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“I think we’re more influenced by comic strip
characters than by anybody else….” –J. Shepherd
Comic strips played what appears to be a more important role in Shepherd’s life thinking than one might have expected.
On November 17, 1972, Shepherd spent nearly his whole broadcast giving listeners a “Comic strip quiz,” asking them to identify characters and the strip artists for numerous comic strips. His knowledge and memory seemed encyclopedic. In my EYF! page 274 I transcribe him saying:
I have begun to realize that my philosophy of living is based largely upon a firm bedrock foundation of comic-strip ideologies. This includes many subtleties of Right and Wrong or Good and Evil as evidenced in politics or just daily living.”
Also quoted in my book is what is apparently a glitch in Shep’s memory when he says that Smokey Stover [by Bill Holman] had been done by the same artist as had created “The Little Hitchhiker,” the little man who is remembered for his sign saying “Nov shmoz ka pop?” Actually that little fellow was in Gene Ahern’s strip The Squirrel Cage, A strange, strip about as weird as—or weirder than–Smokey Stover.
Smokey Stover was a fireman, and besides its maniacal side, the strip was chock-full of ridiculous puns that had the ability to make most people go cross-eyed and laugh—Shep once commented that he hated puns (but he used them once in a while). The firefighters in the strip were referred to as foo fighters, which became the name of a rock group years later.
Who do you think I always looked at? Did you ever hear of Smokey Stover? [Shepherd is talking to his engineer of someone else in the studio.] You never heard of Smokey Stover? You never heard of Smokey? Okay. No way to talk to you then….What was always said in the strip Smokey Stover? Did you ever hear the expression “Notary Sojak”?…It was a completely maniacal strip.
[See first panel for words on sign nailed to the wall.]
Shepherd then refers to another comic strip situation he mistakenly thought was from Smokey Stover:
I remember one time it was explained in the strip–one of the characters asks another character, “Well, how come he always wears that coal scuttle over his head?”
The other character says, “Well, he’s prepared.”
He said, “What do you mean—prepared for what?”
He says, “Well, you never can tell.”
The other guy says, “What do you mean, you never can tell? Never can tell what? What’s he prepared for?”
He says, “Well, he figures you never know when you’re going to be hit by a meteor.”
There he stood. With a coal scuttle. For some reason or another, this hit my particular sense of humor. And I would have to say that among all the things that have influenced me—that probably influenced me as much as anything else. [At the moment I’m asking people to come up with what strip it was–eb]
After amusing yourself over all the Smokey Stover puns and the NOTARY SOJAC sign on the wall in the first panel, pay close attention, focusing on the final panel, lower left corner. It’s been brought to my attention that, although I had determined the spelling of Brass Figlagee years ago based on Shepherd pronouncing it, there is good evidence (Note the copyright of the strip: 1945) that Shep appropriated the term from those strange, triangular entities referred to by Bill Holman as “PHIPPLED FIGLIGGIES.”
[Thanks to Shep fan Kip W. for this great info.]
As a matter of lesser interest (You may remember that in 1965, When Shep and Lois Nettletion probably split, Shep would sing mock-plaintively): ”Some of these days/You’re gonna miss me, baby/Some of these days/You’re gonna feel you’re so lonely.” On the woman’s jumper dress (HOP) is a manic cat singing his own punny version.
If that ain’t ‘nuf, as Shep’s broadcast on his “Comic Strip Quiz” nears its end, he concludes with a major comment regarding our lack of sufficient appreciation of creators of comic strips, and—by implication—creators of immortal, improvised radio programs.
He focuses on his idea that Americans are familiar with celebrities—such as from movies, and familiar with cartoon characters (such as Jiggs of Maggie and Jiggs—but don’t know the name of the creator! Artists who create a character that becomes a household name—such as Popeye.
Speaking over his Bahn frei theme:
Well, maybe I’m conscious of the whole idea of creating characters because this is what basically and essentially what my work consists of. I mean creating a character—Schwartz, Flick, and Bruner. These are characters, you know. To create character, that has ramifications of meanings….
This has been tonight’s lesson in Americana.