Saturday, March 28, 2009
Hairbreadth Harry - A Suspended Animation Review From 2004
He escaped by the breadth of a hair. That's why Comics Legend Charles William Kahles called his comic strip Hairbreadth Harry.
Our Hero's Hairbreath (misspelled) Escapes began publication in 1906 in the Philadelphia Press newspaper. Harry, who started his melodramatic adventures as a boy, matured into manhood and invested most of his time rescuing his beautiful but powerless girlfriend. His cliff-hanging episodes included a mustachioed villain and unusual attachments to railroad tracks and sawmill blades.
Among the first comic strips produced, Hairbreadth Harry would become one of the most widely read paper dramas of its era and one of the least remembered "funnies" of today. That is an undeserved distinction.
Before its descent into obscurity, Hairbreadth Harry was also featured on the silver screen in a series of short movies produced until the demise of silent films. The strip was also reprinted in issues of Famous Funnies, the first comic book ever published.
Hairbreadth was drawn in a clean, abstract style with minimal background detail. Harry and villain Rudolph, who was always in top hat and tails, vied for the feminine hand (and minimalistic mind) of Belinda Blinks. Tucked not so subtly within was biting social commentary on the silliness of the day, and all was done with tongue firmly placed in cheek. For foreign readers, that means that Kahles was laughing at himself and with his audience at that most ridiculous subject, man.
When C.W. Kahles died (1931), Hairbreadth was written and drawn by several cartoonists until its end in 1940.
Kahles' comic book work included: Famous Funnies (1933--?, Eastern Color); A Carnival of Comics (1933, Eastern Color); and Funnies on Parade (1933, Eastern Color). The strip is also featured in The Smithsonian Collection of Newspaper Comics.
The work of C. W. Kahles is highly recommended. MV
Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.
Review by Michael Vance