Sam confronts a prospect.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Newspaper Enterprise Association
First Appeared: 1921
Creator: George Swanson
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Bill Holman's Smokey Stover is the best-known screwball comedy in cartoons. But Holman didn't invent the genre, nor was he the one who introduced it to the comics medium. Well over a …

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… decade earlier, cartoonist George Swanson (Elza Poppin) was using the screwball style on a daily basis in his own creation, Salesman Sam.

Sam goes back to September 26, 1921, when Newspaper Enterprise Association began starring him in a daily comic. NEA's other '20s offerings include Boots & Her Buddies and Freckles & His Friends, while in more recent years it's launched The Born Loser, Arlo & Janis and more. A Sunday page was added on December 31, 1922.

Sam Howdy was introduced as a counter salesman at a general store owned by J. Guzzlem. This offered plenty of scope for oddball merchandise to be seen in backgrounds, and that scope was only enlarged by Swanson's tendency to have Sam's immediate surroundings change inexplicably from panel to panel. The backgrounds were also replete with silly signs, such as "Hen Fruit From Our Own Orchards" on a large box of eggs, or "Out Of Order" on the scale that weighed merchandise. Another characteristic was the outrageous "take", where characters would give hugely exaggeraged responses, such as jumping out of their shoes or doing back-flips to land on their faces, at even the mildest gags. Sam changed jobs from time to time, joining a circus or becoming a cop or even working as a door-to-door salesman. But eventually, he always came back to J. Guzzlem & Co.

In 1927, King Features Syndicate pulled its familiar routine and hired Swanson away from the syndicate. At King, he created another salesman strip, High Pressure Pete, which succeeded for a time but eventually fell by the wayside. He had much greater success with a later King comic, The Flop Family.

Meanwhile, Sam continued at NEA, under the direction of a former magazine cartoonist, C.D. Small, who adopted a style virtually indistinguishable from Swanson's. The crazy backgrounds, ridiculous signs and disproportionate takes continued unabated — in fact, say some commentators, increased. But Small died in 1936, and with him, Salesman Sam.


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