Mr. Skygack, a wayward Martian who came to earth via meteorite, made his first appearance in the Chicago Day Book in 1907.
Conceived by newspaper mogul Edward Willis Scripps, the Chicago Day Book was an experiment in advertisement-free newspaper publishing, intended for a working-class readership. Free from commercial influence, the Day Book would report on issues of concern to what Scripps called the “95 percent” of the population. Priced at one cent, like the other Chicago dailies of the period, the Day Book was published in a small tabloid format of nine by six inches, with 32 pages per issue. The Day Book’s most celebrated reporter was Carl Sandburg.
Staff cartoonist A.D. Condo created Mr. Skygack in part because it gave him a chance to comment on and satirize the social norms of the day, which was part and parcel with one of the goals of socialist-leaning Day Book. The strips alternated as multi-panel cartoons, usually illustrating the adventures of the hapless Mr. Skygack and his adventures with his nemesis, Adolf, with single panels. In these latter we get to read over the shoulder of the Martian as he records his naive impressions of earth life, which sound very much like something written by the Coneheads. In the words of the cartoon's subtitle, "He Visits the Earth as a Special Correspondent and Makes Wireless Observations in His Notebook.”
Mr. Skygack, we learn, was the son of Professor Solonmon Skygack, professor of astronomy at the University of Mars. With his colleagues, Professors Jimgack and Jackgack, Professor Skygack sent Mr. Skygack to our planet to study "the ways of the earthbeings."
The Day Book never made money. January 1917 was the only profitable month in the paper’s entire six-year run. The paper came to an end that same year and Mr. Skygack perished with it.
There were nearly 400 appearances of Mr. Skygack, from which I have chosen just a few representative examples pretty much at random. Barnacle Press, however, has been reprinting the entire Skygack series.
Scripps reporter Fred Schaefer wrote a bio of Mr. Skygack for the February 10, 1912 issue of The Day Book which pretty accurately sums up the character...
Some years ago a gentle, inoffensive stranger landed on this terrestrial sphere with no luggage but a notebook. Since then he has tarried with us, pussyfooted and unobtrusive as a Japanese spy, picking up information and knitting his intellectual brow over the incomprehensible things so different from those on his own planet. This was Mr. Skygack from Mars. It is, however, not clearly known how long he will continue his earth study of earth beings at their earth works, nor how he will get back to Mars when he concludes to return. It will probably be by the same means by which he arrived, unless by chance he came as a meteorite.
We have conceded that Mr. Skygack is harmless. His cherubic countenance, however, has proved to be very irritating to one of our friends, Adolf. The sight of Mr. Skygack aggravates Adolf. Mr. Skygack is really one of the trifles of life and Adolf makes a mistake by noticing him. Adolf can't get used to the appearance of Mr. Skygack's calabash, which is covered with a fuzz like a bath towel. Adolf is some times very brutal towards him, but Mr. Skygack is invulnerable. Like the Phoenix, he smilingly rises when you light a fire under him.
Snooping is Mr. Skygack's only fault. But that is because he has difficulty observing our etiquette. We can't tell him better, because his language is not ours. It is a shrill, barbaric tongue that sounds like clipping finger nails. It's about as musical as the crack ling noise which you hear in some telephone receivers. Few can communicate with him intelligently, although one day a gentleman carried on quite a conversation with him by filing a saw.
Mr. Skygack is experiencing the same difficulties as did Gulliver among the queer creatures encountered in his travels. We must be very puzzling to him. For instance, when we refer to a "Big Smoke," how is he to know whether we mean a forest fire, Jack Johnson, Pittsburgh or a nickel cigar. Our every action puzzles him. When we shake hands he doesn't know whether we are rubbing our antennae or trying to pull each other limb from limb. Street cars to him are just little sardine boxes into which we rashly swarm, only to emerge from just as distractedly.
False teeth are a strange thing to him: he suspects that all of us can take ourselves entirely apart if we have a mind to. And what must be his impressions when he dissects a mince pie?
Naturally scientists take a lively interest in Mr. Skygack. Prof. Dopemoutsky of the University of Rawhide, has written a paper which argues that Mr. Skygack’s feet are so exceedingly flat from standing on a canal boat and poling it through the canals of Mars.
Mr. Skygack was the subject for what were probably the first examples of science fiction cosplay ever recorded. In 1908, Mrs. William Fell of Cincinnati, Ohio, and her husband attended a masquerade held at a skating rink dressed as Mr. Skygack and Miss Dillpickles (another popular comic character that appeared in the same newspapers).
Later, in 1910, a young woman in Tacoma, Washington created a Skygack costume to wear to a masquerade ball (where she won first prize). A male friend later borrowed the outfit to advertise a skating rink. As he paraded up and down a main street of the city, the Tacoma police arrested him for violating an ordinance prohibiting masquerading on public streets. He was released on $10 bail.