit together fairly neatly.  But, as Don and Maggie Thompson noticed, and as discussed in another post, it was pretty clear that at least a small number, and quite possibly a large number, of strips had been omitted.  So, the chances that the daily strip actually started on May 13, 1929, were quite slender.  (10-15-13:  And indeed it did not start then.  I believe that the exact date was first pinned down on Allan Holtz’s blog, by one of the readers of his blog.)

8.  It is probably not all that unusual for a comic strip to be printed later than the date stated on the strip.  I suppose that typically most papers will print it on the same day, while others, for some reason or another, may print it later.  I have a whole group of Vignettes of Life (from The Los Angeles Times) that were printed weeks after the date stated on the strip.

9.  The delay in publication is perhaps especially understandable on foreign translations.  I think that all of my Canadian Paulette comic strips (in French) were published significantly later than their US (Connie) counterparts.  Yet many of them show the month and day of the US Sundays.  [10-25-13 Note:  Actually, I think that at least one of the Paulette comic strips was actually published the Saturday before the US “publication date.”]   (A further nuance is that the Canadian ones appeared in a Saturday publication.)

10.  And, of course, many strips extracted from newspapers have no date shown on the strip, and no other date on the newspaper.  I think that is the case with many of my Roy Powers, Eagle Scout strips and many of my Book of the Month strips. I think it is also true of some of my Rusty Riley strips, and I think at least one of my Connie Sundays.  (Normally, I can figure out the dates anyway.)

I think that if there is any generalization that is especially applicable to the dating of comic strips, it is this:  if you cannot point to a newspaper example of a strip for a certain date, then basically you don’t know whether the strip appeared on that date.  Of course, this rule only has application where there is uncertainty in the first place.  A lot of the time, there isn’t any real controversy, or nobody cares.

But when there is a genuine question as to when a strip started or ended, or whether it ran continuously, or as to when one artist stopped and another started — when those types of issues exist, it doesn’t work to consult a reference book on the topic, and assume that it has the correct date.  After all–we have just assumed that there is a controversy!

Not following that rule of thumb has been responsible for a significant amount of misinformation in the realm of Frank Godwin comic strips.

I’ll probably make further observations on this general topic in the future.  I definitely have not covered the topic completely.

—Tom Sawyer

March 10, 2012

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