REGLAR FELLERSOriginal Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The New York Telegram
First Appeared: 1917
Creator: Gene Byrnes
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Europe. But it's possibly the first to become a big success in America, thus paving the way for The Newsboy Legion, The Young Allies, Just Kids, The Fleer Double Bubble Kids, Captain Tootsie's Secret Legion, and all the rest.
Like Robert L. Ripley, creator of Believe It Or Not, Gene Byrnes was headed for a sports career until an injury put him permanently on the sidelines in 1911. His friend Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland, Dreams of the Rarebit Fiend) later helped him get a job as sports cartoonist with The New York Telegram (Dolby's Double), where, among other things, he did a feature called It's a Great Life if You Don't Weaken, a daily panel with varying themes. In 1917 an ensemble cast of urchins became part of the mix. They included Jimmy Dugan (the main character, to the extent there was one), Puddinhead Duffy (Jimmy's best friend, and the group's inevitable fat kid), Pinhead Duffy (Puddinhead's younger brother, virtually a clone except smaller), Angie Riley (the group's inevitable girl), and several bit players. Jimmy's dog was named Bullseye (no relation), for the black circle around his left eye.
Unlike most cartoonists of the time, Byrnes owned his creation, and thus was free to use it elsewhere. In 1919, he launched a Sunday page in The Telegram's morning counterpart, The New York Herald (Buster Brown), called Wide Awake Willie, about very similar characters. In 1920, the Telegram began featuring them in a daily strip, some names were switched around, and both features were titled Reg'lar Fellers. As owner, Byrnes had it distributed by various syndicates over the years, ranging from Associated Features (a subsidiary of Bell (Mutt & Jeff) but in its own right merely a minor outfit that handled minor strips, such as Leo O'Mealia's Wedlocked, Arthur Sinnot's Dickey Dippy's Diary and Bob Oksner's Miss Cairo Jones) to the mighty King Features itself.
Between 1921 and '29, Cupples & Leon, that decade's premiere publisher of comic books (in the form of small, usually square, sometimes hardcover volumes) put out four collections of Reg'lar Fellers reprints. In the following decade, two Big Little Books came out, from different publishers. It entered modern-format comic books in the very first publication of that sort, the one-shot, promotional version of Famous Funnies (1934), which also contained reprints of Hairbreadth Harry, Keeping Up with the Joneses, Joe Palooka and many other old-time newspaper comics, but it wasn't carried over into the "reg'lar" monthly series of that title.
Reg'lar Fellers did make it into Dell's Popular Comics starting in #9 (November, 1936), where it was reprinted alongside Dick Tracy, Winnie Winkle, Tailspin Tommy and other comic strip stars. DC Comics picked it up in the first issue (April, 1939) of All-American Comics (the title that later introduced Green Lantern and The Atom), which also ran Toonerville Folks, Skippy, Scribbly the Boy Cartoonist and various others. In 1946 and '47, Standard Comics (Black Terror, Supermouse) published two issues of Reg'lar Fellers in its own title.
Its oddest use in comic books began in 1940, when Eastern Color Printing (publisher of Famous Funnies) launched Heroic Comics, which began as an attempt to cash in on the superhero fad. Reg'lar Fellers was part of the title logo of the first 15 issues, which also sported a seal with an eagle and a shield, and the words "Reg'lar Fellers of America". From #s 2-15, Heroic ran a cover blurb reading "The Official Publication of Reg'lar Fellers" (a Boy Scouts clone that seems to have had little or no existence not connected with the comic book). But that was its only mention on the cover. Other than a few brief reprints in the back pages, no trace of Gene Byrnes's creation can be found there.
There was even an animated cartoon about them, tho it isn't noted in most filmographies. Disney man Ub Iwerks ran his own studio for a time during the 1930s, where he created such memorable characters as Willie Whopper and Flip the Frog. On September 30, 1936, his studio released a cartoon titled Happy Days, which starred the Reg'lar Fellers. This would have been the beginning of a series, but for the unfortunate fact that the studio failed, and that was the last cartoon it released.
A live-action movie from a very minor studio, released September 5, 1941, also failed to lead to a series. Like the comic itself, it featured an ensemble cast, with Buddy Boles as Jimmy, Malcolm Hutton as Puddinhead, Billy Lee as Pinhead, Janet Dempsey as Angie, and more. One of the minor characters was played by Carl Switzer, well remembered for his role in the "Our Gang" comedies, where he was Alfalfa (no relation).
Back in newspaper comics, Byrnes gradually withdrew from direct involvement with the strip, employing a succession of assistants/ghosts. The most notable (and probably longest lasting) was George Carlson, whose biggest claim to fame in comics was The Pie-Face Prince of Pretzelburg. Tho very popular in its day, the strip eventually ran out of steam and was discontinued in 1949.