Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mr. Walker's Tenants

Tuesday Newspaper Strip Day.

Mort Walker started using assistants quite early on. He used them mostly for coming up with new gags. He also let them have their own strip as soon as possible. When Bob Gustavson (who drew most of the comic book stories for Beetle Bailey) took over the long running strip Tillie the Toiler, it took on a distinctive Walker factory look. Ralston Jones (who had worked at Johnstone and Cushing, like Dik Browne) started Mr Abernathy. And Frank Roberge did Mrs. Fitz Flats, a cute little stripabout an elderly couple running an appartment full of funny characters. I don't know if these strips were produced in house with Mort Walker or if these cartoonists struck out on their own. At least,later onMort Walker had learned that his asistants had abetter chance at succes if he signed the new strips as well. His next lot of assistant produced strips were signed (and probably set up) by Walker, or by a pseudonym known to be Walker's (like Boner's Ark, which was signed with Walker's first name Addison, but drawn by Frank Johnstone). The only strip to buck this trend was Sam and Silo, a self-referential strip about newspaper strips, whose cult succes didn't stop it from being cancelled before there could have been a Sunday version. This srip was co-signed by Walker and Jerry Dumas. It wasn't until Dumas reseurrected the characters as two bumbling small town cops in Sam and Silo and signed it on his own, it became a succes. Sam's Strip is duw to be published in it's entirety by Fantagraphics and it is a must have for any comic strip lover. All in all, there does not seem to have been a set way of doing things. It is very possible that Mrs. Fitz Flats was in fact a real Mort Walker strip, that just happened to have been signed by Frank Roberge. In some interviews Walker talks about it that way, anyway. Here are some samples from early on in the run. I am not quite sure about the dates. It could be 1958 or even 1961.

These I scanned in myself. Below are the earliest samples of the strip I could find, from microfiche.

A great concept for a strip, huh? There's always a chance to introduce new characters. By the time the strip wasintroduced in this new paper in 1960, the line-up of tenants was slightly different. But the new tenants are a sexy girl and a fighting couplr. The strip doesn't seem to be getting any hipper.

One year later the strip is revamped and relaunched as a strip for senior citizens. It limps on for aq couple more years and then dies somewhere in the sixties. Maybe Frank Roberge was cut loose from the apron strings so he could manage it on his own with less overhead?

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