Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Obscurity of the Day: Bumgardner

It's unfortunately not infrequent that a new feature gets syndicated before the creator has really found his or her creative footing. Bumgardner is a good example of that. When it first came on the scene in 1984, the strip's gags were clunky and the characters were defined a little too quirkily. By the time Jim Smith had ironed out the character kinks and gotten his gag-writing on track the strip was on the chopping block. These days syndicates have really begun to address that. No more do you get a syndicate contract as an unknown based on a couple weeks worth of sample strips -- new creators are usually signed to long-term development contracts, where they produce their features on a daily schedule for the purpose of seeing where the feature goes, what works and doesn't work, and to fine tune as necessary. Too bad this only came into vogue about eighty years later than it should have.

Most of the samples above are from the final year of the strip, when Smith was really hitting on all cylinders. I included so many because practically every one I looked at seemed to make the cut as chuckle-worthy.

The strip has a very simple premise -- Wallace, Laverne, Leonard and dog Spike are a houseful of rather dopey suburbanites who deal with everyday life. Their familial relationships are prone to be obscure -- sometimes Leonard is a grandson, sometimes a son. No matter; once Smith had hit his stride we didn't need to know the background of their relationship to get the gags.

The strip is by Jim Smith, of whom I know nothing. There is a Spumco animator of the same name, but I can find no indication that they are the same guy. In fact I can find not a word of information or comment anywhere about either Smith or his creation. All I know is that it was syndicated by the LA Times and ran at least from June 3 1984 to June 23 1986. Some papers ran it as Baumgardner, apparently a little modest about that first syllable.


Can be related? Also from LA.
Hi Fram --
I sent an email to 'this' Jim Smith. We'll see what he has to say. If I don't hear from him and update the posting I think we can assume they're two different guys.

Hey, I know this "Jim Smith" he is my brother.Thanks for appreciating his talent. Ill send this to him. :-)
Ha! Guilty as charged. My sister passed this along to me, and yes, I'm the Jim Smith that did "Bumgardner", (not Spumco). A very thoughtful blog on my early cartoon career. Thank you!
Hi Jim --
Thanks for visiting, and taking my somewhat critical evaluation of the strip with good humor. We here at Stripper's Guide would love to know more about the strip and your experiences being syndicated, and also what you've been up to since then.

Do I have the running dates of the strip correct? Did you do any other newspaper series?

Thanks, Allan Holtz
I was a writer/editor at the Los Angeles Times when Bumgardner debuted, and liked it so much -- especially Spike, who reminded me of our beagle -- that I bought an original from Jim Smith, who inscribed it with 'thanks for the EARLY vote of confidence.' I was very sorry when the LAT Syndicate (whose judgment was often dubious)dropped the strip, but am pleased to learn that Jim Smith persevered and prevailed.
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