The (almost?) Complete Wanda Byrd(c) 2016, Arthur L. Lortie(a version of this article first appeared on Strippers Guide on November 24, 2014)

And the strips I have might even be the complete series! Its hard to tell!

Pilots were the rock stars of the interwar period of the 1920's and 1930's. They were daredevils literally flying by the seat of their pants to travel higher, farther and faster in experimental aircraft than anyone had before -- and the public loved them!

Most, like Charles Lindbergh and Wiley Post and Amelia Earhart, became household names, so it was inevitable that their exploits would give rise to a whole genre on radio and in the movies -- and, of course, in comic strips.

WANDA BYRD was one of the first aviation strips, preceded only by TAILSPIN TOMMY (who first taxied down the runway on April 30, 1928), SLIM AND TUBBY aka FLYING TO FAME (began making headlines on June 18, 1928), SKYLARK (who broke through the clouds on October 8, 1928), SKYROADS (took off May 20, 1929) and SCORCHY SMITH (full of hot air on March 17, 1930).

These sons and daughters of Lindbergh inspired a whole slew of other flying fools like SMILIN' JACK (in 1933), TERRY AND THE PIRATES (1934), ACE DRUMMOND (1935), BARNEY BAXTER (1935), HOP HARRIGAN (first in All American Comics #1, 1939) and FLYIN' JENNY (10/1939); plus possibly a whole bunch more I've overlooked.

But Wanda was almost certainly the first female flyer! Though some had considered Frank Godwin's CONNIE, which debuted March 11,1929, as an early aviation strip, after checking, all she did was get all all gussied up and go aloft on a date, never really taking the throttle.

Some of the earlier strips failed because its creators, like SKYLARK's Elmer Woggins (see my article on his **STEVE ROPER**), had never even been in an airplane! This was not the case here, though, as its writer, Evan J David, was the real deal!

Wanda Byrd promos and strips start on June 30, 1930 in the Rome (New York) Daily Sentinel. I grabbed these, somehow, off Fulton Postcards site.
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The good thing about these early strips at Fulton, though difficult to find with that !@#$% search engine of theirs, are of great quality -- and freakin' HUGE! I actually shrunk them slightly to get down to a 4000-pixel width! Plus the Rome papers carried the individual daily strip chapter titles that I love so much!

The Rome well went dry on January 24, 1931 and I had to switch to the strips lacking titles from the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph at Newspapers.com. I also had to use the Harrisburg paper as a fill-in around New Year's, 1931, when the Rome paper either didn't publish or it wasn't scanned by Fulton-folk.

All my Byrd strips are on MediaFire

The New York Herald Tribune, which was owned by the strip's distributor, strangely did not carry the strip, leaving only the Minneapolis Journal as another known source. I haven't yet found a website or library with access to it, though.

The reason there's some question as to whether I have the full run is because my run is complete, and dated, from Monday, June 30, 1930 to Tuesday, May 26, 1931, for 284 strips. But Allan Holtz's awesome **American Newspaper Comics**, via Jeffrey Lindenblatt, says Wanda and her male companion, Chesty Cabot (nowadays that would be HER name!) fought the good fight in the Tribune from Tuesday, July 15, 1930, to Saturday, June 13, 1931, or possibly 287 strips. (Jeff reports his source was probablyly one of the newspapers in Queens -- The Long Island Press or Long Island Star or the Queens Evening News -- or possibly a paper in Brooklyn, but not the Eagle)
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Ending on a cliff hanger? My final Wanda Byrd

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Weeks Field, Fairbanks, Alaska, in 1940

Assuming the Trib records were cited correctly, this might mean I'm only missing 3 strips! But since mine are dated, there's a real possibility that the strip actually ran Monday, June 30, 1930, to Saturday, June 13, 1931 -- and I'm missing a whopping 16 strips! Yikes!

The story I have ends with our two heroes, a mere 20 miles from their destination in Fairbanks, Alaska, trapped in a malfunctioning airplane with only one parachute. The final panel promises "See what happens Tomorrow!".

This wouldn't be the only time a strip ended with an unresolved cliffhanger -- see my look at **PHANTOM ISLAND**, for example -- but the optimist in mes like to think Wanda and Busty landed safely at Weeks Field.

WANDA BYRD is not a great strip by any means. Its full of racial stereotypes, a plot ripped straight from Jules Verne's AROUND THE WORLD IN 80 DAYS, and the art is mostly bad -- but it is historically important.

Out of curiosity, I decided to find out something about the creators. And they turned out to be more interesting than their creations, Wanda and Chesty.




Evan J. David.jpgWriter ****Evan J[ohn] David**** had a long and celebrated career in aviation. He was a former editor of Flying magazine with a regular column that kept the readers abreast of World War I aerial developments. In 1923, when his wife. Emma Sophia Claus David (1887 - 1923), was unexpectedly dying, the combined resources of the civilian and military air forces (such as it was at the time) struggled to get him to her side before she passed.

He suffered another tragedy in the 1930's when he was the driver in a Massachusetts hit and run that killed two people. He appears to have been found not guilty after he married the only other surviving witness, Shirley Cole Atwood (1915 - 1992), who then couldn't testify against him.

But he also wrote aviation themed fiction for several other magazines and non-fiction on flight and Arctic exploration for the Saturday Evening Post which became a staple, as reprints, in Australian newspapers. According to articles I read at the Trove Australian newspaper website, David was considered the go-to guy for info on the fledgling air industry.

Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on April 12, 1877, his Welsh speaking immigrant parents sent him to a Welsh church, but he taught himself English from the library books smuggled into the coal mines where he worked, starting at age 10.

His literary career began when, under pseudonyms, he won two prizes for essays on Alexander Hamilton and the Battle of Monmouth and that earned him a job as a cub reporter on the local newspaper. A benefactor sent him to Exeter College and after three years he entered Harvard, where he received his A.B. in 1907, and then became a teacher and eventual head of the English Department at New Hampshire State College.

To satisfy his thirst for adventure, he worked on a cattle boat sailing to England and spent four months sightseeing throughout Europe. He returned to the States and earned his M.A. at Harvard, becoming a special correspondent on the Boston Herald and the New York Herald Tribune. He became the Tribune's first Aviation Editor and went on published several books -- Aircraft, Its Development in War and Peace and its Commercial Futures (1919, non-fiction), Leonard Wood on National Issues (1920, non-fiction), For Love and Gold (1934, a story about danger in the Alaskan gold rush), and Our Coast Guard High Adventure with the Watchers of Our Shores (1937) and As Runs the Glass (1943, fortunes of an early Maine seafaring family).

He died June 10, 1961.

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The artist, John M Grippo, was initially a more difficult search -- but only because that was really Jack-of-all trades **Jan Grippo** hiding under a pseudonym. Yes -- THAT Jan Grippo :)

Jan / John was born December 15, 1906 in Beacon, NY, and parlayed his training at the New York School of Design into an early career as a cartoonist for the New York Herald-Tribune Syndicate.

He also reportedly worked on a strip called, most likely, JUDY GALLANT. I swiped the scan below from artist Ron Harris' **Words and Pictures** blog. Despite the article's title -- "The Comic Section That Never Was--Over and Over Again", I think this was really a recycled older strip. The style certainly matches that of the 1930's Grippo. In the followup postings at Harris' site, Alfredo Castelli believes the strip was called CAPTAIN SMITH - SPACE ADVENTURER by K. Lentz, but that is almost certainly wrong. A second poster, K. A. Thacker, said his/her father, Josef Montaigue (November 15, 1908 - May 4, 1991) -- sometimes spelled as Montiague -- supplied the scripts for a JUDY GALLANT strip, and based on the characters, I'm going with that title.

However, I've been unable to find any records of JUDY or SMITH hiding under any rock I've turned over! Sigh.


Judy Gallant.jpg

grippo.pngIn 1937, Grippo took Horace Greeley's advice and went west, to Hollywood and swimming pools / movie stars. Between gigs as a stage magician -- he gained fame by teaching Veronica Lake to do the card tricks in her film This Gun for Hire -- he worked as an agent for Billy Conn, the world light-heavyweight champion, and Leo Gorcey and Huntz Hall of the Dead End Kids.

The Dead End Kids were originally a group of hard-core street punks in the films Dead End and Angels With Dirty Faces, but Grippo decided they'd have more commercial success as comedic good-hearted kids who get into trouble. Forming Jan Grippo Productions, he sanitized and renamed the group the Bowery Boys and went on to produce 24 successful comedy films.

He died March 12, 1988 at the age of 81.

Researcher Alex Jay also takes a look at Grippo's career over at //Stripper's Guide//.

Enjoy!