Born in Crawfordsville Indiana, Bill Holman moved to Chicago and studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. Holman worked as an office boy in the Art Department of the Chicago Tribune. He moved to New York as a Staff Artist for the Herald Tribune. It was in New York that he began to freelance his cartoons to magazines such as Colliers, Saturday Evening Post, Life, Judge and Everybody's Weekly. His success led to a contract with the Chicago Tribune - New York News Syndicate to produce a comic strip. Smokey Stover was the result beginning on March 10,1935. Following the custom of the times Holman produced a second strip (called a topper because it was printed on top of the main strip) for Sunday featuring Spooky, a cat that he had been drawing into his various newspaper panels, magazine gags and strips. Spooky began on April 7,1935. Both strips were Sunday only. Holman also produced a daily panel, Nuts and Jolts.
Holman expressed a fondness for firemen in many interviews and the result was Smokey Stover and the crew at the Fire House, led by Chief Cash U. Nutt. As a contrast we also visited the Stover Home where Smokestack resides with wife Cookie and son Earl. Spooky resided with his owner Fenwick Flooky, a barefooted chap who was often sitting in the rocker doing embroidery.
Both strips feature Holman's absurdest sense of humor, loaded with puns, some quite twisted metaphors and visually populated with unusual objects as everyday items. A roller coaster of a comic strip, each panel is loaded with gags. Holman also produced many catch phrases and created nonsense words. His most famous was Foo, which in most explanations was printed on an ancient Chinese vase. Notary Sojac, another popular nonsense concoction has at least a couple of versions of what it means. Bill was quoted as declaring it to be Gaelic for Merry Christmas. Another time he said it was Gaelic for Horsecrap.
Holman continued to produce the Sunday Spooky and Smokey Stover until his retirement in 1974. Bill was a founding member of the National Cartoonist Society and served two terms as President. He died in 1987.
Bill's nephew, Victor Alsobrook provided the photo of the young Holman at his drawing board. Vic has a website dedicated to his Uncle with many more photos and additional biographical information as well as magazine articles, comic strips and other goodies. Visit his site -http://www.smokey-stover.com/
Smokey's first issue is number 7. Unfortunately it's still on the missing list. So I can't tell you any more about it at this point. If you can help with this or any other missing issues get in contact with me.
Smokey's second issue is number 35, a 52 page issue that reprints strips from 1938,39,40 and 41.
We jump right in on the inside cover with a Sunday and continue for 13 pages of Smokey strips. We then shift to Spooky for 6 pages, return to Smokey for 8, back to Spooky for one, Smokey for one, Spooky for one and Smokey for 5, Spooky for 8, Smokey for one , Spooky for 5 and wind up with Smokey on the back cover, inside and out.
Here's a typical Smokey page. Check the rocking chair and telephone extension arm. How about the pictures in all the panels, captions and signs? Catch a few puns in there? Did you find all the foos?
A favorite Spooky page. Check out the gadgets and apparel.
Issue 64 is another 52 pager. This time strips from 1941 and 42 are reprinted. All 52 pages are Smokey strips, Spooky only appears in the background here and there.
From this issue a couple of examples of life in the Stover household. At left Earl and Smokey get a deal on ice cream.
On the right Smokey shows Cookie his invention to avoid shoveling the sidewalk.
The final issue is 229, a 36 pager that reprints strips from 1946. Spooky appears on the inside and back covers. The rest of the issue is Smokey strips.
Compared to the earlier strips a maturity in style is noted. While the drawings and gags are just as wild, the strip has a cleaner art look and there is more continuity within the strip. A situation will lead to connect puns throughout the episode, where in the previous issues, the strips were more anything goes.
One final example from this issue closes out the Smokey Stover review. If you like word play, terrible puns, wacky situations and odd ball characters, you'll enjoy these issues of Smokey Stover.
References: Smokey-Stover.com; Grand Comics Database; 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics, Maurice Horn ed., Random House 1996; Comics and Their Creators, Martin Sheridan, Hale,Cushman and Flint 1942