Screwball Sunday: It’s Summertime and the Combs are Exploding—W.R. Bradford’s Jingling Johnson and Dr. Domehead (1916)

Below: Bradford’s Funny Folks, Philadelphia North American (August 20, 1916)

Here’s a rare screwball treat: a never-before-reprinted Sunday page from the intrepidly idiosyncratic cartoonist, Walter R. Bradford. The topic of this page is sweltering summer heat, which is something many of us can relate to these daze. When this strip appeared in August 1916, temperatures in Philadelphia—where Bradford lived and worked—rose to the nineties. It would be another decade before the public had air conditioning.

The page features two of Bradford’s greatest characters, the obsessed versifier Jingling Johnson and the vacuous scientist Dr. Domehead. Bradford had been drawing both of these characters for over a decade when he made this page. By 1916, Bradford had been given a catch-all Sunday page entitled Bradford’s Funny Folks. This page only appeared in one paper: the Philadelphia North American. Today, comics from this paper are hard to find. More of Bradford’s little-seen comics and information about his life and career comprise chapter three of Screwball! The Cartoonists Who Made the Funnies Funny.

One of the delights of Jingling Johnson is that he spouts genuinely good comic verse (Bradford was said to be a scholar of literature), as can be seen in this excerpt:

Cooling water dripping, purling
See the heat waves, vibrate-whirling-
Just in time our ears were curling
From this awful heat!

In panel two, a comb explodes. Although this seems like a typical Bradford madcap detail, it is actually based in reality. It seems that, back then, combs were made of celluloid, which was highly flammable and prone to explode into a dangerous ball of flame if it got too hot. As your indefatigable researcher, I am happy to tease the strands of this hairy mystery and get to the tooth.

Exploding combs were a problem as late as the 1930s, as seen in this item from the June 25, 1937 issue of the New Castle (Pennsylvania) News.

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