OZARK IKEMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1945
Creator: Ray Gotto
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As a comic strip about a dumb but likeable rural mountain boy, Ozark Ike has been compared to Li'l Abner. As a strip about a dumb but likeable sports star, it's been compared to Joe Palooka. Cartoonist Rufus A. ("Ray") Gotto, Ike's creator, drew the strip in a bold, clear, cartoony
style reminiscent of the ones used by Al Capp and Ham Fisher on Abner and Palooka, respectively, which only encouraged the comparison.
Ozark Ike wasn't nearly as great a success as those two strips. But it did achieve a circulation of about 250 papers, at a time when story strips, especially those with a heavily humorous slant, were going out of fashion. And it was so well known in its time, real-life baseball player Gus Edward Zernial, who played for the American League from 1949-59, got "Ozark Ike" as his nickname.
Ike McBatt was pretty much a stereotyped hillbilly — both stronger and smarter than an ox, tho in the latter case not by as great a margin, with a family that was forever feuding with its neighbors, the Fatfields. This made for complications in his love affair with Dinah Fatfield, as did the fact that he spent much of his time away from their home town, Wildwood Run, as part of a baseball team or a football or a basketball team, when those sports happened to be in season. He also boxed, between seasons, but is best remembered as a baseball player.
Gotto created his strip while serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Back in civilian life, he sold it to promoter Stephen Slesinger, who also managed Red Ryder, King of the Royal Mounted and the merchandising of Winnie the Pooh. Slesinger sold it to King Features Syndicate, and it debuted on November 12, 1945.
In 1948, Dell Comics reprinted some of Ike's comics in the 180th issue of its Four Color Comics, the series that featured everything from Daffy Duck to Turok, Son of Stone. Standard Comics (Supermouse, Black Terror) published a series about him, which ran from 1948-52.
Slesinger died in 1953, and Gotto found it difficult to work with his heirs. He left the strip in 1954, and tried to duplicate his success with Cotton Woods, also a polymath sports star, for General Features Corp. (Drift Marlo). That strip lasted only three years, but from there, Gotto went on to a successful career with The Sporting News magazine.
Ozark Ike continued, under King Features pinch-hitters Bill Lignante and George Olesen, both of whom were later closely associated with The Phantom. But Gotto's loss was felt, and the series lasted only until 1959.
Ozark Ike left no animated cartoons, licensed paraphernalia or spin-off properties in its wake. But there are still quite a few older fans who recall the strip fondly.