Mark Burstein

January 1, 1997

Post #487 – 19970101

Dear Mr. Pinkwater,

Here’s the official word on “Nov Shmoz Ka Pop”.

Gene Ahern created “Our Boarding House” (featuring Major Hoople) for the NEA syndicate in 1921. The “topper” on that strip was “The Nut Brothers, Ches and Wal”. (A “topper” is a less-significant strip running on the same page as the main strip, done by the same artist).

Gene moved over to the Hearst syndicate in 1936, taking with him his characteristic drawing style and the major characters, although they were renamed (e.g. Judge Puffle). The new strip was called “Room and Board”. He also started a new half-page Sunday topper, called “Squirrel Cage”, replacing “The Nut Brothers”. The character “The Little Hitchhiker” appeared in the “Squirrel Cage”, and that was his trademark saying. Another running gag was that he always hitchhiked with something which made it impossible to pick him up (a horse, for instance). There was even a sequence in which the characters traveled to his homeland.

Meanwhile, Bill Freyse and others continued drawing “Our Boarding House”.

Many later comic “stars” started out in the little additional strips, where artists were not under so many constraints, and could try out new ideas. For instance, a cat and mouse duo started life in an unnamed strip which ran under “The Dingbat Family” in 1906. Their names were Krazy and Ignatz.

“Nov shmoz ka pop” is prominently featured on the back cover of the new “R. Crumb Coffee Table Art Book” where his descendent, Mr. Natural, is speaking the holy phrase on the back cover.

This information has been checked with Malcolm Whyte, founder of the Cartoon Art Museum of San Francisco, who also sent me a Xerox of an original strip he owns with the Little Hitchhiker himself in the last panel, and we confirmed this with Bill Blackbeard of the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art. Case closed.

Best wishes,

Mark Burstein

Cartoon Art Originals

Mill Valley CA

Another reference:

“Squirrel Food” / by Mark Johnson. p. 61-66 in “Nemo”, no. 25

(Apr. 1987) — About Gene Ahern’s early strip, with reprinted examples.

— Cover title: “Life in the Squirrel Cage”

Daniel replies:

Mark Burstein -- Profound thanks from me and, I am sure, many others who come here, and have spent many a sleepless night wondering about the true origin of the phrase and the character. I salute you.