'Before' picture of a once-prolific writer.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: McClure Newspaper Syndicate
First Appeared: 1948
Creators: Harry Shorten (writer) and Al Fagaly (artist)
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There Oughta Be a Law! stands as illustration of the fact that it isn't just blockbusters like Dick Tracy and Superman that can inspire utterly slavish imitators. The comic imitated by that daily and Sunday newspaper cartoon was a quiet, unassuming double-panel about the little hypocrisies and ironies of everyday life, an almost-accidental hit called They'll Do It Every Time. Not only were those hypocrisies and ironies subjected to very similar treatment by the less well-known series, using characters very similar to …

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… those of Jimmy Hatlo's feature (to the extent Hatlo used continuing characters at all) — even the drawing style in There Oughta Be a Law! was designed to keep the casual reader from noticing the difference between the two.

For years after its 1929 debut, They'll Do It Every Time appeared in only one paper. It became popular in 1936, when King Features Syndicate (Popeye, Blondie)started distributing it nationwide. Still, it took another decade for its most prominent knock-off to appear. McClure Newspaper Syndicate (Billy Bounce, Bobby Thatcher) launched There Oughta Be a Law! in 1948.

It was created by writer Harry Shorten and artist Al Fagaly. Shorten had been an early editor at MLJ Comics, where he co-created many prominent characters, including The Shield and The Black Hood; and was later instrumental in the founding of Tower Comics (T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, Tippy Teen). Fagaly was the artist who created Super Duck. Of the several other artists who handled There Oughta Be a Law! over the years, the best known is Frank Borth (Spider Widow, Treasure Chest).

Jimmy Hatlo became famous for They'll Do It Every Time; whereas Shorten, Fagaly, Borth etc. owed whatever fame they may or may not have had as much to their other accomplishments as to There Oughta Be a Law!. And that's not the only way the latter was a lesser achievement than the former. There was also its circulation, which was smaller than the longer-established cartoon, and the fact that McClure was altogether a less prestigious venue than King.

Also, it apparently had less compelling characters. Hatlo's Henry Tremblechin wasn't any great shakes as far as building reader interest goes, but his incorrigible daughter, Little Iodine, was strong enough to be spun off into a Sunday comic of her own, and even into a Dell Comics title that lasted more than ten years. Shorten's Cringely, Carbuncle, Locknutt, etc., and daughter Bratinella, never elicited such interest.

Furthermore, "They'll do it every time" became a commonly-heard phrase, denoting just such situations as the cartoon featured. "Theree oughta be a law," on the other hand, was taken from a phrase that was already in use, at least by people who look to the law to relieve their petty annoyances.

Finally, the tenure of There Oughta Be a Law! was shorter. They'll Do It Every Time lasted until 2008, consuming the careers of three generations of cartoonists. There Oughta Be a Law! was gone by 1984.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © McClure Newspaper Syndicate.