Sam's Strip: The Comic About Comics
All through the late 1950s, Mort Walker and I worked together
three or four days a week, however long it took, doing the artwork
for the daily and Sunday Beetle Bailey strips. The rest of the
time I worked in my own home, writing gag ideas for both Beetle
and Hi and Lois. At that time and on into the 1960s, we were the
only writers for both strips. Each week we wrote ten gags apiece
and on Monday mornings we showed each other our gags, graded
them and discussed them. We never did rough sketches of ideas
unless we thought they could actually be used, so out of twenty gag
sketches it wasnít hard to select the fourteen we needed for the two
strips each week.
We both had a fairly thorough knowledge of comic strip history,
so just for fun, just for each other, we began doing gags about comic
strip characters. We quickly saw how much fun it was to have comic
characters from other strips, other times, interact with each other.
The idea soon came up: What about having a guy who ran his own
comic strip as a business? Mort, who enjoyed alliteration as much
as anyone (Beetle Bailey, Sergeant Snorkel) came up with the name:
An early version of Sam
But what should this character look like? One day Mort was doodling
around and I was looking over his shoulder. He drew a face
that looked roughly like the short character, Mac, in Tillie the Toiler.
I said that he didnít look different enough, didnít look unique. We
both stared at the paper for a minute or two. I said, ďDraw a line
across the middle of his face. Letís see what that looks like.Ē Mort
penciled a line from Samís ear to his nose, cutting off the whole lower
half. Now he looked different and thatís the way, for better or worse,
he stayed. Later on, in Sam and Silo, I lowered and curved the bottom
line of the face to get more room for expressions. Since Sam
needed someone to talk to, and since Sam was sort of fat, Mort created
a thin guy (the old Laurel and Hardy concept), who never had a
name until Sam and Silo started seventeen years later.
Mort and I split the gag writing, and I did all the drawing, except
for the lettering, which Mort did, just as I did the lettering for Beetle.
I always admired Mortís lettering enormously. (Some very good artists
canít letter at all.)
We had no trouble selling the strip to King Features, which distributed
Beetle and Hi and Lois. We all wondered, briefly, if there
would be any problem with copyrights, using all those characters
with impunity as we planned to, but no one ever minded, not even
the Walt Disney Company, which today threatens lawsuits if anyone
uses one of their characters without permission (or maybe paying
for the privilege). In those days, other cartoonists were flattered, and
even Disney would write to us and ask for the original.
Samís Strip, October 3, 1962.
When Samís Strip started, on October 16, 1961, there were no
copy machines, or no good ones, anyway. All the Samís Strips were
drawn from scratch, laboriously penciled and inked, and research
took a great deal of time. I took pride in copying an artistís work
exactly, even Tennielís Alice in Wonderland drawings. But doing this
strip took way more time than drawing a normal strip. The week
we did a comics convention, with dozens of old comic characters in
each strip, it took me three weeks to turn out one week of dailies. It
was fun, and it felt like an accomplishment, but it was exhausting.
Some fellow cartoonists were surprised to discover that I wasnít cutting
ďWhat?Ē I said. ďCut pages out of books? I wouldnít do that.Ē
People have said that Samís Strip came along too soon, that readers
werenít ready then for such a radical departure. It certainly was
too soon as far as drawing aids were concerned. In 1961 there were
no shortcuts, which made things hard on the eyes.
Samís Strip, September 5, 1962. Charles Schulz signed a contract with the Ford Motor Company in 1959, licensing his characters to appear in advertisements for the Ford Falcon.
Letter from Charles Schulz to Jerry Dumas
Some editors wrote to say that they thought the strip was brilliant,
while others said they felt their readers werenít knowledgeable
enough to understand it.
ďWhat was there to understand?Ē we wondered. When an old
comic strip character, like Krazy Kat or Happy Hooligan, comes
along, someone yells, ďHey, thereís an old comic strip character!Ē
So we never felt that only a cartoonist could understand and love it.
Still, it was always good to get complimentary letters from people
like Charles M. Schulz, whose own Peanuts had been in existence
for only ten years at that point.
Later, other comic strips would occasionally do Samís Strip type
of inside gags, but not very often. Thatís the kind of heavy labor most
cartoonists try to avoid. During its brief existence, Samís Strip gave
Mort and me deep satisfaction, and if anybody didnít like it, that was
all right, and if anybody, on the other hand, really liked it, that was
all right too.
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Sam's Strip: The Comic About Comics
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