Judge Puffle at home. Artist: Gene Ahern.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1936
Creator: Gene Ahern
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In many ways, King Features Syndicate has long been the leader among comics distributors. One way it got to that position was by commissioning its own versions of other syndicates' most popular features. Just by way of …

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… example, The Chicago Tribune Syndicate's Little Orphan Annie (1925) was followed by King's Little Annie Rooney (1927); and King's Red Barry was a response to the Trib's Dick Tracy. When Newspaper Enterprise Association (Captain Easy, The Born Loser) had such a success with Our Boarding House, King went a step beyond mere imitation. It hired the creator himself, cartoonist Gene Ahern (The Nut Bros.), to write and draw its knock-off, Room and Board.

Our Boarding House started with an ensemble cast, the denizens of Martha Hoople's boarding house, but quickly fielded a dominant star — Martha's husband, Major Amos Hoople, an entertaining blowhard not entirely unlike animation's earlier Col. Heeza Liar or TV's later Commander McBragg. Since he already knew where it was going, Ahern was able to have Judge Puffle, as exact a Hoople clone as Wonder Man was of Superman, in place from the beginning. Also cloned was Our Boarding House's format, a single panel daily, with a multi-panel Sunday page.

The Sunday, by the way, boasted a topper that, in at least one way, is better remembered than the main comic. The Squirrel Cage is where the enigmatically familiar phrase "Nov shmoz ka pop?" came from.

Visually, the main difference between Major Hoople and Judge Puffle was that Puffle wore a beret in contrast to Hoople's fez. Also, Puffle's moustache looked different. Character-wise, there was little or no difference at all. The house's other residents corresponded to Martha's boarders, but Puffle, like Hoople, dominated.

The title Room and Board was taken from that of a failed strip distributed by King subsidiary Central Press Association (Brick Bradford), which ran from 1928-31. "The" Room and Board came along in 1936, when Our Boarding House was at the height of its popularity. Nonetheless, Ahern's second dip at the rooming house well achieved neither the name recognition nor the circulation of the first. It had no movies or radio shows, only a few reprints in Dell Comics anthologies. It ended in 1953, and Ahern retired.


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Text ©2007-08 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.