Created by Elliot Caplin & Lou Fine
“I just finished a cae. A real dirty one–divorce stuff. I took it because I needed the dough.”
PETER SCRATCH was the star of a short-lived but fondly remembered comic strip that ran in the mid-sixties–an obvious, if slightly late, attempt to jump on the popularity of successful semi-tough but totally hip TV private eyes such as Peter Gunn, Richard Diamond and 77 Sunset Strip and the like, who been been ruling the airwaves.
But Big Pete was a little less genteel and slick than those ready-for-prime timers. Hot-tempered and more than ready to rough it up (in the very first strip, he slugs a dissatisfied customer), he was broken-nosed “slightly used” private eye of a slightly earlier era (the 1940s?), with a few off-kilter touches that added considerably to the strip’s charm.
Like, Peter may have been tough as hell, but he lived with his mother. Granted, his mom was a tart old bird, possibly even more hard-boiled than her son–a wise-cracking dame he referred to as “Lucretia,” and wasn’t above busting his chops–between smokes.
In fact, considering the way both mother and son chain-smoked, the air in their home must have been fairly toxic.
Perhaps living with Lucretia explained Peter spending so much time out of town on “cases,” including a memorable story arc that took place in Instanbul and another on a Caribbean cruise.
An added bonus was the slang-loaded first-person narration which kept things hip and breezy, and occasional pearls of wisdom (or at least wisdom-adjacent) from Peter that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Fawcett Gold Medal cover, like “Never look a gift blonde in the mouth” or “A man’s country is like a wife. You’re stuck with her, maybe bored by her… but you’ve got to admit… coming home to her is like nothing else in this crazy mixed-up world.”
Today the the strip is most revered among the comics crowd for the fine line work and bold sense of drama that legendary Golden Age cartoonist, Lou Fine, brought to it. The strips, both dailies and Sundays, were scripted by Elliot Caplin, who “typically allowed the artist to take credit.”
Fine was a natural choice, having previously done a slick series of hair tonic newspaper ads and comic book tie-ins featuring Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade for Wildroot Hair Oil, the sponsor of the popular radio show, The Adventures of Sam Spade.
Unfortunately, Fine was too good not to be noticed by Madison Avenue, and he soon gravitated into the more lucrative world of advertising. Meanwhile, other artists were called in to continue the strip, most notably, perhaps, Neal Adams, then a rookie and later of Batman fame, who ghosted the strip for a few weeks in 1966.
The strip was put out by Newsday, Inc., a Long Island newspaper trying to break into the syndicate business, but they met with limited success–which may have been one reason the strip only ran for a couple of years. A last-ditch effort to save the strip by jumping on the James Bond-led spy craze went nowhere, but in its short run, Peter Scratch was a more-than-honourable attempt to bring the hard-boiled eye to the comics medium.
Which makes it all the more puzzling and disappointing that the strips have never been reprinted, although several intriguing bits and pieces of the strip are scattered all over the internet.
- PETER SCRATCH
(1965-67, Newsday, Inc.)
Comic strip, both daily and Sunday continuities
Debut: September 13, 1965
Writers: Elliot Caplin
Artisits: Lou Fine, Jack Sparling, Neal Adams, Alex Kotzky
- My Scrapbook: Peter Scratch
An ad and a couple of strips… See Peter slug his first client!!!
- The Comic Strip Appreciation Group
Stefan Wood’s private Facebook group for classic comic strip enthusiasts was originally intended to facilitate the trading and sharing of classic strips “that will likely not be taken on by publishers due to their extreme niche appeal”–in other words, ones whose copyrights were not renewed. Scholarly articles are also posted.
THE DICK OF THE DAY
- August 18, 2021
THE BOTTOM LINE: A mid-sixties comic strip featuring a private eye so tough he punches out a client in the very first strip.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.