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.


ericpaddon said...

Hi Michael. There is a way you can access more examples of the Dragnet comic strip. A new archival database called has (for an annual fee) been making many local newspapers accessible to the general public for the first time in which we can see the old microfilms direct on our computers and which we can download. I did a quick search and found that one of the newspapers they archived, the Oakland Tribune, did carry the Dragnet comic strip and by using their advanced search feature, it's possible to get many examples of the strip overall. (I recommend using "Dragnet" and the name of the artist as a way to get accurate search results, keyed to the years 1952 and 1955).


Michael J. Hayde said...

Wow! Terrific news! Thank you, Eric!


ericpaddon said...

Just to follow-up with some more results from my search in the database, the Oakland Tribune started carrying the strip officially on March 9, 1953. The previous week they had run a week's worth of "preview" strips heralding that "Dragnet" would be coming to this space soon (along with two other strips).

There are signs the Tribune may have stopped running the strip in late '53 as all the examples I've found in the database stretch from March to August of that year.

When exhausting search results with "Dragnet" as the key term I've found that entering "Walt Kelly" helps get me to the Tribune comics page on key dates since "Pogo" ran above "Dragnet" on the Tribune page.

I've yet to assemble an entire storyline but it looks as though the radio/TV show scripts were adapted for the storylines because at least one of them rings a bell with me (about a couple of men named Allison and Kenworthy fleeing into Mexico).

It's great that a resource has been created that can allow for this resummoning of vintage comics right from home!

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There are signs the Tribune may have stopped running the strip in late '53 as all the examples I've found in the database stretch from March to August of that year.

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