Screwball Sunday: Milt Gross and the Moose-ick of Nize Baby

Below: Nize Baby – February 20, 1927

Nize Baby may be one of the few, if only, comic strips a cartoonist based on their own bestselling book. When publisher George H. Doran unleashed their modest orange hardback book entitled Nize Baby, in April of 1926 it became a bestselling sensation and catapulted Gross to national prominence. In September of the same year, Gross capitalized on his success by launching a Nize Baby Sunday comic page featuring the Feitelbaum family from his book (which was in turn a collection of his weekly illustrated prose column, Gross Exaggerations).

Today’s page, unrestored, is printed in two colors. This was a common practice with some smaller newspapers. The comics on the outside of the “wrap” were printed in the more common four colors in which we are used to seeing Sunday funnies, and the inside strips were two-color.

The missing colors do not rob this page of its hilarity. With Nize Baby, Gross did not just adapt his book stories into comics, he put this characters into an entirely new format. Where the prose version relies on verbal humor, especially the clever version of a Yiddish-English dialect Gross invented (“Isidore watch de baby while it gets papa undressed,” for example), his Sunday page adds wild visual comedy into the mix. In a masterful escalation of chaos, Gross took his gags several steps further than anyone else at the time, as can been seen in today’s Screwball Sunday page.

Note that Papa Feitelbaum’s plunge into the frozen lake in panel 11 is shown “off stage.” In their 1930s talkies, film comedians Laurel and Hardy had discovered it was sometimes funnier to have a pratfall occur off screen, with loud crashes and yells and leave the visual to the audience’s imagination. Here, we have Gross employing this technique years earlier and it is just as funny.

The charming moose in this page is making a return appearance from his first engagement on the cover of Gross’s 1926 book, Hiatwatta Witt No Odder Poems.

You can buy your very own copy of Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny at your local comics or book shop, online seller, or directly from the IDW store.

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