Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas
Sam and Silo

Jerry Dumas was a close assistant to Mort Walker ('Beetle Bailey', 'Hi & Lois') for many years, as well as a productive scriptwriter for other artists. He is nevertheless best remembered for his classic gag-a-day comic 'Sam's Strip' (1961-1963), which poked fun at other famous comics series and clichés within the comics medium in general. While not a success at the time, it remains treasured by any genuine comics fan. The series eventually was renamed and remodelled into a more conventional spinoff named 'Sam and Silo' (1977). Dumas furthermore 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).

Gerald Dumas was born in 1930 in Detroit, Michigan. He developed a passion for comics and drawing from an early age. However, he went to get his degree in English at Arizona State University instead of studying art. Upon graduation in 1954, he got a job in Mort Walker's studio as text editor and gag man on the newspaper comics 'Beetle Bailey' and 'Hi and Lois'. Well into the 1960s, Walker and Dumas were the only writers on both strips, with both authors writing ten gags apiece a week and then picking out the best ideas for further development. By the late 1950s he was also helping Walker draw and letter the comic strip about lazy soldier 'Beetle Bailey', while Dik Browne drew the family comic 'Hi and Lois'. From 1968, Dumas also cooperated on the writing, drawing and lettering of 'Boner's Ark', a comic strip largely produced by Frank B. Johnson, one of Walker's other assistants.

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

Both Dumas and Walker had a keen knowledge of comic strip history, and toyed around with the idea of a character who ran his own comic strip as a business. This eventually resulted in the extraordinary offbeat comic strip 'Sam's Strip', which ran in newspapers through King Features Syndicate from 16 October 1961 until 1 June 1963. The comic was full of self-parody and metahumor, and featured guest appearances of characters from other strips. Dumas was the artist and showed an excellent skill in copying other artist's styles, from John Tenniel's illustrations for 'Alice in Wonderland', over George Herriman's 'Krazy Kat' and Frederick Burr Opper's 'Happy Hooligan', to Charles Schulz's 'Peanuts'. Colleagues joined in the laughter and not one lawsuit was filed. Even the Walt Disney Company was a good sport, and Walt Disney even wrote to ask for the original of the strip starring 'Donald Duck'. Copying other artists' styles was a time-consuming acivity though, and the general audience didn't always pick up the inside jokes. Therefore the satirical 'Sam' strip came to an end after less than two years.


Sam and Silo (21 May 1978)

During the period he drew 'Sam's Strip', Dumas had also started to make humorous illustrations for magazines like The New Yorker, the New York Times, and The Washington Post. In 1977, Dumas and Walker reprised the 'Sam' character in the more mainstream comic strip 'Sam and Silo', which dealt with the misadventures of a small-town sheriff and his deputy. After 1995, Dumas took sole control of the comic strip. In addition, Dumas has also done scriptwriting for comic strips by other artists, such as 'Rabbits Rafferty' (1977-1981), which was 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. Crawford also illustrated 'McCall of the Wild' (1988-1990), a comic strip written by Dumas which 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 comics series. Dumas was also scriptwriter for the political comic strip 'Benchley' (1984-1986), drawn by Mad Magazine artist Mort Drucker. '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 quite 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 and Diana. He also received many complimentary letters, including from White House speaker Tip O'Neill, politician Geraldine Ferraro and even President Reagan himself! 

Sam and Silo by Jerry Dumas

Dumas has also written essays and columns for the Atlantic Monthly, the Smithsonian, the Connoisseur and the Greenwich Time, and he chronicled his childhood memories in his 1972 novel 'An Afternoon in Waterloo Park'. Jerry Dumas received the Adamson Award for his work on 'Sam's Strip' and 'Sam and Silo' in 1985. He lived in Greenwich, Connecticut, for most of his life and has additionally been the town's handball champion more than 20 times since 1956. Jerry Dumas passed away on 12 November 2016.

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'.

comicskingdom.com/sam-and-silo
Sam's Strip at the Toonopedia
Sam and Silo at the Toonopedia

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