I wonder what happened to all of the art — as to Frank Godwin’s “Rusty Riley” and other art . . .

Sometimes I wonder what happened to all of the comic-strip art that is, or seems to be, “missing” — from, say, the 1920s through the 1950s.  One could argue, I suppose, that a lot of it was not worth preserving — that a lot of it was poorly rendered, and much of it consisted of paste-ups, with corrections, and that it was intended for a specific purpose which, when fulfilled, rendered a lot of the art worthless.

And the quantities of it were enormous.  If we pretend that there were a hundred syndicated strips at any given time during the 1930s, with both Sundays and dailies, that would mean that each year about 36,500 pieces of original art were being created.  In ten years, there would be over 365,000 pieces.

You might say, well, that’s still only 365,000 pieces, for ten years.  Yes, but at some point there is a question of where one draws the line.  Add all the preliminary art, doodles, and the like, and maybe there would be 200,000 per year, or (say) 2,000,000 items after ten years.

And then there are all of the sample strips that are submitted to the syndicates. I myself had a strip that I hawked unsuccessfully to various syndicates.

A great deal of the art must have been very poor, by any standards.  Yet, much of it was obviously “great art,” and must have been recognized as such by anyone who saw it.  And it is that “obviously great art” that I am wondering about.  Occasionally you will hear — from authoritative sources — that a great deal of the best art by some of the best artists was often considered valueless, and that it was perhaps sometimes used for miscellaneous purposes that seem inconsistent with what we recognize the works to be today.  Honestly, I don’t believe every story I see along those lines.

But still I wonder what happened to all of the art that seems to be gone now.  I don’t have any real proof, but in view of the fact that a lot of the Rusty Riley art has indeed survived, I am pretty sure that Godwin placed a high value on it.  A number of extremely early Rusty Riley daily strips have survived.

I don’t know what happened to the early art for the Sunday Rusty Riley strips.  Off hand, I can only think of one 1948 Sunday Rusty Riley original that I know for certain exists.

Occasionally catastrophes have probably struck that have destroyed large quantities of original art.  But that does not appear to explain why so much Rusty Riley original art appears to be missing.  It is also interesting that probably the vast majority of Rusty Riley daily art known to exist comes from a relatively small number of the Rusty Riley stories.  (At least, I have that impression.)

—Tom Sawyer

October 18, 2013


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