In a stroke of marketing genius, or by sheer coincidence, Yogi Bear hit newspaper comic pages the Sunday after his new show appeared on 180 TV stations across the U.S. (and more in Canada). That means today is the 50th anniversary of Yogi’s appearance in the papers—at least in the United States.
Unfortunately, I don’t have the research tools to answer a lot of obvious historical questions, such as who approached whom about syndicating the strip, and when. However, it’s well-known the McNaught picked up the syndication rights and added newspapers along the way so that by May 1961, one ad boasted Yogi was appearing in 35 newspapers. We can also guess Hanna-Barbera mounted a big push at about this time to get Yogi in print. One comic book site on the internet shows a lovely issue of Dell Comics Yogi Bear No. 4, with a cover date of September 1961. Yowp note: see Joe Torcivia’s note in the comment section about the comic books. Thanks, Joe.
I’m not into comic books like many people reading here so I can’t intelligently add much about Hanna-Barbera’s comic operations. It’s been mentioned on the blog a variety of artists worked on the newspaper comics, including former MGM artist Harvey Eisenberg, and it seems former all-kinds-of-studios artist Gene Hazelton was involved from the beginning.
However, I can tell you Gene (or whoever) lifted ideas from the TV cartoons for the stories of the first few comics. The debut comic on February 5, 1961 borrows the plot of Do or Diet (1961), written by Warren Foster, where Yogi gets revenge after he is snookered into believing he has “picnic-itis.” I like the visual variations from panel to panel. Some drawings are in silhouette, some have forest backgrounds while others use solid colour, and there are a variety of angles.
The second comic of February 12th has an original story, though Yogi was in the child-watching business in a couple of cartoons in his first season (this comic came out during Yogi’s third). You can find head-kerchiefed moms in both.
Yogi Bear’s Big Break, another first season cartoon, was the basis for the next Sunday page on February 19th except, this time, poor Boo Boo gets caught outside, too.
The last comic that came out in February owes its plot to the opening of Loopy De Loop’s third cartoon, Tale of a Wolf (1959) where he helpfully inflates the tire of a stranded woman’s car, though Loopy is always altruistic about those kinds of things. Yogi isn’t.
Newspapers advertised the fact Yogi was coming to their comic pages—not bad for a bear that had just gotten his own TV show—and one actually did an editorial about it. Amidst commentaries about local taxes, federal tariffs, a Portuguese hostage-taking, and a hat trick in a cricket game is this musement from the Ottawa Citizen from February 4, 1961. Only in Canada’s colourless national capital can whimsy be smothered in drabness.
A Welcome To Yogi Bear
Readers of the colored comics section of today’s Citizen will notice the appearance of a new character, to wit, Yogi Bear. This gifted animal, the bane of rangers of Jellystone National Park, has of course become widely and favorable known on television, and his manner of speech is imitated even on some university campuses.
The speech, indeed, is a large part of Yogi’s charm, and some may wonder whether a soundless Yogi will carry such an appeal. Citizen readers will make up their own minds on that point, but previous tests indicate that the true Yogi fan will be content. For Yogi is not rendered exactly speechless; the words are there on paper, and can be heard by the inner ear, much as the reader of a symphonic or string quartet score hears the music without it being played.
As for Yogi in the round, he takes his place among the celebrated rascals who spend an incredible amount of energy and ingenuity in doing something they shouldn’t. He is a bum, but an endearing one.
You will note that Yogi appeared in the Citizen of February 4, 1961, 50 years ago yesterday. He also appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press on the 4th as well. It’s likely because the concept of a Sunday newspaper was quite foreign to parts of Canada in the 1960s; no such thing existed in Vancouver in that decade, either. I can only speculate it was because of the federal Lord’s Day Act. Back then, it was illegal to hold a pro sports event on a Sunday. Shopping was not allowed on a Sunday, let alone going to a bar. And you couldn’t buy a newspaper on a Sunday, either. So you could read Yogi Bear in your local paper a day before the Americans.
The Citizen also gave readers the comic in a full page. All the American papers I’ve been able to find scrunched it down to a third of a page and deleted the first four panels.
As was mentioned in the Flintstones Christmas comic thread, the Yogi newspaper comics were built around Jellystone Park and the other characters from his TV show appeared only on rare occasion. And comics always seem to have a life apart from the animated version. Ranger Smith in the newspapers acquired a wife and child. Though a wife was mentioned in a couple of second season Yogis, later season episodes, like Home Sweet Jellystone (Ranger Smith inherits a castle) and Gleesome Threesome (Ranger Smith goes on vacation) makes it seem the Ranger was single. People weren’t such continuity geeks back then.
The Yogi comic was one more sign that Huckleberry Hound was no longer the reigning star at Hanna-Barbera and his downward spiral escalated in earnest. Sure, he still had his own show, but H-B was concentrating more on the half hours, much like Disney’s attentions toward the end of the ‘30s turned away from the shorts and toward features. The Flintstones got their own daily and Sunday strip in the fall of 1961 and both Yogi and the Bedrock family got feature theatrical film treatment, not Huck. But it seems Huck wasn’t the only pen-and-ink creation that Yogi bested. The local newspaper in Bonham, Texas pointed out on May 14, 1961 that it was picking up the Yogi Sunday comic and dropping Superman. He may not have been able to beat Ranger Smith, but Yogi came out on tops against the Man of Steel.