Ben and his faithful dog, Briar.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Bell Syndicate
First Appeared: 1926
Creator: "Edwin Alger" (Jay Jerome Williams)
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Ben Webster was an early comics adventure hero; and like many juvenile adventure heroes of the time, he was a paragon of the virtues didactic writers hoped to instill in young boys. That he had such a writer is evidenced by the name the writer, Jay Jerome Williams, chose as a pseudonym, Edwin Alger, whose name evidently came …

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… partly from Horatio Alger Jr. (1832-99), who was famous for writing about such boys rising to fame and fortune. That the hero was such a boy, destined by these virtues to rise suchly, is evidenced by early titles of the comic strip he starred in, Bound to Win and Ben Webster's Career.

The original star of Bound to Win was another such boy hero, Phil Hardy, whose comic (first with his own name as its title) was distributed by Bell Syndicate (Miss Fury, Funnyman) from 1925-26. It was during September of the latter year that Williams/Alger traded Phil for Ben as its hero, tho Phil continued to star in a "Bound to Win" series of novels. The writer may also have been Ben's artist during his early days, tho he was succeeded by a number of ghosts over the years.

Ben rescued many innocent women, young and old, from distress of various kinds. A favorite type of villain was what is now called a "bankster", whose modus operandi back then, before the days of massive government bailouts of institutions run into the ground by managers who escape with millions, was the simple manipulation of mortgages. Comics historian Ron Goulart said such situations appeared in the strip "almost as much as the tommygun appeared in Dick Tracy." He also quoted fellow historian Bill Blackbeard as having called the strip "forcefully dull", which was in keeping with its status as didacticism. Lacking human supporting characters, Ben tended to use a mutt named Briar as his sounding board for dialog, just as The Chicago Tribune's Annie had used Sandy and King Features' Annie had used Zero.

Bell continued to distribute Ben's strip for well over a decade, tho the title varied. The Sunday Page was originally called Ben Webster's Page, and featured stories about the lives of famous men, but these eventually gave way to Ben's adventures. All of its titles gradually coalesced into simply Ben Webster, but the speed of the transition was different in the various newspapers that carried it.

Ben wasn't exactly a media sensation, appearing in no movie serials, radio shows or even Big Little Books. But his strip was reprinted in All-American Comics, starting with its 1939 first issue, along with Skippy, Reg'lar Fellers and Mutt & Jeff. That ended in 1941, whcn both it and Believe It or Not were ousted in favor of a non-reprinted feature, Dr. Mid-Nite.

By that time, the comic book was his only remaining venue. Bell had dropped it in 1940.


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Text ©2008 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Bell Syndicate.