Dateline: Danger!

By | Tuesday, February 22, 2022 2 comments
John Saunders and Al McWilliams debuted their comic strip Dateline: Danger! in late 1968. Inspired by the TV show I Spy it featured two intelligence agents working undercover as reporters. From the handful of strips I've seen, the interplay of the two protagonists, Danny Raven and Theodore "Troy" Young, is very similar to what was seen between Robert Culp and Bill Cosby.
Dateline: Danger!
It was syndicated through Publishers-Hall Syndicate and lasted until 1974. It seems largely unremarkable, although it's evidently credited as the first mainstream comic strip to co-star an African-American in a lead role.

Except you have to include several asterisks with that distinction.

"Mainstream" is one key, of course, since Jackie Ormes famously had worked on her various Torchy Brown comics going back as far as 1937, and Jay Jackson came along with Speed Jaxon in the 1940s.

"Comic strips" is also noteworthy since Lobo headlined his own comic book title back in 1965, after All-Negro Comics debuted in 1947.

Even so, I find "lead" questionable as well. Morrie Turner began Wee Pals in 1965 and, though it featured a large regular cast, Nipper (who was based on Turner himself) was undoubtedly a, if not the, central figure from the very start of the strip. In fact, Nipper's Civil War kepi was a central gag in some of the earliest strips. I'm not sure how that doesn't qualify as "co-lead."

I'm not dismissing Dateline: Danger! as receiving unwarranted attention -- I'm betting you've never even heard of it, so it couldn't be getting that much attention -- but I think it's definitely more of a second-man-to-walk-on-the-moon-on-a-Tuesday kind of thing. Saunders and McWilliams were heavily borrowing themes from an existing television show -- a popular one, at that -- and were following behind any number of other comics creators who'd already pushed racial boundaries in comics. Both creators were Caucasian, as well, so even later strips like Quincy and Luther were more significant for having Black creators and having the strips titled after Black characters.

Still, comic strip history is worth studying for its own sake, so it's worth taking a look at Dateline: Danger! But it's also worth keeping some historical perspective when looking at it.
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Matt K said...

This kind of thing happens way more than people realize.

When I worked at Drake University, I found and read a copy of the school's 75th anniversary history. It recounted how the school had the first football game under electric lighting west of the Mississippi, and then (the early technology having been unimpressive, I presume), years later accomplishing the same "first" for a second time. Further, not only did the university forget its own "first," it later forgot its own official history's correction of the record, and the athletic department cited the second "first" again while I was working there.

A few years ago, all kinds of sources which should have known better reported Iowa State University's new president as the first ever to be an alum of the school. This was also false, as is obvious from even glancing at any of the brief biographies of James Hilton which are found lots of places around the school. I got one outlet to issue a correction, but I'm sure it was trivial in comparison to the overall trend.


You know, I'm just gonna start making shit up. How about: I'm the first person to write a book about webcomics! (Just ignore the other books listed in my bibliography.)