A typical Sam's Strip scene. Artist: Jerry Dumas. How many characters can you name?


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1961
Creators: Jerry Dumas and Mort Walker
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Comics characters sometimes make unauthorized cameos in other characters' strips. Blondie has appeared on John Darling's

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… TV show, for example, and Alfred E. Neuman was once seen in Peanuts. Nancy has manifest herself as a vision to Zippy the Pinhead so often, she practically qualifies as a regular in his series. But no strip ever had as many walk-ons, or got them from as many different sources, as Sam's Strip.

What The Muppet Show, which functioned as both a variety show and a sitcom about people putting on a variety show, did to television, Sam's Strip, a comic strip whose main character ran a comic strip, did to newspaper comics. The Muppets had guests from movies and other TV shows, and Sam had guests from other strips. Moon Mullins, Smokey Stover, Mutt & Jeff and hundreds of others all turned up during his brief run. Only in Sam's Strip could a ne'er-do-well like Happy Hooligan rub elbows with The Little King.

And that's not all. Sam kept a closet full of visual effects, such as idea bulbs and pain stars. When things didn't look right, he'd complain to the cartoonist. He once rented a couple of his panels to an adventure strip. Even his unnamed assistant started out wearing baggy clothes and checkered pants, painfully conscious of his position as second banana in a comedy duo.

Sam's Strip was the brainchild of Jerry Dumas, who worked in Mort Walker's studio, where Beetle Bailey, Hi & Lois and other popular strips were crafted. Walker, a gleeful observer of the conventions and peculiarities of comic strips (he later authored The Lexicon of Comicana, which both examined and lampooned them), contributed to its development, and together they sold the strip to Walker's syndicate, King Features. It debuted as a daily-only during October, 1961.

It was wildly popular among cartoonists, knowledgeable fans and other comics insiders — but the general public, who couldn't be counted on to recognize Andy Gump, Skippy, The Yellow Kid and other denizens of yesteryear's comics pages, didn't always get the joke. Or maybe they just weren't into that self-referential stuff. Anyway, its circulation, like that of Barnaby, King Aroo and other favorites of comics aficionados, was very low — in this case, never exceeding 60 papers. In June, 1963, it folded.

Sam came back years later, and his old partner, now with an actual name, returned as his second banana. But Sam & Silo, their current vehicle, is just a typical comic strip. It has none of the self-parodying zaniness that made Sam's Strip one of comics' little-known classics.


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Text ©2002-04 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features Syndicate.