One of several 'Smitty' Big Little Books. Artist: Walter Berndt.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1922
Creator: Walter Berndt
If this site is enjoyable or useful to you,
Please contribute to its necessary financial support. or PayPal

In 1922, Walter Berndt was a cartoonist without a cartoon. That's Different, which he'd done for The Bell Syndicate (home of …

continued below

Mutt & Jeff) had recently failed, and he was back on the pavement, making the rounds of editors. Walter Hoban's Jerry on the Job, about a young office boy, was being syndicated successfully by King Features, and he figured he not only could do that — he'd been that. His first exposure to the professional cartooning world had been just that sort of work at The New York Journal, where he'd gotten what he later called a million bucks worth of experience, rubbing elbows with the likes of Winsor McCay (Little Nemo in Slumberland), E.C. Segar (Thimble Theatre) and Thomas A. "Tad" Dorgan (Judge Rummy's Court).

He sold Bill the Office Boy to The New York World, but didn't last long there, due to what might euphemistically be called "creative differences" with his boss. But the same strip, presented to Captain Joseph Patterson, editor of The Chicago Tribune (which published and syndicated The Gumps, Winnie Winkle and other well-known strips) became a success — once Patterson had changed its name to the more succinct Smitty, which he'd gotten by flipping through a phone book. The daily strip was launched on November 27, 1922, and the Sunday version followed on February 25, 1923.

Smitty's full name was Augustus Smith. He was 13 years old when the strip began, cheerful and energetic. He worked as an office boy for a Mr. Bailey, whose exact sort of business wasn't important. Mr. Bailey had a stenographer named Ginnie, whom Smitty liked to tease. At home, there were Ma and Pa, and 4-year-old Herby. Smitty's whole world was full of love and geniality, which was probably a large factor in the strip's popularity.

Smitty maintained a steady circulation of about 100 papers — not in the range of Little Orphan Annie, also from the Tribune, but quite enough to keep it going for a long time. In 1930, Herby was spun off into a topper for the Sunday page. There were no radio or film adaptations, but Whitman did a few Big Little Books about him in the 1930s. He was reprinted in Popular Comics alongside Harold Teen, Terry & the Pirates and other Tribune stars, starting from the title's beginning in 1936, and in Super Comics (no relation), where Dick Tracy was the big star, later on. Dell Comics featured him in a comic of his own, which came out sporadically through the 1940s.

Like Hairbreadth Harry, Smitty grew up enough to marry the girl who had started out older — he and Ginnie tied the knot in the late 1950s. But, also like Harry, that was all the growing Smitty did. He remained a young man as long as the strip lasted.

Berndt employed an assistant until the early 1950s, but after that, mostly handled the work on his own. He was so highly regarded by his peers in The National Cartoonists' Society, that in 1969, they gave him the Reuben Award, naming him Cartoonist of the Year.

By that time, Smitty had taken on rather a dated look. It was still as well written and drawn as ever, but the style had gone out of fashion. In 1973, after more than a half-century on the job, Berndt retired, and Smitty retired with him.


BACK to Don Markstein's Toonopedia™ Home Page
Today in Toons: Every day's an anniversary!


Purchase Toon-related Merchandise Online

Text ©2002-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tribune Media Services.