Monday, July 23, 2012

Milt Gross Teaches Us How to Learn - The Screwloose Way (1930)

Milt Gross Monday

A New Milt Gross Comic Every Monday!

We don't usually associate Milt Gross, the master of screwball comics, with moral lessons and parables. As today's example shows Gross' work is actually filled with trenchant observations of humanity's craziness that could be seen as a sort of textbook on how not to live. This wisdom aspect of screwball comics is actually a fairly common element. Starting with Rube Goldberg's Lunatics I Have Met in the early 1900s, screwball comics embraced insanity in a way that actually shows the reader the logical and expected result to expect from certain choices and attitudes. I sometimes think that screwball comics at their finest are sublime depictions of people tossing and turning as they sleepwalk through life. They are delightful because they are -- in essence -- saying something about the dream state most of us are often in, whether we realize it or not.

Curiously, Milt decorates his canoe in this
comic with a swastika - a very old symbol that was
adopted by the Nazi party in 1920
Today's Milt Gross Monday comic is another in his Count Screwloose series. In this episode, Gross explores the idea of book learning versus acquired experience. As usual, he presents us with a character that takes things to the absurd extreme. The gag is yet another variation on Gross' comedy of escalation, as the self-made man, a skeptic of academia, journeys with great expense and bother to the far corners of the world to learn the exact  knowledge that was first offered to him in a classroom.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes it's not possible to teach someone something simply by telling them? We often must go through our own elaborate Milt Gross style comedies to be able to see what was in front of us the whole time.

Count Screwloose by Milt Gross - Nov 2, 1930
The strip is framed with the usual Count Screwloose structure - the Count escapes from Nuttycrest, leaving his pal Iggy (a dog with a Napoleon complex) in tears at the separation. The Count then becomes our surrogate in the "sane" world as he quietly observes. At the end, overwhelmed by the nuttiness he has silently witnessed, the tiny Count (who is stranded in a distant foreign land) rides on the back of a fish back towards Nuttycrest, dreaming of reuniting with his pal, Iggy.

The art on this page reminds me very much of Sergio Aragones.

Note: I'm not sure if anyone noticed, but we skipped the last two days due to technical difficulties. We have now resumed our normally scheduled broadcast.

That is all,
Screwball Paul


  1. The travel sequence reminds me of Tex Avery's Droopy, where a character would zip across the globe in a few seconds' time. Love it! I wonder if Tex ever said or wrote anything about screwball comic strips. I know John Kricfalusi of Ren & Stimpy fame is a tremendous fan of Gross. In his own words: "I think Milt Gross is probably the most all around talented cartoonist in history."

  2. Hey Carl, thanks for your insightful comment. Funny you should mention Tex Avery. The opening of this Milt Gross comic, where Count Screwloose has a mad golfer smack him out of Nuttycrest reminded me very much of the ending "golf" sequence in Avery's "The Cat That Hated People." While I'm no expert on Tex Avery, I haven't found much of his own words, outside of his cartoons. There's a short bonus on one of the Warner Bros. cartoon collections where an aged Tex very humbly (and briefly) recalls his work -- it's not very revealing. I've always appreciated John K.'s comments on Milt Gross. Thanks for the quote. It seems clear that Avery was influenced by Gross and others -- and his cartoons in turn had a profound influence on Jack Cole, Harvey Kurtzman and scores of others...