Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Comical Miss Thompson

Our FREE Tiger Tale on the main HTP website this month is The Seeress of Saucerville by Ruth Plumly Thompson. You can read it by clicking on the link. It reads just like a miniature Thompson Oz book:
"At the south end of Whatalow Valley lies the small but important Kingdom of Saucerville. . . ."
The story was originally written for the September 1941 issue of  KING COMICS, No. 65. Thompson edited this comic book series from the mid 1930s until the late 1940s, as well as editing ACE COMICS and MAGIC COMICS, all for the David McKay publishing company. KING COMICS was a comic strip compilation book, reprinting popular newspaper strips. This issue of KING includes "The Lone Ranger," Popeye's "Thimble Theatre," "Red Men," "Bringing Up Father," "Private Buck," "The Phantom," "Sappo," "Barney Baxter in the Air," "Flash Gordon," "Brick Bradford," "Little Annie Rooney," "Mandrake the Magician," "Sergeant Pat of Radio Patrol," "Sentinel Louie," and "Henry." It was a pretty full book!

Ruth Plumly Thompson gave the comic a personality by writing a full-page Letter to the Readers on the inside front cover, under the guise of Jo King (a name she also used for the King of the Gillikins!) The whole tone of these "letters" is pure Thompson. They're fun, a little goofy, and often very surreal. She's created a universe where all the comic strip characters live in the same neighborhood and interrelate with each other when they're not having adventures. She describes parties where the Lone Ranger and Henry and Popeye all come over for cake and ice cream! As in the Oz books, she encouraged the readers to correspond with her. She ran drawing and poetry contests, she wrote a "Pet Post" column under the byline "Arty" (her initials R. and T.) and she seemed to have a lot of fun.

But her most enduring contribution (and the real reason she was on staff) was the two page story she wrote for almost every issue. To get the cheapest postal rates, a comic book needed to have at least two pages of "text." So Thompson wrote a short story for nearly every issue. Sometimes the stories were standalone tales; other times she would serialize novels. Her 1936 fairytale book, King Kojo, was originally serialized in KING COMICS.

So, that's a little background on a little-known part of Ruth Plumly Thopmpson's career and where this month's Tiger Tale came from.


Nathan said...

I figure that the Seeress herself has quite a bit in common with Handy Mandy, even if she only has two arms.

Frank M. Young said...

Do you know if Ruth Plumly Thompson was related to the cartoonist Jimmy O. Thompson? He had work published in KING COMICS and MAGIC COMICS in the late 1930s and early 1940s. For David McKay Publications, Jimmy Thompson created what are arguably the first graphic novels: RED EAGLE and GANG BUSTERS--each 76-page original one-shot comic books.

Any information would be GREATLY appreciated... thanks!

David Maxine said...

Dear Mr. Young,

Thanks for the very interesting question. I don't know anything about Jimmy Thompson and have never heard of any sort of connection between the two. I know quite a bit about Ruth Plumly Thompson's family and career and I strongly suspect there is no connection but I can't say for sure. There is much more of Ruth Plumly Thompson's work on this blog, too. If you click on the Thompson or Sis Sez tab in the right hand column it will show them all. Good luck!

Frank M. Young said...

Thanks for your swift reply. There are so many coincidences here...the Ledger Syndicate's office is a block or two away from the David McKay offices: Ruth Plumly Thompson was an editor for the Ledger Syndicate when Jimmy Thompson was on their cartooning staff; and, if I am not confused here, Ruth Plumly Thompson was an editor of the McKay comic books-which were all reprinted King Features Syndicate material, save for her prose contributions, cartoons by Marge Buell... and a beautifully elaborate original feature written and drawn by Jimmy Thompson ("Red Men" and "Indian Lore"), which occupied the center-spread of the McKay comics.

Thompson is a common surname, so this could just be coincidence... But it is certainly fascinating (at least to myself)!