Cover of the 'Believe It Or Not' Big Little Book.


Original medium: Newspaper panel
Appearing in: The New York Globe
First Appeared: 1918
Creator: Robert L. Ripley
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Believe It or Not, one of the most recognizable names in cartoons, started out under the title Champs & Chumpsbelieve it or not!

Believe It or Not began as a …

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… weekly feature within a feature, carried by a single paper, and is now read daily by millions, from Norway to New Zealand … believe it or not!

Believe It or Not's creator, Robert L. Ripley, was the first cartoonist to become a millionaire through his work … believe it or not!

Ripley started out with aspirations in both cartooning and professional sports, and showed early talent in both areas. In 1906, at age 13, he got his first cartoon published, and played pro basketball for the first time as well. By 16, he was working as a sports cartoonist for The San Francisco Chronicle. He left that paper in 1912 and went to New York, where he tried out for the Giants baseball team. An injury put him permanently on the sidelines, so he want into cartooning full time. His first cartoon for The New York Globe was published on January 2, 1913.

He did sports cartoons for the Globe on a daily basis for years. One day, stuck for an idea, he filled his panel with small drawings, illustrating odd little bits of information he'd picked up here and there — what we would now call factoids. He titled it Champs & Chumps, and it was published on December 19, 1918. It got tremendous reader response, so he did another Champs & Chumps cartoon a week later. After that, it became a regular part of his output, and he soon started including non-sports factoids as well.

As sports became less of a focus, his editor insisted on a name change. On October 16, 1919, it was retitled Believe It or Not, and a star was born.

Believe It or Not continued as a one-paper wonder for the next decade, tho it did switch to The New York Post when the Globe folded in 1923. By 1929, it had grown so popular, reprints of it were published in book form. On July 19 of that year, Ripley signed with King Features Syndicate, distributors of Bringing Up Father, Polly & Her Pals and other top comics, paving the way for Believe It or Not to become a national phenomenon.

And it did. A year later, it started on radio, and continued in that medium for 14 years. Warner Bros. turned it into a series of movie shorts, starting in 1931. Also in 1931, the second book collection was published — and new Believe It or Not books continued coming out on a regular basis for decades. It was also about then that Whitman published Believe It or Not in the form of a Big Little Book. In 1933, in Chicago, Ripley opened his first "Odditorium", in which he displayed some of the strange and interesting things he'd picked up in his travels around the world in search of the odd and unusual. More Odditoria followed, in other cities, until there were more than a dozen. Larger, more permanent exhibitions followed; and to this day, several major cities sport Believe It or Not Museums — which, since they mostly feature unique material, are as different from one another as they are from any other institution on Earth.

Ripley died in 1949, in the middle of the first season of his first TV show. But the operation went on — Ripley associate Robert St. John hosted the show for the remainder of the season, after which it went dormant for a few decades. The cartoon panel continued, with another long-time Ripley associate, Doug Storer, gathering the facts, and Paul Frehm (who had earlier drawn a comic strip about the Lindbergh kidnapping) doing the art. Frehm retired in 1978, and his brother Walter (former assistant to Will Gould on Red Barry and Ken Kling on Joe & Asbestos) took over. In 1989, the panel left King Features in favor of United Media, which distributes it today. At the same time, Walter Frehm retired and passed the art on to Don Wimmer. Wimmer drew it in a tighter, more cartoony style than Ripley did, but still quite recognizable to its long-time fans, until he left to become Pat Brady's assistant on Rose Is Rose. It's now drawn by John Graziano, in what can still be identified as the Ripley tradition. The facts are currently gathered and organized by Lucas Stram.

Harvey Comics did Believe It or Not in comic book form from 1953-54, with art by Bob Powell (The Man in Black, Thun'da). Ripley Enterprises did it as a comic book in magazine format (i.e., packaged like Mad magazine) for a couple of issues in 1966. In the late '60s and through the 1970s, Gold Key Comics did a version, packaged more like a standard mystery/horror comic book than the jumble of factoids newspaper readers were familiar with. Artists on that version included George Evans (Secret Agent X-9, EC Comics), Reed Crandall (Doll Man, Treasure Chest) and Alberto Giolitti (Star Trek, Turok).

The TV show was revived in 1982, with actor Jack Palance as the host. It ran four years, but was revived again in 1999, and is still running. The current host is Dean Cain, who has another toon connection as well — he played Superman in the mid-1990s TV series Lois & Clark.

By the way, if you've somehow avoided becoming familiar with the type of factoid Believe It or Not has been presenting in a dozen or so different media for the past 80+ years, here's a typical one. In 1937, a Believe It or Not panel contained a picture of a dog named Spike, drawn by 14-year-old Charles M. Schulz — the first published cartoon by the man who went on to create Peanutsbelieve it or not!


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Text ©2002-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Ripley Entertainment, Inc.