Saturday, March 27, 2010

WHO WAS DON SHERWOOD?

The strips shown here are examples of the comic strip "Dan Flagg". The Ebay listing for this original art stated that "Don Sherwood started his career assisting Milton Caniff on 'Terry & the Pirates'." I thought about all I had read on Milton Caniff, and one question naturally leapt to mind...who in the hell is Don Sherwood?
As I began to research Sherwood, I was startled to find that he passed away a few weeks on March 6th at age 79. I think the timing of the Ebay auctions was coincidental as the seller didn't mention it. The obituary from Sherwood's local paper repeated the notion that he drew for Milton Caniff's 'Terry & the Pirates'. Well, Sherwood did assist on 'Terry', but for George Wunder, who took over the strip after Caniff left in 1946. Sherwood's stint was very brief, around 1961-62, when it hadn't been Caniff's 'Terry & the Pirates' for 15 years.
Sherwood, left 'Terry' because he had sold 'Dan Flagg', a military strip about the Marines, of which he was a veteran. Obit writer Jim Kevlin goes overboard when he describes 'Flagg' as "running in virtually every daily newspaper in the country in the 1960s." If that was so, you'd know the name 'Dan Flagg' like you know 'Blondie' and 'Peanuts', or at least 'The Lockhorns'. But you've likely never heard of it, though that isn't a comment on the strip's quality, as I can only judge by these four examples. A comic strip about a Marine during the Vietnam War was a tough sell. As the war escalated, Marine Dan Flagg, like Caniff's Air Force pilot 'Steve Canyon', lost papers. The strip was gone by 1967, only four years after it had begun. Sherwood went on to draw a couple of other features, as well as a stint in comic books drawing The Partridge Family.
I don't want to speak ill of the dead, but the Don Sherwood story goes a little further. EC Comics legend George Evans spoke of Sherwood in his interview for The Warren Companion. Evans followed Sherwood as George Wunder's assistant/ghost artist for the 'Terry & the Pirates' dailies. It must have been a good gig for Evans, since he did it for 13 years. According to Evans, much of the work of 'Dan Flagg' was done uncredited by writer Archie Goodwin, artists Angelo Torres, Al Williamson and others. Apparently, hard feelings developed among Sherwood's freelancers, resulting in their employer being lampooned in the horror tale below.1 "The Success Story", by Archie Goodwin and Al Williamson, first appeared in Creepy #1 (1964). It was reprinted in 2008 in The Creepy Archives, vol.1 from Dark Horse.


[1] Roach, David A. and Cooke, Jon B., editors, The Warren Companion, 2001, TwoMorrows Publishing, Raleigh, N.C.

10 comments:

cartoonbill said...

I remember the ad(1963) for Dan Flagg. It looked by the ad to be a self syndicsted strip. I too was never able to find any newspapers running the strip. I think the ad was in The Saturday Evening Post.

The Fan With No Name!!! said...

...very interesting & insightful Matt!!!

Westcoast Tony said...

I remember Dan Flagg running in our local paper in the 60s. I also heard the story about it from people in the biz.. that Archie Goodwin wrote it at the time and Williamson (and very possibly Torres) were involved in the art and that the CREEPY story was a roman à clef of a sort. Alden McWilliams seems to have had his hand in there, possibly as an inker?

Anonymous said...

I just came across this blog and had to add some information. Don Sherwood (and his wife Dolly) were good friends of my father, and I knew both of their kids growing up. Don drew my father into one of his "Sergeant Preston of the Yukon" comics. The likeness was excellent and the drawing was of the same quality that appeared in his Dan Flag comics - and there is no way that anyone but Don drew that. You can find a much less biased description of Don's career here:
http://old.thedailystar.com/opinion/columns/simonson/2003/09/simonson0929.html
BTW - apparently Dan Flagg ran in 400 newspapers at it's peak.

Matt Tauber said...

Anonymous - I didn't intend to disparage Sherwood or his art. I wanted to set the record straight as he is one of many erroneously listed somewhere as one of Caniff's assistants.

That's a great story and nice memories that you have. How lucky to be that close to a working cartoonist!

Sherwood did have assistants, but so did many of the greats (including Caniff). I still doubt that Dan Flagg ran in 400 papers or even 100 papers.

will.15 said...

I was around then and it didn't run in any newspapers in Southern California.

I don't know what was the case with Dan Flagg, but cartoonists who just signed their names and didn't do any actual work on their comic strips was not an unusual thing. The most famous is Bob Kane. But there are other cartoonists who were actively involved in the early days, like Sydney Smith on The Gumps and Bud Fisher on Mutt and Jeff, who after their strips took off just kept signing their names as ghosts wrote and drew the strips. There was also a period in the fifties where Harvey Kurtzman, Wally Wood, and other EC artists were ghosting Flash Gordon.

C H Groffel said...

Interesting personal letter from Charles Schulz to Don Sherwood now on sale on eBay. http://www.ebay.com/itm/Snoopy-Peanuts-CHARLES-SCHULZ-personal-letter-w-envelope-signed-Sparky-1998-/321309003577?pt=TV_Movie_Character_Toys_US

Letter was written in 1998 and signed "Sparky". Schulz writes that he is glad about the motion picture development of Dan Flagg.

Anonymous said...

Your blog needs more research as Dan Flagg most certainly ran in at least 400 papers at its height. It was also slated to run as a TV series starring Robert Taylor. However, creative differences kept the project grounded. Don Sherwood was and is still a very respected artist and creative talent.

gottago4now said...

I went to school with Don's children. They lived down the road and he was an awesome neighbor.
My late Mother-in-law lunched with Robert Taylor when he came to Oneonta to meet with Don over the Dan Flagg TV series that failed to launch. I have the first strip, I believe, (April 22, 1963) framed and signed and complete with corrections and 'pasted on' copyright as it appears before final printing. It is signed by Don.
I know for a FACT that Dan Flagg was marketed to close to over 500 newspapers and there were many newspapers who turned down the strip. But for every one that turned it down 2 or 3 others picked it up. Sometimes they didn't run for very long, there was the whole anti-war feeling prevalent at the time.
Just because the strip wasn't seen by somebody 50 years ago, or noticed 50 years ago, doesn't mean that it wasn't in close to 400 papers. He (Maj. Dan Flagg)had to be famous as he was recognized by both municipalities and armed services. A hard thing to do for anyone who DOESNT have at least 400 papers subscribing to his adventures.

Matt Tauber said...

Ok, gottago4now, I give. Not having hard evidence either way, I'll bow to the personal experiences of those who knew Don Sherwood and insist "Dan Flagg" was in over 400 newspapers. I'm probably blinded by the scarcity of newspapers these days. When you consider "Peanuts" was once in 2600 newspapers, 400 is reasonable for a lesser known strip.

It sounds like Don was a good person and good friend to you and your family. That strip you have is quite a treasure. Thanks for reading!