Friday, May 30, 2008

Queen City Ink

On August 30, 1924 Toronto's Exhibition grounds were treated to the startling sight of three men dressed as the Tely Mystery Men. The Mystery Men were characters in a comic strip and they owed their existence to a Toronto Telegram comic strip contest won by 21 year old Richard Taylor, a future cartoonist on the New Yorker and Esquire.

"Here’s an impression in black and white line work of the Evening Telegram’s "Snuggle Pup" float at he Exhibition on Young Canada’s Day this week. Amateur black and white artists will find it interesting to compare the drawing with the photograph of the same float given in the Children’s Tely to-day. The "Mystery Men," Dick’s comic creations of the imagination, were there in the flesh and entertained the children by their antics. When the photograph was taken they were off down the midway, surrounded by an exuberant throng of youngsters."

(A note on the poor reproductions accompanying the following post. When Canadian newspapers were first microfilmed the original newspapers holdings were dumped in the trash. This crime against history left poorly photographed often illegible pictures to work with. I have tried more than once to obtain clear copies but this is the best I could do. Bill Blackbeard was the man responsible for saving color comic sections in the United States without which modern books about comic strips would also have to rely on poor microfilm copies for their volumes of comic history.)

The Toronto Telegram ran 3 comic strips in 1924 ; Pantomime by J. H. Streidel, Adamson's Adventures by O. Jacobson, and Rube Goldberg's ever-changing daily. OOjah, Punch artist Thomas Maybank's comic elephant, appeared on the children's page, and Gluyas Williams supplied daily one and two-panel gags. TheToronto Telegram made up for the lack of strips with "Comic Art Contests," so that every Saturday they would publish a large page made up from the contributions of local Toronto artists (see Charlie Chump).The pay was in cash prizes and large numbers of would-be cartoonists answered the call. The Features Editor claimed 3000 to 4000 contributions to the contest that gave birth to Richard "Dick" Taylor's "Mystery Men" comic strip.

The 1st two contests were for single-panel work but Comic Art Contest No. 3 was a comic strip competition, and the readers responded in droves. On April 5, 1924 a full page of four panel strips from readers were published under the blurb, "Out of Queen City Ink Bottles New Funny Folk Are Created." Prizes were 2, 5, and 10 dollars, and could be much less when the prizes were shared among competitors. Many of the same aspiring cartoonists contributed weekly comics for years, affording a ready source of cheap material for the Telegram. Isabel Byers, F. J. Willatt, Lloyd E. Dodson, and J. M. Barnett (author of MOLLY MORPHEUS DREAMS) were regulars. Dedicated amateur Bert Rolestone kept his strip SALLY IN OUR ALLEY going on weekly prize money for an extended period of time.

The contests were a very good deal for the Telegram. They nourished the dreams of a load of young and old gentlemen and ladies, and were probably widely enjoyed by readers and the relatives of the prize-winners. The Toronto Evening Telegram’s 3rd Comic Cartoons Competition closed on March 31st, 1924, and the $25 first prize went to 21 year old Richard Taylor for his comic strip The Mystery Men, which was promoted by the paper as The "Tely" Mystery Men.

To Be Continued....

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