WASH TUBBSMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Newspaper Enterprise Association
First Appeared: 1924
Creator: Roy Crane
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Hairbreadth Harry and Thimble Theatre. And Wash Tubbs (as the strip was soon renamed) wasn't an adventure strip either, at that point — it was just a series of gags about a girl-crazy young clerk in a grocery store.
But it's as if cartoonist Roy Crane, Wash's creator, couldn't help himself. As the strip's 12th week opened, Wash had a foreboding that something was about to happen. Within days, the store was being plagued by mysterious goings-on, leading to Wash embarking on a treasure hunt before the strip was even four months old. By the end of 1924 he'd made and lost a fortune, become engaged to a Polynesian princess, and been proclaimed King of Gub. Wash's exuberant, fun exploits quickly caught on with the public, paving the way for Buck Rogers, Dick Tracy, The Phantom and all the rest that followed.
Wash was a little guy, and not much good in a fight. Crane tried a couple of scrappier sidekicks, March McGargle and Gozy Gallup, before introducing the scrappiest of all, Captain Easy, on May 6, 1929. Easy made a more credible match for big, beefy Bull Dawson, who had been Wash's arch-enemy since 1926, than any character that had gone before him. Easy was soon an indispensable part of the Tubbs daily strip, and gradually, over a period of decades, became its lead character — as well as the main object of Dawson's hatred.
Wash never quite made it as a Sunday strip star. He reprised his role as a girl-crazy gag man in a topper to J.R. Williams's Out Our Way from Feb. 22, 1927, until July 9, 1933, but never again had his name in the title of a Sunday comic. When Crane started a full Sunday page, Easy was its star. Wash started appearing in the Easy strip in the '40s, but it was never his series.
In 1943, Crane turned the Tubbs strip over to his assistant, Les Turner, who had been doing the Easy page since 1937, and started a new one, Buz Sawyer. Tubbs and Easy were owned by the syndicate, Newspaper Enterprise Association (which also syndicated The Outbursts of Everett True, Our Boarding House, etc.), but Crane's new syndicate, King Features, allowed him to own his creation. This presaged a more famous move from a syndicate-owned feature to one the cartoonist himself controlled — in 1946, Milton Caniff made both headlines and history by leaving Terry & the Pirates to create Steve Canyon, but Roy Crane did it first.
By that time, the two heroes had settled down some. Easy was in the U.S. Army for World War II, and Wash was actually married and the father of twins. Turner gradually merged the two strips, with Easy as the star. The strip was officially renamed Captain Easy in 1949, tho some papers were still carrying the Tubbs name on the dailies years later. Wash continued in his reduced status, occasionally sharing a story with Easy, until the strip's demise, in 1988.
Tubbs and Easy starred in a half-dozen or so Big Little Books during the 1930s, and a half-dozen or so Dell comic books during the '40s. They also shared a few comics with other NEA properties, such as Alley Oop and Red Ryder, but were never stars in that venue. Nor did they appear in movie serials or animated cartoons. In fact, their biggest foray to date outside of newspaper comics was an 18-volume reprint of the Crane years, published by Flying Buttress, an imprint of NBM, from 1987-92.
Those reprint volumes showed a modern audience that Roy Crane's work is still able to keep readers on the edge of their seats, smiling. That's why Wash Tubbs looms so large in the history of American newspaper comics — although its position as the first true adventure strip doesn't hurt.