SPARKY WATTSOriginal Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Frank Jay Markey Syndicate
First Appeared: 1940
Creator: Boody Rogers
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Cartoonist Gordon "Boody" Rogers was switching back and forth between newspaper comics and comic books before the
latter even existed in their present form. And his most famous creation, Sparky Watts, made the transition just as easily.
Rogers was working as Zack Mosely's assistant on Smilin' Jack when he sold his superhero to the Frank Jay Markey Syndicate (which handled several very minor strips, such as Ed Wheelan's Big Top and Rube Goldberg's Lala Palooza.). The first episode appeared in about 40 newspapers on Monday, April 29, 1940.
It lasted only two years, because Rogers got drafted. But meanwhile, Markey, who had a part interest in a small publisher called Columbia Comics Group (Skyman, The Face), had started running reprints of it in Columbia's Big Shot Comics, where the back pages were littered with characters like Dixie Dugan, Charlie Chan, Joe Palooka and others distributed by either Markey or McNaught Syndicate. The Sparky Watts series began in #14 (June, 1941). Columbia also reprinted Sparky in four issues of his own comic, beginning with a November, 1942 cover date.
Sparky started out as a college student, working his way through school by selling magazine subscriptions. A mad scientist named Doc Static offered to buy some of his magazines, in return for Sparky's assistance in an experiment. Doc then bombarded Sparky with cosmic rays, making him the strongest man in the world. Sparky also got super speed and super-tough skin (to the point where he had to shave with a blowtorch) in the bargain. He then proceeded to battle Nazis, super villains, monsters and the like, assisted by his sidekick, Slap Happy, with Doc in the background supplyng scientific expertise as needed.
Sparky's superheroic adventures were all in fun, which meant they could be even sillier and more improbable than those of the "straight" superheroes. And he beat The Red Tornado into print by several months, which makes him the first of the superhero parodies, if you don't mind the fact that he left out such important clichés as costume and secret identity. Even the art style was a parody, of sorts — Slap Happy's feet were grotesquely huge, each one more than twice the size of his head, giving new meaning to the "bigfoot" style of cartooning.
After the war, Rogers returned to his creation, replacing the reprints in Big Shot Comics with new six-page stories. What's more, Sparky's own title got another six issues, starting in 1947. In 1946, McNaught Syndicate (Mickey Finn, Toonerville Folks) tried him as a newspaper character again, but postwar readers either didn't like so much humor with their adventure, or didn't like so much adventure with their humor.
Columbia Comics folded in 1949, taking Sparky Watts with it. Rogers was still doing a comic book titled Babe for Crestwood/Prize Comics (Young Romance, Fighting American), and Sparky was last seen in a crowd scene in that title, in 1950.
Rogers continued cartooning, off and on, for decades, but never returned to comic books after the early 1950s. In later years, he ran an art supply store in Phoenix, AZ, and said he earned more money there than he ever did at the drawing board. But his work is well remembered by generations of fans, who now pay good money for his old comic books. Sparky Watts wasn't the biggest star in his time, but he's a prime collectible today.