Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas
'Sam and Silo'.

Jerry Dumas was an American comic writer, artist, inker, painter and columnist. He is best remembered as the artist behind 'Sam's Strip' (1961-1963) and its sequel 'Sam and Silo' (1977-2016). 'Sam's Strip' gained a cult following among comic fans and fellow cartoonists for its self-reflexive satire of the comics medium and frequent cameos of characters from other series. 'Sam and Silo' was a more conventional follow-up, but nevertheless became Dumas' longest-running series. Both were co-written by Mort Walker, for whom Dumas was a close assistant-writer and artist from 1956 up until the 1980s. He assisted on Walker's three best known series 'Beetle Bailey', 'Hi & Lois' and 'Boner's Ark'. Dumas also wrote newspaper features like 'Rabbits Rafferty' (1977-1981) and 'McCall of the Wild' (1988-1990) for Mel Crawford, as well as Mort Drucker's 'Benchley' (1984-1986). While associated with cartoony gag-a-day comics, Dumas actually showed off his ability to make detailed and versatile drawings far more often than most cartoonists in the genre. 

Early life and career
Gerald Dumas was born in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan. His father was an amateur boxer, while his mother worked as a nurse. He developed a passion for comics and drawing from an early age. In high school he sold some of his cartoons to Teen Magazine for 2 dollars a piece. He took the bus to sell his work downtown. Dumas ranked Roy Crane, Hal Foster, Alex Raymond, Milton Caniff, Tom Henderson, Chon Day, Charles Addams, Dave Gerard and Walt Ditzen among his graphic influences. When Dumas attended an annual high school journalism all-day conference organized by the Detroit Press he went to a lecture by Ditzen and managed to have a quick chat with him after the conference. Ditzen encouraged him to get into cartooning, "because the sky's the limit!" and gave Dumas his address to maintain a correspondence. His letters provided Dumas with many valuable drawing tips. 

During the Korean War, Dumas served in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Arizona. He stayed there for a while to study at the Arizona State University in Tempe. He took a course in English, but this didn't mean that he neglected his love for cartooning. When Walt Ditzen moved to Phoenix, Arizona, Dumas became his assistant-inker, working on daily and Sunday episodes of his sports comic 'Fan Fare'. In a personal column, published in The Daily Union on 10 November 2009, Dumas recalled a day when he and some friends drove around in Los Angeles and suddenly passed the Walt Disney Studios. They tried to visit the place, but the guard only allowed people in if they applied for a job. Dumas made a couple of drawings which Disney's art editor Frank Reilly liked well enough to offer him a job as inbetweener, though not without describing it as "the most boring job in the world." When Dumas said that he studied at Arizona State and inked Ditzen's 'Fan Fare', Reilly strongly advised him to "do yourself a favor. Stay in school. Stay right where you are."  So Dumas continued his studies and graduated in 1955 with a master in English literature. He moved to Greenwich, Connecticut a year later, where he'd live for the rest of his life. 

Mort Walker
In June 1956 Dumas paid a visit to Mort Walker's studio at the recommendation of a friend and was instantly hired. Initially Dumas was just a text editor and gag writer for Walker's daily newspaper comics 'Beetle Bailey' (drawn by Walker) and 'Hi and Lois' (drawn by Dik Browne). By the end of the decade he also helped with inking, drawing and lettering 'Beetle Bailey'. When Walker and his assistant Frank B. Johnson launched another gag-a-day comic in 1968, 'Boner's Ark', Dumas co-wrote, co-drew and lettered this series too. Walker and Dumas each wrote ten gags a week, after which they picked out the best ideas for further development. Since they were the only scriptwriters on all these series until deep in the 1960s, a close friendship grew. Their taste in comedy, especially for humorous newspaper comics, was very similar. From this shared passion Dumas' first personal comic series would be born: "Sam's Strip'. 

'Sam's Strip', 24 May 1963.

Sam's Strip
While freeballing ideas, Walker and Dumas often drew little gags about comic strips in which famous characters from other series met each other. They had so much fun that they decided to develop it into a series. On 16 October 1961 their extraordinary offbeat comic strip 'Sam's Strip' debuted in papers, syndicated by King Features. The alliterative title was invented by Walker, who lettered and co-wrote the gags while Dumas provided artwork. The title character, Sam, is a grouchy, pompous, bulbous-nosed man with a beer belly. His mouth, lower chin and neck are often hidden behind his bowtie. Walker and Dumas were inspired by Mac from Russ Westover's 'Tillie the Toiler'. Sam had a thin sidekick with a long nose and bushy moustache. He remained anonymous, but would later retroactively receive the name Silo.

Sam's Strip, by Jerry Dumas
'Sam's Strip' (1962).

Each episode of 'Sam's Strip' is full of self parody and metahumor. Sam and Silo are fully aware that they are comic characters and try to "run" their own comic strip as if it is a business. In one episode Sam concludes that "running a comic strip is a big investment. There's the artist's salary, the ink, the paper scenery costs and all that helium to keep the balloons at the top of the panels." In another episode their car breaks down because "it ran out of ink." In yet another episode Sam rents 3/4th of the panels to a realistically drawn comic series. Countless phenomena, clichés and tropes of the medium were lovingly mocked. Sam and Silo have one main goal: increase their readership. They often argue with each other who is "the real star" of the comic. In several episodes they address the reader. The men complain about artwork, comedy or the low popularity of their series. Sometimes directly to Walker and Dumas themselves.

'Sam's Strip' also drew attention through frequent cameos of characters from other comic series. Some still ran in papers at the time. Others were from early 20th-century series that were cancelled decades ago. Dumas showed off his skill in copying other artist's styles: John Tenniel's illustrations for 'Alice in Wonderland', George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat', Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan', Charles M. Schulz's 'Peanuts',... The list went on. Copying characters was a time-consuming job, as he deliberately and respectfully wanted to mimick their original artwork. In one memorable storyline from 30 Apil 1962, Sam and Silo organize a convention to which they invite dozens of famous and less famous characters. Rather than just use them for one gag, Walker and Dumas kept this idea going for a full week. All while Dumas had to draw crowds of characters for each episode!

Sam's Strip, by Jerry Dumas
Guest appearances of World (an original creation of Dumas and Walker), Mac MacDougall from Russ Westover's 'Tillie the Toiler', Jeff from Bud Fisher's 'Mutt & Jeff', Harry Hershfield's 'Abie the Agent', Billy DeBeck's 'Barney Google', Ralston Jones and Frank Ridgeway's 'Mr. Abernathy' and Otto Soglow's 'The Little King'.

Dumas was such a good parodist that many people thought he either used a copy machine or asked the original artists for permission. In reality he did neither. 'Sam's Strip' was done in such good fun that fellow cartoonists joined in the laughter, rather than file lawsuits. On 20 December 1961 Dumas gave Harold Gray's 'Little Orphan Annie' a cameo and suggested replacing her dog with a little monkey. Four months later Gray actually had Annie travel with a monkey in 'Little Orphan Annie' for a few days. Although both cartoonists never had contact, Dumas still was confident that Gray "played a quiet little game with us." Both Charles M. Schulz and Frank Reilly (Walt Disney Studios) wrote Dumas and Walker to receive original artwork of 'Sam's Strip' episodes with cameos of their characters.

While 'Sam's Strip' mostly revolved around comics, certain jokes also referenced current events and pop culture of the day. Quips about the Kennedy administration, Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev, Elizabeth Taylor and the Twist dance craze are, of course, dated now. One specific episode, from 9 April 1963, even had an unfortunate eerie undertone. As Sam and Silo consult a crystal ball to predict the future, they receive the message: "Robert Kennedy 1968." Silo then wonders "what" exactly is supposed to happen to RFK by then? The joke was made when John F. Kennedy was still president and was originally meant to hint at his brother Robert following in his footsteps by then. Unfortunately John was assassinated on 22 November 1963, seven months after this gag was published, while Robert indeed was presidential candidate in 1968, but made bigger headlines by being assassinated as well.

'Sam's Strip'. 

'Sam's Strip' is comparable to Mad Magazine's parody comics and self-reflexive comedy, introduced by Harvey Kurtzman a decade earlier. Yet Mad was mostly read by children and teenagers. Among the far larger adult audience in newspapers, 'Sam's Strip' therefore still came across as strange and unusual. When Walker and Dumas first pitched their comic to a board room of publishers, they already noticed that a majority simply didn't understand the concept. Although 'Sam's Strip' was eventually greenlighted, general audiences were often just as puzzled and confused. Walker recalled that many people kept asking him why certain characters from different comics appeared in their series, "since they don't belong there?" Other readers had a different problem. By being unfamiliar with the source material, many jokes just flew over their head. Especially the ones referring to ancient comic characters no longer in the public consciousness. Therefore 'Sam's Strip' never rose beyond a cult following among hardcore comic fans and other cartoonists. Even at the height of its circulation, it only ran in 40 to 50 U.S. papers. One of them was the Journal-American, which unfortunately ended its run in 1963. This meant that 'Sam's Strip' lost their readership in New York City, where many cartoonists were active. On 1 June 1963 the final episode appeared in print. It had only ran for 20 months.

In hindsight, 'Sam's Strip' may have been a bit too ahead of its time. By the mid-1960s, comics received more global academic interest and attention. Several books, fanzines and magazine articles discussed comics from past and present. Many classic titles were reprinted. All this could have helped 'Sam's Strip' if it had debuted or continued a little later. In today's world of self-referential comedy and constant pop culture references, it wouldn't even seem that out of place. On the other hand it was always too much of a "comic strip for comic fans" to ever be embraced by general audiences. But it did ensure its continuing popularity among new generations of comics lovers. In 2008 Fantagraphics collected all episodes into one single volume: 'Sam's Strip. The Comic About Comics', which also includes personal recollections by Walker & Dumas and unreleased material.

'Sam and Silo' (21 May 1978).

Sam and Silo
On 18 April 1977 'Sam's Strip' made a comeback, though in a remodelled, watered down version more suitable for mainstream audiences, titled 'Sam and Silo'. In this incarnation Sam and Silo are respectively the sheriff and deputy of a small town called Upper Duckwater. They still drive the same car from their origin comic, but wear different costumes, while Silo lost his glasses. They are not much brighter than most of the other side characters, including the pompous Mayor McGuffey and their courthouse janitor Algy, who usually causes more damage than fixing stuff. Luckily their town has a low crime level. The only recidivist criminal is Buford, who keeps escaping, only to be returned to custody soon after. In most episodes Sam and Silo therefore have time to chat with other local townspeople, such as Rosie the diner lady, Granny Naps the landlady, the odd nun Sister Agnes and lunatic vagrant Funny Floyd. Sam also keeps a cat in the courthouse: Jasper. But this is untolerable in the eyes of Mayor McGuffey who often sends them off to do pointless surveillance work or stop nonexistent crime. 

By being less self-reflexive and taking place in a quiet, recognizable U.S. rural town, 'Sam and Silo' disappointed fans of 'Sam's Strip', but nevertheless pleased general audiences enough to last 39 years, up until Dumas' death. Originally Walker scripted many episodes personally, but after 1995 he retired, leaving the sole control to Dumas himself. The series is notable for Dumas' beautiful rustic backgrounds. He drew picturesque streets and nature landscapes, many inspired by real locations the artist visited in Maine and Martha's Vineyard. Dumas had a particular knack for drawing tree shades on the road. The contrast between the cartoony characters and the elaborate, realistically drawn backgrounds was striking and gave the series its own unique look. Walker said they deliberately added this element to 'Sam and Silo' as a reaction to numerous other newspaper comics where the characters just walk around in simple, dull white voids. 

Rabbits Rafferty
In addition, Dumas has also done scriptwriting for comic strips by other artists, such as 'Rabbits Rafferty' (1977-1981), based on Dumas' own 1968 children's novel of the same name. The only difference was that the original novel was illustrated by Wallace Tripp, while the newspaper text strip version was illustrated by Mel Crawford.

McCall of the Wild
Dumas (script) and Mel Crawford (art) also made 'McCall of the Wild' (1988-1990) together. Its style was comparable to 'Sam's Strip' in the sense that the two main characters, McCall the girl and her pet pig Piggins, interacted with characters from different comic series.

Dumas was also scriptwriter for the political comic strip 'Benchley' (1984-1986), drawn by Mad Magazine artist Mort Drucker and assisted by John Reiner. 'Benchley' was a daily syndicated newspaper comic, which spoofed President Ronald Reagan through his supposed assistant Benchley. The comic strip required some restraint, since the creators were not allowed to be too biting in their political commentary. Drucker too had to keep his artwork simple in order to "read" properly in newspaper prints. 'Benchley' was popular with readers and gave Drucker the opportunity to caricature many famous politicians and media celebrities, including Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Henry Kissinger, Walter Mondale and Prince Charles (the future Charles III) and Diana. He also received many complimentary letters, including from White House speaker Tip O'Neill, politician Geraldine Ferraro and even President Reagan himself! 

When Dick Cavalli had his second heart attack, Dumas ghosted his signature series 'Winthrop' for three months, though this merely consisted of taking old episodes, blanking the speech balloons and lettering different dialogue in them. 

Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas
'Sam and Silo'. 

Other activities
From 1956 on, Dumas drew cartoons for The Saturday Evening Post, followed by work for The New Yorker three years later. His work soon appeared in The New York Times and The Washington Post as well. He had a weekly column in The Greenwich Times, while writing editorials for The Atlantic Monthly, The Smithsonian, The Connoisseur and The Washington Post too. The creative centipede chronicled his childhood memories in his novel 'An Afternoon in Waterloo Park' (1972). 

In 1985 Jerry Dumas won an Adamson Award. Incidentally he was also Greenwich Connecticut's handball champion for more than 20 times since 1956. In 1971 and 1976 he won the state championship and the New England title in 1971. 

Jerry Dumas passed away on 12 November 2016 at age 86 from neuroendocrine cancer. 

Self-portrait of Jerry Dumas in 'Sam's Strip' of 3 March 1962.
Sam's Strip at the Toonopedia
Sam and Silo at the Toonopedia

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