Calling Mickie the Printer’s Devil an obscurity really isn’t fair to the feature. Though totally forgotten today, back in the 1920s in most small communities Mickie was a well-known little fellow. Decades later, though, information about him has been hard to track down.
First of all, an explanation of the title. A ‘printer’s devil’ was a kid apprentice who helped out around a print shop. His duties typically involved sorting type, cleaning machinery, sweeping up and so on. The origin of the term is murky — some contend that the boys were so dirty from all the ink that got splattered on them that they looked like little devils. Others prefer the explanation that since the kids spent lots of time sorting and disposing of the hellbox contents (term for a box of pied type) that the devil title went along with that somehow.
Cartoonist Charles Sughroe, who spent time as a printer’s devil himself at his father’s newspaper, came up with Mickie as a character who could gently remind newspaper customers to pay their bills on time, to make use of classified ads, to call in local news, and so on. He took the concept to the editor of Western Newspaper Union, a syndicate that supplied material mostly to rural newspapers, who immediately saw a winner and snapped it up.
At the time Mickie was a panel cartoon. Sometimes titled Mickie the Printer’s Devil, but more often the shorter Mickie Says, the feature seems to have debuted in January 1918. This panel cartoon bedeviled my research for years, because I assumed that the panel had to have grown out of the comic strip. I could never figure out why I consistently found Mickie Says panels much earlier than any strips. In reality that was exactly as it should be. It wasn’t until Alex Jay found an article from American Printer & Lithographer telling the history of the feature that I was set straight (you’ll see that complete article tomorrow). The panel cartoon, by the way, does not get its own listing in the Guide because I have never been convinced that it was produced and distributed at a definite regular frequency, or that the art wasn’t frequently re-used.
The 1920s were the glory years for Mickie the Printer’s Devil, when hundreds, perhaps even over a thousand small town and farm community papers ran Mickie the Printer’s Devil. At some point WNU even seems to have offered the strip as a daily, as it can be found running that way in a few papers. Whether this was a function of using up the backlog of weekly strips, or if Sughroe was actually producing daily material, is unknown.
18 strips various