Cover of a Teeny Weenies book. Artist: William Donahey.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: The Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1914
Creator: William Donahey
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When Joseph M. Patterson became editor of The Chicago Tribune in 1912, he opted for a populist approach — and for a newspaper in the early decades of the 20th century, that meant a strong selection of comics. Patterson was later a key player in the development of Dick Tracy, Gasoline Alley and other classics. But one of his …

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… very early moves in that direction was to hire cartoonist William Donahey away from The Cleveland Plain Dealer, where he'd been doing a Sunday page for young children, and put him to work on a feature in his own paper, aimed at a similar demographic.

The Teenie Weenies was inspired by the Brownies, a set of characters by cartoonist Palmer Cox that had been immensely popular for the previous three decades. And why not? Contrasting normal-size objects with tiny protagonists plays to comics' greatest strength, visual appeal, and the medium has used it over and over. One such feature, in fact, was even called The Little People.

Like Cox's Brownies, Teenie Weenies stories were done in the form of text accompanying a single large picture. Unlike them, the text was prose rather than verse, a little short story each week about Donahey's diminutive players. The Teenie Weenies lived in a community underneath a rose bush, with edifices made from discarded hats, jugs, boxes and similar human-scale objects. They tended to be named after their most salient characteristics: The Policeman, The Lady of Fashion, The Dunce, The Old Soldier with a Wooden Leg … Donahey went Cox one better and made each of his characters behave differently, rather than merely wear clothing that corresponded to his name.

The feature's first incarnation started on June 14, 1912. It originally ran in the women's section of the paper, in black and white. Color was quickly added, and it switched to the paper's "magazine" section, printed in the superior rotogravure process. In 1923 it was transferred to the regular Sunday comics section. It went on its first hiatus on October 26, 1924. Between 1916 and 1923, six volumes of reprints were published, the first by Reilly & Britton (which also published the first editions of most of L. Frank Baum's Oz, only tenuously related books), and the rest under its newer name, Reilly & Lee (like most other early Oz editions). Also The Beckley-Hardy Co. published two Teenie Weenies books as school primers, co-authored by Effie E. Baker.

The characters went into advertising when the newspaper feature was suspended. Donahey wrote and illustrated a longer adventure, Alice & the Teenie Weenies, which was published in 1927 by Reilly & Lee. Also in 1927, Reid Murdock & Co. issued an eight-page pamphlet called The Teenie Weenies: Their Book, in an apparent effort to stimulate new interest in them. The suspension ended on September 24, 1933; and, briefly at least, a daily strip was added. But it went on its second hiatus on December 2, 1934.

In 1940 and '41 four of the books were reprinted, tho smaller in size than the earlier editions. On May 18, 1941, the Sunday feature came back, and this time it remained for decades. During this third incarnation, two sets of reprints came out: three books published by Whittlesy House between 1942 and '45, and two standard-size comic books published by Ziff-Davis (Lars of Mars) in 1950 and '51.

Donahey retired in 1969, and the series ended once and for all. The last episode appeared on February 15, 1970, but Donahey, who died on the 2nd, didn't get to see it.

The Teenie Weenies are gone for good now, and largely forgotten. But they still show up occasionally in magazines doing articles about them or reprinting a few pages. As recently as 1999, Harvey magazine (published by the company that owns and promotes Casper the Friendly Ghost, Richie Rich etc.) ran a few of Donahey's old pages. Characteristic of the times, however, there was a minor change. The one formerly known as The Chinaman was re-dubbed "Henry".


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Text ©2003-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tribune Media Services.