Created by Elliot Caplin and Lou Fine
PETER SCRATCH was supposedly an attempt to cash in on the popularity a few years earlier of succesful semi-tough TV private eyes such as Peter Gunn, Richard Diamond and 77 Sunset Strip and the like by adapting it to a daily comic strip in the mid-sixties.
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, 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, for example, but he lived with his mother. Granted, his mom was a tart old bird, possibly even more hard-boiled than her son — a chain-smoking dame he referred to as “Lucretia,” and she wasn’t above busting his chops.
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 was the reason Peter spent so much time out of town, including a memorable story arc that took place in Instanbul. An added bonus was the slang-loaded first-person narration which kept things hip and breezy.
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 world of advertising, and other artist were called in to continue the strip. Other notable contributors to the strip included artist 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, 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 an more-than-honourable attempt to bring the hard-boiled eye to the comics medium.
Which makes it all the more puzzling and diappointing that the strips have never been reprinted, although several intriguing bits and pieces of the strip are scattered all over the internet.
- PETER SCRATCH
Comic strip, both daily and Sunday continuities
Debut: September 13, 1965
Text by Elliot Caplin
Art by Lou Fine, Jack Sparling, Neal Adams