Elza Poppin cuts a rug. Artist: George Swanson.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1939
Creators: Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson (writers) and Ving Fuller (artist)
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Ole Olsen and Chic Johnson, who are credited as writers of this short-lived King Features newspaper comic, are also known as the comedy team Olsen & Johnson, who are said to have rivaled The Marx Brothers …

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… in fame and popularity. Actually, says comics historian Allan Holtz, discoverer of Bobby the Boy Scout, the strip was probably written by its artist, who at first, at least, was Ving Fuller, formerly of the Bray animation studio (Quacky Doodles, Col. Heeza Liar).

This wouldn't be the first time, or the last, that King enlisted a famous name to help launch a comic strip by being listed in its credits. But Dashiell Hammett had actually written Secret Agent X-9, and even if Zane Grey didn't actually write King of the Royal Mounted, at least he was a writer, so it was reasonably plausible.

But Olsen & Johnson were comedy men, so when the strip appeared in 1939 bearing a name that sounded like their 1938 Broadway hit Hellzapoppin, it also seemed reasonably plausible that they were personally behind it, rather than just accepting a licensing fee for the use of their names. This doesn't seem to have been affected by the fact that the play, which was well-titled, taking the name as a metaphor for frenetic action, didn't even remotely resemble the comic strip.

The comic bore the name of its main character, an outgoing and not very sensible young woman, who wasn't present in the play. The only thing they had in common was that both were prime examples of the screwball comedy, a popular genre in America at the time. Other examples in comics include Smokey Stover and The Squirrel Cage.

Fuller stayed with the strip only about six months, replaced by George Swanson, who had earlier created another well-known comic-strip screwball comedy, Salesman Sam. Swanson saw it through to the end, but that only took him a few years.

The comic and the play may not have been much alike, but the popularity of the comic paralleled that of the play, and that of the Olsen/Johnson team — both of which went downhill after the 1941 movie version. By 1943, Swanson started a second feature, The Flop Family, which appeared only on Sunday, because Elza income had taken a nosedive along with the comic's popularity.

Finally, in 1944, The Flop Family added a daily version. At the same time, Elza Poppin was dropped.


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Text ©2009 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.