1940s promotional drawing of 'Just Kids'. Artist: Ad Carter.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1923
Creator: Ad Carter
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In the 19-teens, young cartoonist August Daniels "Ad" Carter was working a low-level job at The Brooklyn Eagle, when co-worker Clare Briggs (Mr. & Mrs. A. Piker Clerk) advised him to create a comic strip and try selling it to a syndicate. He responded with Our Friend Mush, which his paper started running in 1916. It was years before anything came of it in syndicated form, but King Features Syndicate mogul William Randolph Hearst …

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… eventually took an interest in Carter's work. King launched Just Kids, where title character Mush Stebbins continued as part of an ensemble cast, as a daily on July 23, 1923. A Sunday page was added the following month.

Other regulars included Mush's pals, Fatso Dolan and Pat Chan, the latter adding a touch of racial diversity back before diversity was cool. The group functioned as a kid gang operating in and around a small town called Barnsville, sort of like the later Archie and his pals, but younger, did in Riverdale.

By starring a kid gang, Ad Carter (not another name for older cartoonist Robert Carter, best known for political cartoons, despite their conflation in several reference works) was mining old material. But his specific source of inspiration was Reg'lar Fellers, by Gene Byrnes, of which Just Kids was a blatant copy. This was part of the same trend as Tillie Jones's similarity to Winnie Winkle and Annie Rooney's to that other Annie. When a comic proved popular for another syndicate, Hearst usually wanted his own version of it.

Just Kids even looked like Reg'lar Fellers, as Carter imitated Byrnes's art style as well as his character set-up, especially in the early days. But while the imitation was never as popular as the original, it still carved out its own place in the public consciousness. In addition to pins, dolls, games and other merchandised products, it was the subject of a coloring book in 1928 and a 16-page comic book reprint in 1932. Starting in 1934, it was the subject of at least a half-dozen Big Little Books. In the late '30s, as modern-style comic books rose to prominence, Dell Comics put it in the back pages of several of its comic strip reprints.

The daily Just Kids ran nearly a quarter of a century, ending in 1947. The Sunday version continued, but when Carter died, in 1957, Just Kids was laid to rest with him.


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Text ©2008-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features Syndicate.