Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sidney Smith: The First Million Dollar Cartoonist!

Born February 13, 1877, cartoonist Sidney Smith would be 133 years old today!

Sidney Smith was the cartoonist who introduced and popularized long-term continuity into comic strips. Born in Bloomington, Illinois, he had dropped out of high school and went to work for the local newspaper doing sports cartoons. In 1908 he went to work for the Chicago Examiner doing a strip called "Buck Nix" about a talking goat where his phrase "What will tomorrow bring?" brought readers back to buy the next days paper.

Moving to the Chicago Tribune and it's syndicate in 1912, he brought his goat character with him and it's readers alike who all wanted to know, "What will tomorrow bring?". Changing the goat's name to "Old Doc Yak" did nothing to keep the readers from buying tomorrow's paper and Smith showed the selling power of a popular comic strip.

Here's a sample of "Old Doc Yak":

And one of the final "Old Doc Yak"'s from 1917, showing his eviction from his home and introducing Smith's newest characters, "The Gumps":

"The Gumps" was Smith's new creation which took him out of the talking-animal realm, allowing him to do more textured characters and ever deeper continuities. Continuities which involved drama and adventure and humor all at once...just like life!

Smith was the first "Million Dollar Cartoonist", signing a 10 year contract with the Tribune in 1922. $100,000 dollars per year was what the on-going telling of Andy Gump and family brought. In 19-fucking-22. Amazing!

It's a shame that in this age of collected comic strip reprints where you can read complete runs of some of the master works of comic art all together, that "The Gumps" has never gotten the treatment. As one of the progenitors of continuity, it seems a perfect candidate!
I for one would love to read more.

In 1935, Sidney Smith signed a new contract giving him $150,000 per year. 1935. This is in the heat of The Depression, people!

On his way home from signing, driving his Rolls Royce, he was in a head on collision and died.

The strip continued after his death for another 24 years.

Thanks Sidney! We miss's hoping a good reprint of your work comes along and we can all see "What will tomorrow bring?" for Andy and his family!


Leach-Builtwell /Jr. said...

I have a family owned cartoon personally drawn for Frank R. Elliott after winning an auto race in Ca. My great uncle Frank drove for Cliff Durant-Harry Miller- mid/late teens mechaniced and drove with Barney Oldfield. I would like to share a scan to this site. cheers, Mark Elliott

Jeff Overturf said...

I'd love that!

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