Comments on the mystery of Frank Godwin’s “Rusty Ryan” sample strips . . . and a few thoughts on what those strips are (or were) . . .

In an earlier post, I expressed some doubt or uncertainty as to what the purpose of the Rusty Ryan sample strips was.  I said, in part:

In view of all of this, the mysteries surrounding the Rusty Ryan sample strips are quite deep.  The whole picture, to me, would have been fairly well-rounded even without the Rusty Ryan strips.  The Rusty Ryan strips are overall done in a much more “lean” style than the early Rusty Riley strips.  If the Rusty Ryan strips were prepared for King Features Syndicate, one wonders why he did not adopt the more refined style of Toil of the Brave and Spoonhandle, a style similar to that which he ultimately used at the start of Rusty Riley.

Also, it is interesting that the Rusty Ryan strips have nothing to do with cows or farming.  [See below regarding cows and farming.] Of course, the Rusty Ryan strips are still definitely a precursor of the Rusty Riley strip, more so than Godwin’s earlier sample strip dealing with a supposed orphan.

The present post elaborates on those paragraphs. I am going to assume, for purposes of this post, that everyone reading this post is somewhat familiar with the Rusty Ryan sample strips. (In an earlier post, I talked about the reasons I do not like the term “tryout strip” and related terms, and why I would not use such terms to designate Frank Godwin’s Rusty Ryan strips.)

In a vacuum, one might wonder exactly what those Rusty Ryan strips are or were. Various statements have been made about what they were, but those I have seen have never referred to any references or authority or support.

The basics of what I “know” regarding the strips are that Godwin drew thirty Rusty Ryan strips. That the strip was never syndicated seems almost axiomatic. Essentially, that is where the basic information stops, as far as I know! I don’t know whether any of the strips ever left his studio. I don’t know when they were drawn. I don’t even know whether there was a single person who was even told about the strips at around the time they were drawn, or that anyone, anywhere, other than Godwin, knew of the Rusty Ryan strips at any time before his death.

Of course, there may be other people around who know more than that.

Thus, as to what those strips “were,” or to what purpose (if any) they were put, to me the situation is anything but clear. There may be some who don’t care one way or another, or some for whom the mere existence of the strips is proof that the strips were used by Godwin in promoting the Rusty Ryan strip, or the Rusty Riley strip, or both.

I have never seen any evidence that those samples were ever submitted to King Features Syndicate. In fact, in an earlier post, I said the following (shown in boldface), in discussing a King Features Syndicate brochure or booklet promoting the Rusty Riley strip:

By the way, that brochure’s text does a great job of promoting the strip, and I think that the enthusiasm demonstrated in the brochure is very parallel to that felt by Rusty Riley enthusiasts today.  One interesting thing about the brochure is that it gives the impression that KFS was more or less “pre-sold” on the desirability of the strip, without any need for Godwin to prove himself.  One section of text starts out:

We didn’t hesitate.  Our first reading of “Rusty Riley” did it.

We knew right then and there that if there was one man who could have walked in with a package of sure-fire adventure strips–Frank Godwin was that man.

We were sure of it because for some time now we, here at King Features, have been more than just aware of Mr. Godwin’s reputation as a top-notch illustrator of magazine fiction.

We’d seen his work.  We’d admired his work and — let’s admit it — there wasn’t a man or woman among us who hadn’t envied that work.

Again, that boldface material is from an earlier post.

That does not even remotely sound as though the syndicate is talking about any sample strips of any kind — let alone sample strips that were in a style that on the whole was not as intricate, rich, detailed, and developed as was the Rusty Riley daily overall (and perhaps especially as it was in many early episodes of the Rusty Riley strip and in many other particularly developed examples).

My own assumption probably would be that the writer is referring to Frank Godwin’s work on the Book of the Month strips (or the like) that were syndicated by King Features Syndicate.  After all, the style of the early Rusty Riley daily strips was overall quite close to that of the Frank Godwin’s 1947 Spoonhandle strip and his 1947 Toil of the Brave strip, while that certainly cannot be said about the Rusty Ryan strips. (Spoonhandle and Toil of the Brave, as well as Godwin’s earlier strips of The Fountainhead and The Snake Pit, did not use speech balloons.  They included blocks of text set in type.)

To me, it does not make sense that the syndicate would work with Godwin on four “comic strip” versions of novels, involving hundreds of drawings, and then give him the Rusty Riley job after seeing the Rusty Ryan strips, which overall were nothing like either the four novels, or the Rusty Riley strip as it appeared.

Moreover, the Rusty Ryan strips do not demonstrate the premise of a boy, a farm, and a cow, which Dave Karlen points to as the original idea for the Rusty Riley strip:

[. . .] Frank Godwin decided to propose a new idea to King Features Syndicate about a little boy and a cow on a farm. King Features expressed interest in a comic strip about a horse instead and so, Rusty Riley was born.

I am not saying the strips were never submitted to King Features Syndicate.  I am saying that I do not know what evidence there is that they were. So, to me, the mystery of the Rusty Ryan strips is as deep as ever.

—Tom Sawyer

July 15, 2012

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