Bibble along with Abie the Agent!

Today’s post is about inspiration! Back in 2005 or so, when Thrillmer and I started delving into the microfilm archives at the Chicago Public Library, the first strip to catch my eye in a big way was a delightful feature about a fat little Jewish man trying to make a living selling cars. The strip so tickled me that I started posting it on Beyond Belief (’72), my weblog at the time. Of course, that blog evolved into Barnacle Press, intended as a permanent archive of the strips Thrillmer and I were posting.

Abie the Agent was created in 1914 by Harry Hershfield, and it bears the distinction of being the one of the first really mature daily comic strips. It’s dense with text, often rendered in a nod to Yiddish dialect without being an offensive burlesque, and the problems Abie faced were sophisticated and evolving. I have to believe that this was one of the first strips that youngsters passed over on their way to the broader yuks that most strips provide, much like I skipped past the perplexing story lines of Doonesbury when I was a very young child.

And not only did Abie provide a measure of inspiration for this whole endeavor, it was Hershfield himself who provided the name of this site! As Mort Walker relates it in The Best of Beetle Bailey:

Harry Hershfield, the cartoonist and raconteur, told me he had a very popular strip in a New York paper back in the days when no-one was allowed to sign stories or editorials. The editor decided it was time his newspapermen deserved some credit so he decreed they could all have bylines.

Harry asked if that meant HE could have a byline. The editor said, “No, only newspapermen.” Harry asked, “But my cartoon appears in your paper. Doesn’t that make me a newspaperman?”

The editor sneered, “Is a barnacle a ship?”

And there you have it: the story behind our tribute to all of the wonderful barnacles!

Today, I’ve posted the first twenty strips I’ve pulled recently. The good news is that they date from the first months of the strip; the bad is that the paper I’m pulling from only ran them weekly, so this is but a fraction of what was published. Today’s strips run from a published date of February 7, 1914 (below) through to the end of June. More will be coming regularly!


One comment

  1. John Province says:

    A quality collection of this seminal and influential early strip is long overdue.

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