Conchy. Artist: James Childress.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distribution: Self-syndicated
First Appeared: 1970
Creator: James Childress
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A great many cartoonists during the past century have achieved fame and fortune by creating comic strips that were distributed worldwide by large corporations such as King Features (e.g., Chic Young …

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… with Blondie) United Feature Syndicate (e.g., Charles Schulz with Peanuts), Tribune Media Services (e.g., Chester Gould with Dick Tracy) etc. James Childress, creator of Conchy, has shown what can be accomplished without such corporate assistance. He didn't achieve fame and he didn't achieve fortune, but he did make a comic that knowledgeable cartoon aficionados, a generation later, still look back on with fondness — and with regret, that it lasted so short a time.

Childress (a published cartoonist since 1954, when, at age 13, he contributed to a local weekly) started creating this strip, which deals with his lifelong love of Florida beaches, in the early 1960s. By '62, he was trying to sell it to syndicates, but nobody was buying. Eventually, he started marketing it directly to the newspapers themselves — self-syndicating, in other words, as Fred Harman had earlier done with Bronc Peeler and Jim Toomey would later do with Sherman's Lagoon. Thus distributed, it began on March 2, 1970.

The star's name, Conchy refers to the creature that makes conch shells. He's a beachcomber, living on a sparsely populated island that also houses his friend Oom Paul (an older beachcomber), a small native population, and a few other beach folks with smaller roles. As might be expected from the lifestyle they've chosen, Conchy and Oom Paul were both highly individual thinkers, and sometimes entertained readers with lengthy musings on odd subjects.

Producing the strip while supporting himself with a day job, Childress nonetheless found time to promote his work. By 1974, it was appearing in 26 papers, and that finally attracted a syndicate's interest. Field Enterprises (Mark Trail, Steve Canyon) signed him up that year, and his client list shot past 150 — not spectacular, but more than twice what, say, Barnaby ever had, and its critical acclaim was toward that strip's end of the spectrum as well. It was during the syndicated run that it briefly had a Sunday version. Also, that was when Tempo Books (Broom Hilda, Hi & Lois) published three collections of Conchy dailies.

But the syndicate thought it could be sold to more papers if Childress toned down those lengthy musings, and contented himself with simpler gags. The cartoonist refused, and their partnership was severed in 1976. There was an initial dip in circulation, but according to comics historians Jim Ivey and Allan Holtz, it was back up before long, and soon reached an all-time high — which made it only a modest success, but still a success.

If it had remained in publication long enough to become better known, Conchy might be remembered as another in a league with King Aroo or even Krazy Kat, strips that never achieved high circulation but were loved by the critics. But Childress committed suicide in 1977, and that was the end of Conchy. Today, even some major histories of the comics mention neither the man nor his character.


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Text ©2005-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © estate of James Childress.