JIM HARDYMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: United Feature Syndicate
First Appeared: 1936
Creator: Dick Moores
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When newspaper comics began to branch out into adventure stories, in the 1920s and '30s, they took their cues from contemporary pulp magazines — in fact, two of the early adventure characters to
make names for themselves in comics were Tarzan and Buck Rogers, both of which actually started in pulps. The pulps were loaded with "hard-boiled" (i.e., tough talking and violent) crime fighters like Sam Spade and Phillip Marlowe; and comics responded with the likes of Red Barry and Secret Agent X-9.
The hardest of all comics' hard-boileds was, of course, Dick Tracy. And it was working as Chester Gould's assistant on the Tracy strip that cartoonist Dick Moores (later famous as Frank King's successor on Gasoline Alley) learned how to make them that way. While working for Gould, Moores made about 30 attempts to develop comics of his own. He finally succeeded with Jim Conley, which he sold to United Feature Syndicate (Li'l Abner, Fritzi Ritz) for a planned release during the spring of 1936.
Jim was about as hard-boiled as they come. In fact, the original idea was to make him an ex-convict — and not one of those namby-pamby innocent framees, like Luke Cage. This guy was a real criminal (tho his exact offenses were unspecified). His only saving grace was that he'd made a firm decision, upon release (which was to take place in the first Sunday page), to resist the wiles of his former associates and go straight. He was so hard-boiled, not a single newspaper editor was willing to run his adventures.
United Feature ordered retooling, and pushed the release date back to June 29 — a Monday, as the Sunday version seems to have been lost in the shuffle (it never did get reinstated). Even the hero's name was changed, so editors wouldn't immediately realize this was a strip they'd already rejected. As Jim Hardy, the protagonist was merely down on his luck, one of millions of unemployed Americans caught up in the Great Depression. A major early storyline did concern a gangster's attempt to recruit him for an illegal job, but in the revised version, he and the gangster knew each other from childhood, not from past business dealings.
Jim did eventually land a legitimate job, and carried on his fast-paced adventures as a newspaper reporter — appropriate, as a few newspapers, in this second go-round, also employed him as a comic strip hero. Not very many (the name change apparently wasn't quite enough to erase the earlier stigma), but enough to encourage both the syndicate and the cartoonist to continue producing the strip. To add to its appeal, both a girlfriend and a kid companion joined Jim within the first year, but they don't seem to have helped very much.
The year after its debut, reprints of Jim's strips began appearing in Tip Top Comics, where United Feature got extra use out of such offerings as The Captain & the Kids, Ella Cinders and Joe Jinks. Jim remained a regular in that title for several years, but never appeared as the main cover feature. He did not appear in other media, such as movies, radio shows and Big Little Books.
Moores's strong story-telling skills kept the strip going, but he seems not to have been strongly enough oriented toward action and adventure — he was much more successful with quieter, character-driven stories. After a few years, he introduced a cowboy named Windy (no relation) and Windy's horse, Paddles, and the focus of the strip moved away from its original protagonist.
In 1989, Classic Comic Strips, Inc., which also reprinted Smilin' Jack, brought out a new edition of Jim's first year's adventures. That reprint provides the only opportunity for the modern reader to see the well crafted but poorly received early work of the man who brought Gasoline Alley to new heights, long after its original heyday.