Saturday, June 30, 2012

Salesman Sam's Poker Party (1923)

Salesman Sam Saturday

Here's 6 priceless Salesman Sam dailies from 1923. George Swanson created Salesman Sam in 1921. After the first year or so, Swanson began to develop multi-week long story continuities. Sam Howdy goes out west, becomes a horse-racing jockey, gets sued by a gold-digger for breach of promise, and so on.

Today's Salesman Sam Saturday presents selected episodes from a funny 3-week continuity Swanson created in September, 1923. Guzzlem's wife is out of  town, and the boys decide to have a wild poker party. Sam moves in for a few days and bachelor-based hilarity ensues.

In the first strip presented here, note the great secondary gag (I often call these 'background gags" but this one is in the foreground!). A crowd of dozens of cats stare in wonderment at a poster advertising "Rat Biscuits." At the risk of shooing the humor away from the joke, rat biscuits were poison cakes for getting rid of rats. From a cat's perspective, though, these could be rat-flavored biscuits! This strikes me as casually brilliant. I love the occasional elaborateness of Swanson's non-essential gags. Also, check out those very funny BIG steps forward in the first panel as our characters step into a new mini-adventure.

$alesman $am by George Swanson - Sept. 12, 1923

$alesman $am by George Swanson - Sept. 13, 1923

Swanson doesn't show us the wild party, just the aftermath:
$alesman $am by George Swanson - Sept. 14, 1923

$alesman $am by George Swanson - Sept. 25, 1923
 Swanson excelled at the exaggerated reaction. In the last panel of the next strip, the very earth cracks open in reaction to Sam's dense nature.
$alesman $am by George Swanson - Sept. 29, 1923

And the close of the sequence, where -- of course -- the wife returns in a dark cloud of disapproval. This strip presents a beautiful comedic resolution. The last panel looks similar to the Swanson's explosive flip-takes, but is actually the damage of Mrs. Guzzlem's explosion of anger -- which is funnier if NOT shown.
$alesman $am by George Swanson - Oct. 4, 1923

ANNOUNCEMENT - No essay tomorrow! I'm going on vacation for a couple of days. I'll see if I can load up a Milt Gross Monday to automatically post, but I don't think I'll have time to get an essay together for Sunday. We'll resume our regularly scheduled programming on Foosday!

Yesterday's Smokey Stover Fireday!

And last Wednesday's Mixed Nuts article on rare Basil Wolverton comics!

That is all,
Screwball Paul

Friday, June 29, 2012

Smokey Stover Rows to the Occasion

Smokey Stover Fireday

Bill Holman mines some rich oar in this screwball Smokey Stover and Spooky page from 1941, scanned from my paper collection.

As usual, a gang of wild verbal and visual puns stow away in the page below. I count over 30 gags, but there's probably more I didn't eyespy. Smokey Stover started in 1935 (see here for the first Smokey comic). By 1941, Holman had unleashed a flood of crazy, pun-oriented gags on the adoring public. Even though his pages seem at first glance to be chaotic, Holman -- the Spike Jones of comics -- was actually a highly organized and structured cartoonist.

His pages are visual and verbal jigsaw puzzles, with each oddly-shaped piece customized to fit perfectly. Often, Holman's pages would play with a particular theme. If Smokey was gardening, Holman would plant 25 or 30 garden-related jokes in every nook and cranny of the page. Today's jigsaw features water and boating puns, starting with Holman's signature: "Bill Port Holman, Tom Buoy." Underneath, we get a joke with a parrot, which relates to pirates (and cartoon parrots, as Rube Goldberg and Gene Ahern also knew, are intrinsically funny). Next to the parrot, one of Holman's living portraits is named "Gil," as in fish gill. And Holman is just getting started...

Smokey Stover and Spooky by Bill Holman - July 20, 1941
(from the foollection of Paul Tumey)

That "pig pen" in the second Smokey panel is the primary reason I chose this page to share -- it's a notch more surreal and bizarre than Holman's usual work, which is already over the top. His rowing machine is a crazy, over-complicated machine, a common element in screwball comics that goes back to Rube Goldberg.

The Spooky strip involves the use of a hose, which is water-related. This strip is pure visual fun. You can "read" this Spooky without having to read the words. Holman's cartooning in Spooky was more sequential and visually flowing than in Smokey Stover, which was disruptive in nature. His wildly configured drainpipes echo the twisted trees in Walter Hoban's Jerry On The Job.

The book in panel four of Spooky is the infamous Joe Miller Joke Book -- no doubt the source of many a corny cartoon joke. Jack Cole included the book in a 1945 cartoon self-portrait:

Jack Cole's 1945 cartoon self-portrait

Tomorrow's Salesman Sam Saturday post - some paper scans of George Swanson's screwball madness!

Yesterday's Gene Ahern Squirrel Cage


If you are reading this and happen to have a blog, might I prevail upon your generosity to plug The Masters of Screwball Comics? Let's spread the word and give our sober reality a much-needed dose of nutty, just-for-the-fun-of-it humor!

Screwbalistically Yours,
Paul Foomey

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Visit to the Foozland Zoo: Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern

Gene Ahern Thursday

When he introduced Foozland into The Squirrel Cage, Gene Ahern found a perfect balance of comedy and surrealism. Sometimes the episodes lacked a punch-line and instead were picaresque glimpses of a bizarre alternate reality that followed its own, unfathomable rules.

Today's offering is a visit to the Foozland zoo where -- as you might expect -- you can see animals quite unlike anything in our reality. Like Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, and Dr. Seuss, Ahern delighted in inventing bizarre new creatures. His Room and Board strips sometimes featured screwball animals (see my post on the weird fish creations in Room and Board).

In the strip below, we are treated to some particularly weird animals -- love that balloon pig! The body-less rolling cow head is a haunting image. The Little Hitch-hiker makes an appearance in the last panel, as Ahern tosses in a Nut Brothers style rimshot joke.

The Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern - May 13, 1945

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Scoop Scuttle & Rarities by Basil Wolverton


Basil Wolverton (1909-1978) is one of the true masters of screwball comics. Wolverton pushed screwball comics into the grotesque in a way that few others have dared. This blog has not focused on him because much of his work is currently available in handsomely printed books with excellent commentary. Nonetheless, I've managed to dig up a few obscurities to play today, Ray... so whattaya say?... Shall we sashay?

First up are two very rare pieces of Wolverton art currently up for auction at Heritage that you can buy and own for yourself, if you've got the cabbage, Babbage. First is a suberb rare panel cartoon that was published in a Humorama girlie mag circa 1963 (the exact mag is not known). The details on this piece are sketchy, but this sketch sure is detailed!

Wolverton's concept for this cartoon is very similar to the approach that Rube Goldberg took in many of his cartoons, pointing out annoying and bizarre human behaviors. Love dat hatching, too!

Also up at Heritage is one of the very earliest comics Wolverton created, a screwball parody from the early 1930s of Buck Rogers, called Chuck Rawjors. Never published, this was part of a group of sample strips Wolverton worked up for submission to the syndicates. Because this work is so early, his art style is less controlled, but the comic is screwball to core:

Chuck Rawjors #3 - an unpublished early try-out comic strip by Basil Wolverton
The auctions for these two items will start around July 7, 2012 and end in the year 3014 -- wait... unh, they will end on July 26, 2012.

Here's another wacky Chuck Rawjors. This one sold for $1,673.00 in 2008 in a Heritage auction. You can make an offer to the owner if you've got the scratch to match and feel rash.

Chuck Rawjors #7 - an unpublished early try-out comic strip by Basil Wolverton

To round this post with the most and inspire a toast, here's a rare Scoop Scuttle screwball story from  Horsefeathers #1 (1945):

Woverton created 15 Scoop Scuttle stories. Here's a bibliography, from the excellent Basil Wolverton Comics Index, compiled by Henry Steele and Dick Voll (who edited the 2003 Fantagraphics Powerhouse Pepper collection)

Scoop Scuttle
Silver Streak #20 (Apr 1942), 21 (May 1942)
Daredevil #12 (Aug 1942) thru 20, 22 (Apr 1944)
Captain Battle Jr. #2 (Winter 1943)
Candy #l (Fall 1944), 2, 3 (Spring 1945)
Horsefeathers #l (Nov 1945)

Here's another excellent screwball Scoop Scuttle, from Captain Battle Jr. #2 (Lev Gleason, Winter 1943). Note that Wolverton includes the word "screwball" in the title:

Want another story, Cory? Here you go, Joe. From the hard-to-find Human Torch #8 (Timely 1942):

Wolverton produced an endless stream of funny faces and often built entire pages
around nothing else, as in this example from Human Torch #8 (1942)

Love that fishy guy! And that could be the only Wolverton caricature of Miss-and-Hitler. Thanks Basil, for the great screwball comics -- you're one of the greats, mate!

You can find another Scoop Scuttle story as well as more Wolvertons guaranteed to put a sheen on your bean at Pappy's Golden Age Blog here

A few more Basil Wolverton rarities can be found on our Mixed Nuts Page.


Gene Ahern Thursday coming up tomorrow 


Yestidday's post on Rube Goldberg

The big essay this week on Boody Rogers and Bill Holman's unpublished meta-screwball comics

The Mixed Nuts section of our blog will, from time to time, feature cartoonists who produced notable screwball comics for a only a brief part of their careers. This section will also occasionally include lesser-seen work of more well-known screwball masters (such as Basil Wolverton and Jack Cole) that is currently well-represented in print and digitally. 

That's all, ya'll ~
- Screwball Paul

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Rube Goldberg on Barbers, Radio, and Insurance Salesmen (1930)

Today, screwball master Rube Goldberg is known for his crazy inventions. However, the vast majority of his work is not about inventions, but instead offers funny and enlightening observations of people's weirdness.

By 1930, Rube Goldberg had published at least one cartoon a day for the last 23 years. That's over 8,000 published cartoons. With the exception of his Sunday comic, Boob McNutt, a shaggy-dog comedy-adventure serial, all of Goldberg's cartoons were based on keen observations of human peculiarities. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this remarkable humorist's long and massively successful career is that he managed to to stay awake to humanity's worst sides without buying himself a ticket to the Laughing Academy. There was that one time, though...

In 1928, while on vacation, Rube Goldberg had what felt like a heart attack. After being assured by several doctors that his ticker was healthy, Goldberg reluctantly consulted a psychologist. As his biographer, Peter Marzio, writes in Rube Goldberg: His Life and Work (1973, Harper and Row), "For most of his life Rube regarded psychology as a kind of mental alchemy -- a complete fraud created by simpleminded intellectuals. His cartoon This is only a psychological cartoon, so that lets us out clearly depicted his feelings."

Nonetheless, the psychologist offered Rube some valuable insight. He observed that Rube was a hypersensitive person who let himself become too bothered by what he saw as flaws in others. Probably working from Rube's own unpublished memoirs, Marzio quotes the psychologist: "If there is something wrong with other people, it is their own cause for worry, not yours. Don't let little things bother you. Don't look for weaknesses in other people. Ignore them. If you think you are better than other people, don't try to prove it all the time. They'll find it out."

Easy for the shrink to say!

These shrewd words of wisdom were completely counter to the basis of Rube's career and success, which was built on observing what is "wrong" with people.

After 1928, we can chart a shift in Rube's work. He continues to poke at human foibles, but there is a greater sense of self-awareness in the work, as the cartoonist realized that he was also a member of the human race and subject to the same flaws. The humor cuts deeper as a result. Goldberg did his best work in 1928-32.

After a few years, however, Rube shifted away from his direct observational humor and became an awkward storyteller, as he tried to find new -- less abrasive forms for his creativity -- even creating a popular straight soap opera strip for a while, Doc Wright (1933-34). He never went back to the observational comedy strip.

Goldberg's daily comic of the 1920s and 30s shifted its form nearly every day. In the three examples below (scanned from my collection) from April 1-3, 1930, you can see that, while the format shifted, the essential theme is the same -- the difficulty we humans have sometimes in connecting.

I live two doors away from a 70-year old barber who keeps this tradition alive and well...
Rube Goldberg - April 1, 1930
(from collection of Paul Tumey)

Radio was about 10 years old when Rube cartooned the next strip. The other night , Claire and I went out to dinner. I observed a couple at a nearby table on their evening out, too. They were both absorbed in their cell phones and said almost nothing to each other. A sad, sad story.
Rube Goldberg - April 2, 1930
(from collection of Paul Tumey)

I just hired a guy to help me buy insurance -- I've tried, but just can't figure out when I am getting what I need and when I am getting ripped off. Goldberg had an uncanny sense of finding the timeless aspect in situations where most cartoonists would only write about the topical. We can read these 80 year-old cartoons and still appreciate the humor.
Rube Goldberg - April 3, 1930
(from collection of Paul Tumey)

Well, gosh -- this quickie post turned into a mini-essay on a turning point in Rube Goldberg's life and career. I feel like one of his chatty barbers!

Mixed Nuts Wednesday tomorrow

Yesterday's Milt Gross Monday 
My latest Screwball Sunday essay (Boody Rogers and Bill Holman go meta-screwball)

All My Best,
Screwball Paul

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hollywood Frenzy: Nize Baby by Milt Gross

Welcome to Milt Gross Monday! Every Monday I'll post a new scan of a great Milt Gross Sunday or a small group of rare Gross dailies. Or a book illustration or an excerpt from a column, ... chee dis guy wuz whatchacall PROLIFIC!

In case you missed the announcement Screwball Comics is going ballistic this summer, with a post a day. Most folks slow down in the summer. So in true screwball fashion, we'll speed up! Woo hoo!

Today's offering is a scan of a classic Nize Baby page from my own collection. As a bonus, you also get the Bannana Oil topper. For background information on Nize Baby, as well as another great example, visit this earlier posting.

The subject of this page is the excess of the Hollywood movie studios and the public's appetite for spectacle. Gross had some experience with Hollywood and worked as a gag writer for Chaplin, among others. A few years later, he created a long continuity in Dave's Delicatessen about making movies (of which I'll share some examples in a future post). The 30s and 40s were the golden age of America's romance with the movies, so comics about the movie industry had high appeal.

The costumes of the epic cast of actors and extras in the movie suggest the film is about a tragic Russian war, which is interesting, since Gross based much of his humor on Russian-Jewish immigrants. Gross is at his loosest in this page, and yet still conveys some pretty complex visuals, such as a steam shovel digging trenches in Pop Feitelbaum's front lawn and the subsequent panels of comic destruction. The next-to-last panel has over 30 people in it!

Nize Baby and Bannana Oil by Milt Gross (October 28, 1928)
From the collection of Paul Tumey
Screwball Paul

PS - Check out my recent longer essay on Boody Rogers and Bill Holman's unpublished meta-screwball parodies.

PPS - I've just added several more rare Gross comics to the Milt Gross page, check 'em out!

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Boody Rogers and Bill Holman Go Meta-Screwball

This panel was indeed drawn upside-down
as part of a parody of screwball comics
by Boody Rogers and Zack Mosely


A Screwball Sunday essay by Paul Tumey

Presenting a cuckoo screwball comic jam by Boody Rogers and Zack Mosely that reaches rarely scaled heights of wild lunacy. The page, never meant for publication, appears to have been created as a wedding gift for a friend who may have been named or nick-named "Rupe," or "John." Rogers assisted Zack Mosely on the Smilin' Jack comic in the late 1930's, so it's likely this jam between the two cartoonists comes from that period.

We haven't explored the comics of Boody Rogers in this blog yet, but he certainly belongs in the pantheon of screwball masters. Rogers' created Sparky Watts as a comic strip in the early 40s and then as a comic book feature for Columbia. He also did the even-nuttier Babe for Quality Comics.

We'll do a Boody-call in a later post, but for now, we're looking a page that may be one of the nuttiest screwball comics ever made. The page is laid out like a full Sunday comic with a topper, distributed by the "Ding Dong Syndicate." To start with, here's the topper:

There's a certain freedom that comes when cartoonists get together and make comics just for the fun of it. Jams became popular in the Underground comics of the late 60s and early 70s,  and then the self-published Newave comics of the 80s and 90s. Currently, jams are a popular and frequent occurrence and part of the American mainstream comic industry's flow of "product." It's something of a miracle to discover a screwball jam from a much-earlier era.

In the topper alone, we are bombarded with daft twists on cornball cliches. Both Rogers and Mosely were professional cartoonists who had absorbed the screwball style and they deftly play with it, here. What makes this topper and the rest of the jam page so remarkable is that it is a self-conscious yet free-flowing parody of a form that already is a kind of parody of itself. It's an example of screwball-screwball, or meta-screwball.

Bill Holman's Smokey Stover included numerous examples of
backgrounds gags such as this one from
July 23, 1939
Screwball comics by their very nature are meta. In order to bend and stretch and natural laws of physics, they first have to establish them. Therefore, when Bill Holman places a hanging picture on the wall behind Smoky Stover and Chief Cash U. Nutt, he is first obeying physics. The picture is connected to a string that hangs on a nail. Then, when Holman draws a figure leaning out of the picture frame, he is creating a screwball event, in which something wacky is happening.

Similarly, when Smokey drives a car, Holman first establishes the base reality of a gas-driven, round-wheeled vehicle with a steering wheel, headlights, etc. Then, he adds a layer of UN-reality, with various parts flying off as the car zooms like a loony rocket.

Bill Holman drew this explanation of how to do screwball comics
for a magazine, but it also functions as a
meta-screwball comic.

Bill Holman's Smokey Stover is already a parody of screwball comics. He went one step further, breaking a kind of sound barrier of wackiness, when he drew this unpublished, unhinged parody of Little Orphan Annie.

Bill Holman was at his meta-screwball best in this stream-of-conscious parody of Little Orphan Annie.
It is undated, but the drawing style resembles his late 50s and early 60s style used on Smokey Stover.
(courtesy of Craig Yoe's blog, where you can find many other rare Bill Holman items)
"And last month they filtched all of my finial, and dinkheimered 77 of my dynamic dinkies..." There's a Dr. Seuss quality to Holman's writing here, as he parodies his both himself and Harold Gray. The result is sublime nonsense.

Similarly, the Rogers-Mosely jam page reaches new heights of zaniness. Below is the entire Boody Rogers- Zack Mosely jam page circa late 30s. The final panel has, of course, screwball comics' "plop" take (here, called "ploop").

Since Rogers worked in Mosely's style, it's difficult to tell who did what, but it's clear the two played off each other and inspired several off-color ethnic and sexual jokes that could never be used in their mainstream work. In effect, this is an an underground comic thirty years too soon. The same sensibilities that drove the irreverent, taboo-breaking Underground comics  are at work in this jam page. It's perhaps a missing link between screwball comics and Undergrounds.

A rare, unpublished maniacal screwball comic by Boody Rogers
and Zack Mosely, circa late 1930s.

Many thanks to the kind reader who shared the Rogers-Mosely jam. Be sure to tune in tomorrow for Milt Gross Monday!

Ploopily Yours,
Screwball Paul

Saturday, June 23, 2012

C.D. Small's Salesman Sam in the Comic Books

Salesman Sam by C.D. Small, circa December, 1935.
Could that fireman's hat and ax be a nod
to fellow screwballer Bill Holman,
who started his famous screwball fireman
comic Smokey Stover in March, 1935?
Salesman Sam Saturday

New Salesman Sam screwball comics posted every Saturday!

OK girlies, here's look at the later Salesman Sam comics by C.D. Small, reprinted in comic books of the late 1930s.

But first, foo those 4 or 5 of you who follow this blog regularly, I'd like to announce the addition of our Mixed Nuts page. This will be a catch-all section for misc. screwball comics. See the link at the right side of this page.

I'd also like to announce a stupendous, major, incredible, and pretty good change in direction. I happen to be sitting on a small mountain of rare screwball comics. I've spent the first 5 months of this blog's existence writing in-depth articles about screwball comics and sharing lots of these, but the mountain is still pretty high. In an effort to reach a wider audience, and to put some of these great comics back into circulation, I've decided to make a series of daily posts that are shorter and mainly just present the comics themselves, with very brief notes (speshul tanx to the speshul reader who suggested this idea). I also need to reduce the height of this mountain of comics so I can get back to level ground, because I'm stuck here -- halp

You'll find the new weekly schedule at the top right of this page (Milt Gross Monday, Rube Goldberg Tuesday, etc.). Mark your calendars and stop by on the days that interest you -- these posts will only be up for limited amounts of time!

So, without further afoo, here's the first...

Salesman Sam Saturday

The SCREWBALL classic in early reprints

First Issue Cover
Dell's flagship reprint comic
book included
Salesman Sam strips by
C.D. Small from 1936-39
$alesman $am was created by George Swanson in 1922, who drew the first five years or so of the strip. In 1927, Swanson left the NEA syndicate and landed at Hearst's King Features, where he recreated the strip as High Pressure Pete.

Back at NEA, C.D. Small, a very talented cartoonist, doomed to only mimic the creations of others, took over Salesman Sam (the dollar signs were dropped at this point) and drew it until the strip's end in 1936.

However, the beautifully executed Salesman Sam enjoyed an extended lifespan for at least another 3 years in comic books after vanishing from newspapers. Dell Comics' monthly book of King Features comic strip reprints, The Funnies, included a handful of choice Salesman Sam Sundays in every issue until at least 1939.

Here are a few of the reprinted pages that show Small's cartooning chops. It's as if a great concert violinist was asked to step in for master jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli -- the result is technically impressive, but somehow lacking the spark of brilliance. Still, there is much screwball goodness to appreciate in Small's Salesman Sam -- enjoy!

from The Funnies # 2 
from The Funnies # 3
from The Funnies # 5
For more on the Swan/Small Salesman Sam story, click here.

More Salesman Sam reprints from The Funnies can be read on our Mixed Nuts page.

Screwily Yours,
Salesman Paul

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mixed Nuts #1 - Dinky Dinkerton by Art Huhta

Mixed Nuts Wednesday

An obscure screwball classic every Wednesday!

Zounds! A Clew! I have uncovered a forgotten screwball classic: Dinky Dinkerton, Secret Agent 6 7/8 by Art Huhta. This inventive, well-done, and wacky detective lampoon ran as a both a daily and and a Sunday from 1939-1944 (or 1946 depending on which resource you consult). Reading the comically robust  Dinky Dinkerton is a lot like experiencing a Marx Brothers movie on paper, or reading the early Mad comics, and that makes it an unexpected (and unknown) highlight in the history of screwball comics.

Sleuth-sailing: The Screwball Humor of Dinky Dinkerton

Art Huhta crammed his comic strip with what he sometimes called "corny" jokes. Dinky's detective agency tagline, often written on the side of his office building is "Crime don't pay -- well." A sign on a door reads: "Door! Open before going through." Dinky's office often had signs on the walls advertising sales: "Crimes solved half price this week."

Huhta also found comedy in his characters -- when it seemed the capture of a criminal was imminent, Sniffy could often be seen grabbing a can of "star polish" and shining up his detective's badge. Sniffy was also fond of excitedly proclaiming "A Clew!"

Another screwball element Huhta injected into his strip was the silly invention. Here, we see Dinky's "telephono tub" in action (note: patent suspending)

Dinky and Sniffy often zoom to crime scenes and chase crooks in their comical "Squat Car," which may have been inspired by the improbably and comically small car Bill Holman created in Smokey Stover. In addition to speeding along like bullet shot from a gun, the squat car tiptoes, bucks, and struts. It rarely has all four wheels on the ground, as Dinky and Sniffy manically zoom through streets so fast that buildings and lampposts bend from the wind. This nutty comic vehicle resembles a child's toy more than a dignified, imposing crime-fighter's machine. Huhta apparently delighted in deflating the self-important world of officials, lawmen, and mystery-solvers. Dinky Dinkerton was often just plain dinky.

Huhta's wacky comic strip offered up a steady serving of delightfully screwy panels

This comical, juvenile counterpoint approach to creating a funny version of Sherlock Holmes was also the cornerstone of the brilliant Holmes parodies created by Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder for Mad, which appeared about 10 years after Dinky Dinkerton ended.

Ten years later - Harvey Kurtzman and Will Elder spoof Holmes in Mad #7 (1953)

Art Huhta in the 1970's

On the Trail of Art Huhta: Who Wuz Dis Guy?

Art Huhta had a long career writing and drawing syndicated comic strips from approximately 1926-1970. He was born in 1902 in Crystal Falls, Michigan and passed away in 1990. In addition to being a newspaper cartoonist, Huhta also put his drawing skills to work as an animator at Disney, contributing to the famous dinosaur sequence in Fantasia (source: Mike Grell in a Comic Book Artist interview)

I don't yet have a lot of information on Huhta, so I can't say for sure if Dinky Dinkerton was the only screwball strip he created or worked on. He ghosted several other non-screwball comic strips, including The Nebbs, Simp O'Dill, Lolly Gags, and Tiny Tim (source: Jerry Bails Who's Who).  He is known to have written and drawn several other comic strips, including Elmer's Fixit Shop and Hokum Hotel, which may have been screwball comics. I have yet to find examples of these, but I have reason to think Hokum Hotel may have been a one-line topper for Dinky.

Lolly Gags - date unknown
From the OSU San Francisco Academy of Comic Art  collection
This online example is credited to S.L. Huntly and Art Huhta

Art appears to have started his career in comics working on Mescal Ike with S.L. Huntly from 1926-40. He worked his way up from assistant, to ghost, and then eventually signed his name to the comic. Here's an example of Mescal Ike, signed by Huhta, that shows both his appealing cartooning style, and his potential for making an excellent screwball comic:

Mescal Ike by Art Huhta - reprinted in Famous Funnies #89 (December, 1942)

After Mescal Ike, Huhta created Dinky Dinkerton from 1939 to the mid-40s. Following Dinky's demise, Art started up Wild Rose, a faintly L'il Abner-esque pretty girl comic set in the rustic hills, with a mix of adventure and gentle hillbilly humor. It was a Sunday-only comic that ran from 1946 to 1951. As appealing as it is to look at, Wild Rose has nothing to offer in the way of screwball humor. Here's an example, in which the strip engages in a bit of meta humor:

Wild Rose by Art Huhta was a well-drawn comic that looked a little like L'il Abner, but had none of its wackiness.
(1950 -  from collection of Paul Tumey)
In the 1960s Art began to teach at The Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, where he became the head of the Cartooning and Animation Department. Among Art's more well-known students are Geoff Darrow and Mike Grell. Art gave each of his graduating students an original Dinky Dinkerton strip. (source: Rich Mrozek, Weird Love #1)

The last publishing credit I can find for Art Huhta is Mama Bear's Squeaky Shopping Cart, a children's story published as a Sunday comics supplement in The Chicago Tribune in 1970.

For more on Art Huhta's career as a CAFA teacher, see former student Rich Mrozek's website.

Dinky Details: Background and Scanned Examples

From Tops Comics #1 (Consolidated Book Publishers, 1944)
This rare 128 page digest-sized comic reprinted  12 Dinky Dinkerton Sunday pages
This extra page introducing the strip's characters may have been created by Art Huhta
as part of the Jones syndicate's solicitation package.
Dinky Dinkerton (1939-1944) was distributed by the tiny Jones Syndicate, a one man operation run by Paul Jones, a former salesman with the larger McNaught Syndicate. Art Huhta remembered a hardship that the mini-syndicate suffered: "One incident that was a blow was when he (Paul Jones) hit a horse on a highway in Texas and demolished the syndicate's one and only car. Travelling by train was out of the question during the war because you could only hit the large towns." (Art Huhta, quoted in Ron Goulart's Encyclopedia of American Comics)

The strip began in September 1939 (source: Ron Goulart, Encyclopedia of American Comics) and was credited to "Jim Wallace" a pen name for Art Huhta. It's unclear exactly why Huhta started out with a pen name, but perhaps it was because he was working on another syndicated comic strip, Mescal Ike when Dinky started sleuthing. In any case, right around the time Mescal Ike ended, in 1940, Art Huhta's name begins to appear on Dinky Dinkerton

Art's Dinky Dinkerton was a skillful, gag-stuffed pastiche of Sherlock Holmes -- one of hundreds. By the late 1940's, such a concept was a little stale, but Art's skilled brushwork (it appears the Dinky strips were inked entirely by brush) and Rube Goldberg-like flair for injecting nuttiness into the comic lifted it above the tired concept. Dinky, with his crooked nose and deerstalker cap is obviously a caricature of Basil Rathbone, the most famous actor to portray Holmes at the time -- and practically a caricature himself:

Rasil Bathbone as Dinky... er... Shemlock Sherlock Holmes

The full name of the strip, Dinky Dinkerton, Secret Agent 6 7/8 and Sniffy, could possibly be a nod to screwball master George Swanson who, created the character of Officer 6 7/8 for his screwball comic, High Pressure Pete about 14 years earlier, in 1935.

Note the title - starting in 1935,  Officer 6 7/8 got billing in the title of George Swanson's
High Pressure Pete, resulting on one of the longest comic strip names in American comics,
and possibly the inspiration for the equally verbose title of Art Huhta's screwball comic,
Dinky Dinkerton, Secret Agent 6 7/8 and Sniffy.

Sniffy, Dinky's rotund, affable "Watson," resembled Art Huhta, and often stole the show with his penchant for getting into trouble and for chasing pretty women. Sniffy is similar to the sidekick Jack Cole developed for Plastic Man -- the immortal Woozy Winks. In at least one 5 week sequence in the dailies, Sniffy was the sole star of the strip (the continuity concerned him falling in love).

The Sunday Dinkys were self-contained episodes, condensed bouillon cubes of screwballism. Here's a Sunday from an unknown year, but very probably 1942 or 43:

In the opening panel, the wold's greatest detective is concentrating on a vitally important task --shooting marbles with Sniffy and the neighborhood kids. Responding to a cry for help, they zoom to the rescue in their  squat car and Sniffy uses the official megaphone to ask "Smatter?"

The chase is on for the stolen deluxe auto. The "Anybody driving?" background gag often appeared in the Sundays -- similar to Ving Fuller's "Go fry ice!" gag in his Elza Poppin comic strip.

I love this panel -- look at how Art distorts the background details...

A great screwball gag follows...

"We never fail! We're detectives!"

And... scene! Beautifully done. Here's the entire jam-packed page:

Dinky Dinkerton by Art Huhta - June 14, year unknown

One aspect of screwballism is the wacky twists and turns a story can take as it chases the gag, rather than a logical plot. Dinky certainly fills that bill, especially in the daily strips, which featured  2-8 week long adventures with titles such as "The Man Who Couldn't Sleep," or 'The $50,000 Mystery."

Here's nine early episodes of "The Strange Case of Danny Droopysocks"(Gowns by Georges Sing Sing) which ran from December 1941 to Jan 1942. These lively screwball dailies, seen here for the first time in 70 years, showcase Huhta's penchant for wacky, convoluted plotting and also for creating interesting-looking cartoon characters and pretty girls (the same winning combo Jack Cole often used in Plastic Man):

Dinky Dinkerton by Art Huhta - daily strip December 5-10, 1941
Scans from the collection of Paul Tumey

Dinky Dinkerton by Art Huhta - daily strip December 11-13, 1941
Scans from the collection of Paul Tumey

I'll round out this introduction to Art Huhta's goofy gumshoe with a a couple of BONUS Dinky Dinkerton Sunday pages, scanned from my own collection. There is much screwball goodness to savor in these pages -- enjoy!

Dinky Dinkerton by Art Huhta - May 28, 1941
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

Dinky Dinkerton by Art Huhta - November 22, 1942
(from the collection of Paul Tumey)

That's it for now, gang! Hope you enjoyed this large serving of Dinky matters!

Foo more on Art Huhta and Dinky Dinkerton, see our Mixed Nuts page!

Elementarily Yours,
Paulock Tumes