Friday, June 09, 2006
Just the Funnies, Ma'am
In early 2000, while I was researching and writing My Name's Friday, I was contacted by a fellow writer - John R. Cochran. Coincidentally, he was researching an article about the Dragnet newspaper strip, and asked if I had any information.
I told him what little I'd gleaned from the Library of Congress - namely that it ran about three years, from 1952-55, and that the scripts originated with Jack Webb's stable of writers. Plus, of course, that the cases depicted were taken "from official police files."
In turn, he sent me photocopies of examples from the strip. It was hardly an equitable trade; I made out far, far better than he did.
Due to space limitations, I was only able to include a single example of the strip in my book. I chose the one that had appeared on November 2, 1954 as it seemed to me the most "Dragnetesque" of the bunch.
With this post, I can finally share all 13 of the samples Mr. Cochran generously sent, along with some additional info he provided.
Unfortunately, we did not stay in touch and I have no idea where Mr. Cochran's article was published, or if he was able to finish it. John, if you're reading this, please let me know.
There were three artists on the strip during its lifetime: Joe Scheiber, Bill Ziegler and Mel Keefer. Scheiber's the illustrator for the first five strips included here - which happen to be the first five Dragnet strips, period. (Dragnet apparently did not run on Sunday, which was apropos - it was Joe Friday's only day off, too.)
As you can see, Scheiber didn't attempt to depict Webb or any of the Dragnet actors. The series had been on radio 3 years when the strip debuted on June 23, 1952, but the TV version had only been on for six months - and airing every other week, to boot. Nevertheless, it's the TV version that's promoted on the bottom left corner of strip #3.
Bill Ziegler took over the strip in 1953, and lasted about a year. Mr. Cochran didn't provide any examples of Ziegler's version, but he did volunteer his opinion that "the strip didn't look nearly as good" under his pen.
When Mel Keefer took over in 1954 - the strips reproduced here are from November 1 - 9 - he took the opposite approach, and did a superb job characterizing Webb and Ben Alexander. I would guess he referenced stills from the series.
By this time, the TV version was second only to I Love Lucy in ratings and popularity, so it was an added boon for the artwork to reproduce the two leads so accurately.
I have no explanation as to why the strip folded within a year of Keefer's arrival. All told, the daily strip was an interesting venture; one more example of Dragnet's hold on popular culture at the time.
Perhaps one day, a specialty publisher like Fantagraphics will collect them all in book form. Until then, if anyone has other examples, I'll be happy to post them.