Inside The Alamo: The attack begins. Artist: Jack Patton..

TEXAS HISTORY MOVIES

Original medium: Newspaper comics
Published in: The Dallas Morning News
First Appeared: 1926
Creators: John Rosenfield Jr. (writer) and Jack Patton (artist)
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Comics and movies, both visual means of storytelling, have a lot in common, a fact emphasized by cartoonists such as Will Eisner (The Spirit, Hawks of the Seas), who has been praised by many commentators for, among other things, a "cinematic" approach to the medium. But nobody is likely to mistake comics for movies, …

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… if only because they lack one essential attribute, the fact that movies, as implied by the word, move. Still, the word has been applied to at least one comic strip, in hopes that the popularity of one medium of expression might somehow rub off on the other.

Those who have written about the beginning of Texas History Movies cite an alleged custom of 1920s readers to refer to comic strips as "movies on paper". This custom is unreported elsewhere, but for whatever reason, that's the name chosen by Dr. Justin Ford Kimball, superintendent of Dallas public schools from 1914-24, for the proposed comic strip, designed to teach Texas history to the state's children. Kimball may have thought the education would come more easily, if it came in the form of "paper movies". Whyever the name was chosen, the strip debuted on October 5, 1926, in The Dallas Morning News.

It had been created at the behest of managing editor E.B. Doran, who had been in a position of authority at the paper since it started, in 1914. Doran assigned the paper's personnel, writer John Rosenfield Jr. and artist Jack Patton to the task of producing the comic, with one major guideline: Present the facts in a way both educational and entertaining.

Rosenfield and Patton started the story with the arrival of Europeans in the early part of the 16th century, and carried it forward in daily installments for the next eight months. The strip went on hiatus for summer vacation after the episode of June 8, 1927, emphasizing the fact that it was aimed at kids in school. By that time, it had just about reached the point where the area's Mexican authorities were beginning to get nervous about the growing giant to the North and East.

That the writer and artist met the first part of their guideline is indicated by the strip's immediate acceptance not only by the state's educational establishment, but by rank-and-file schoolteachers. That they met the second is indicated by the fact that even today, generations after it appeared in the Dallas paper, Texans still recall it fondly.

The comic came back after school started again — it resumed on October 8 and ran until June 9, 1928. By that time, having reached the year 1885, it had covered the exciting war stories, and was settling down to the steady advancement of the modern world. At that point, a decision was made that Texas History Movies was now complete.

It was quickly back in print. The Dallas corporation P.L. Turner Company, using the imprint Southwest Press, acquired the rights and brought out a 217-page edition, incorporating all 428 episodes, two four-panel strips to the page, in a nine-panel grid with the center panel consisting of text. This edition was reprinted in 1936 as part of a centennial, celebrating 100 years of Texan separation from Mexico.

In 1932, The Magnolia Petroleum Company, which quickly metamorphosed into Mobil Oil (it's now Exxon-Mobil), published a 64-page abridged edition, containing 124 of the original strips in the same format. As a public relations gesture, Magnolia/Mobil distributed their edition free of charge to all children enrolled in Texas schools. A generation later, educators responded similarly to John Chase's America's Best Buy: The Louisiana Purchase.

Mobil Oil continued its sponsorship of the book's distribution until 1959. Despite some modernization, the strip's original Anglo-centric approach to the state's history was by that time starting to look biased to the state's Hispanic minority. When Mobil stopped reprinting the book, the announcement cited rising costs and a re-direction of the company's worldwide business plan, but many people thought they actually found it somewhat embarrassing.

But that wasn't the end of Texas History Movies. Revised editions came out as early as the 1960s. In 1970, Graphic Ideas, Inc., a successor to P.L. Turner, published a new version of its original book, with minor updating, but essentially the same as it had originally been. But a 1974 edition, published by the Texas State Historical Association, deleted or altered much of it, with an eye toward racial sensitivity, and wound up publishing less than a quarter of the original episodes, intact. Still, a 1986 celebration of the sesquicentennial of The Republic of Texas featured an exact replica of the original 1928 edition. But that was balanced by a 1985 revised version.

The controversy over whether the original or the politically correct version was the "real" Texas History Movies was finally laid to rest in the 21st century, when The Texas State Historical Association commissioned Jack Jackson (God Nose), who in his youth had been one of the founders of Rip Off Press (The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers), to produce a completely new version. Jackson, who (using the pseudonym "Jaxon") is also the cartoonist behind several history-oriented comix such as Blood on the Moon and Recuerden el Alamo, was a member of one of the many generations of Texas schoolkids to benefit from the Mobil Oil edition.

Jackson's The New Texas History Movies was published in 2007. It was his last completed work. He died at age 65 on June 8, 2006.

— DDM

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