THE GREAT GUSTOMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Publishers Syndicate
First Appeared: 1936
Creators: Allen Saunders (writer) and Elmer Woggon (artist)
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The Great Gusto was among the shortest-running comic strip stars on record. And yet, the strip he was originally the star of ran for decades — in fact, King Features Syndicate distributed all the way into the 21st century, under the title Steve Roper & Mike Nomad.
But so short was Gusto's tenure as star, it was over before his strip even started. Early responses
from newspaper editors indicated he'd work better as a second banana, so the creators switched him out, and the character originally intended as second banana, Big Chief Wahoo, became the star instead. Gusto didn't even appear until the strip was almost a week old.
J. Mortimer Gusto was an attempt to tap into the popularity of film star W.C. Fields — which seems only fair, as Fields quite likely based his screen persona on an earlier comics character, Ally Sloper. Gusto was created by writer Allen Saunders (Mary Worth, Kerry Drake) and artist Elmer Woggon (brother of Bill Woggon, creator of Katy Keene). He debuted from Publishers Syndicate (Apple Mary, Brother Juniper) on November 23, 1936.
Gusto made his living selling Ka-Zowie Kure-All, a patent medicine effective mostly for separating suckers from their cash. "Snake oil" salesmen of this type were a popular species of flim-flam man in film and literature of the time, usually accompanied by a Native American assistant who spoke the patois of stereotyped Hollywood Injuns. Wahoo, a half-pint in a ten-gallon hat who happened to be going his way, became his traveling companion.
Eventually, two went their separate ways, and the strip's focus stayed with Wahoo. Unlike Barney Google, another guy who lost his strip to someone who started as a supporting character (Snuffy Smith, in his case) but who continued to show up as an occasional guest star for years afterward, The Great Gusto was gone for good. He returned to the storyline a couple of times, briefly, but was last seen during August, 1939.