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First and Last – Drago, Dondi

Burne Hogarth took over the Tarzan Sunday page from Harold Foster and, like Foster, became very famous drawing that feature. After eight and a half years Hogarth walked away from the strip.

From a 1982 Comics Scene interview:

CS: Why did you leave Tarzan after 10 years?

BH: Very simply, you’re talking about United (syndicate) and Tarzan. I had my stuff being published in books – in the course of time I was writing the thing and drawing it – and a lot of it was being published in many editions overseas. The way they are even today. I’ve got a bundle of things I picked up in a store the other day. About six books and they butchered the art and ruined the color.

Anyway, there were these books being published, hundreds of thousands of them, and I wasn’t getting a single penny in royalties. I said I’d like to share it, when my contract came up. They said they’d give me some syndication percentage, or whatever, but the books were the real thing and I decided I wasn’t going to go with their offer. And I walked out.

Hogarth went over to Robert Hall’s N. Y. Post Syndicate and sold a new Sunday strip. Drago was an Argentinian cowboy in the Cisco Kid mold, with plenty of South American jungle to make Hogarth’s Tarzan fans feel comfortable. By the time Hogarth’s last Tarzan appeared, Drago had already debuted.


above: the November 4, 1945 debut of Drago

The strip would run for only 54 weeks, ending November 10, 1946.


above: the last Drago strip.

All 54 strips were recently posted to the Classic Comic Strips Facebook page by Steve Jenner.

 

Ger Apeldoorn posted a number of the strips with a different panel in the last strip:

In the comments section at Ger’s Fabulous Fifties, Diego Cordoba explains that the French publisher ran one more story by cutting and pasting Hogarth art with new script and some bullpen art added.

A year later, by the end of 1947, Hogarth had returned to Tarzan.

 

Ten years after the end of World War 2, Gus Edson and Irwin Hasen decided a strip about a war orphan was a good idea.

As Don Markstein explained:

Dondi wandered onto the scene in Italy, during the closing days of the war. He simply turned up in a deserted farmhouse where U.S. soldiers were staying, carrying no clues about where he’d come from. Unable to find his parents, Corporal Ted Wills assumed responsibility for him — and when “Uncle Ted” resumed civilian life, Dondi took up residence with him in Midville, USA. The early focus of the strip was Dondi’s discovery of America.


above: The Albany Times Union prints the first six dailies September 26 – October 1, 1955
**apologies – bad microfilm was the only copy of the first daily strip I could find**

below: the first Dondi Sunday page, dated October 2, 1955


color version courtesy Baughan Roemer and Classic Comic Strips

The strip was syndicated by the Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate for 30 years.

Don Markstein continues:

The strip’s circulation was in the 100-200 paper range during those years [1960s]. Hasbro based a board game on it in 1960, and a year later (March 26, 1961, to be exact) a movie version came out. The National Cartoonists’ Society awarded it plaques in 1961 and ’62, for “Best Story Strip”.

Edson continued to write Dondi until his death in 1966. Hasen then wrote it for a brief time, but soon hired Bob Oksner to supply plots. Hasen and Oksner stayed with the strip until it ended, on June 8, 1986, when only 35 papers were still carrying it.

By that time, Dondi’s back-story hadn’t been alluded to in years, and with good reason. It was getting hard to find kids that age who remembered the Iran hostage crisis, much less World War II.


above: the last daily dated June 7, 1986

below: the last Dondi strip, a Sunday dated June 8, 1986

Yes, counting on a war refugee to further the hopes and dreams of America!

The first few years of Dondi are available in two volumes from Classic Comics Press;
where there are, no doubt, better reproductions of those first daily strips.

 

 

Community Comments

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#1 Darryl Heine
December/4/2019
@ 6:02 am

The Chicago Tribune was one of the last 35 papers to carry Dondi to the end.

#2 Ignatz
December/4/2019
@ 7:19 am

I didn’t know the artists got no royalties from the books. That’s disgraceful. No wonder he left.

I read Dondi in the New York Daily News when I was a kid. It was the back page of the Sunday Comic section. I thought it was just about a kid and his friends. Then one day, then mentioned him being a WWII orphan. It was bizarre, since he was about 7 years old and it was 1968.

#3 D. D. Degg
December/4/2019
@ 9:34 am

Cartoonist were “work for hire,” getting paid for the original use and nothing more; unless they were one of the few, like Bud Fisher, who got controlling copyright of their creations. This continues to this day: KFS owns Flash Gordon and doesn’t (as far as I know) pay Jim Keefe royalties for the reruns going out these days, whereas Darby Conley (mentioned elsewhere today), who owns Get Fuzzy, does get paid for the reruns and books and calendars, etc.

#4 Brian Fies
December/4/2019
@ 9:43 am

Irwin Hasen was a wonderful old-school character I was honored to meet a few times before he died. He was short, profane, and a terrific raconteur with an endless reservoir of stories about degenerate cartoonists, crooked publishers, the mob, and losing his virginity to a prostitute to cure his acne. He taught for years at the Kubert School and I envy anyone who got to take his class.

The last time I saw him was at San Diego Comic-Con, where he was selling prints of his Golden-Age comic book character Wildcat. I reintroduced myself and told him I was sorry he didn’t have any original “Dondi” strips to sell, since the previous time I’d seen him he had and I regretted not picking one up. Irwin gave me a conspiratorial wink and pulled a portfolio from beneath the table with about a dozen “Dondi” strips. We talked while I looked through them and made my choice. Irwin looked up at me in mock outrage and said, “You’ve got a good eye, you son of a bitch! You picked the best one!”

Being called an SOB by Irwin Hasen is one of the greatest honors of my cartooning career.

A nice remembrance, thanks DD.

#5 Kip Williams
December/4/2019
@ 6:38 pm

Wasn’t Dondi the strip that Martin Landau assisted on for a while?

#6 D. D. Degg
December/4/2019
@ 11:34 pm

Martin Landau, before his acting career, did spot illustrations for the New York Daily News. While there he began assisting Gus Edson on The Gumps. Mark Evanier interviewed Landau about his comics career at https://www.newsfromme.com/iaq/iaq04/

#7 Steve Jenner
December/4/2019
@ 11:56 pm

Fascinating article. I had no idea about the alternative ending of Drago.

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