Screwball Sunday: A Double Bill: Holman’s “Smokey” and “Spooky”

Smokey Stover and Spooky, August 8, 1936

For a while, Bill Holman’s silent Spooky topper strip enjoyed as much space as his top, um, Bill-ed star: Smokey Stover. Readers in 1936 were treated to two fine comics, each a celebration of nutty, over-the-top comedy.

Today’s Screwball Sunday comic comes from Smokey Stover’s first year of publication. There are far fewer background gags than readers familiar with the strip would expect. Those came along after a few years of publication. In fact, this Smokey Stover strip is essentially built around a single joke, the kind you’d find in a standard joke book about the Scotsman who was so stingy he wouldn’t waste money to call the fire department and tell them his house is on fire. Despite the basic awfulness of the joke, Holman’s art is wonderful, energetic, dynamic, and just plain strange.

The strip does include a few interesting details. For example, on the postcard addressed to fire chief Cash U Nutt is to the Lisle Hose Company in Lisle, Indiana. Holman hailed from Indiana, where his mother still lived when he penned this strip, but not from Lisle as there was no town of that name in the state (nor is there today). Additional fun details include the goofy name, Jock McSandune and the credit line, “Rung up by the Bill Holman bell hop,” positioned above the panel in which Smokey talks about not hearing the fire bell ring.

The true gem on this page is the wordless (except for numerous “meows”) Spooky topper strip. Even when the secondary strip runs below the main feature, it is called a “topper.” In the 1930s, many record shops had machines where one could make a three-minute recording that was cut directly into a vinyl disc. I find it charmingly novel and funny that Spooky and his owner, Fenwick Flooky, avail themselves of this service to happily make a recording of Spooky meowing. The last panel is a gem of a cartoon drawing. It resonates with a similar cat-crowd panel capping a 1924 $alesman $am daily by George Swanson, who delighted in populating his comics with alley cats.  Starting out as a cartoonist at the Cleveland Press, Holman worked alongside Swanson and perhaps picked up the cat gag from the older Screwballist. For more, see SCREWBALL: The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny!

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