W.C. Fields: The Comic Strip

By | Monday, January 17, 2022 Leave a Comment
At some point I heard about the existence of a W.C. Fields comic strip. I'd heard of other old film stars having their likenesses used as the basis for comic strips (most notably Charlie Chaplin) so this didn't strike me as unusual. I was going to write something about the Fields strip today, and tried to do some research on it, but... there's about nothing. There are plenty of references to the fact that the strip existed and some of the basic info, but not much beyond that. In fact, the only "comprehensive" study on the strip I've found is one blog post from Allan Holtz. Here are the highlights...
The first team to tackle Fields-lite, starting on October 31 1982, consisted of artist Frank Smith, and Jim Smart. Smart is unknown to me, but Smith had proven his chops on Disney's Donald Duck newspaper comic strip...

By July 1983 somebody had decided that something had to be done to, if not necessarily save the strip, at least rehabilitate the W.C. Fields image. On July 31, a new creative team took over. Gags were now credited to a member of W.C.'s own family, Ronald J. Fields... All of a sudden, Fields became rancorous, lethargic and half-lit -- just as he ought to be.

Throwing the baby out with the bath water, artist Frank Smith also exited, and was replaced by Fred Fredericks. Apparently Mandrake the Magician wasn't keeping Fredericks busy, so he tried his hand at this strip, probably knowing that the gig would be short-term.

And short term it certainly was. The latest I can find the W.C. Fields strip running is August 7 1983, meaning that if I have the right end date then the new team was active for a mere two weeks.
It's not surprising the strip didn't last long. The jokes are tame and fairly stale from the examples I've seen...
But what strikes me as odd are those dates. 1982-1983? Fields' last film was in 1941 and he died in 1946. Because of his raunchy humor, his films were rarely, if ever, shown on network television so he never received any latter-day attention like the Three Stooges or Laurel & Hardy. So by 1982, he had been pretty solidly out of the public consciousness for decades. Why try to bring the character back then? And even if you did, why would you think it would be successful if his humor had to be so diluted to be used in a newspaper strip environment?

One of those weird things that shouldn't exist at all, but... well, there it is.
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