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Smokey Stover: Wikis


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1946 strip as reprinted in issue 64 of the Smokey Stover comic book.

Smokey Stover was a comic strip written and drawn by Bill Holman from 1935 until he retired in 1973. Distributed through the Chicago Tribune, it featured the misadventures of the titular fireman, and had the longest run of any strip in the screwball genre.

Holman was born in Crawfordsville, Indiana and moved to Chicago where he studied at the Academy of Fine Arts and worked as an office boy in the Chicago Tribune's art department. Relocating to New York, he was a Herald Tribune staff artist and began to submit cartoons to magazines, including Colliers, The Saturday Evening Post, Life, Judge and Everybody's Weekly. He began doing Smokey Stover as a Sunday strip for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate on March 10, 1935.


Characters and story

The goofy situations usually featured Smokey the firefighter (often in his two-wheeled Foomobile), his wife Cookie and his son Earl. Smokey's boss was Chief Cash U. Nutt. Smokey (short for "Smokestack") wore a hat with a hole in its hinged bill, and he occasionally used the hole in the bill as an ashtray for his burning cigar.

Although most of the stories in the strip (and the occasional comic book) centered around Smokey's escapades with his chief, the plots were mainly a framework to display an endless parade of wild humor, sight gags, puns, mirthful mishaps, nonsensical dialogue and fourth wall references. An "anything for a laugh" atmosphere pervaded the panels, and Holman's continuing inventiveness managed to keep Smokey Stover going for nearly 40 years. Holman often reached moments of surreality that did for comic strips what Tex Avery's wacky cartoons offered in animation. A typical gag:

Smokey Stover: "The wood in this roof is awfully old -- this one-inch bit is drilling one-foot holes!"
Chief Nutt: "Just use a half-inch bit -- that way it'll only make six-inch holes!"

Jocular jargon and peculiar phrases

French translation of Bill Holman's Smokey Stover

Odd bits of philosophy and signs with bizarre phrases, such as "Foo," "Notary Sojac," "Scramgravy Ain't Wavy," and "1506 Nix Nix" were featured and some became catch phrases. Holman described "Notary Sojac" as Gaelic for "Merry Christmas".[1] His nonsense word "Foo" was taken up by airmen who claimed they saw World War II's "Foo Fighters". Foo may have been inspired by the French word for fire, feu, but Holman never gave a straight answer as to the origin. The history section on the Smokey Stover website claims that Holman "found this word engraved on the bottom of a jade statue in San Francisco’s Chinatown. The word Foo means Good-Luck."[2]

Although no clear connection has ever been asserted, Holman's term "Smokey Stover" could have been chosen as a nod toward the ubiquitous stationary engine manufactured by the Stover Manufacturing and Engine Company of Freeport, Illinois. Between 1895 and 1942, it made over 270,000 engines for use on America's farms. Such stationary engines were imprecise machines which often produced substantial exhaust smoke when fueled with kerosene, a common fuel used before catalytic cracking of petroleum became more common in the 1930s.

Holman also wrote and drew a companion strip, Spooky, about the cat Spooky with its perpetually bandaged tail. Spooky was a Sunday strip which began April 7, 1935. Spooky lived with his owner Fenwick Flooky, who did embroidery while sitting barefoot in a rocking chair.

Holman also did a gag panel, Nuts and Jolts, which was syndicated for three decades.

Animation and oddities

In 1971, Smokey Stover was a featured segment on Filmation's Archie's TV Funnies, its only foray into animation. Pete Schlatter of Francesville, Indiana, constructed a single-axle, two-wheel Foomobile by hiding four support wheels inside the two wheels. Smokey Stover is referenced in "Jumbeliah", an unreleased song Bruce Springsteen wrote in his early career: "Built like Marilyn Monroe and she walks just like Smokey Stover."



  • Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.

External links

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