A 1930s daily panel. Artist: J.R. Williams.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Newspaper Enterprise Association
First Appeared: 1922
Creator: James R. Williams
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By 1922, most of the comedy niches of the newspaper comics ecosystem had been filled. Cartoon series about …

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… small town, quasi-rural life, for example, were nothing new. For vivid characterization and sheer laughs, probably the best remembered of that era was Fontaine Fox's Toonerville Folks, which began in 1908 and ran well into the '50s.

But Out Our Way wasn't like most, in that cartoonist J.R. Williams, its creator, wasn't going for the big laughs. Like the modern Family Circus, he was striving more for a smile of recognition. But instead of parenthood, his subject was a way of life that was disappearing — if indeed it had ever existed to begin with, no matter how many people clearly remembered it. His stock-in-trade was the amusing situation, tinged with nostalgia. (But he wasn't averse to grimmer responses — in fact, on December 4, 1925, he became the first cartoonist to show dead bodies right on the page.)

Williams's daily panel was syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association , whose other well-known comics include Red Ryder, Captain Easy and Alley Oop (and whose lesser-known ones include Myra North and Herky). NEA launched this one on March 20,1922.

Frequently-used settings reflected Williams's experiences before he became a cartoonist, and included factory floors, mechanic shops, and cattle ranches — in fact, cowboys and other ranch denizens appeared so frequently, it could almost have edged Little Joe out as comics' first successful western, if other settings hadn't been prominent as well. Family life and the adventures of small town boys were also common themes. Williams often used multiple large word balloons when the situation called for it, but if the picture stood on its own, didn't mind getting the words out of the way and using only a single short caption. He often re-used the same captions, such as "Born thirty years too soon", "Heroes are made, not born", "Bull of the Woods" and "Why mothers get gray". "The Worry Wart" was frequently used as a caption for panels starring a boy of about 8. Wart was one of several recurring characters, but the daily didn't have a regular star.

A Sunday page was added early on, but the connection between it and the panel wasn't exact. Some of the panel's recurring characters were gathered together as the Willet family, and they were the feature's stars. Williams signed it, but it was handled by assistants. Between 1927 and '33, Roy Crane's Wash Tubbs, also a daily from NEA, served as its topper.

At its peak, Out Our Way was carried by more than 700 papers. There is anecdotal evidence (cited by comics historian Coulton Waugh in his 1947 book on the subject) that it was clipped and saved by more people than most comics series of its time. But it was never adapted into a movie, radio show or animated cartoon, and its only appearance in comic books (other than a few back pages in Popular Comics, where Moon Mullins and Mutt & Jeff were stars) was a 1956 issue of Dell's Four Color Comics. But it lasted more than half a century on the newspaper page. Tho Williams died in 1957, it was continued by Neg Cochran (formerly Williams's assistant), Paul Gringle (Kookie the Cook, no relation), Ed Sullivan (Priscilla's Pop) and others, until 1977.


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Text ©2003-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Newspaper Enterprise Association.