Screwball Sunday: The Plop Thickens—George Swanson’s $alesman $am

Say “howdy” to Sam Howdy! Our previous last two Screwball Sundays have shared recently discovered vintage essays by George Swanson on screwball cartooning (see here and here). Today we share three prime examples of $alesman $am in 1924, when Swanson’s cartooning reached its peak of manic intensity.

$alesman $am, September 15, 1924

There’s never been a comic strip quite like George “Swan” Swanson’s $alesman $am (1921-27). Although it was never as popular as Dick Tracy, Thimble Theatre, or Alley Oop, $alesman $am shares with these strips a singular, appealing, and assured visual style. Unlike these iconic strips, $alesman $am had the rug pulled out from under it before it could develop from a good comic strip into a great one.

For reasons unknown, six years into $am’s run, the Cleveland Press NEA Syndicate decided to play musical chairs with their cartoonists, and Swan was taken off his inspired creation and put on a couple of lackluster panel comics, some of which had been done by C.D. Small, who was lucky enough to get assigned to $alesman $am. Small successfully penned $alesman $am in a masterful imitation of Swan’s lovely style for nine years, until the strip ended.

$alesman $am, October 4, 1924

Very quickly after NEA shoplifted $alesman $am, Swan left, going over to Hearst and creating a new strip about a salesman called High Pressure Pete. His new strip was good, but not as inspired as $am, perhaps due to a disillusionment with the industry after having seen firsthand how brutal its business practices could be. After a few years, Swan closed ship on Pete and started up a beautifully cartooned, but only mildly funny domestic comic strip which eventually came to be called The Flop Family. It was his last strip and he drew it for an astonishing 38 years, until his death in 1981.

I hope you enjoy these three rare examples of $alesman $am dailies by George Swanson. These strips are extras from my collection. I curated them for inclusion in Screwball! but they didn’t make it into the book, due to space limitations. A Swan $alesman $am collection from this period sure would make a great LOAC Essentials volume, koff koff.

$alesman $am, September 20, 1924

Note how the panels are filled with funny, surreal details such as a sidewalk littered with diamond rings, smoldering cigar butts, and dead fish. I always enjoy reading the little signs that populate the strip, one of the hallmarks of Swan’s early cartooning. The extraordinary September 20, 1924 strip is filled with these signs, which are the main gag of the comic. And, of course, Swan’s plops (dare we call them Swan dives?) are taken to wonderfully absurd extremes making them something at which we can marvel.

You can find several more examples of $alesman $am dailies and color Sunday pages in the LOAC retrospective, Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny.

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