Monday, March 06, 2017


Obscurity of the Day: Moving Picture Funnies

Based on the title Moving Picture Funnies, you may think you're in for a Minute Movies sort of strip, or a feature about Hollywood. Neither is the case though -- the title was actually meant in a very literal sense. Moving Picture Funnies offers readers the fun of cutting the panel cartoon out, making some folds (that's the moving part I suppose), and uncovering a new cartoon that serves as the answer to a gag posed in the original drawing. It was a great idea, if a little repetitive after years of daily appearances.

Moving Picture Funnies debuted on February 27 1917 and was distributed by John Dille's National Newspaper Service*. Although it never appeared in a lot of papers, it must have been popular enough, because it was officially offered until 1946, a run of three decades.

As far as I can tell, the panel was only ever signed "Clarke", which meant some sleuthing was in order to determine the artist's full name. I happened to know of a very short-lived NEA comic from 1915, Mr. Gadder, that had the same signature on it, and there a first name was offered -- Dick.  But in case I was wrong about the similar signature, and not having the vast resources of today's Interwebs at my disposal back when I was trying to track the information down, I relied on Editor & Publisher to be my second source.

E&P's annual syndicate directories, though, turned out to be more of a problem than a solution. The feature was unadvertised in the first three annual directories (1924-26) for some reason. In 1927 it finally made its first appearance and was credited to one F.W. Clarke. Okay, so that's that, right? Well, that's what I thought (and that's why my book lists the artist name as F.W. "Dick" Clarke). But I should have kept looking. In 1928 the credit was to "Robt. Clark" (note the lack of an 'E' on the last name). Then in 1929 the feature is missing again. In 1930, the feature is back and, believe it or not, it's credited to "Zack Mosely" (Zack's last name is properly spelled 'Mosley'). I don't know if that credit was a mistake or a joke, but I certainly find no artistic evidence of Mosley doing the feature, though he was associated with two other John Dille properties in this era (Skyroads and Buck Rogers), so the possibility, though dim, does exist.

In 1931, the feature is credited to R.D. Clark (again, no 'E'), and then in 1932 we switch to R.L. Clark (gimme an 'E', will ya!). This credit seemed to finally suit whoever was compiling the listings, because that name remained consistent through the rest of the run, through 1946.

So what exactly is the truth about Mr. Clarke? It took Alex Jay doing some digging, but we now have it on excellent evidence that the fellow's name was Richard A. 'Dick' Clarke. In other words, E&P did not print one correct credit in fifteen tries (not counting years it was missing entirely). Now I'll let Alex tell you more about this fellow tomorrow, but I must drop a spoiler today. In his research he discovered that Mr. Clarke passed away in 1933, meaning the feature was in reprints or ghosted for a minimum of thirteen years. Since I see no particular change in the style of the feature over its entire life, I'm guessing that Dille was selling reprints for a very long time. On the other hand, maybe the musical chair game of names indicates that the feature was sort of a family business, and there are other Clarkes involved in the series at different times. But I doubt it.

Anyway, let's get to something really important. In the samples above, if you do the requisite folding, what do you come up with? Well, you lucky people, I've done all the work for you. Here they are below, run here small in case you'd rather print the samples out yourself and have the fun of discovery. Click to enlarge.

* At the risk of making this post longer than the run of Moving Picture Funnies, I must make mention of a few things in regard to the syndication.


The best guess would be that Dille used two different entities for legal or tax purposes. The Sixteenth Amendment that permitted federal income taxes was ratified in 1913, so using two different entities could have been used for tax planning. It is more likely, however, that it was more strictly legally motivated. If Dille had a partner with an ownership interest in some but not all of his features, for example, the copyrights could be registered in different names, while the Dille syndication business was administered jointly. Or he could have been trying to serve different markets. Do you know where these entities were incorporated (if they were indeed corporations)?

The company was headquartered in Chicago Illinois. I seem to recall that Dille also had a Michigan connection -- like his brother owned a paper there? Don't recall where I found that tidbit.

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