Newspaper strip Peter Piltdown was created by Mal Eaton (1902-1974) and debuted as a Sunday page on August 4th, 1935. Featuring a mischievous boy getting into trouble in some sort of prehistoric world (with a lot of indispensable modern conveniences – like earmuffs!), the strip seems to have lasted for quite a while, until the late 1960s. The reason I say “seems” is because not much is known about Eaton *or* the strip. With some difficulty I managed to find out that Malcolm Eaton was based in New York.
It doesn’t help that the strip changed titles several times. Starting out as Peter Piltdown, syndicated by Miller Services (a small Canadian newspaper syndicate that has since then been renamed into Canadian Artists Syndicate), it appeared as Pookie (Peter’s younger brother, whose antics had taken over the strip) in 1947 and 1948, and then migrated to the pages of Boys’ Life magazine as Rocky Stoneaxe.
Some comics are buried by the collective memory through sheer bad luck, some are rightly forgotten because they weren’t that good. It’s always exciting to unearth something obscure, but one has to ask if this excitement is justified, or whether whatever artifact of the past one has dug up is thrilling only because of a “I know what you don’t!” kind of show-off-manship. I do think Peter Piltdown is genuinely good. The art is manic – and dynamic – in a way that’s spontaneous and appealing. Eaton clearly liked to draw animals; they’re often a big part of the punch line, and they’re drawn lovingly, with great attention to detail and body language. Anyway, you be the judge!
From the small sample that’s findable online, I’d say that the period around the 1940s is the best; the art gets simpler later on. Here’s a selection of strips that I’ve succeeded in finding (and cleaned up somewhat) – they are in chronological order starting from 1943 and going up to 1959. Most of these are original art: three images are from the collection of gallery owner Rob Stolzer (the first two, as well as the Sunday strip in colour); the rest have been found on Heritage Auctions. The last three are scans from a newspaper.