William Raphael Louis “Bil” Dwyer, Jr. was born in Ohio on January 29, 1907, according to the North Carolina Death Collection, 1908-2004 at Ancestry.com. In the 1910 U.S. Federal Census, he lived with his parents, William and Minnie, in Portsmouth, Ohio at 57 West Second Street. Dwyer Sr. was employed as wire chief at the telephone company; his full name was found on his World War II draft card.
Dwyer lived in Perrysburg, Ohio at 348 First Street, according to the 1920 census. The household included his sister and maternal grandmother. His father was a telephone engineer. In the book Milton Caniff: Conversations (2002), Caniff said he enrolled, in Fall 1925, in Ohio State University, where he met Dwyer and Noel Sickles. Presumably, Dwyer had taken art classes during his four years of college (U.S. World War II Army Enlistment Records, 1938–1946, Ancestry.com).
Dwyer was unemployed in 1930; he lived with his parents and two siblings in Paint, Ohio on Blazer Road. The date of his move to New York City is not known, but he produced material for King Features. In 1932 he took over the strip Dumb Dora from Paul Fung; an excerpt from Milton Caniff: Conversations of Will Eisner’s interview with Caniff, which was first published in Will Eisner’s Spirit Magazine, numbers 34 and 35:
Caniff: …[in 1932] when I reached New York I called Bil Dwyer who had also worked on the Columbus Dispatch.
Eisner: Oh—he did Dumb Dora, that was it.
Caniff: Well, it’s pertinent here. I called him just socially and told him I was in town to say hello. I didn’t know where he lived, on Christopher Street. I didn’t even know where Christopher Street was. So he said, “My God, I’m glad you called! I’ve got a problem here. Come on down!” This was like the first night I was in town and he had been submitting things to King Features and selling gags, by the way, to the magazines, Colliers and the New Yorker. Anyway, he had submitted a gag-type strip to King Features and he got a call back saying that Paul Fung was being pulled off Dumb Dora and Dwyer had the assignment. Here he was suddenly with six strips and a Sunday page to do and he’d never done anything except single panels.
Eisner: Oh boy!
Caniff: And he was in trouble. Frank Engli was helping him.
Eisner: Frank Engli…He was a sports cartoonist, right?
Caniff: No, he did lettering. He later on did a strip called Looking Back, about stone age characters—
Eisner: Oh, I see.
Caniff: —very well done cartooning. But his lettering was especially good. So I went down to see them and they were laboring away at the first release. Bil was a good gag writer, but he’d never had this kind of assignment before. So he said to me, “Will you sit in on this thing and especially draw the girls?” So I laid out the first batch of stuff and again, it was not hard for me to do because I had those eleven o’clock deadlines every morning. And so then I inked the girls and he inked the other characters; very simple drawing.
Eisner: Who wrote the stuff?
Caniff: Dwyer. He was a very good gag man. Chic Young had originated the character and then Paul finally took over from Chic when Chic started Blondie. Paul was drawing it before Dwyer. I never did find out, by the way, why he withdrew.
Eisner: Dumb Dora was a very successful strip in its day.
Caniff: Maybe Fung had a fight with King Features. I don’t know and I never did ask. So we made the deadline, which was the thing that was bothering Dwyer, but in the mean time I had to go to work the next morning at eight o’clock….
Dwyer’s first Dumb Dora daily appeared on September 5, 1932, and his first Sunday on October 30, 1932 (see above); the strip was cancelled in 1936. He was living in Pinellas County, Florida, when he was enlisted in the army, on August 27, 1943. Where and how long he served is not known.
He produced the syndicated strip, Sandy Hill, which ran from 1951 to 1954. The date of his move to North Carolina is not known. The Laurel posted an article about Highlands, North Carolina where Dwyer lived. The author walked on Main Street and recalled his memories of him:
How about more recent times? Leeann and Charlie Maybury moved from Florida and opened the Cheese Shop in the old Talley and Burnette Building, a dry goods store owned by Harvey Talley and Johnny Burnette now occupied by Paoletti’s Restaurant, on Main Street. It was across Main Street from Bill [sic] Dwyer’s Merry Mountaineers shop in what had been Louis Edwards’ wood work shop, later the Bird Barn and now a new building for the Acorns Shop.
The Cheese Shop was famous for their piled high sandwiches, much like those of the Sports Page today. Another favorite was their loganberry fruit drink. No carbonation but so different from the other soft drinks. Worth Gruelle, of Raggedy Ann and Andy fame like his father Johnny Gruelle, favored the loganberry fruit juice. He would buy two glasses and walk across the street to see his friend Bill Dwyer and share the juice. Bill was in his second retirement with his wife Louise. He had been a newspaper comic strip artist that included Dumb Dora as well as doing cartoons for many national magazines. He also worked with Walt Disney on a number of animated feature films. He and Worth would sit on the bench in front of the Merry Mountaineer and have many interesting discussions.
Among his books are Dictionary for Yankees and Other Uneducated People (1971); Southern Appalachian Mountain Cookin’ (1974, with Louise); Thangs Yankees Don’t Know (1975); Southern Sayin’s for Yankees and Other Immigrants (1976); 2001 Southern Superstitions (1978); How Tuh Live in the Kooky South Without Eatin’ Grits: A Fun Guide Book Fer Yankees (1978); Cookin’ Yankees Ain’t Et (1980, with Louise); Southern Folks Yankees Should Know (1981); Sexy Birds of the South: Fun Book For Yankee Bird Watchers (1982).
Dwyer passed away on December 13, 1987, in Highland, North Carolina, according to the North Carolina Death Collection and Social Security Death Index.