Tuesday, September 8, 2009
The Sad Sack and Gabby Gob
In George Baker’s book The New Sad Sack (1946), he supplied his own short biography:
“I was born May 22, 1915, in Lowell, Mass. Upon being graduated from high school I did various jobs, such as fitting the paper bags on newly-pressed clothes in a cleaning and dying establishment, loading and driving trucks, and finally, working as an artist in a commercial art house. My artistic talents there were primarily employed in the drawing of pots and pans for newspaper advertisements.
“In 1937 I went out to Hollywood to work for Walt Disney. For the next 4 years I worked on virtually all of his well-known pictures which included Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo and Bambi. From there I was inducted into the army in June of 1941.
While going through basic training at Fort Monmouth Baker had “the idea of doing a comic strip which would reveal, through the misadventures of a ‘deadpan’ recruit, the then mysterious intricacies of army life.”
The Sad Sack took his name from “sad sack of shit,” as new army recruits were referred to in the army slang of the period. The Sad Sack began 15 Jun 1942 in the weekly US Army magazine Yank. Baker was attached at various times in the next three and one half years to overseas bureaus in Panama, Italy, the Philippines, Okinawa and Japan.
After the war the Sad Sack comic strip was syndicated from 1946 to 1958 by Consolidated News Features and he was the subject of a long-running Harvey comic book, The New Sad Sack. In 1957 that title was joined by two more; Sad Sack’s Funny Friends and Little Sad Sack. Also in 1957 Paramount Pictures released a George Marshall directed comedy, The Sad Sack, starring Jerry Lewis, David Wayne and Phyllis Kirk.
The Harvey comics covers were done by Baker but the interiors were passed on to cartoonist Fred Rhoads. Rhoads got his start in cartooning while serving in the Marine Corps in WWII. He originated a pantomime comic “Gismo and Eightball” for the Marine magazine Leatherneck. In 1954 he got a call from Harvey Features asking him to take over the Sad Sack comic book.
Rhoads had long experience in comic strips as an artist and gag-writer. He had assisted Mort Walker for a year on “Beetle Bailey,” Fred Lasswell on “Snuffy Smith” for three years, and helped out Jimmy Hatlo on “They’ll Do It Every Time” for a year.
Rhoads drew over 9500 pages of Sad Sack compared to Baker’s 800 pages. He was paid at the rate of $35 per page. On August 9 1964 Rhoads announced that he had created a new character for Harvey Comics featuring a Navy man named Gabby Gob. Gob would not be a “dozer” like the Sad Sack, “he’ll be kind of cute.” The Harvey syndicate had pressured Rhoads for a sailor comic book after discovering that more than half the Sad Sack books, with a total monthly sales run of 450,000, were being purchased by the navy.
In April 1983 Fred Rhoads, then 61, was awarded an astounding $2.58 million by a jury who said Rhoads publisher, Harvey, fraudulently represented the value of his work. The Sad Sack comic book was no longer in publication at the time. In October 1984 the judgment, to the dismay of Rhoads, was overturned on appeal. The judge ruled there was no evidence of fraud on the company’s part and Rhoads’s complaint was barred by Arizona’s three year statute of limitations.
Fred Rhoads died in Greenwood South Carolina, February 20, 2000 of Alzheimer’s disease. He was 78 years old.
George Baker, the originator of The Sad Sack, died May 7, 1975 of cancer and was buried in Riverside, California.
*Thanks to Don Kurtz for the great George Baker original at top.