Detail from a 1929 page of 'The Passing Show'. Artist: Billy Ireland


Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The Columbus Dispatch
First Appeared: 1908
Creator: Billy Ireland
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In 1898, William Addison "Billy" Ireland, a recent high school graduate, went to work as a cartoonist for The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. The job involved not only editorial cartoons, but also, in those …

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… days before photography got into widespread journalistic use, spot news. A decade later, he launched a Sunday page consisting of facts and observations about the city around him. The Passing Show began on February 9, 1908.

The title was taken from that of the first successful variety show/revue on the American stage, an 1894 show-biz anthology, of sorts, compiled by Broadway producer/director George Lederer. Like a Broadway revue, Ireland's comic consisted of a little bit of everything — political commentary, sidelights on the news, caricatures of local newsmakers, etc. There was even a semi-regular feature, a one-panel cartoon titled The Jedge & Jerry.

An area of particular interest was the doings of the various sports teams, especially football, sponsored by Ohio State University. The school's official song, originally penned in 1902 by freshman Fred Cornell, was "Carmen Ohio" (meaning "Song of Ohio"), and on September 30, 1923, Ireland introduced a new semi-regular character, a stage performer named Carmen Ohio.

All this time, Ireland not only produced a page a week, but also did several editorial cartoons. He even managed the paper's art department, where he was responsible for giving Milton Caniff (Steve Canyon) his start in the field. At one point, Caniff considered a career change to acting. It was Ireland who talked him out of it, suggesting "Stick to your inkpot, kid. Actors don't eat regularly."

Characteristically, newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst made a couple of attempts to entice Ireland to create a comic strip for his own King Features Syndicate. The Little King and Henry were only a couple of the comics being distributed by King as a result of Hearst's acquisitive ways. But Hearst's offer of money wasn't suficient to induce Ireland to leave the city he loved. He wound up spending his entire career at the Dispatch.

That career ended with his death on May 29, 1935. The following Sunday, June 2, the final episode of The Passing Show was published.


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Text ©2010 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Columbus Dispatch.