Half Hitch and Poopsy. Artist: Dick Hodgins.

HALF HITCH

Original medium: Magazine cartoons
Published in: The Saturday Evening Post
First Appeared: 1943
Creator: Hank Ketcham
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A lot of classic cartoon characters came out of World War II — Milton Caniff's Miss Lace, Dr. Seuss's Private Snafu, Bill Mauldin's

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Willie & Joe … And so did a lot more characters that are scarcely even remembered today. Of the latter, most faded within weeks of Japan's surrender, but Half Hitch actually made minor penetration into the postwar world.

Like most young men at the time, Hank Ketcham, who later became famous as the creator of Dennis the Menace, was a full-time military man. Unlike most, his job processing photos and drawing cartoons for the U.S. Navy left him with his evenings free. A former animator, first for Walter Lantz and later for Walt Disney, he used the time to freelance cartoons to civilian magazines, drawing inspiration from the institution he was immersed in by day. Half Hitch, a sort of Navy version of George Baker's Sad Sack, but without a name, ran a couple of years in The Saturday Evening Post, starting in 1943.

He also appeared in the camp newspaper. He was a short guy, whose hapless adventures were told in pantomime form. His was a fairly popular feature, at least partly because everybody's mind was on the military in those days, and it continued to run in the Post for a short time even after the war ended. But, like the majority of military toons, it didn't survive very long once the country turned its attention to other things. Other military comics characters, like Private Breger and Hubert, made it by turning civilian, but Hitch, still nameless, remained in the military and consequently fell by the wayside.

But in the late 1960s, when there once again was a soldier or a sailor in most families, King Features Syndicate started looking into something new, to tap into the popularity of its Beetle Bailey. Ketcham had proved his own drawing power with Dennis, so they decided on a revival of his diminutive sailor, dubbing him Half Hitch. The new version began as a daily and Sunday on Monday, February 16, 1970. Tho Ketcham's name went on it, this incarnation was written by Bob Saylor and drawn by Dick Hodgins, using a Ketchamesque style.

Tho King had had some success with pantomimes (e.g., Henry, The Little King), this time Hitch spoke. And so did everybody else in the strip, even a seagull named Poopsy, tho the latter didn't seem interested in talking with anybody but Hitch. The title character was no longer as hapless as before, but he still did many traditional sailor-like things, such as having a girl in every port.

A collection of dailies came out later in 1970 — but that was Hitch's only excursion off the comics page. The strip was fairly popular among sailors, but civilians didn't take to it. It ended in 1975, and Half Hitch hasn't been seen since.

— DDM

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Text ©2002-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Hank Ketcham estate.