Monday, January 29, 2024


Obscurity of the Day: Sherman on the Mount


American Greetings, the #2 greeting card company in the world trailing behind Hallmark, was on a real roll in the 1970s and 80s creating running characters that appeared not just on their cards but were also merchandised on pretty much any object on which an image could be printed. Holly Hobbie, Strawberry Shortcake, the Care Bears -- these were all cooked up at American Greetings. Even good ol' Ziggy was born there. 

In 1979 Walt Lee (artist) and Mike Fruchey (writer) brought a proposal for a new character to American Greetings, this one for the consumer who likes a little religion with their treacle. Sherman on the Mount is a monk with a sweet disposition, a quick wit, and a running conversation with the nicest and most supportive God around -- no smiting or condemning to Hell in Sherman's world. Sherman is just filled to bursting with love for everything, so he feels no compunctions about taking silver for appearing on stickers, music boxes, figurines, pot holders, coffee mugs, sheet music, etc. etc. 

Sherman never quite took off the way some of American Greetings other 'personalities' did, but on September 7 1986* his visibility got a boost with a new daily and Sunday comic strip syndicated by the Los Angeles Times Syndicate. Fruchey, whose writing role had been usurped by the corporate writers at American Greetings, presumably was allowed to come back as writer, not just a copyright holder listed on the masthead. 

Sherman on the Mount debuted with a solid new strip client list (150 papers according to Fruhey) and included some high profile and high-paying client papers. It seems to me that the strip was set up to become a perennial sort of half-forgotten feature, one that offered the sort of quick, good-hearted but vapid gags that could sustain a strip for the grandma audience. And you know what happens with grandma strips -- a newspaper that dares drop them is going to catch, er, a darn good talking-to. 

For good or ill, Sherman never got the chance to become a newspaper fixture. By 1986 when the strip debuted American Greetings had already cut way back on new Sherman paraphernelia; they obvious had lost interest in him. Evidently selling the comic strip was not enough to encourage them to make another attempt at turning Sherman into the next Ziggy. My guess is that the strip was cancelled on October 2 1988** because American Greetings felt it wasn't worth their time and effort to oversee. 

I can find exactly zero information on Walt Lee, perhaps because he shares the name of another earlier cartoonist. I did find a short bio of Fruchey here (scroll to page 9). . 

* Source: Elmira Star-Gazette

** Source: Boston Globe


I've found a few bits on Walt Lee. There's an obit of a friend of his that indicates both went to Liverpool College of Art, in England, which is now part of Liverpool John Moores University. The December 24, 1984 edition of the Ukiah Daily Journal (on has a front page bit on Lee, indicating that he and his wife moved to the United States from Liverpool in 1960 (thus linking up to Liverpool College of Art). That newspaper also has a picture of Lee working at his drawing desk. Lee apparently had been working at an advertising agency in Liverpool before being recruited by A.G. as an illustrator, and he lived in Cleveland before moving to Potter Valley, CA (a rural area north of San Francisco) ca. 1976. The October 30, 1986 Elmira Star-Gazette has an interesting column by a local rabbi on the strip. The Indianapolis News in September of 1986 had a "comics watch" asking readers to choose between Mary Worth and Sherman, an interesting push for the strip at a late date. The August 10, 1988 Buffalo News indicated that Lee was discontinuing Sherman to pursue other projects. Newsday, in February and March of 1987, had a sharp back and forth in the letters, with one reader calling the strip a "blasphemy." The Kansas City Times, in November of '86, also had Sherman on a ballot, and the Detroit Free Press did in October. Sounds to me like the syndicate might have been fishing.
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