Say, Pop 1918, by Charles M. Payne
'Say, Pop!' (1918).

C.M. Payne, who sometimes signed as "Popsy", was an American newspaper comic artist, best remembered for his gentle family gag comic 'S'Matter, Pop?' (1910-1940) and its equivalent 'Say, Pop!' (1918-1921). His second longest-running gag comic was 'Honeybunch's Hubby' (1909-1911, 1931-1934) about a henpecked husband. Payne also made the similar comics 'Coon Hollow Folks' (1903-1908) and 'Bear Creek Folks' (1904-1912) starring anthropomorphic animals in the U.S. South. He was also the original artist behind 'Scary William' (1905-1918). Payne was a productive artist who worked in a sketchy, increasingly minimalistic style without backgrounds as his series carried on.

Early life
Charles M. Payne was born in 1873 in the United States in. According to a newspaper article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette of 10 June 1953, he was originally from East Brady, Pennsylvania. He eventually moved to Pittsburgh, where he began sending in cartoon ideas to the local paper. After learning how to draw, Payne became a cartoonist for The Pittsburgh Post in 1896. He then moved to the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph in 1898 and then to the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times in 1900. He became well known among the local population for his little raccoon character, who originally appeared in his newspaper cartoons. 

'Coon Hollow Folks', 6 March 1910.

Coon Hollow Folks / Bear Creek Folks
Payne's first notable comic was 'Coon Hollow Folks' (1903-1908), which ran as a Sunday page of the Pittsburgh Gazette-Times, signed under the pseudonym "Coon". The stories were set in the U.S. South and starred anthropomorphic animals. The Punxsutawney groundhog had a prominent role in the feature, as the cartoonist was an early member of the Punxsutawney Groundhog Club. Much of the comic's style was inspired by Joel Chandler Harris' 'Uncle Remus' stories, where an adult would tell children trickster tales about forest animals. On 9 October 1904 Payne launched a virtually similar comic strip, 'Bear Creek Folks', which ran in The Philadelphia Inquirer until 8 December 1912. For years it was believed that 'Bear Creek Folks' was merely a retitled version of 'Coon Hollow Folks', but Allan Holtz of Stripper's Guide actually discovered that they were two separate comic series in two different papers. Both the style, stories and even the characters and their names were exactly the same. Many episodes are, however, unsigned. Holtz guessed that these were probably staff artists who worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer, bringing in people like R. Edward Shellcope, William F. Marriner, Sidney Smith and Jack Gallagher as possible ghost artists. Some were signed with the letter K., like Harold Knerr often did.

'Scary William' (St. Louis Globe Democrat, 21 January 1906).

Scary William
On 26 November 1905, Payne created 'Scary William' for The Philadelphia Inquirer. Contrary what the title seems to imply, the comic wasn't about someone who was scary, but a little boy, William, who was disproportionally scared of everything. The tiniest sound, image, light, person, animal or object made him dash away for safety. Payne continued the series until 10 June 1906, after which Harold Knerr continued it until 25 October 1914. Knerr was assisted by Joe Doyle from 16 August 1914 on, until Doyle continued it on his own until 2 June 1918.

Honeybunch's Hubby
On 27 November 1909, Payne created 'Mr. Mush' (later retitled 'Honeybunch's Hubby'), which ran until 30 March 1911. It stars a man, Mr. Mush, and his dominant wife, which he names "Honeybunch". The series ran in the Evening World for two years and was revived 20 years later, on 19 April 1931. Oddly enough, Payne already had a succesful and long-running comic strip in his hands, 'S'Matter, Pop?' (see below), but he still demoted it to a topper comic on top of his Sunday page, while 'Honeybunch's Hubby' now became the main feature. After 8 months, he changed his mind and made 'S'Matter, Pop?' the main comic again, while 'Honeybunch's Hubby' continued as a topper until 22 July 1934. Allan Holtz of Stripper's Guide has nevertheless noticed some advertising from 1937 still promoting the comic, leaving the possibility that the series might have run until that date instead?

'Honeybunch's Hubby' (Des Moines Tribune, 18 August 1910).

S'Matter, Pop?
In 1911 Payne created his signature daily comic 'S'Matter, Pop?' (1910-1940), which ran in the New York World, owned by Joseph Pulitzer, and the New York American, owned by William Randolph Hearst. The Sunday comic started a year later under the title 'Those Kids Next Door', which became 'Nippy's Pop' in 1914 before eventually continuing as 'S'Matter, Pop?' as well from 1918 on. The series revolved around a dim-witted father, his dominant wife, their naïve son, Willyum, and a little baby. The dad never received a proper name. Instead everybody named him "pop". The comic strip featured familiar characters and gags in any typical newspaper comic from the early 20th century, but the tone was more gentle. Pop was often victim of circumstances beyond his capacity to understand or prevent them. His son could be naughty, but more in an charmingly innocent way than a mean one. The neighbour's kid Desper't Ambrose was more tyrannic by comparison. He was by far the most original character too, always speaking in an odd, melodramatic tone and announcing himself as if he was a theatrical character: "Tis I, Desper't Ambrose". By 1917 it was continued by the Bell Syndicate, for which Payne wrote and drew his feature until 21 September 1940. During this time, it mostly ran as a Sunday strip in the New York World, followed by decades as a daily strip in The Sun.

'S'Matter, Pop?' (The Evening World, 28 July 1911)

Say, Pop!
The Sunday episode 'S'Matter Pop?' by Payne was accompanied by the topper 'Little Johnny Bear' (1927-1931). Like 'Coon Hollow Folks' and 'Bear Creek Folks', Payne at one point created a completely similar but separate strip called 'Say, Pop!' for the King Features Syndicate between 2 January 1918 and 1921. And just like these two comics 'S'Matter, Pop?' and 'Say, Pop!' have often been confused by comic historians for being one and the same series. Even readers sometimes couldn't tell them apart. For instance, Charles M. Schulz once cited 'Say, Pop!' as an influence on 'Peanuts', though given that 'Say, Pop!' had already ended one year before his birth, it's more likely that he meant 'S'Matter, Pop?', which still ran in papers during his childhood. 

Other comics
Other Payne creations for the Philadelphia Inquirer were the Sunday comics 'Little Possum Gang' (4 April 1909) and 'Kid Trubbel' (7 August 1910). Both were continued by their creator until December 1912, when Jack Gallagher took over. Both strips ended in October 1918. For the Inquirer, Payne furthermore launched the short-lived Peter Pumpkin (16 July - 5 November 1911), about a round, obese boy and his friends. For the New York World and its Press Publishing syndicate, Payne additionally created 'Chantecleer - He's A Bird' (3 March - 1 September 1910) and 'Little Sammy' (1914-1915) in the New York World.

'Little Kid Trubbel'.

Personal life and death
Payne was a productive cartoonist who had several comics running in different newspapers. He had a tendency to continue them as long as possible. However, to keep up his deadlines, he tended to work in a pragmatic manner. Everything was drawn in a sketchy style and backgrounds were usually nothing more than a white void. Payne focused all attention on the characters and the props he needed for the gag. In June 1953, when he was eighty years old, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Payne was making his own puppets and planned his own TV puppet show. It is unknown if these plans ever came to fruition. While Payne enjoyed a fairly succesful career, he still ended living in poverty in Harlem, New York City. According to a letter he sent to fan Rick Marschall (reproduced on John Adcock's blog on 1 December 2018), Payne was victim of a robbery in 1963. He passed away in the same city in 1964, at age 90 or 91.

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette about 80 year-old Payne's plans for his TV puppet show (10 June 1953).

Stripper's Guide about Coon Hollow Folks

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