Deathless Deer introductory panel. Artist: Neysa McMein.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1942
Creators: Alicia Patterson Guggenheim (writer) and Neysa McMein (artist)
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The name Patterson was connected with some of the true classics of comics — classics like Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley, Little Orphan Annie, and you don't get …

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… much classier than that. Joseph Medill Patterson of The Chicago Tribune Syndicate was also connected with lesser classics like Winnie Winkle and Moon Mullins; and with little-remembered but high-quality comics like White Boy.

But the name is also connected with one of comics' most notorious flops. Patterson's daughter, Alicia Patterson Guggenheim, was more directly connected with the ill-fated venture, but the Patterson connection was still there. Among other things, Captain Joe's record for commissioning and nurturing great comics was cited in selling it. This one came about when his syndicate was unable to distribute strips to his daughter's Long Island paper, Newsday, because New York City papers had the territorial rights, so she decided to make her own.

But despite her literary ambitions, evident in the strip's early days, Guggenheim didn't turn out to have his creative genius when it came to comics. Deer, who started out as a haughty and tyrannical princess in ancient Egypt, got to be deathless within four days of the strip's November 9, 1942 beginning. Her people, fed up with her high and mighty ways and unimpressed with her great beauty, assassinated her. But she was saved by a fellow member of the power structure, a priest who slipped her an immortality potion just in time.

It didn't keep her from getting buried, but when scholars unsealed her sarcophagus, she woke up. Something similar had just happened to Ibis the Invincible, a bit declassé compared with literary influences Guggenheim actually claimed, such as George Bernard Shaw, H. Rider Haggard and Sleeping Beauty, but there's no proof of a direct connection. Waking with her was her pet falcon, Horus, who evidently got a dose of the immortality stuff as well. Shorn of power and with a devastating lesson in human relations having been administered, she was a little less insufferable but still strong-willed enough to adapt to her new surroundings, New York City of the early 1940s.

The strip was illustrated by Neysa McMein, a popular commercial artist at the time who had painted covers for McCall's magazine, The Saturday Evening Post and many other well-known venues. Deathless Deer was the only comic she ever did, before or since. She proved to be unsuited to deadline-oriented comics work, and her talents didn't seem to include telling stories.

But there didn't seem to be much story to tell. Deer got mixed up in intrigues that took her all over the world, involving treasure hunts and criminal gangs and whatnot, but when they petered out, the writer didn't seem very good at getting her into fresh scrapes — and what's more, nothing was ever made of the Egyptian connection. Patterson could see it was faltering, and assigned Zack Mosley, the successful cartoonist behind Smilin' Jack, to help out. His influence shows, but was insufficient to rescue the strip. Time magazine said Deathless Deer had "some of the dullest adventures ever seen in a comic strip", and added that it was "perhaps the most ineptly drawn of all comic strips".

Dorothy Parker, the contemporary literateur who was famous for her love of comics, especially Barnaby, admitted (in an essay in which she compared liking comics to cocaine addiction) to being such an inveterate comics reader, she was "the one who strung along with Deathless Deer until her mercy killing".

That killing came less than a year after the beginning. Supposedly, the end came with the August 7, 1943 episode, but Newsday itself, citing wartime paper shortages, dropped it as of July 19. It may have continued to the end in some papers, but the actual end of the strip hasn't been spotted. In the last episode known to have been published, Deer stood accused of murder. Nobody seems to have been greatly troubled by not seeing how it turned out.

On the strength of Patterson's record, and of advance publicity that touted this as his first major launch since Terry & the Pirates in 1934, over 200 papers initially signed up for Deathless Deer. By the time of its demise, only 17 remained.

Both creators achieved fame in areas other than comic strip creation. Their authorized biographies don't so much as hint they might have had something to do with Deathless Deer.


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