31 Nearly Forgotten Comic-Strip and Television Characters Who Scored at Least One Chance at Greater Stardom by Appearing Within the Pages of Dell’s Four Color Comics
1. Myra North, Special Nurse
Now only remembered by comic-history buffs, Four Color Comics was a long-running anthology series published by Dell Comics between 1939 and 1962. It was a unique title in several ways; while most early comic titles either highlighted one popular character (Captain America, Superman) or crammed several thematically related but different features into each issue (Adventure Comics, Weird Fantasy, et al.), each issue of Four Color was given over to one headline star. And unlike other anthology series that placed their main title front and centre, the words “Four Color” were either downplayed or absent from each issue’s cover, making it seem as if the name of that issue’s star was the actual title of the book. It was obvious Dell had set up Four Color to act as a showcase for potential new series, and sure enough the Donald Ducks and Little Lulus of the world would go on to headline their own long-running comics after their Four Color debuts. Others weren’t so lucky. Take Myra North, Special Nurse, who was special in the sense that she somehow managed to work foiling the schemes of criminal masterminds and would-be world conquerors into her daily nursing duties, which often involved dealing with murderous patients and colleagues performing questionable experiments. Intrigue! Her newspaper strip debuted in 1936 and ended in 1941, her co-creators Ray Thompson and Charles Coll with her to the end; this early issue of Four Color is practically her only appearance outside of the few papers that carried her strip. Which is a shame, as a team-up with Marvel’s Night Nurse and Nellie the Nurse would have been a medical melodrama lover’s dream come true.
2. Smilin’ Jack
Sure, smirk if you must (Smilin’ Jack obviously won’t mind), but tales of adventuring aviators were quite popular back when airplanes were still new and shiny in the public’s eye. Originally titled On the Wing, Zack Mosley’s creation first appeared in the Chicago Tribune in 1933 (the new title came from the “Smilin’ Zack” nickname that Mosley picked up around the newspaper office). The strip started out chronicling the humorous situations the young and inexperienced pilot got himself into, but it gradually morphed into an adventure series with Jack going mano a mano against such nefarious sorts as the Claw, Toemain the Terrible and the Mongoose. And despite his life of danger and long string of romantic interests, Jack eventually married and fathered a son, Jack Jr. (who would grow up within the comic strip and marry his own lady love on the second-last day of the strip’s run). After a number of appearances in Four Color and Popular Comics (another Dell anthology), Smilin’ Jack received his own short-lived series in 1948. And that was about it for him in terms of greater fame; Mosley continued the strip until his retirement in 1973.
3. Tillie the Toiler
Long before Tessie the Typist or Millie the Model brought the lives of working women to the attention of comic readers, there was Tillie the Toiler, a young woman who worked for a fashionable women’s wear company run by Mr. Simpkins. That is, when she wasn’t busy quitting, getting fired, or running off to join the Army (as she did for a period during World War II). As for the exact nature of her toiling, she was usually seen doing either secretarial work or modeling — the two being interchangeable, one guesses. Regardless of her occupational status, she was always seen sporting the latest fashions (except during her stint in the army) and enjoyed the attention of a never-ending parade of wealthy and handsome young men (“Just like real life!” you can hear a chorus of actual working women cry out). Created by cartoonist Russ Westover, she first appeared in 1921, and proved popular enough to inspire two feature films, in 1927 and 1941. The latter film apparently stoked renewed interest in the character, and she starred in 11 issues of Four Color from 1941 to 1949. Westover retired from the strip in 1951, and assistant Bob Gustafson kept it going until the final installment in 1959, when Tillie finally settled down to marry Clarence “Mac” MacDougall, the bulb-nosed co-worker who never stopped loving her through the years. We can only assume they lived happily ever after, as neither was ever seen again.
4. Harold Teen
Hard to believe today, but there was a time when “teenagers” didn’t exist; you were considered a child until you were old enough to work and support your family. Labor laws and mandatory schooling changed all that, and the early 20th century saw the rise of a whole new (and highly self-absorbed) stage in human development. Sensing a niche that needed filling, cartoonist Carl Ed pitched the idea of a teen-centred strip in 1919, making Harold Teen the first newspaper strip to star a typical American teenager. Like the many comic-book teens that would follow, the aptly surnamed Teen was fond of trendy clothes, the latest slang, hanging out at the soda fountain, and giving his parents no end of good-natured grief. In his heyday, toys and merchandise based on Harold Teen characters lined store shelves, and he was popular enough to inspire two films, in 1928 and 1934. The strip enjoyed a pretty good run — it continued until Ed’s death in 1959 — but Harold Teen never saw much success in comic books, probably because by the time he made his first Four Color appearance in 1942, the title of “America’s Typical Teenager” was already being claimed by someone else.
5. Smokey Stover
If you’re a fan of the Foo Fighters, take a minute to thank the strip that indirectly gave the band the inspiration for its name. First appearing in 1935, Smokey Stover was a “foolish foo (fire) fighter” who would ride around in his two-wheeled “foomobile” in a wacky landscape filled with sight gags and other bits of screwball looniness. The term was adopted by pilots during the Second World War to describe unidentified flying objects seen in the skies above the European and Pacific theatres; Foo Fighters lead vocalist Dave Grohl took the name for his band from the term the pilots used. Cartoonist Bill Holman drew the strip from 1935 to 1973, making it one of the longest-running screwball strips. No one attempted to carry on the strip after he retired, as it was clearly the product of a unique mind, and that uniqueness is no doubt what kept Smokey Stover from finding larger success; outside of a few Four Color appearances, its only foray into other media was as a back-up animated segment during 1971’s Archie’s TV Funnies.
6. Tiny Tim
Not to be confused with any Dickensian moppets that might come to mind, this Tiny Tim was the star of a Sunday newspaper strip that first appeared in 1933. Created by Stanley Link, Tim Grunt and his sister, Dotty, were originally depicted as only two inches tall, allowing the orphans to get into all kinds of pint-sized predicaments and use everyday objects in new and fun ways without adults ever noticing. Their height was later adjusted to eight inches tall, and later still Link introduced a Gypsy woman who could magically turn them into normal-sized kids (though they were still depicted as small for their size). Then Dotty disappeared and all kinds of hair-raising adventures involving kidnappers and evil foster parents came into play… really, after a while you got the sense that Link was just winging it from one episode to the next. In 1941, in an obvious ploy to get a piece of the growing superhero craze, Link introduced a magical medallion (given to Tim by the same Gypsy woman who had embiggened him before) that gave Tim the power to shrink and grow at will, similar to Dollman or the Silver Age Atom. The strip continued on for a dozen or so years with Tim in the role of a plainclothes superhero, but the one nefarious force he couldn’t defeat was his creator’s passing; Link died in 1957, and the final Tiny Tim strip appeared in March of ’58.
7. Ozark Ike
It’s not hard to see how someone could look at a strip like Ozark Ike and think “can’t-miss proposition.” After all, strips like L’il Abner and Snuffy Smith had proven that mid-century Americans loved their hillbilly humor, while strips like Joe Palooka suggested readers enjoyed their sports heroes, too. So how could a strip about a sports hero from the Ozarks possibly fail? Ozark Ike McBatt was your typical all-American boy, a football, basketball and baseball star who also boxed between seasons (no word on his lacrosse and jai alai activities, but we’ll just assume he was into those, too). Created by Rufus A. (“Ray”) Gotto while he served in the Navy during the Second World War, Ozark Ike first appeared in newspapers shortly after the war’s end in 1945. Even though he was a not-too-bright boy from a rural part of the country, Ike managed to travel quite a bit thanks to his athletic prowess. But no matter how long he was on the road, he would always end up back in Wildwood Run, where his family had a long-standing feud with the family of his girlfriend, Dinah Fatfield. Standard Comics published an Ozark Ike comic from 1948 to 1952, but this issue was Ike’s only Dell appearance; just as well, as Gotto left the strip in 1954 and his successors could keep it going only until 1959.
8. Little Beaver
Oh, stop that. Little Beaver was the Navaho pal of Red Ryder, one of the earliest Western stars in comics and comic strips. Created by Fred Harman, Red Ryder was your typical square-jawed do-gooder with a longtime girlfriend (Beth Wilder), an arch-enemy (Ace Hanlon), and a horse named Thunder. Little Beaver, who was introduced in an earlier incarnation of the strip as the sidekick to a fellow named Bronc Peeler, was brought in as Red Ryder’s sidekick in his very first episode. Having a bare-chested Native American child wander the Old West while saying things like “You betchem!” or “Me like ’em!” may seem slightly (okay, very) offensive today, but there was a time when this was considered totally acceptable to the comic-buying public. During the strip’s heyday, Red Ryder and Little Beaver branched out into movie serials, radio programs, and a 1956 TV show starring Allan Lane and the decidedly non-native Louis Lettieri as Little Beaver. The Red Ryder strip ended in 1964, roughly around the time most Americans were starting to realize just how offensive Little Beaver (on more than one level) really was, and Dell’s biggest attempt to make him into a comic-book star was a 1951 series that lasted only six series. But at least ol’ Beav can take pride in the fact he beat Robin in the race to become the first adventure-hero sidekick to appear in a comic book. So that’s something.
9. Dr. Bobbs
You know what’s really sad? I can’t see the name “Dr. Bobbs” without thinking of that “Veterinary Hospital” sketch from The Muppet Show: “Tune in next week when you’ll hear Dr. Bobbs say…” Ahem. Anyway. Dr. Bobbs, much like Special Nurse Myra North, was a medical professional who found himself embroiled in all kinds of medical and non-medical emergencies. As seen on this cover, his typical working day could find him racing alongside an ambulance, saving a woman’s life, punching some dastardly fellow’s lights out, peering through a microscope and… er, shooting up between patients? Is there something the medical board should know about your drug requisition forms, Dr. Bobbs? Criminal conspiracies and daring rescues were par for the course in his newspaper strip, which debuted in 1940. His creators were Elliot Caplin and Jim McArdle; Caplin was the younger brother of L’il Abner cartoonist Al Capp. The strip didn’t cause much of a sensation, and this Four Color issue represents its only foray outside of newspapers: no movies, no merchandise, nada. The strip was cancelled in 1949, not long after this issue hit the stands.
10. Little Iodine
Little Iodine (yes, she was actually named Iodine by her parents; must have been one of those “first word we saw in the hospital” deals) first appeared in Jimmy Hatlo’s daily panel They’ll Do It Every Time, but no one seems to know exactly when; the strip debuted in 1929, and Little Iodine appeared in the 1930s as a foil for her father, the easily unsettled Henry Tremblechin. Her antics proved to be so popular she was awarded her own strip in 1943. A precursor to Dennis the Menace and other similar child stars, Little Iodine was, as Hatlo once said, “the embodiment of all the brats I knew… I tried to make her naughty as hell — and still likable.” Clearly, there was a market for this kind of humor in the baby boom years, and after a few Four Color tryouts Little Iodine graduated to her own 56-issue series, which ran from 1948 to 1962. Hatlo died in 1963, and his main assistant, Bob Dunn, took over the strip; despite his efforts and those of other artists, the strip never matched the creative heights that Hatlo achieved, and it was cancelled in 1985 (They’ll Do It Every Time continued until 2008 without any mention of her). While Little Lulu, Dennis the Menace and other comic-strip children continued to find new ways to torment grown-ups, Little Iodine has not been seen in many years, and even her sole movie outing in 1946 (starring The Beverly Hillbillies’ Irene Ryan as the mother) is considered a lost film.
11. Uncle Wiggily
And now, a little something from our “characters whose names could also serve as a disturbing euphemism for male genitalia” department. Uncle Wiggily Longears is best known these days as the star of a children’s board game, but he started out as a character in a daily newspaper column (this was back in the day when newspapers couldn’t rely on celebrity meltdowns and Sudoku puzzles to fill out their back pages). Howard R. Garis began writing for the Newark News in 1910, and he penned a new Uncle Wiggily story every day (except Sundays) for more than 30 years. Uncle Wiggily is, if my online sources can be trusted, “an engaging elderly rabbit” who relies on a “candy-striped walking cane” wherever he goes; he lives in a funny-animal land where he and his niece-and-nephew pair of Sammie and Susie Littletail (seen here) join the other friendly animals in various adventures, usually foiling the pranks and schemes of such ne’er-do-wells as Woozy Wolf, Bushy Bear, or Skillery Skallery Alligator. Think Pogo without the political satire, or Walt Disney with the added enticement of predatory characters plotting the bloody demise of Donald or Goofy. The newspaper stories were collected into 79 books during the author’s lifetime; Dell, obviously hoping to duplicate the success its licensed Disney and Looney Tunes comics enjoyed, gave Uncle Wiggily nine Four Color issues to strut his stuff, as well as a regular berth in Animal Comics from 1942 to 1948. Alas, Uncle Wiggily’s lack of other media appearances hurt his chances at greater fame, and today his public-domain stories can be downloaded at Project Gutenberg.
12. Betty Betz’ Dollface and Her Gang
And then there are the really obscure Four Color stars. According to one comic fan in the Comics Corral forum, an old article in The Comic Buyer’s Guide that focused onDell’s Four Color series called this issue “the Holy Grail of FC collectors.” One can only assume that was because of the book’s scarcity and not its artistic merit; as the fan noted after winning this book in an eBay auction, it was nice of Dell “to let an eleven-year-old try her hand at drawing comics.” In truth, the illustrations were by Betz, a noted New York-based authority on teenage behavior during the 1940s whose articles were published in such magazines as Seventeen, Woman’s Home Companion, Collier’s, and Pictorial Review. She also published a line of books, such as the 1947 classic The Betty Betz Party Book: The Teen-Age Guide to Social Success, a book with a cover illustrated in the same style seen here but with Betz’s black-and-white head disturbingly superimposed over that of one of the illustrated characters. Dollface herself was your typical American girl, fretting about dresses and ballroom dancing and all the other things that proper young women concerned themselves with in 1950. Then came Elvis and The Blackboard Jungle, and Dollface was never seen in comic form again.
13. Susie Q. Smith
“I like the way you walk, I like the way you talk, I like the way you walk, I like the way you talk, Susie Q….” Okay, so Dale Hawkins’ classic ode to girls named Susie Q is light on thematic developments, but that doesn’t make it any less catchy. Given she debuted in 1945, the same year that MLJ Comics renamed itself Archie Comics in honor of its main cash cow, Susie Q. Smith could easily be seen as one of the many Archie imitators that cropped up after Riverdale’s favorite son hit the scene. Created by the husband-and-wife team of Harold and Linda Walter, Susie was perky, boy-crazy, and a constant source of bafflement for her put-upon parents. Though she first appeared in a newspaper strip, Susie also appeared in four issues of Four Color between 1951 and 1954, for which the Walters provided original stories. If the idea was to have Susie compete against the Archie empire for a piece of the teen-humor market… well, it’s nice to have goals, but it was clearly not meant to be. Susie didn’t make any other appearances outside of her strip, which ended in 1959.
14. Rootie Kazootie
Right from the start, Four Color was a reliable source of stories starring animated stars of the silver screen, with Donald Duck appearing in Four Color’s fourth issue (right between the first appearances of Myra North and Smilin’ Jack, no less). Live-action film stars immortalized in Four Color books included Western legends Roy Rogers and Gene Autry; popular radio programs starring the Lone Ranger and Charlie McCarthy would also inspire Four Color adventures. The earliest television stars (the ones who debuted on TV, that is, with no previous appearances in other media) were no slouches, either, with shows like Tom Corbett, Space Cadet and Howdy Doody providing rich fodder for 1950s-era Four Color comics. Indeed, Howdy Doody was so insanely popular in his day that he didn’t even have to bother with a Four Color appearance; the freckle-faced marionette was awarded his own self-titled book in 1950, just three years after his TV debut. Sadly, that wasn’t the case for Rootie Kazootie, puppet star of The Rootie Kazootie Club, a children’s show that also debuted in 1950. As seen here, Rootie was a boy “keen on sports” who was never seen without his baseball cap with the bill turned up. He had a girlfriend named Polka Dottie and an arch-nemesis named Poison Zoomack, who tried to steal Polka Dottie’s polka dots and Rootie’s “magic kazootie.” Though it reached an audience of two to three million kids a day at the height of its popularity, The Rootie Kazootie Club never caught up to Howdy Doody in the ratings, and the show was cancelled in 1954.
15. Rusty Riley
Fun fact: a lot of the characters on this list starred in strips distributed by King Features Syndicate, a company that can trace its origins all the way back to the Yellow Kid and the Katzenjammer Kids, the earliest examples of American newspaper comic strips. Name a famous strip from the first half of the 20th century and chances are it was distributed by King, from Blondie and Beetle Bailey to The Phantom and Mary Worth. In 1936, King partnered with publisher David McKay to distribute comic books based on its strips, though it wasn’t an exclusive relationship, as early Four Color issues starring Popeye and Flash Gordon would attest. By the time this issue of Rusty Riley came out, McKay was out of the comics business and Dell enjoyed a monopoly on King-related characters for the rest of the decade. You may have noticed I’ve gotten this far without discussing Rusty himself; let’s just say he didn’t give Little Orphan Annie much competition in the “red-headed orphan travels the world and experiences melodramatic adventures” category, though the art by Frank Godwin was certainly a step up from what readers were used to finding on the Sunday pages. Four of Rusty’s adventures were reprinted in Four Color in 1952 and 1953; the strip died with Godwin in 1959.
16. The Little Scouts
In the early 1950s, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Americans were having lots of babies, and comic publishers responded by introducing family-based strips, like Hi & Lois, or strips starring youthful protagonists, like Dennis the Menace. By comparison, few cartoonists took a look at the social institutions that benefited from a surplus of kiddies, though school-oriented strips like Miss Peach took a crack at it. Roland Coe’s The Little Scouts started out in the pages of The Saturday Evening Post in 1942; a few volumes of collected cartoons appeared during the 1940s before Dell decided the feature was ready for its comic book close-up in 1951. The setup was simplicity itself — grandfatherly Scoutmaster Johnson was forever dealing with the good-natured havoc caused by a gaggle of boys with colorful names like Jebby, Dragheels and Snackbar — and the five Four Color issues starring the Scouts, as well as their own five-issue title, stuck to the basics (one common story theme saw the boys dealing with forest animals stealing their food). But like so many other Four Color hopefuls, greater fame was not meant to be, and the demise of The Little Scouts sent millions of young people spiraling into disillusionment, depression and rampant substance abuse. Or not.
17-18. Mary Jane and Sniffles
Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Elmer Fudd, Wile E. Coyote, Sniffles the Mouse… yes, the list of iconic Warner Bros. cartoon characters is long and storied, indeed. What, you’ve never heard of Sniffles? Small wonder (no pun intended); though he was created by Chuck Jones and starred in a dozen animated shorts, the incessantly cute Sniffles was retired in 1946 as Jones and his studio focused more on the humorous-slash-sadistic characters in their stable. And that might have been the end for poor Sniffles, had it not been for his unlikely repurposing as a comic-book character with a young human co-star who could shrink down to his size. But even then, show business was tough on the little guy; as the years went by and Mary Jane proved the more popular of the two, the “Sniffles and Mary Jane” strip was renamed “Mary Jane and Sniffles,” giving the young lady top billing. Mary Jane’s method for shrinking varied between the use of magic sand or just wishing herself small, but either way it was always the start of teeny adventures with her anthropomorphic pal. But not too many, though; this issue was their last headlining adventure, and they would only make a few more appearances in backup features in Dell’s Looney Tunes until 1961.
Over at The Comics Curmudgeon, there’s a running gag that Marmaduke is not a dog, but rather an unholy demon that devours all who defy him. Given the dearth of headlining dogs in the comics nowadays, there’s probably some truth to that. There was a time when the comics page was littered with dogs like Tippie, Fred Bassett, and Napoleon, a giant pooch who could give Marmaduke some lessons on how to annoy his human companions. For more than a quarter-century, Napoleon (a massive Irish wolfhound) engaged in a battle of wills with his “master,” the elderly Uncle Elby, while also enjoying the attention of Elby’s nephew, Willie. Cartoonist Clifford McBride introduced Napoleon as a daily strip in 1932; a Sunday page debuted the following year. Like most other comic strips of the day, the strip was collected in several hardcover reprint books, and Napoleon was even the star of a series of print dog food ads in the 1940s. Efforts to bring the characters to a television show came to naught, though, and McBride’s death in 1951 dealt a serious blow to efforts to expand the pooch’s media reach. McBride’s assistant, George Armstrong, continued the feature until 1961.
20. Priscilla’s Pop
Sometimes, innovation is overrated; at the end of the day, what matters is whether people are buying what you’re selling, and whether you can put food on the table. Such is the case with Priscilla’s Pop, a daily newspaper strip that debuted in 1946, just as most Americans were starting to obsess about the strange miniature creatures who were overrunning their lives. Creator Al Vermeer was working with archetypes that reached all the way back to King Lear, if not earlier: the “pop” in the title was Waldo Nutchell, a tie-wearing family man forever exasperated by the antics of his young daughter, Priscilla, who was obsessed with the idea of owning a horse. Dell gave the strip four chances between 1954 and 1957 to wow its Four Color readers, but the lack of any follow-up suggests Priscilla and her pop fell short on that order. Vermeer retired in 1976 and died in 1980; the strip was taken over by Ed Sullivan (not the one you’re thinking of), who carried it until 1983. The Dell issues represent the strip’s only foray outside the newspaper page.
21. Winky Dink
Long before Dora and Diego paused to give young viewers a chance to answer their inane questions, the first experiments in interactive television were a mixed bag. Winky Dink was the star of 1953’s Winky Dink and You, the “you” referring to the millions of youngsters who were called upon to help Winky and his dog, Woofer, achieve their goals. Kids at home were able to do this thanks to a special plastic sheet that parents would fit over their television screens, allowing kids to write directly on the set using their “magic” crayons (which were, together with the sheet, available by mail order). Of course, if Mom and Dad didn’t cough up the dough for the set, kids could also write directly on the screen using regular wax crayons… which helps explain why the series didn’t last too long, with the same 13 episodes recycled over and over until 1957. The sole Dell comic devoted to Winky Dink used the same “interactive” technique, encouraging readers to draw whatever Winky needed right on the page. So those of you looking for a mint copy of this book… yeah, good luck with that.
Will-Yum starred Will-Yum, a young boy who did young-boy stuff. And that was apparently all it took to keep the strip going for 13 years. Really, after a while you tend to get a good sense of why a lot of these Four Color headliners never moved on to bigger and better things. It wasn’t for lack of trying, though; cartoonist Dave Gerard introduced Will-Yum as a recurring character in cartoons he created for The Women’s Home Companion. Starting in 1950, Gerard created a strip called Viewpoint, a strip that contrasted different ways of seeing the same event; when it was cancelled by Gerard’s syndicate, they took Will-Yum in its place. The cauliflowered-eared Will-Yum and his pals gently terrorized their neighborhood with their antics and shenanigans (but never their hi-jinks) until 1966, when Gerard dropped the strip and replaced with Citizen Smith, a comic about an ordinary guy. Like others on this list, Will-Yum’s three Four Color issues represent the sum total of his foray into other media, and it was left to a certain other “menacing” lad to carry the standards for mildly delinquent children everywhere.
Man, dig those crazy noses. I mean, yeah, Jughead always sported a long snout, too, but I don’t remember his nose ever looking quite as… er, limber as these two. In case you’re wondering, Timmy is the kid in the red overalls; his little brother in the grocery bag was called Hanky, probably because he was always drawn with an oversized shirt that looked way too big for his little body. Also in the cast were the boys’ mom and dad, the latter often trying to connect with his boys but somehow always ending up getting in trouble with his neighbors or imperiling the boys’ lives in the process. Timmy began as a weekly strip in Collier’s magazine in 1947, with scripts by Raymond Abashkin and art by Howard Sparber. It was later picked up by a syndicate and distributed nationally in newspapers until 1960. Although the four Dell issues had covers “by Sparber,” the Grand Comics Database reports that Sparber had nothing to do with the Dell books (and as you might expect for a book from that time period, no one is credited for providing the art or the scripts for the stories inside). The strip was canceled the same year Abrashkin died, in 1960; Sparber moved on to other syndicated strips and corporate graphic design.
24-25. Ruff and Reddy
When MGM closed its animation studio in 1957, the unemployed animators no longer working on Tom & Jerry cartoons included Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera. As you might have guessed, the two decided to start their own business creating cartoons for television, and the rest is history. But before the world would meet the Flintstones, the Scooby gang and the rest of the Laff-a-Lympics line-up, there was The Ruff and Reddy Show, Hanna-Barbera’s first-ever cartoon, which premiered on NBC Dec. 14, 1957. Ruff was the smart little cat; Reddy was the big dumb dog. Together, they starred in more than 100 episodes, going up against such villainous types as Harry Safari, Captain Greedy, Salt Water Daffy, and Western outlaws Killer and Diller (all voices, including those of the two leads, provided by Hanna-Barbera legends Daws Butler and Don Messick). The show was only a moderate success — the cliffhanger format proved difficult for younger children to follow — but no matter: Hanna-Barbera soon found other ways to secure its place in television history. The Ruff and Reddy Show lasted until 1960; Dell’s dozen issues of Ruff and Reddy were the first of many comics over the years based on Hanna-Barbera characters, but they were far from being the most memorable.
26. Jacky’s Diary
One of the running gags in the Family Circus strip is that Billy, the eldest son in the fictional family, would take over the strip during one of Bil Keane’s “vacations” and produce the kind of art that looks like the product of a seven-year-old. Same deal here — the very adult Jack Mendelsohn was the creative mind behind Jacky’s Diary, a Sunday-only strip launched in 1959 that was posited as the hand-illustrated diary of a young boy, complete with amusing misspellings and groan-worthy puns. Trouble was, Mendelsohn ended up being a little too good at it — before too long, his syndicate got complaints from readers who wondered why the company was publishing the work of a young child (apparently, they missed the “age 32 1/2” tagline at the bottom of each strip), and some parents, mistaking the strip for an interactive feature, sent in their own childrens’ artwork in the hopes that it would get published. The strip folded after three years, hanging in there just long enough to get one Four Color issue out on the stands; Mendelsohn, who went on to a prolific career in illustration and animation, made two theatrically released Jacky’s Diary cartoons that hit screens in 1965.
27-28. Lolly & Pepper
For the most part, the newspaper strips that were featured in the Four Color series didn’t suffer too much from the transition; the comic stories may have been longer, sure, but Dell’s editors weren’t interested in tinkering too much with already established properties. Pete Hansen’s Lolly was an exception; first appearing in newspapers in 1955, Lolly followed the adventures of a young woman who was the breadwinner in a household that consisted of her handful of a kid brother, Pepper, and her feisty grandmother, who went by “Granny.” (If the strip ever took the time to explain what happened to Lolly and Pepper’s parents, I haven’t heard the story.) Though Lolly was the headlining star of the strip, Pepper was an obvious draw in a decade where strips featuring cute and/or mischievous children were all the rage, and so Lolly became Lolly and Pepper for the five issues of Four Color that were devoted to the strip. Not that it helped Pepper’s prospects any; the Four Color appearances never led to a continuing series, but Lolly kept on running in newspapers until 1983.
29. Sweetie Pie
Speaking of mischievous children. As I’ve already mentioned, the 1950s was the heyday for comics and strips featuring adorable and/or aggravating children, with Dennis the Menace and the Peanuts crowd leading the pack. Sweetie Pie, starring a little girl who apparently went by no other name, wasn’t as successful, but it managed to bring laughs to newspaper readers for a dozen or so years before fading away. Cartoonist Nadine Seltzer depicted Sweetie Pie as a typical girl with typical parents, though she had a special talent for driving her father and her schoolteacher, Miss Fossle, to distraction. And apparently “Sweetie Pie” wasn’t a term of endearment; everyone called her by that name, from her parents to her friends and classmates, including school bully Gas House (“Gas House”…?). Small-time publishers Ajax-Farrell and Pines published a few issues of her adventures before Dell gave her two Four Color issues to do her thing. With Nancy and Little Lulu cornering the market for dark-haired distaff troublemakers, Sweetie Pie disappeared in 1967.
30-31. Calvin and the Colonel
Long before the end of Four Color’s run, it was clear that Dell saw the title’s future in offering up comic-book adaptations of movies and television shows, with issues offering everything from Leave It to Beaver and Rawhide to National Velvet and King of Kings. Given that, it seems appropriate that the final issue of the series would feature stories based on Calvin and the Colonel, one of several primetime animated shows that popped up on the TV dial in 1961. Much as the success of The Simpsons in the 1990s led to a flood of now-forgotten primetime cartoons (Family Dog or Capital Critters, anyone?), the surprise success of The Flintstones ignited a brief flurry of interest in primetime animation, and Kayro Productions aimed to please with this entry. Problem was, the show was created by the same men behind the Amos & Andy radio and TV programs, and audiences in the 1960s weren’t as receptive to overtly racial humor as they were in previous decades; even with the lines delivered by an amiable bear and a clever fox, it was hard to find an audience for that kind of humor in Dr. King’s America. Only six episodes were aired during its Tuesday night timeslot; the show was moved to ABC’s Saturday-morning lineup, where it aired until June 1962. This tryout issue, published just before the show was canceled for good, led to exactly one more issue, which was numbered “No. 2,” of Calvin and the Colonel… and that was it, for both the duo and Four Color’s presence on newsstands.