Texas History Movies was a cartoon strip published in the Dallas Morning News and dedicated to the history of Texas. It debuted on October 5, 1926, and concluded on June 9, 1928. After its conclusion, the cartoon strip was distributed to Texas school children in paperback form for the next thirty years.
In 1926 Edward B. Doran, then the director of the news and telegraph section of the Dallas Morning News, proposed a comic strip based on Texas history. His intention was to capitalize on the widespread popularity of comic strips of the day. The concept coincided with the philosophy of owner, George B. Dealey, a strong proponent for public education. To develop the strip, the paper turned to its own staff. Journalist, columnist, and critic John Rosenfield, Jr., would write the strip, while editorial cartoonist Jack I. Patton would draw it. Neither Rosenfield nor Patton named the strip. That task fell to Justin F. Kimball, a highly-respected educator and administrator in the Dallas area. The name he chose, Texas History Movies, confounded future generations. In today’s terms, the title would imply movies about Texas, but in 1926 cartoon strips at times were referred to as “movies in print.”
On October 5, 1926, Texas History Movies debuted with a four-panel prologue accompanied by an article explaining that the strip was meant to “be entertaining as well as educational.” To attract readers, the paper conducted a contest that awarded weekly prizes to those who could correctly answer questions posted in the Saturday edition. According to the printed instructions, participants “must clip from The News and send in with their answers the strips on which they will write their papers.” With the exception of the prologue, each of the 427 strips that followed bore a number and episode title. Unbeknownst to anyone, the strip went beyond its original intent to educate and entertain the general public. Texas school teachers began to integrate the strip into their lesson plans and, at their behest, the Dallas Morning News placed it on hiatus from June 8 to October 3, 1927, to accommodate the summer break. On June 9, 1928, the Dallas Morning News printed the final strip and truncated the historical timeline at the 1880s. An accompanying article explained that, “events subsequent to 1880 do not lend themselves readily to the cartoonist’s art. The history continues, just as stirring, just as romantic, but not quite so picturesque.” In the two years in publication, Rosenfield and Patton produced 428 individual strips. They also credited staff artists J. R. Oxberry and T. O. Bateman for their occasional assistance to Patton.
In 1928 the P.L. Turner Company of Dallas purchased the strip’s copyrights and through Southwest Press produced a 217-page, hardback edition. During the same period, as part of a public relations campaign, the Magnolia Petroleum Company arranged with Turner to sponsor an abridged version. The 64-page paperback edition contained only 124 of the original strips and was distributed to Texas school children at no cost. Its popularity led to a second printing in 1932. Subsequent editions were published over the next thirty years and distributed to schools. In 1935 Magnolia Petroleum commissioned Jack Patton to illustrate twenty-three new strips for that year’s edition; they were titled The Industrial Development of Texas. Additional paperback prints were made available over the years. In 1936 a special Texas Centennial edition using the 1928 format was published.
In 1959 Magnolia merged with a subsidiary of Mobil Oil Company and shortly thereafter discontinued publication. In a letter to Texas educators, Mobil stated that, “Only the need for strict economy and the highly competitive conditions facing the oil industry would prompt us to discontinue sponsorship.” In 1961 the printing plates were donated to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA). In 1970 P.L. Turner Company was acquired by Graphic Ideas, Inc., which hired O.O. Mitchell, Jr., a Texas school teacher, to revise the strip’s text, and released a new edition that same year.
In 1974 the Houston Chronicle urged the TSHA to reprint the strip for distribution to school children and agreed to finance the printing of 50,000 copies. However, the United States had changed since the original strip concluded in 1928. The civil rights movement raised awareness to racial injustice and inequality, and some of those racial overtones were reflected in the strip. Mexicans were “greasers” and “tamale eaters.” Native Americans were “redskins” or, like the Lipans, “vagabonds and bums.” The contribution of Texas women was minimalized with brief mentions of Susanna Dickinson and Angelina Eberly. Slaves were depicted as unwittingly happy in their subjugated status. Statements such as “The law provided for the education of Negros even while they were slaves” and “Slaves could change masters at will” completely whitewashed the brutality and indignity of slavery. It is speculated that this was the real reason that Mobil had decided against publishing new editions. To modernize the strip, the TSHA formed a four-member Latino/African-American advisory board. After reviewing and editing the artwork and text in question, a new edition was published under the title, Texas History Illustrated. The first 50,000 copies sold out, and the Texas Educational Association funded the printing of another 50,000.
In 1986 a special edition was published by the TSHA as part of Texas’s sesquicentennial celebration. This was the last time an edition was issued under the original name.
In 2007 the TSHA took a different direction and commissioned counter-cultural artist, author, and self-made historian Jack Jackson to produce an entirely new and modern version of the strip which was titled, New Texas History Movies. Jackson’s rendition received acclaim when it was selected Best Western Graphic Novel by True West magazine in 2008.