Screwball Sunday: Hoban’s Non-Heroes: “Needlenose Noonan” and “Dis-Continued Stories”

Below: Dis-continued Stories/Needlenose Noonan by Gus Mager – December 9, 1934

There’s a lot of guff to lamp in this four-color fish wrapper, to briefly speak in the breezy, slangy style of Walter Hoban’s inept lawman. Hoban created Needlenose Noonan at the end of his career. With about a quarter of a century of experience as a syndicated cartoonist under his belt, Hoban had acquired considerable rendering skill, which is evident in today’s offering, a full Sunday page featuring both Needlenose Noonan and it’s bizarre topper, Dis-Continued Stories.

Needlenose Noonan poked his proboscis into the doings of cops and criminals from 1933 to 1935. It was Hoban’s last syndicated strip. Readers familiar with Hoban’s long-running Jerry on the Job will recognize the humor based on the stupidity of the main character, which allows for a plop take ending as another character—usually the police chief—falls over out of amazement at the convoluted, paradoxical thinking of Noonan. His nose might be straight, but his mind is a pretzel. Essentially, Noonan is Jerry grown up, stuffed into an ill-fitting police uniform, and equipped with a ridiculous-looking pointed olfactory instrument. As with Jerry, Hoban festooned his panels with background gags and silly signs, adding to the fun. Among the background entertainments in today’s Needlenose Noonan, we have a fire hydrant and then a safe with “out of order” signs on them.

The topper strip offered one of the strangest ideas to be seen in the history of American newspaper comics. Each episode tells the story of a different animal character who usually is headstrong and fails to heed advice. At the end of each episode, the main character dies. As with Needlenose Noonan, Hoban was drawing from an earlier strip. His first comic strip, Jerry MacJunk (1910-14), depicts the comedic fixes an indecisive man gets into where everyone around him feels compelled to offer their advice.

The central gag, built around letter carriers and stamps suggests Hoban may have had his upcoming annual holiday cards to get in the mails. He was known for his seasonal cards, as newspaperman James Aswell shared in his December 11, 1933 My New York column: “Walter Hoban, the comic artist and humorist, whispers that he is at work on his Christmas Card … His originality in the concoction of Yule greetings has been so marked for the last few years that he must perspire heavily to top his others … One year I received from him a circus ‘twenty-four sheet’ lithographed in all the colors and too huge to be unfolded anywhere except in a park.” Oh, to find one of those! It would need more than two stamps to mail!

The chapter on Walter Hoban in Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny includes Jerry MacJunk, a generous sampling of Jerry on the Job, Needlenose Noonan, Dis-Continued Stories and more rare comics from the master of the bulb-nosed, flatfooted fools.

The End.

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