There were problems in doing Sam’s Strip. It was a satirical strip using characters from contemporary strips as well as old-time comic characters. Satire requires that readers have previous knowledge of the subject matter to understand what’s going on. With Sam’s Strip, the readers had to be familiar with the various characters we were satirizing before they could get the gag. It’s a tough sell. In show business the saying goes, “Satire dies on Saturday night.”
An insurance salesman once asked me what I did for a living. I showed him the comic page for that day and pointed to Sam’s Strip It was the episode where Blondie is passing by and Sam says, “They’re so different in real life.” The salesman looked at it and seemed puzzled. “What’s Blondie doing in your strip? She belongs at the top of the page.” I wonder how many readers suffered the same puzzlement that day.
Even when I went to sell the strip to King Features, I had trouble. Four executives sat there reading the strip and asking questions like, “Why are you making fun of Snuffy Smith?” “Would Mickey Mouse really do this?” “Why does Sam have a closet full of exclamation marks?” They seemed bent on killing the idea but there was enough laughter going on so that the editor finally said, “Oh, go ahead and do the strip if you really want to.”
Selling it to the newspapers was another problem. A lot of editors didn’t understand it while others thought it was hilarious. The editor of the Washington Star wrote us that it was his favorite strip, but sales were very slow around the country.
Of course, the cartoonists all loved it. They understood it and howled at the familiar comic gimmicks. But most of the cartoonists lived in the New York area and read it in the Journal–American. When competition for TV hit the newspaper business in the 1960s, the Journal folded and so did our informed audience. We didn’t hear from the cartoonists any more and the joy went out of doing it. Eventually, the problems convinced us to kill the strip on June 1, 1963.
Years later, I got a call from the NEA Syndicate wanting to revive Sam’s Strip. They felt that readers were now ready to get the gags. I went to King Features to see if they’d release it. The president of King got out the old sales records to show me why it wouldn’t sell. He said, “But, if you want to revive it using the same characters with a different theme, we’ll try it.” I went to Sylvan Byck’s office, the comics editor, and we sat around for a few hours pondering what new roles Sam and his buddy could play. Nothing seemed right until I said, “How about them being small-town cops?”
That was thirty years ago and Sam and Silo are still screwing up as small-town cops in roles that everyone understands.
- Continue with “How Sam’s Strip Began” by Jerry Dumas.
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