Thursday, January 30, 2014

Lost 1930's funny animal adventure strip: Hardluck Harry

In 1936, DC Comics -- or, rather, National Allied Newspaper Syndicate, Inc. -- and the comic book medium itself were in a state of incunabulum. The superhero genre hadn't yet gelled, and issue-length stories were apparently unheard of ... maybe even un-thought of. National Allied's two periodicals to date -- More Fun Comics and New Comics -- were clearly modeled after the Sunday paper comics section, presenting a hodgepodge of serialized action-adventure strips, gag strips, text pieces ranging from short stories to Hollywood gossip columns, and games and puzzles pages. There were dozens of comic features per issue. At the outset, practically across the board, each installment (or one-shot) was at most two pages, whether drama or comedy. It wasn't until New/New Adventure's "teen" issues that, gradually, more and more features branched out into four-or even six-page episodes.

An unrepentant completist, I recently waded my way through the first consecutive 30 issues of New Comics [New Adventure Comics as of #12, and, ultimately, starting with #32, Adventure Comics -- the future home of Superboy). To my surprise and piqued interest, #9 hit me me with something rare: Bill Carney's Hardluck Harry, a bona fide funny animal adventure comic. Doesn't sound like anything that unique? Well, think about it: until "Donald Duck Finds Pirate Gold", wasn't Gottfredson an island unto himself? 

And speaking of Gottfredson, Carney's work here, in every last panel, exhibits a clear Gottfredson influence. In less kind terms, it's a pale Gottfredson imitation. 

Here's the entirety of the first installment. We begin with the titular character rushing to catch and stowaway on a moving train. Harry, like Mickey, is scrappy and outgoing, but with his gnarled, gruff appearance, shares none of Mickey's charm and appeal. 

 Looks like the countryside settings of Gottfredson's early years, eh? But cruder.

 Right: innovative angle for this era.

 I can't decide: does that fence look more Gottfredson or Taliaferro?

 [The second page of each two-page feature had its own masthead. Seems awkward to us today, being used to, you know, flow.]

 That silhouette ... I SWEAR she's a Gottfredson transplant! I'm thinking of a lady anthropomorphic cat in a dress...

 Not as many COMPLETELY explicit Gottfredson images here, but certainly all the right trappings...

Oh, yeah, chck out those character designs! Those scruffy chins, those eyes, those snout and head shapes... Realistic dog noses, though, rather than the little "beans"...

And, notice the villain's moniker? "Shanghai" ... "Peg-Leg" ... both pirate references. Get it? ;)

After New Adventure Comics #16's installment, despite leaving with a cliffhanger (as had every prior installment), Hardluck Harry was never seen again. Sadly, it wasn't the only New/New Adventure serial to be abruptly dropped so; over the course of the first 30 issues, the book's components were in a constant state of flux, cancelling and adding features almost as a rule of thumb.

Despite the fact that by today's standards, these narratives are primitive, I really wanted to find out how certain ongoing stories were going to end! Sadly, I think any chance of Sandor and the Lost Civilization or Strange Advenetures of Mr. Weed being resumed by their respective creators has long since past. Maybe just by a year or two.) 

Stay tuned for more of Hardluck Harry, and spotlighting other (very) early DC features.


  1. Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse newspaper strip must certainly have been fairly well known by 1936, and this is clearly some sort of… er, “homage” to it. Amazing stuff, Ryan!

  2. Ryan,

    This seems like an odd mixture of Gottfredson and one of the "humanized animal" strips of the early 20th century (MISTER JACK by James Swinnerton and JUDGE RUMMY by Tad Dorgan come to mind). The action mimics that of Floyd, but the drawing style seems a little more archaic.

    This is a fascinating memento of an era when literally "anything went" as the fledgling comics industry was attempting to find its voice.