Register and Tribune Syndicate

The Register and Tribune Syndicate was a syndication service based in Des Moines, Iowa, that operated from 1922 to 1986, when it was acquired by King Features to become the Cowles Syndicate affiliate. At its peak, the Register and Tribune Syndicate offered newspapers some 60 to 75 features, including editorial cartoonist Herblock, comic strips, and commentaries by David Horowitz, Stanley Karnow, and others.

Register and Tribune Syndicate
IndustryPrint syndication
FateAcquired by King Features Syndicate to become Cowles Symdicate affiliate
Founded1922; 99 years ago (1922)
FoundersJohn Cowles, Sr.
Defunct1986; 35 years ago (1986)
Headquarters715 Locust Street, ,
Key people
Henry Martin, Charles E. Lounsbury
ProductsComic strips, newspaper columns
OwnersCowles family (1922–1935)
Cowles Media Company (1935–1986)
Hearst Publications (1986-present)

Throughout the 1940s the syndicate distributed the weekly "The Spirit Section," a 16-page tabloid-sized newsprint comic book supplement eventually sold to 20 Sunday newspapers with a combined circulation of as many as five million copies. The Register and Tribune Syndicate's most successful comics feature was The Family Circus (launched in 1960), eventually distributed to more than 1,000 newspapers; other long-running strips included Channel Chuckles, Jane Arden, The Better Half, and Tumbleweeds.



In 1922, The Des Moines Register publisher Gardner Cowles, Sr.' son John Cowles Sr. launched the Register and Tribune Syndicate (the family also owned the Des Moines Tribune). The manager was Henry Martin,[1] who served in that capacity until 1960.[2]

Jane Arden was the syndicate's first breakout hit, launching in 1927 and eventually running until 1968.

Charles E. Lounsbury became the syndicate's chief editor in 1930,[1] serving in that capacity until his death at age 84 in 1952.[3]

Supplier to comic booksEdit

In 1937 the Register and Tribune Syndicate partnered with two other syndicates, the McNaught Syndicate and the Frank Jay Markey Syndicate, as well as with entrepreneur Everett M. "Busy" Arnold, to provide material to the burgeoning comic book industry;[4] many of the syndicate's strips found their way into Arnold's Feature Funnies. In 1939, Cowles Media Company (the syndicate's corporate owner, formed in 1935) and Arnold bought out the McNaught and Markey interests.[5]

The Spirit SectionEdit

In the 1940s, Will Eisner's The Spirit debuted as the main feature of a 16-page Sunday supplement known colloquially as "The Spirit Section". Launched June 2, 1940, this was a tabloid-sized newsprint comic book sold as part of eventually 20 Sunday newspapers with a combined circulation of as many as five million copies. In a 2004 interview, Eisner elaborated on the origins of the supplement:

"Busy" [Arnold] invited me up for lunch one day and introduced me to Henry Martin . . . [who] said, "The newspapers in this country, particularly the Sunday papers, are looking to compete with comic books, and they would like to get a comic-book insert into the newspapers." . . . Anyway, I agreed to do the Sunday comic book and we started discussing the deal [which] was that we'd be partners in the 'Comic Book Section,' as they called it at that time.[6]

The Spirit Section generally included two other, four-page strips (initially Mr. Mystic and Lady Luck), plus filler material. Eisner was the editor, but also wrote and drew most entries — after the first few months, he had the uncredited assistance of writer Jules Feiffer and artists Jack Cole and Wally Wood, though Eisner's singular vision for the strip was a unifying factor. The Spirit Section continued until October 5, 1952.[7]

Later yearsEdit

Bil Keane's television-themed panel Channel Chuckles was launched in 1954; he debuted The Family Circus in 1960. Bob Barnes' The Better Half debuted in 1956.

The Old West-themed Tumbleweeds launched in September 1965. That same year, the syndicate broke new ground when it picked up Morrie Turner's Wee Pals, the first comic strip syndicated in the United States to have a cast of diverse ethnicity, dubbed the "Rainbow Gang."[8]

Beginning in 1977, the syndicate was the unofficial home of Marvel Comics strips, including The Amazing Spider-Man (1977–1986; continued by King Features), Conan the Barbarian (1978-1982), Howard the Duck (1977–1978), and The Incredible Hulk (1978–1982).

In 1985, the syndicate was merged into its parent Cowles Media Company.[citation needed] In 1986, the syndicate was sold to Hearst Publications for $4.3 million,[9] becoming a division of King Features Syndicate.

Register and Tribune Syndicate strips and panelsEdit


  1. ^ a b "Who's Who Among Leading U.S. Syndicate Executives," Editor and Publisher (September 7, 1946). Archived at "News of Yore 1946: Syndicate Executives Profiled," Stripper's Guide (July 21, 2010).
  2. ^ "Henry Martin Retires," The Des Moines Register (November 24, 1959): effective January 1, 1960.
  3. ^ "C. E. LOUNSBURY, EDITOR, IS DEAD," The Des Moines Register (November 2, 1952), p. 13.
  4. ^ Steranko, Jim (1972). The Steranko History of Comics 2. Reading, Pennsylvania: Supergraphics. p. 92. ISBN 0-517-50188-0.
  5. ^ "Quality Comic Group: A Brief History". Connecticut Historical Society. Archived from the original on September 27, 2007.
  6. ^ Will Eisner interview, Alter Ego No. 48 (May 2005), p. 10
  7. ^ Spirit, The (Register and Tribune Syndicate, 1940 Series) at the Grand Comics Database
  8. ^ "Wee Pals" at Don Markstein's Toonopedia. Accessed January 27, 2014. Archived from the original on January 12, 2015.
  9. ^ Strentz, Herb. "John Cowles," Cowles Family Publishing Legacy: Drake University, Cowles Library. Accessed Jan. 3, 2018.
  10. ^ Maley, Don. "New Panel Pokes Fun at Suburban Housewife," Editor & Publisher (August 9, 1969). Archived at "News of Yore 1969," Stripper's Guide (December 3, 2013).
  11. ^ Markstein, Don. "AMERICA’S BEST BUY: THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE," Don Markstein's Toonpedia. Accessed Jan. 4, 2018.
  12. ^ Gary Dowell, Greg Holman, Don Mangus, James L. Halperin (editor). HCA Comics Dallas Auction Catalog #824. Heritage Capital Corporation. p. 268 (link). ISBN 978-1-59967-133-8.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: extra text: authors list (link)
  13. ^ Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924–1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, California: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1
  14. ^ "ASK THE ARCHIVIST: BOB BARNES CENTENNIAL," Comics Kingdom (November 27, 2013).
  15. ^ a b c Schoenke profile, Who's Who of American Comic Book Artists, 1928–1999. Accessed Jan. 5, 2018.
  16. ^ Holtz, Allan (January 27, 2010). "Obscurity of the Day: Howard the Duck". Stripper's Guide. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved June 4, 2012. The newspaper strip version began on June 6, 1977 at the height of Howard-mania. At first Steve Gerber and Gene Colan, the creative team on the comic book, handled the strip as well. Colan, however, dropped out after just five months, and his job was taken over by Val Mayerik, who was occasionally spelling Colan on the comic book.
  17. ^ Holtz, Allan. American Newspaper Comics: An Encyclopedic Reference Guide (University of Michigan Press, 2012).
  18. ^ Markstein, Don. "The Red Knight," Don Markstein's Toonpedia. Accessed Jan. 4, 2018.
  19. ^ Celardo profile, Who's Who of American Comic Books, 1928–1999. Accessed Jan. 5, 2018.