The territory is officially transferred in New Orleans. Artist: John Chase.

AMERICA’S BEST BUY: THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE

Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing Primarily in: The New Orleans States
Syndicated Nationally by: The Register and Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1953
Creator: John Chase
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In 1953, there was a big hoopla in Louisiana about the sesquicentennial of the 1803 acquisition of the region by the continent's fledgling republic, which was just then starting on the road to greatness. For a lot of Louisiana's children, that was where they learned the meaning of the prefix "sesqui-". In keeping with …

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… that educational theme, the state's largest afternoon newspaper, The New Orleans States, ran a special daily comic strip that year, telling the story of the acquisition and throwing in related historical incidents. America's Best Buy: The Louisiana Purchase began Tuesday, January 6, 1953, and ran through Saturday, January 2, 1954.

The man behind the comic was States editorial cartoonist John Chase, well known locally as an amateur historian and professional storyteller. His book, Frenchmen, Desire, Good Children and Other Streets of New Orleans, which tells the history of that city through humorous stories about how its streets got their names, has been in print for decades.

Chase approached the Louisiana Purchase comic strip project not as a chronological story but as a hodgepodge of incidents and personalities, arranged in no particular order. Most of what they had in common was historical accuracy — that, and the fact that they kept the readers coming back for more. If Chase ever "fudged" a tiny bit on literal accuracy (such as having illiterate savages use modern slang or depicting Uncle Sam in short pants), it was only to help the reader see what was actually going on in a way that would provide laughs.

The readers weren't just those of New Orleans and whatever other nearby towns The States managed to reach. The comic was distributed nationally by The Register & Tribune Syndicate, the outfit that had handled Jane Arden and The Red Knight, as well as experimenting with the Sunday comic book supplement that had carried The Spirit and Lady Luck.

Nor was it the only nationally-distributed newspaper comic designed to impart historical knowledge. King Features was just then right in the middle of its nine-year syndication of Dick's Adventures in Dreamland, which had been created for no purpose other than to provide painless education for children studying history.

It wasn't the first such project, either. More than a quarter-century earlier, The Dallas Morning News had run the (non-syndicated) Texas History Movies, which dealt with the history of The Lone Star State. It wasn't quite as lively or far-ranging as the Chase work, but it was reprinted in what we would now call graphic novel form, and distributed through Texan primary schools for generations.

That was also the fate of this work. In 1960, it was collected in an 80-page magazine-formatted comic book by Hauser Press, a publisher of books related to local history, based in New Orleans. That edition was distributed through the state's local school districts, and kept in print for years.

So the educational benefit to Louisiana's children, of the sesquicentennial celebration, extended to far more than just increasing their vocabulary.

— DDM

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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © John Chase estate.