Return of the Moose

Bob Weber, creator of the classic comic strip “Moose Miller” (titled “Moose & Molly” since 1998), visited Baltimore recently and invited me to dine with him at the Bob Evans establishment out on Ritchie Highway, eight miles south of South Baltimore, the neighborhood where Bob was born and raised. It’s also where I spent the happiest five or six years of my youth. In fact, I moved back to South Baltimore in 2003, which is proof, I guess, that you can go home again. Bob, on the other hand, lives and works in Westport, Connecticut and calls his adopted home “Westpork.” Until he called I hadn’t talked to him for at least ten years, hadn’t seen him for over twenty, but I wasn’t at all surprised to hear from him. You see, Bob sort of owes me—or at least I think he thinks he does.

Our connection goes back to at least June 27, 1986, when I wrote the following note to the Features Editor of the Baltimore Sunday Sun: “I’m a big fan of comic strips—have been all my life—and I especially love some that appear daily in the Evening Sun: “Peanuts,” “Andy Capp,” “B.C.,” and, more recently, “Zippy,” “Calvin & Hobbes,” and “Moose Miller.” However, it’s very disappointing to follow these features each day of the week and then not be able to enjoy them in color on Sunday. I refer to “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Moose,” my two very special favorites, which have so far been missing from the Sunday pages. Can this situation be corrected?”

That was the first of several letters I wrote, over the span of a few years, to insure that “Moose Miller” got some respect in the Sunday comics section, and to help see to it that the feature was reinstated once it had been dropped from the funny pages altogether—which, if memory serves, happened three times, with the third strike turning out to be terminal. Sadly, “Moose” has not run in Bob Weber’s hometown paper since, I believe, 1995.

During the period I was able to help keep “Moose Miller” in Baltimore my arguments for the strip emphasized the local angle, the fact that the characters referred often to Baltimore landmarks such as “Sparrows Point Shipyards” “Curtis Bay” and “Pratt Street,” and used the names of local people in the balloons, mine included. Here’s a memory jogger for Balti-morons, as we like to call ourselves. In the strip below “Bill Buxton” refers to the Baltimore Sun fishing writer Bill Burton; “Vince Baggy” was the beloved local sports columnist Vince Bagli; and announcer Stu Kerr plays himself, a real announcer for a real local TV station; and me, Jim Sizemore. Along with Vince Baggy I’m the “written by” guy. For some reason Bob didn’t, or couldn’t, come up with nicknames for Stu Kerr and me. (There are also three names in the strips I was unable to I.D. See the end of this post for more about that.)

But I believe the strongest points I made in favor of the strip were aesthetic and social. The gag writing is excellent, words and images working together to create the humor, a characteristic always present in the best visual/written humor. The visual appeal of “Moose” is the result of strong composition and the use of simple shapes to define human and animal characters, places, and things, as in the “Nancy,” “Henry,” and “Snuffy Smith” mold, all of which, like “Moose Miller,” read well visually when reproduced at very small sizes. That’s important these days with the shrinking space given to comics features. The strip above is an excellent example of Bob’s astute way with dramatic visual composition—it couldn’t be simpler, or bolder, or better. In my opinion “Moose Miller” was (and is, since it’s still running) a unique work at once fluid, funny and very lively—and it’s an example of very good graphic design. And finally, the strip has social value. It is one of the very few remaining syndicated comic strips that depict the day-to-day humorous conflicts of working class family life. These are simple comic characters but they have real lives and real jobs. Well, except for Moose—but at least he makes an effort to find work, he just can’t seem to hold on to it.

The way I see it, Bob repaid my small efforts on behalf of “Moose Miller” many times over with his friendship—intermittent but always fun—plus the pleasure the feature gave me when it ran locally and I could read it every day, including Sunday. (Not to mention the sliver of immortality having my name appear in it from time to time.) Bob, being a humble South Baltimore guy, doesn’t realize I’d happily settle for that. Well, a bit more than that. I would like Bob to show up in Baltimore more often so we can stroll around the old neighborhood and gab about the misty days of yesteryear. But it’s O.K. with me if he never again feels he has to spend big bucks on me at fancy restaurants. After all, guys like us have simple tastes.

Help the Blogger Plea

If you know the identities of these folks—”Johnny Walker,” “Andy Thomas,” and “Don Puff”—all mentioned in the comic strips above, please use the comment space below to clue me in. I’ll be forever grateful.

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.

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13 Responses to Return of the Moose

  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Thanks for this, Jim. Bob is a great guy with great stories. I never knew about all the local touches in MOOSE!

  2. I’ve always loved this strip. As you point out the cartooning, layout, and gag writing are excellent. Thanks for the great post!

  3. Shawn says:

    Dad – I think Johhny Walker may have been the shock jock of WFBR 1300 back in the 70’s. Have no clue on the others. Maybe send an e-mail asking who he was referring to.

  4. Jim says:

    Thank you all for the comments. My son points out that one of the “mystery” names is Johnny Walker, one of the original shock jocks on radio anywhere and it happened right here in good ‘ol Baltimore. Now that he tells me I remember. Another good reason to have kids, so they can help you through your “senior moments.”

  5. Vince says:

    Hey Dad.
    This was the first time I was able to read your blog. I never knew that you were so Famous!

  6. Jim says:

    Thanks for the comment, Vince, it’s nice to know that both of my sons are keeping in touch with the old man.
    Dad

  7. Roy Delgado says:

    Great piece on the big fella. The funny part . . someone once said that many times artists draw themselves . . So true with Bob Weber . . Bob Weber IS Moose Miller ! Bob is is a great cartoonist, a master of slapstick, composition, teacher, mentor and all-around nice guy.
    I’m glad to say he’se my close friend.
    Roy Delgado

  8. Jim says:

    Good to hear from you, Roy, and glad you enjoyed the Bob Weber post. I wasn’t aware you two were friends. Your may not remember me, but we met some years back in Annapolis for lunch, with Jim Orton. Meanwhile I know you’re still in the gag game because I come across and enjoy your work all the time in Barron’s.
    Jim Sizemore

  9. Roy Delgado says:

    Yes, Jim, as a matter of fact, I DO remember when met at that lunch. Am also a close friend of Jim Orton, we met at Corcoran school of Art in Wash DC back in ’66.
    Keep up the nice work.
    Your collegue,
    Roy Delgado

  10. Roy Delgado says:

    Hi Jim,
    Check out my new web comic. Hope you enjoy.
    P.S. I thought the Buxton guy in the Moose Miller strip was a Mr. Buxton who was Bob Weber’s boss when he worked at Westinghouse.

  11. Jim says:

    You may be right, Roy. I’ll ask Bob the next time we meet for dinner and shuffleboard at Hull Street Blues.

  12. karen says:

    I always loved this comic strip from the Balto. Evening Sun Newspapers. I always liked the fact that it depicted Baltimore neighborhoods and ‘ideas’ that I could relate to!

  13. Jim says:

    Thanks for the comment, Karen. I’ll pass it along to Bob Weber, the creator of “Moose and Molly,” who is still producing his strip after all these years. He’ll be pleased.

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