Tippy Tacker’s Yuletide Travails, by Michael H. Price
December of 1938 saw the arrival of an ad hoc comic strip called Tippy Tacker’s Christmas Adventure, signed by one Robert Pilgrim and distributed to the daily-newspaper trade by the Bell Syndicate.
The feature appears to have run its month-long course with little fanfare and only desultory, though complete, documentation of its passage. The microfilm archive in which I had found Tippy Tacker shows no advance promotion, no front-page come-ons, and no particularly prominent placement. The daily installments appear away from the formally designated Comics Page, plunked down at random amongst the general-news and advertising columns. Just a business-as-usual, matter-of-fact deployment, with no attempts to steer the reader toward a Yuletide-special attraction.
The piece came to light around 1990. I was rummaging through the files of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, my home-base newspaper for a long stretch, in aimless pursuit of who-knows-what. The Depression-era back issues had yielded considerable raw material for my contributions to the original Prowler comic-book series, along with motion-picture advertisements relevant to my Forgotten Horrors series of movie-history books. Robert Pilgrim’s Tippy Tacker cropped up during one such eyestrain marathon at the microfilm station.
Sometimes, obscurity alone is cause for a resurrection, even though many outpourings of the Popular Culture (“history in caricature,” as the novelist and cultural historian James Sallis puts it) will lapse quite deservedly into obscurity. But I happen to have built a career around the defeat of that Old Devil Obscurity — starting with the Forgotten Horrors books and progressing, or digressing, from there — and Tippy Tacker’s Christmas Adventure seemed to fit that pattern..
I started with hard-copy prints from microfilm, finding the artwork more vivid, when enlarged, than the lettered captions and dialogue. Where retouching would suffice for the drawings, the lettering demanded a thorough job of re-lettering, complicated by the urge to approximate the original style of hand-lettering.
The objective was to present the Star-Telegram, where I held forth as an editor and columnist-cartoonist, with a unique feature for whichever Christmas season might coincide with the completion of a Tippy Tacker restoration. It proved easier to reconstruct the individual strips than to persuade the Powers That Did Be at the Telegram to devote the space and promotional resources necessary to make Tippy a renewed attraction.
Yes, and already, newsroom management nationwide was gleefully succumbing to the idiocy that prizes shallow glamour and faddish trend-gawking over any rediscoveries of misplaced gems.
By the time the restoration was ready to roll, during the waning 1990s, the Telegram’s transformation to a celebrity-gossip and scandal-sheet/window-peeking organ had been rendered complete via a buyout by the consummate dumb-it-down publishing concern of Knight Ridder and the ascent of a managerial junta whose idea of Good Journalism began and ended with People Weekly and USA Today. Seeking a graceful exit but dead-set upon seeing some version of Tippy Tacker in print as a gesture of defiance, I condensed and re-drew the 30-strip restoration into a four-page colorized version, with the help of staff artist Dale Taylor. This, Dale and I sneaked into Class Acts, the Telegram’s weekly kid-stuff supplement. I jumped ship shortly thereafter and spent five years in the property-management racket. Finally rejoined the publishing business in a niche-market sector where celebrity-gossip snarking is irrelevant.
Yeah, well, and so there, already. The readers’ response to that condensed version proved enthusiastic, including a handful of reminiscences from old-timers who had encountered Tippy during their childhood days. Samples from both the original run and the restoration are reproduced here. That unassuming little comic, having outlived its original stewardship, had become a marginally obsessive interest. Its further deployment remains on the Things To Do list, for the full-length restoration has remained unpublished.
And the elusive Robert Pilgrim? Most likely a Bell Syndicate pseudonym — or so suggests the comics historian Bill Blackbeard. In any event, the artwork bespeaks not so much a distinctive personal style, as it nails a distinctive 1930s style. And more power to it.
Prowler and Fishhead co-author Michael H. Price’s Forgotten Horrors series of movie-history books is available from Midnight Marquee Press. Price’s new-movie commentaries can be found at www.fortworthbusinesspress.com