Wednesday, March 28, 2012

No Claws For Alarm - Spooky Comics by Bill Holman

Spooky, Bill Holman's topper strip fur Smokey Stover collars one of the funniest character designs ever. With his bandaged tail, chubby tom-cat face, and always ruffled coat, Spooky is one funky, fun cat.

Holman started Spooky on April 7, 1935, about one month after he lit a fuse to Smokey Stover, on March 10, 1935. Topper strips have their own aesthetic. They are usually shorter and less dense than the main strip they support. In the examples we'll share today, Holman is working purely with visuals, and FOOsaking his verbal humor which is a big part of Smokey Stover. Spooky offers us no "foo," "notary sojac," or "1506 nix nix." It does, however, offer a purely visual screwball ballet that is a wonder to behold.

The strip has two main characters: Spooky the cat and his owner, Fenwick Flooky -- the strip could be called "Spooky and Flooky." Fenwick has a passion for embroidery. You can probably guess his favorite word to embroider. Hint: it has 3 letters, begins with 'F,' and rhymes with 'boo.' You guessed it - Hoo! I mean, Poo! Wait... PHO! Aw, heck...

It's in the Spooky strips that we can peel away a layer and really appreciate Bill Holman's solid cartooning style. I've broken a strip up into a scrolling panel version here, so you can see the panels nice and large.

In this Spooky strip from Oct 4, 1936 the first panel offers us an assortment of screwy details, from the nosey portraits to the weird FOOtrest of the easy chair. Notice the pattern on the rug is actually letters. Holman often used letters and short words as pattern fill elements. While Fenwick sews, Spooky has taken an interest in a caged fowl...

Ooops! Action! Note that this panel is only of dramatic interest in comparison/contrast with the previous panel. Because this panel is about the bird getting loose, Holman has removed the portraits in the background. There is less information and what's left has more importance. Notice that Spooky's expression has changed from frustrated to hopeful.

You can really see Holman's great pen-and-ink style here. A great mixture of control and spontaneous marks. When you look at his original art, it's often a field of of layers of pen strokes, knife marks and scrapes, and white paint. Every image Holman makes is "of the moment" and this is part of why his screwball  art is so powerful. I love that shadow line under Spooky...

The expression on Spooky's face as he gleefully closes in on his prey is laugh-out-loud funny.

I've presented the next two panels, which are half-beats, as a pair. The mirror poses comment on each other and turn the "plot" around. Even the coloring is reversed. Holman still can't resist tossing in a bacground gag (he called them "wallnuts").

Denounment. Fenwick has restored his home to order. It's a carbon copy of the first panel, with one comical difference... Spooky is the caged animal now. As a last bit of screwball fun, Holman draws in a goofy ashtray in the lower right.

Here's the entire strip in its original layout:

Spooky by Bill Holman - Oct 4, 1936

And here are two more lovely examples of one of the most perfected, well-crafted screwball strips ever:

Spooky by Bill Holman - Sept 27, 1936

Spooky by Bill Holman - Oct 25, 1936
I mentioned the artistic, almost painterly method Holman used in creating his images. Here's a few close-ups of original art from a 1958 Spooky, when it had been reduced to a single tier. Look at how Holman is working with controlled chaos -- his art is the very embodiment of the essence of screwball comedy.

And here's the whole strip. Note that Holman signs his name "Scat," which he often did in his Spooky strips.

It's my 50th birthday this week and I'm posting 50 screwball comics this week! Yesterday, we had 12 C.D. Small Salesman Sam dailies. Today, we've enjoyed 4 Bill Holman Spookys. That's 34 to go! Tomorrow is the official marker of my half-century run in the great newspaper we call LAFF, and I plan share with you a terrific screwball comic that is not only really rare, but, to my knowledge, there are NO examples to be found on the Internet. Tomorrow changes that... stay tuned!

This blog needs readers -- desperately! Please spread the woid, boids!

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