Texas History Movies, its publishing history and reincarnations
by Steven Williams
Author's note: Additional research has revealed a number of significant errors in the printing history described so please be cautious in determining a particular printing pending additional revisions and clarifications.
One of the most influential books educating Texans about their own state's history has been Texas History Movies which is not strictly speaking a book in the traditional meaning of the word. Texas History Movies was actually a comic strip series that was initially published in the late 1920s and it achieved its popularity and notoriety by combining simple but effectively drawn cartoon scenes with accompanying explanatory historical text. The people and events depicted in the comics were all based on events important to development of the state. The history covered spanned the time period from about 1530 to 1885. The comic strip made its initial appearance in the The Dallas (Morning) News and The Dallas (Evening) Journal, predecessors to today's Dallas Morning News, beginning in 1926. The idea for this new comic strip is attributed to E. B. Doran, Director of News and Telegraph (1918-1929) for the two periodicals and Managing Editor of the Journal since its inception in 1914, and it was based in part on the widespread popularity of comic strips at the time. Doran involved two men in the project, staff artist Jack Patton and staff writer John Rosenfield, Jr. to provide the text. Patton had been working regularly at The Dallas Journal since 1922 contributing comic strips and single comic panels at the rate of about one per day. Although the Texas History Movies comics were published as part of a commercial venture, the intention from the very beginning was to provide a strip that was both educational and entertaining. It should be noted that under the ownership of G. B. Dealey The Dallas News pursued an editorial policy promoting good government, strong public education, and, at considerable political and economic expense, actively opposed the rise of the Ku Klux Klan in Texas politics in the early 1920s.
The intended use of the strip for educational purposes becomes particularly evident when an effort is made to attribute the source for the comic strip's name. The naming of the comic strip Texas History Movies is commonly attributed to Dr. Justin Ford Kimball, a public-spirited former Dallas Superintendent of Schools (1914-1924) and professor in education at Southern Methodist University. Dr. Kimball's input is also important because of his statewide reputation as an education administrator. Kimball's inclusion of the word 'movies' in the name is somewhat puzzling to modern readers, but in the late 1920s comics were frequently referred to as 'movies in print' and this association is the most likely reason for the inclusion of the word 'movies' in the title for the new comic strip series. The production version of the strip took the form of a cartoony four-panel comic strip format similar to Segar's contemporary Popeye strip with some brief accompanying text narration.
Texas History Movies ran Monday through Saturday from October 5, 1926 through June 8, 1927 when it was stopped for the summer school recess. The strip resumed at the beginning of the next school year, October 8, 1927, and Texas History Movies strips continued to be published from that date until the series ceased publication on June 9, 1928. The decision to run the strip only during the school year emphasizes the deliberate intent at producing an educational strip. This publication schedule also reflects the strip's almost immediate popularity with Texas teachers. Apparently, the summer breaks in the series came about when the newspaper acceded to teacher requests to suspend the series during the summer school break. Altogether, Patton and Rosenfield produced a total of four hundred and twenty-eight comic strips in the series' two-year run. The decision to stop the series at 1885 was based primarily on the fact the both the artist and the writer felt that Texas history became much less colorful and thus much more difficult to make entertaining with the strip's simple format.
After the initial Texas History Movies publication in the Dallas newspaper, in 1928, the copyright to the comics was acquired by P. L. Turner Company of Dallas, Texas. Turner subsequently published the complete series of four hundred and twenty-eight strips in a 9 1/2 inch by 12 1/2 inch, 217 page, oversize hardcover book under the imprint Southwest Press. The layout Turner Company chose for the strips was to put two of each four-panel strips on every page laid out in a nine-panel grid. The first three panels of the first strip ran along the top with the fourth, concluding panel for that strip starting the second row. The second panel of the second row was used to contain Rosenfield's text for that first strip as well as the text for the following strip whose first panel began just to the right of the text, the sixth panel of the page. The final row of three panels at the bottom of the page was the subsequent three panels of the second strip appearing on the page. For the cover art, the publisher chose to use a colorful frame mockup of a movie theater as if someone were sitting at the back of a full theater facing the screen and with a scene from the battle of the Alamo featured on the movie 'screen'.
At about the same time that this hardcover edition was published, the Magnolia Petroleum Company, precursor to Mobil Oil and subsequently ExxonMobile, decided to take advantage of associating themselves with the educational potential of such a popular and well-received comic strip series. They arranged with the publisher to sponsor a smaller formatted, 5 1/4" x 7" (aka 'digest size'), 64 page paperback version abridged to contain only 124 of the original 428 newspaper strips and including acknowledgment of Magnolia's sponsorship as well as a Magnolia Gasoline Motor Oil logo on the back cover. Magnolia opted to retain the same movie theater graphics on the front cover as well as the same page layout as had been used in the initial hardcover Southwest Press edition. This Magnolia digest size paperback edition was distributed free to students throughout the state and was so popular that there was a second printing in 1932. This second printing used thinner paper and overall is noticeably thinner when compared with the first printing. The advertising on the back cover changed also to show four round logos of the companies associated with Magnolia Petroleum. Clockwise from the top these logos were for Mobilgas, Metro, Mobiloil, and Magnolia Gasoline.
Broad positive reaction to the initial printings lead Magnolia to again sponsor the printing and distribution to schools of Texas History Movies in 1935. For this edition, the format of the book was changed to a landscape or horizontal format that was nine inches wide and six inches tall. The page layout was also changed for this edition from a roughly square digest format to a horizontal 'long digest' format. This horizontal/landscape format version was printed with each of Patton's four panels of illustration for each comic strip issue running along the top of the page with Rosenfield's accompanying text printed directly below it. There were also some changes to the content for this 'horizontal' (aka 'long digest') edition. First of all, the number of original strips included in this edition was reduced even more than in the previous Magnolia digest edition, ending up with only 101 of the original strips being used in this edition. Fortunately, the total number of strips in this 'horizontal' edition was supplemented by the addition of twenty-three new strips. These twenty-three additional brand new strips were commissioned from the original strip illustrator, Jack Patton. Magnolia asked Patton to create this additional series of strips to fill out a new section added to this edition called The Industrial Development of Texas. The covers of these printings with added new material were subtitled '400 Years of Texas History and Industrial Development Portrayed by Action Cartoons.' In addition to the change in page layout, the inclusion of only 101 original strips, and the addition of twenty-three totally new strips, there were some additional textual changes. Each comic strip's page now came with an additional block of explanatory text below the original strip. This additional text averaged about 160 words for each page. The author of the added text for this edition was not named, instead there was only a vague attribution to an unnamed 'foremost state historian'. Like the previous digest size 124-strip edition, this 'horizontal' or 'long digest' edition was very popular and it also went through a number of paperback printings (probably two in 1935, one in 1936 and one in 1943) and one hardcover printing (1935). Each paperback printing showed some variation in either the cover colors and/or graphics used as well as title page publisher and copyright information. It is important to note that the additional Patton strips about the history of industrial development in Texas did not appear in any other editions of Texas History Movies.
In 1936 Texas celebrated its centennial. In preparation for this celebration and as a tie-in to it, Turner Company published a special Centennial Edition large format hardcover edition of Texas History Movies with a solid blue cover in 1935 (8 3/4" x 11 1/4", 244 pages). This Centennial Edition also contained additional illustrated chapters (What Texas Celebrates, Texas - Its Story, Texas - Wealth and Opportunities, and How Texas Celebrates) as well as three Texas History Plays by Jan Isbelle Fortune: 1685 - The Cavalier from France, 1716 - The Rose Window of San Jose, and 1744 - The Massacre at San Saba. Another large format hardcover edition was published by Turner Company in 1943 (8 7/8" x 11 1/4, 217 pages). This 1943 edition did not include the additional text augmenting the 1935 edition and had green cloth covered boards with a red, white and blue dust jacket illustrated with an Evolution of the Texas Flag centerpiece surrounded by seven individual cartoon panels selected from the Texas History Movies series. The comic strip contents of both the 1935 Centennial and the 1943 hardcover editions by Turner Company match the edition published by P. L. Turner in 1928 and contain all 428 original newspaper strips. It is also important to note that Magnolia Petroleum purchased the copyright to the digest size (5 1/4" x 7") editions from The Turner Company and for one final time sponsored the reprinting and distribution of the horizontal edition to schools in 1943. Significantly, the Turner Company decided to retain their publication rights for the oversized hardcover edition of the complete newspaper series.
In the mid 1950s, Magnolia Petroleum Company sponsored a new edition of Texas History Movies for distribution in schools. They decided to change formats again and chose to go back to a digest size (5 1/4" x 7") paperback printing, similar to the 1928 edition but with a larger number of the original strips. This edition included an additional 124 original strips for a total to 248 of the original newspaper strips on 128 pages. The 1950s digest edition was published in 1954, 1956, and 1959 apparently with some small variations in covers but with no textual variations. Except that in the 1959 printing, the text of the last comic panel in the book was changed to add the phrase: 'and Texas has reached the estate of 1959'.
By the early 1960s, the generally Anglo-centric and at times racially insensitive original comics began to show their age. This and the changing scope of business by Magnolia Petroleum, now Mobil Oil, lead to Mobil donating their publication rights for Texas History Movies to the Texas State Historical Association. The next printing was the 1963 Turner Company oversize hardcover edition issued under the title Let's Read About Texas (although the dust jacket states the title as Texas History Movies, "including Let's Read About Texas by Bertha Mae Cox author and editor"). This edition appears to have contained 216 pages of Texas History Movies comic strips although the exact number of original strips is uncertain. This edition did contain significant text additions by Cox.
In 1970, The Turner Company was acquired by Graphic Ideas, Inc. Graphic Ideas then brought in the Texas history teacher O. O. Mitchell, Jr. to provide new text to accompany 400 of the original Texas History Movies comic strips. This material was published by Graphic Ideas in a new 'oversized' (i.e., about 9 1/2" x 12 1/2") hardcover edition using the original series title and running to 224 pages with the inclusion of some added special features: Milestones in the Tales of Texas, Missions of San Antonio, Texas Map, Others Who Gave to Make the State and Texas Government During the Revolution, and Where to See Texas History.
The Texas State Historical Association with some prodding by the Houston Chronicle released the next edition of Texas History Movies in 1974 (7 3/8" x 10 1/4", 55 pages). The intention was to produce another large printing for extensive distribution in schools. The political climate had changed so much since the late 1920s that the TSHA decided to put together a board to selectively delete, alter, or create new artwork and text for this new edition. This four-panel advisory board included Hispanic and African-American members (Félix D. Almaráz, Jr., Joe M. Cardenas, George A Juarez and Constance McQueen) and they approached the original comics with the intent of removing or editing offensive text or drawings. Historical errors were also corrected. The resulting book was titled Texas History Illustrated and contained only 102 original comic strips. The original Houston Chronicle sponsored printing was for 50,000 copies. A further 50,000 copies were produced through a private foundation grant given to The Texas State Historical Association for that purpose. This edition was reprinted in 1986 but with the original title, Texas History Movies, (7 3/8" x 10 1/4", 55 pages, ISBN 0-87611-080-4) restored to it and with the addition of an introduction by George W. Ward. The 1986 is often attributed to George B. Ward because of his introduction which is mentioned on the cover. Ward was also the developer and subsequent director of publications for the Texas State Historical Association from 1983-2003.
The year 1986 is significant in that it had been chosen for the Texas Sesquicentennial celebrations. This anniversary prompted a flurry of publishing with two exact replica editions of the original 1928 ‘oversized’ (9 1/2" x 12 1/2") hardcover containing all 428 original newspaper published strips. Interestingly, the 'replica' editions of 1986 were published by Pepper Jones Martinez, Inc. aka PJM, Inc. In addition to these 'replica' editions, PJM also published a heavily edited 'horizontal' edition (9" x 6") paperback edition. This was an edition that was both an abridgment and a revision of the 1970 Graphic Ideas version with most of the editing taking the form of simple omission of some of the least important or offensive panels and strips. This final 'horizontal' 'Sesquicentennial Edition' of Texas History Movies contained essentially 152 original strips, with some editorial changes, within a book that came to 153 pages.
By the time of the 1986 edition, Texas History Movies reached the limits that intelligent and sensitive editing could accomplish in retaining its relevance for a modern readership. An important evolution of the story of this book is the publication in 2007 of The New Texas History Movies by Jack Jackson. This important Texas historian is noted for his nonfiction historical comics and, significantly he was heavily influenced by his own schoolroom exposure to Texas History Movies, both as to style and subject. Thankfully, this fine new book carries on the tradition of the work of Jack Patton and John Rosenfield, Jr. by providing a captivating and informative cartoon format version of Texas history.
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Texas History Movies, its publishing history and reincarnations by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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