Hap Hopper and unidentified bad guy. Artist: Jack Sparling.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1940
Creators: William Laas (writer) and Jack Sparling (artist)
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Adventuring journalists weren't uncommon among comics heroes in the early 1940s. Brenda Starr, Steve Roper, Jim Hardy and the like were all over the place. Even Superman was a reporter in his secret …

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… identity, tho most of his adventuring wasn't done in that capacity. What most lacked was that air of authenticity a good reporter strives for in his stories. That's why United Feature Syndicate (Nancy, Gordo) emphasized in early publicity for its upcoming comic strip in that genre, that it would be overseen by well-known columnists Drew Pearson and Robert S. Allen.

Accordingly, Pearson and Allen, who collaborated on the syndicated column "Washington Merry-Go-Round", were listed as editors of the strip, which debuted Monday, January 29, 1940. (One prominent source lists it as having begun on the same date in 1939, a Sunday, but the 1940 date is better supported.) The actual writer was William Laas, United Feature's comics editor. His original concept for the strip was a sort of urban Li'l Abner, where a powerful but naive young reporter would stumble around town, finding and filing good news stories almost by accident. But artist co-creator Jack Sparling (later known for Pirana, The Secret Six and other comic books) pointed out making a hero of a semi-competent newspaperman might not go over well with newspaper editors, so the star became less humorous and more mainstream before the strip actually began.

Pre-publicity materials called him "Hap Hazard", but King Features correspondent Jack Hazard objected, so the name was changed to Hap Hopper — again, before the strip's debut. His girlfriend was named Holly Woode, and his editor was Rushmore Newes. The setting was Washington, DC, and actual denizens of that city, better known from the front page than the comics page, made frequent appearances.

Within a year, Hap, like many contemporary comics stars (e.g., Joe Palooka, Terry Lee) was in the U.S. military. But he quickly returned to the same sort of work, only this time as a government employee. In 1942, Laas was replaced by pulp writer Charles Verral, who, among others, wrote the Mandrake the Magician radio show. Also, Pearson and Allen split up, and Pearson was the one who stayed as editor of the comic. In 1942, Sparling left the strip to create Claire Voyant. Several artists followed, finally settling on Al Plastino (who ghosted a number of comics over the years, including Ferd'nand and Casey Ruggles).

In 1947, Verral and Plastino introduced a private investigator named Barry Noble, who wound up taking over the strip. In fact, in May of that year, it was re-named after him. It ended on May 14, 1949.


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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © United Feature Syndicate.