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King Features Joins the Book-of-the-Month Club (Comic Chronicles)

With content by cream-of-the-crop illustrators like Hal Foster, Frank Godwin, James Montgomery Flagg, F. R. Gruger, William Meade Prince, and Creig Flessel and such best-selling authors as William Saroyan, Daphne de Maurier, Sinclair Lewis, Franz Werfel, Ayn Rand, and Erle Stanley Gardner, it’s a wonder King Features Syndicate’s Book-of-the-Month comic strip isn’t better known today.

Jim Davidson doesn’t go The Reader’s Digest version in a look at a 1940s comic strip series.

                 

At first blush, the teaming of King Features Syndicate and the Book-of-the-Month Club seems odd, given that the Club was known for offering high-class literary works, while King Features distributed, well, comic strips. But for several years in the 1940s, these two entities managed to join forces to produce a compelling though sometimes-uneasy merger between comics and literature.

In the 1940s, book clubs were all the rage…

 

The idea of serializing an abridged version of a book in a magazine or newspaper wasn’t new; it had been going on for a very long time. But combining a novel’s text with sequential pictures was touted by KFS as an innovation. Even that wasn’t new, as comic strip adaptations of literary works went back as least as far as the 1920s.

(see Allan Holtz’s Stripper’s Guide)

What was different about KFS’s new strip was that these were brand new books that had a lot of buzz behind them.

Right. These weren’t old public domain classics, but new copyrighted works.

Now before we go any further, we need to address the question of whether this was really a comic strip at all. Unlike most comics, the pictures didn’t have word balloons or narration boxes. Instead, it was more like lots of typeset text with a few sequential illustrations, arranged all in a row. The word “comic” was a problem, too, since most of the stories were serious in nature, so the strip tended to be described as a “pictorial serial feature” or “daily picture strip.”

That also wasn’t new, most famously the Tarzan adaptations from 1929 and on.

But these weren’t just copyrighted works, these were (for the most part)
taken right off the then-current best sellers lists.

Jim notes that Allan Holtz had a skeleton list of the series, but here Jim Davidson gives the “full and unabridged” account of King Features Syndicate’s Book-of-the-Month comic strip series.

The list below provides details for each of the 50 adaptations in the series. Just below the title and author [and illustrator] in each listing are the number of installments and intended start and end dates. The exact start and end dates that each newspaper actually ran the installment are also listed. This list contains all the newspapers I’ve found in online archives, specifically newspapers.com, newspaperarchive.com, the Library of Congress’s Chronicling America, NYS Historic Newspapers, and Google News.

 

The idea was revived by others a few decades later.

 

 

 

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