Allen and John Saunders Collection
Wednesday March 28th 2007, 10:51 am
Filed under: Collection Announcements

Have you ever wondered what goes into the creation of newspaper comic strips? How a writer creates characters and storylines? How a comic strip develops over time? How a writer and a cartoonist collaborate on a comic strip?

Researchers have the chance to look behind the scenes of the world of comic strips at Bowling Green State University. The Browne Library has a major collection of original art work, proofsheets, and research files donated by the family of Allen Saunders, the comic strip writer best known for his contributions to the Mary Worth and Steve Roper comic strips. The Saunders Collection also includes notes for story ideas, reader mail, scrapbooks, correspondence, and articles about the strips.

Allen Saunders, who died in 1986, learned to draw by taking a correspondence course and by attending classes at the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. He graduated from Wabash College in 1920 and taught French there for seven years. At the same time he freelanced as both a cartoonist for humor publications and as a detective story writer for pulp magazines.

Saunders joined the Toledo News-Bee as a reporter-cartoonist in 1927. Nine years later, he produced a comic strip for the Publishers Syndicate about a hard-blowing medicine man, The Great Gusto. That strip eventually became Big Chief Wahoo, and then Steve Roper. At about the same time, he created a short-lived humor panel, Miserable Moments, which he both wrote and drew.

Then in 1940, the syndicate asked Allen Saunders to take over Apple Mary, which Martha Orr had created in 1932. Saunders worked with cartoonist Dale Connor on the strip, which was retitled Mary Worth’s Family, and was signed “Dale Allen.” In 1942, Ken Ernst took over the drawing while Saunders continued the scripting, and the strip’s name was further shortened to Mary Worth.

The title character began as a middle-aged woman who had been reduced to selling apples on the street corners during the Depression. When Saunders took over the strip, Mary was given a new surname, as well as a less shabby, more dignified persona. Today, the strip is populated with artists, actresses, promising executives and other glamorous types to whom Mary dispenses motherly advice with dead-pan impartiality.

Although Saunders is best known for his work on Mary Worth and Steve Roper, he contributed to other comic strips as well, including Kerry Drake, for which he ghosted scripts. According to The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Saunders was considered to be one of the most dramatically gifted comic strip writers, consistently producing sophisticated scripts with literate dialogue.

Saunders turned the writing chores for Steve Roper and for Mary Worth over to his son, John, during the mid-1950s and the late-1970s, respectively. The elder Saunders retired in the Toledo area in 1978. John
Saunders, a former Toledo television newscaster, continues to script the strips today. Both strips are currently syndicated by the North America Syndicate, with Mary Worth appearing in about 300 newspapers, and Steve Roper appearing in about 90 newspapers.

Although the primary mission of the Browne Library is to support teaching and research, it is also open to the general public. Researchers wishing to visit the Browne Library and use the Allen and John Saunders Collection are encouraged to contact the Library in advance.