Friday, February 03, 2017

Frankly I'm rooting for the Indians but wha' th' hey...
Chris wrote about the comic strip OUT OUR WAY some time back, and I wanted to chime in with my memory of it.

There was a freebie paper called THE NEWS (creative title) that was around when I was a kid. It was comprised of ads with a sprinkling of columns and syndicated features like "Criswell Predicts!" (I shall remember the time he predicted two British bands would take the US by storm. One band would be called "The Fat Skinnies" and the other "The Skinny Fats"!) Before the paper folded in the mid-80's I called their office and got to speak to the man who put it out. I asked if he had any back issues tucked away, feeding him a story about doing a book on Criswell--and of course offering to give him a credit in print for his help! He seemed suspicious of me (rightfully so--I just wanted to see those old columns!) and brushed me off but not before commentating the Criswell's column was very popular! Darn tootin'!

But back to OUT OUR WAY. I was quite intrigued by the one panel strip that was obviously a throwback to an earlier time. I might not have gotten some joke about "Silent Cal" Coolidge, but I was completely hooked on the feel of the thing and its obvious respect for hard work and values that my grandparents had. As a budding artist the great line work was a pleasure to see as well.

OUT OUR WAY fit in perfectly with the tone of THE NEWS, which r an an ad for a wringer washer machine! Ot featured a column by Russel Peck called "Pecking Around" that talked up the squarest entertainment imaginable, with lines like "If you've given up on rock 'n roll as being anything but subversive noise, I'm pleased to tell you about the Starland Vocal Band..."

Every autumn the paper would run the same KING FOOTBALL RETURNS! headline, and every week someone gave a prediction for the score of each college and pro football game. No college was too obscure to be included. Prairie A&M 35 North Dakota State 21 would be a sample prediction. In the pre-internet days one could never even know how the predictions turned out because its not like the newspaper would carry such obscure results!

THE NEWS was distributed by day laborers who would throw a copy on any porch just to get done quicker and most likely drink up their wages. You'd see obviously abandoned houses with a few years work of THE NEWS sitting outside the front door. (EDITOR'S NOTE---sheesh Brad, you coulda gotten alla 'em free back issues by just raidin' a porch or two!)

I worked one day with a friend putting ad supplements into copies and wrapping copies in a plastic bag. It was piece work, and for each copy you finished, you placed a metal washer in a plastic cup. If you exceeded completing a certain amount of papers you got a bonus. We worked with mostly retirees who all knew each other and talked about their families. They made no attempt to include us in their genial conversations after we said we were using our day wages on a case of beer.

I remember showing my grandfather OUT OUR WAY once, but he didn't seem interested in it, and he was a man who read the comics. I think now perhaps those hardscrabble times may have been reflected in a way that brought back tough memories, no matter the humor of the strip. Sort of like returning servicemen not wanting to talk of their experiences.

Oh yeah, every Christmas THE NEWS would print letters to Santa from kids, and I'd always send in prank letters saying I wanted electric eels albums and sign Manson family names. Chris was so hard up for space fillers he published some of them in the old print mag.


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