A typical situation for Peter or Rocky. Artist: Mal Eaton.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Miller Services
First Appeared: 1935
Creator: Mal Eaton
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Peter Piltdown was a primitive human who shared his prehistoric setting with dinosaurs — not the first (Alley Oop beat him into print by almost three years, to say nothing of Our Antediluvian Ancestors), not the …

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… last (B.C. came along after he was long gone from the newspaper pages), and certainly not the best known. But he charmed his readers well enough, including comics critic and historian Coulton Waugh, who made very favorable remarks about the strip in his 1947 book, The Comics. And he lasted quite a long while, tho he did lurk in some of the more obscure reaches of the comics world.

He debuted on August 4, 1935, the creation of cartoonist Mal Eaton, who is remembered for little else. The distributor was Miller Services, based in Canada, one of the lesser newspaper syndicates. Miller syndicated funnies from the 1920s to the '60s. Its peak of activity in that area came during the 1930s and '40s, when it was distributing about a dozen strips, none of which are very well remembered today. The highest-profiled creators who worked there were Lyman Young (creator of Tim Tyler's Luck and brother of Blondie's Chic Young) and Stan Asch (co-creator of Johnny Thunder).

Peter had a funny-animal style name. That is, his surname was his species and his first name alliterated with it, in the manner of Donald Duck or Woody Woodpecker. Piltdown was what kind of creature he was, after the much-lauded 1913 British fossil find, Piltdown Man, tho he looked just like a red-headed human kid wearing a leopard skin. Other characters in the strip included Shadrack the Hermit (a typical comic strip kid's crabby neighbor, like Mr. Wilson in Dennis the Menace); Inna-Minnie, a girl about Peter's age; and assorted oddballs like Pookie and Oofty Goofty.

Peter Piltdown ran Sundays-only until 1946, then continued for a brief period under Pookie's name. (Pookie, a much younger cave kid, had pretty much taken over the strip by then.) After that, it faded quietly away.

But it came back a few years later, joining Dik Browne's "The Tracy Twins", Percy Fitzhugh's "Pee Wee Harris" and various other features, to form a comics section in the back pages of Boys' Life, a magazine published by and for the Boy Scouts of America. But since the original Piltdown Man had been exposed in 1953 as a hoax aimed at fooling scientists, his name was changed. As "Rocky Stoneaxe", the character and his entourage lasted all the way into the 1970s. Different name but definitely the same strip — in fact, Eaton even re-used some of the gags from its newspaper run.

Today, Peter Piltdown is remembered only by a very few old-timers. But Rocky Stoneaxe is at least dimly recalled by practically every Baby Boom boy who ever was a member of the Boy Scouts.


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Text ©2002-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Mal Eaton estate.