Obscurity of the Day: My Son John

Bill Hoest made his lasting mark on the funny pages with The Lockhorns, but his first syndicated strip, titled My Son John, didn’t catch on at all.

The Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate accepted My Son John, a strip about a kid who acts like a harried and angry adult, for reasons I cannot understand. Maybe they saw it as competition for Peanuts, but if John was supposed to be the next Charlie Brown, they were a little off — he was basically a male Lucy.

Hoest made a very successful career out of cartooning very unlikeable people in the Lockhorns, but unlikeable kids are another matter. Dennis the Menace is a little hellion, but he’s not mean and angry. John, on the other hand, was simply insufferable. The syndicate allowed Hoest two years to find his footing, but it seemed totally doomed as a concept. Hoest, however, felt he had something. In 1976 he said, “It lasted two years and provided me great experience. I wish they had kept it on another year. I felt that I was really getting into it; the characters were coming alive and were well-defined, and new characters added to the interest. When it died, a apart of me died.”

The strip began on April 4 1960, and John was finally put to bed without his supper sometime in 1962, probably around April. Hoest would then go on to ghost Harry Haenigsen’s Penny for a year, which gave him the maturity he needed to come up with The Lockhorns in 1968.

5 comments on “Obscurity of the Day: My Son John

  1. Do you have a clue on how much work Bill Hoest did on "Penny"? Looking it up, many sources indicate that Hoest did most of the work when the original creator got injured in a car accident, but the dates they provide don't add up, with many saying Hoest left the strip to work on "My Son John" in 1970, even though the strip actually started in 1960, a full decade earlier.

    Perhaps they meant to say that Hoest left "Penny" to work on "Lockhorns"?

  2. Oh yes, I meant to mention that misperception on the web about Hoest's timeline; thanks for reminding me.

    According to an interview with Hoest in 1976, he basically gave up Penny after working on it "almost a year" in order to develop and offer The Lockhorns. So that places his stint on Penny likely in 1966-67.

    –Allan

  3. Ah, that makes more sense.

    Even with the unlikable main character, there are still some funny gags in the samples you posted. I laughed at the frozen lemonade strip. I love how Hoest had the final dialogue written in tiny letters, which really sells the gag.

  4. Hoest did another strip in the 1980s, "What a Guy!", about a kid who acted even more like an adult than John in "My Son John."

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