Holmania, a virulent but harmless form of in(s)anity rampant in recent years in “Foo Clubs” of adolescents and detected in the high school generation’s jargon expressing the comic page “foo-losophy” of cartoonist Bill Holman, seems to be spreading. The Chicago Tribune-New York Daily News Syndicate July 1 renewed the Holman contract for two years and this week added to “Smokey Stover” and “Spooky,” the Sunday half-page comic strip vehicles for the cartoonist’s “foosayings,” a new daily panel named “Nuts and Jolts.”
The new comic, two and three columns in size, will consist of Holman gags and his inexhaustible supply of “fool-osophic” mottoes. “Zipper,” a nondescript dog with a curiosity complex who has cut capers heretofore in one of Mr. Holman’s numerous daily comic strips, will appear Thursday as a panel under its own name.
“Nuts and Jolts” Included
The syndicate, Mr. Holman explained, is concentrating his cartooning efforts in the daily field under the titles “Nuts and Jolts” and “Zipper” because the numerous titles used previously were “somewhat confusing.” These included “Problems Made Easy,” “It’s All in Fun,” “There’s One in Every Family,” “Something Ought to Be Done About This,” among others.
To look at Mr. Holman you’d never suspect that he’s the man behind all this zany humor appearing now on the comic pages of some 90 daily and Sunday newspapers. Thirty-six, and a bachelor with his eye on the right girl, he grins quite innocently all the way up to his bald spot above his forehead, as he confesses he “thinks so much about this foo stuff that I’m beginning to lose my own identity.”
During the interview Mr. Holman let us in on his secret – the origin of the word “foo” which tickles juvenile funnybones when it appears in such mottoes as “Fifty-four Forty or Foo,” to use one of his fooier (fooey, he’s got us doing it) tomfooleries.
“It’s just a silly word that doesn’t mean anything,” the cartoonist confided. “About ten years ago when I was doing a panel for Collier’s I needed a name for a car and used ‘Foo.’ It tickled me and I started using it often on badges or license plates or wherever a space filler was needed.”
It’s a Mania
The word insinuated itself into every Holman cartoon. It became a sort of mania with him and by the time he signed his first contract with the Tribune-News Syndicate in 1935 to do “Smokey Stover,” his “foosayings” were decorating the walls of every drawing in that strip. With the dog with the gloved tail and all manner of mice and men carrying signs inscribed with his nonsensical mottoes, the comic with a firehouse background went like a house afire with the younger generation.
Within the last foo years scores of Foo Clubs have been organized independently by high school and college boys whose first official act is to elect cartoonist Holman “honorary foo” or honorary president. Fraternity dances often take on a foo motif with Holmanisms plastered all over the walls and at one of these hops recently a huge cardboard “Spooky” was made the vehicle for announcing dance numbers and amusing the dancers with Holman “foo-losophies.” To wit:
“A critic says a sharp nose indicates curiosity. A flattened nose indicates too much curiosity.”
The Holman brand of humor is strictly slapsick, of the “Hellza-poppin” variety. Anything goes, so long as it is considered funny. It reminds one of the custard pie throwing of early film comedians.
Foo Fans, Foo Pipes
According to Mr. Holman, more than 100,000 copies of 10 cent “Big Little Books” on Smokey and his firehouse chief, “Cash U. Nutt,” who smokes a double pipe, have been sold. Nickel and penny books also have appeared with these and other Holman characters. Foo has made such an impression on blase New Yorkers that a metropolitan tobacco shop makes up to order the fire chief’s familiar foo pipe and a number have been sold at $2.50 each to foo fans. And speaking of foo fans, an Indiana admirer of the strip turned out last fall a silly symphony called “What This Country Needs Is Foo.”
Considering the fact that Holman started from scratch four years ago as a syndicate cartoonist and today is earning in the neighborhood of $1,500 a month, his career might be called successful. It began at birth, Holman insists, and in his typical cartoon screwballese here’s his autobiography:
“To make a long Foo short, here is the dope, and I do mean me. I was born in the state of frenzy, but for present purposes let’s make it Indiana. At an early age my father died and I was sent out into the world to make a living for my mother, one cat with a sore tail, and no kitten. This all happened in Napanee, Indiana.
“My first job was running a popcorn machine for the local dime store. This is considered excellent training for a comic artist and no doubt accounts for a certain corny touch which so many of my gags seem to have. At 16 I was working in the art department of the Chicago Tribune. Having lost my eraser, I realized I could afford to make no more mistakes so Scripps-Howard made the next one and hired me. For the next two years I drew no crowds but plenty of drawings. My strip act laid an egg, the art editor threw it at me and I was on my way to New York.
“After seven years of itch and drawing a kid comic for the New York Herald Tribune I entered the magazine field. The following five free lance years were happy and profitable. Hundreds of my drawings infested the pages of Collier’s, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Judge and Everybody’s Weekly of London. This work drew the attention of the Tribune-News Syndicate and I was asked to submit a Sunday feature. The outcome was “Smokey Stover,’ ‘Spooky,’ the cat, seven daily cartoons and Foo.
“I have always liked firemen. And now that I’m being paid to draw about their adventures, I can tell you I’m just crazy about them.”
Note from Allan: the ‘new’ panel Nuts And Jolts mentioned here was the one Holman took over from Gaar Williams on his death. Holman took over the panel in July 1935, and, as described here, originally used a number of different titles. The panel did indeed settle down to be called Nuts And Jolts on July 3 1939.