Thursday, December 21, 2017

BOOK REVIEWS! OUR BOARDING HOUSE SUNDAYS 1937 and ROOM AND BOARD SUNDAYS 1937 (Golden Age Reprints, available here and here)

The year of 1937 must have been rip roaring for fans of Gene Ahern. Not only was the creator of Major Hoople lured away to King Features for beaucoup bucks, but his original creation stayed on at NEA Services with hardly any drop in artistic or writing quality (though the former could come, on and off, much later). Now true Ahern believers could now enjoy two versions of what was essentially the same strip even if they were probably competing against each other in those areas where two or more papers were being published but hey, that's why we kids used to scour the trash bins, right?

OUR BOARDING HOUSE was still cooking swell at the time what with the art being totally indistinguishable from Ahern's and the stories still tossing out those old gags and tall tales regarding the Major's definitely improbable deeds. It's no wonder why comics were so popular at the time with the skill and care that had been put into them, and whoever was working on HOOPLE at the time (I believe future THIMBLE THEATRE artist Bela Zaboly) really did study the Ahern pattern down to the ol' "t" what with the sly turn of events jokes, hilarious boisterousness on Hoople's part not to mention the art which certainly doesn't look like the dashed off kid stuff that women affirmative action cartoonists have been dishing out these past few decades.

The NUT BROTHERS "topper" strip is also worthy of mention. A bastion of bad gags done up swimmingly well, Ches and Wal deliver on even more "screwball" humor that would have done Joe Cook proud in these visually and joke-pleasing panels which definitely take up more space (as a mere page-filler) than most of today's strips do. And they're much funnier'n most of the "humor" that's seen these days what with the sly visual gags that predate SMOKEY STOVER not to mention the way general corniness can be worked into something downright devious, or is it vice-versa?

Ahern's ROOM AND BOARD might have been a tough one to follow HOOPLE up with, and thankfully it was a good enough knockoff of the original to lead to confusion on any late-thirties comic strip kid's part. Judge Augustus Puffle was a sly Hoople lookalike (though in these early appearances he has a small beezer and of course wore a beret 'stead of a fez), his wife scrawny yet just as mean as Hoople's Martha, and the roomers practically carbon copies of longtime BOARDING HOUSE residents Clyde and Mac (though no overweight guy like Buster is to be seen). Heck there's even a version of the black handyman Jason here though he has yet to appear (this guy being the head of the "International Chore Company"). However, I gotta admit that the two guys in strip-topper THE SQUIRREL CAGE do bear a slight resemblance, at least at this point in time, to Ches and Wal Nut. Well, I can't blame Ahern for basically doing a new version of HOOPLE given that strip's popularity, and naturally he pulls it all off with that famed aplomb that seems to have been lost in the comic strip shuffle over the years.

The stories and dialog are straight outta HOOPLE and every bit as good (though Ahern later on complained that King Features held a strict reign on what he could or couldn't spoof---no more quadriplegic jokes for he!), but I gotta say that it's THE SQUIRREL CAGE that really gets me up and going. The same NUT BROTHERS-styled gags are trotted out true, but the appearance of the famed Hitchhiker of "Nov Schmoz Ka Pop?" fame is what really leads credence to just how good this strip was in the pantheon of classic fun 'n jamz. Unfortunately some of the strips reproduced here are either missing this topper or the local paper had replaced it with a cartoon ad featuring George Burns and Gracie Allen hawking Grape Nuts but eh, I think I got enough to help satisfy my own screwball tendencies at least for the next week or so.

Just get a gander of these books and you'll know why I've been reading long-gone and mostly forgotten comics like these 'stead of more "meaningful" and "relevant" books that are reviewed in the pages of THE NEW YORK TIMES LIST OF SNOOTY READS. Channel the inner suburban slob in ya for once, willya?

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