Wednesday, September 08, 2010

 

Obscurity of the Day: What a Guy!

After an already successful career in gag cartooning and greeting cards Bill Hoest quickly became a very successful syndicated cartoonist when The Lockhorns debuted in 1968. The panel, which featured a bickering married couple,  was certainly no groundbreaking new idea in comics. However, Hoest's appealing art and the almost infinite adaptability of the Sunday version, which could be used to fill almost any space in a Sunday comics section, gave it a leg up on the competition.

Hoest was a bit of a workaholic, though, and one hit feature wasn't enough to keep him as busy as he liked. Several others followed which were also successful -- Bumper Snickers for National Enquirer in 1974, Agatha Crumm in 1977,  and Laugh Parade for Parade magazine in 1980. Hoest's last effort before his untimely death in 1988 at age 62 was What a Guy!, which debuted from King Features on March 29 1987. Unlike the others, this one didn't seem to find a very enthusiastic readership.

The premise is that an elementary school kid named Guy is obsessed with the idea that he's a businessman. He wears a frumpy suit, has a middle-age paunch, worries about ulcers, the whole nine yards. The idea was timely in the go-go 1980s, but Hoest didn't get there first -- the Guy character is strongly reminiscent of Alex P. Keaton from the hit TV sitcom Family Ties. The popularity of the TV show was probably seen as an asset, but it didn't seem to have the desired slingshot effect to propel What a Guy! into newspapers.

The feature at first used the tried-and-true model of The Lockhorns for the Sunday page -- a group of panel cartoons that could be rejiggered into many different formats. For unknown reasons this format was dropped in 1988 and the Sunday became a strip feature. From the beginning the daily was in strip form instead of a panel, though the 'strip' was almost always a single panel.

When Bill Hoest died in 1988, assistant John Reiner took over the art reins on all of the features, including What a Guy!. On August 7 1989 he was awarded a credit on the feature, perhaps when Bill Hoest's backstock ran out. On that same date Bill's widow Bunny Hoest, who had long collaborated with her husband on gag-writing, also began taking credit.  

What a Guy!, the only real dud in the Hoest feature list, was finally given the pink slip in 1997 (exact date unknown), along with the more popular Agatha Crumm. The two features only claimed to be in about 50 papers each when they were retired, which seems a liberal figure in the case of our obscurity. Bunny Hoest commented that she was dropping the features to concentrate more on The Lockhorns, whose 500 paper list dwarfed the others.

Although the feature was never a hit, two reprint books were produced. Tor published What a Guy! in 1989 and What's The Latest? in 1990.

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Comments:
Since you have 1986 as a start date, my information is probably incorrect, but I noticed that the Mimai Herald started it on Sunday March 29 1987, and the Toronto Star announced it on March 30 1987. The year 1987 is also confirmed by the Howard Huge website (seems to be kind of official?) No idea about the end date though.
 
Thanks very much for researching that Fram. On further checking the 1986 date was bogus -- the King Features ad section in the 1987 E&P directory calls it a brand new feature, so 3/29/87 it is. Post has been fixed.

--Allan
 
I remember this fondly. I didn't realize it was all that obscure!

(Loved Agatha Crumm, too.)
 
Well, nothing seems obscure if it ran in your hometown paper. Luck of the draw.

--Allan
 
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