Return of the Moose

May 28, 2008

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.

(Click images to enlarge.)

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.