Bobby and a typical enemy. Artist: F.E. Johnson.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The Philadelphia Leader
First Appeared: 1911
Creator: F.E. Johnson
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Most cartoon buffs agree the 1930s constituted a golden age of adventure stories in newspaper comics — To name only a few, Dick Tracy, Prince Valiant and Terry & the Pirates all started during that decade. That golden age …

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… is generally held to have started with the simultaneous introduction of Buck Rogers and Tarzan to the newspaper page. But of course, adventure comics themselves didn't begin with those two — Tailspin Tommy, Ben Webster's Career and more were well established by the time those started, and a few, such as Phil Hardy, had already come and gone.

Comics historian Allan Holtz has unearthed what he believes to be the very first serious adventure comic. In a 2002 issue of Hogan's Alley magazine (named after Richard Outcault's seminal early work, of course), Holtz described his almost accidental recent discovery, in a microfilmed archive of The Philadelphia Leader, of Bobby the Boy Scout (no relation) — which predated any other known example of the genre by years.

The Leader shouldn't, by the way, be confused with the same city's Ledger, a far more prominent paper whose syndicate had handled Lady Bountiful, Somebody's Stenog and more. The Leader was small and obscure, and very much not the sort of paper you'd expect to be the only source of anything interesting in the way of cartoon history.

Holtz traced Bobby's strip back to its beginning, on Monday, August 21, 1911. The Boy Scouts of America had been incorporated only a year earlier, tho the scouting movement had been gathering strength for several years prior to the incorporation. Bobby embodied all the traditional scouting virtues — trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly etc. He was also athletic, heroic, and all the things an adventure hero ought to be. If a boy didn't have Bobby's qualities — chances are, he wanted them. Despite Bobby's youth, he repeatedly foiled criminal plots, performed daring rescues, and otherwise behaved in a thoroughly exemplary manner — always aided, of course, by his Boy Scout training.

Bobby the Boy Scout was only occasionally credited. When it was, the signature read F.E. Johnson. Johnson was a staff artist on the Leader, but is not known to have done any other work in comics. It was a reliable, six-times-a-week daily, which, only four years since A, Mutt had become the first such reliable daily, still wasn't a universal trait among weekday comics. It ran for at least five years, but from all indications, was long gone by the time adventure strips became common. If it was ever syndicated, or even published in a single other paper, evidence of such publication has yet to be found.

So — is this, indeed, the first serious adventure comic? Who knows? Holtz thinks it probably is, but acknowledges that more surprises undoubtedly await us as researchers continue to delve into the early history of the funnies. The only way to prove it isn't the first would be to find an earlier one, which seems unlikely. As for the converse, you can't prove a negative.


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Text ©2006-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art: Bobby the Boy Scout is in the public domain. This image has been modified. Modified version © Donald D. Markstein.