Octopus Fight

Today on the site it's R.C. Harvey on Bill Holman.

In late 1934, Holman heard that Joseph Patterson, publisher of the New York Daily News, was looking for a Sunday comic strip that would display the paper’s civic-minded support of such public servants as policemen and teachers and, in this case, firemen. “I had sold a lot of firemen cartoons to magazines,” Holman said, “and the idea of firemen running around all over in red trucks seemed like a good gimmick to hang things on.”

Over Christmas while visiting his grandmother in Crawfordsville, Holman drew up a sample Sunday strip and when he returned to New York, he offered it to Patterson. “He wondered if I could keep it up,” Holman said, “and I told him confidently that I could.”

The manic Smokey Stover debuted March 10, 1935; Holman said the name came to him while watching a smoking stove. The strip continued with the Tribune-News Syndicate until Holman retired in 1973.

The title character is a fireman, Smokestack Stover, and while the strip also features his boss, the fire chief Cash U. Nutt, the activities just as often involve Smokey’s wife Cookie or his son Earl or their cat with a perpetually bandaged tail, Spooky, who, for a time, starred in a companion strip of his own before joining the firehouse gang.

Holman, Stephen Becker said in his Comic Art in America (1959), “threw himself into his work with unmitigated glee,” adding: “The profession of comic strip artist has supplied nothing closer to a baggy-pants burlesque comedian than Bill Holman. Holman wears neither baggy pants nor floppy shoes, and his work has none of the bluish quality of real burlesque; but his inventiveness, his verbal juxtapositions and misunderstandings, and his irrepressible manglings of the English language are the marks of a man to whom reality is subordinate to art.”

The art was the art of the pun, both visual and verbal. The jokes around which Holman arrayed his maniac word play were tame left-overs from what pop culture critic Don Phelps calls “decrepit vaudeville.”


TCJ artist and designer Mike Reddy has a fab humor piece up at the New Yorker, written by TCJ contributor Jay Ruttenberg.

Ron Rege reports back from Australia, in pictures.

Did I know that there's a film about Al Capp featuring Spain and Trina Robbins? Did you? Good lord.