Cartoonist George Storm
George Storm – Adventure Comic Strip Pioneer
Here to follow is a somewhat in depth and interesting account of a creative yet restless individual who created cartoons and comic strips at a time when syndication was in it’s infancy, as a growing genre of comic strip was gaining in popularity.
George Storm was a restless and somewhat elusive genius who seemed to never have courted fame.
Upon his death in 1976, his obituary didn’t make the wire services and the notice that ran in his hometown newspaper in Oklahoma failed to mention most of his cartooning related credentials.
Although during his professional career that started before World War 1, and continued for over a half century, he racked up an impressive list of accomplishments in the cartooning business.
Storm drew the comic strip Phil Hardy which was one of the first adventure strips to run in papers nationally, in the mid 1920’s. He also created Bobby Thatcher which by the early 1930’s was one of the single most popular comic strips published in newspapers.
There was a fast growing comic book business in the late 1930’s and Storm entered this genre illustrating for most of the publishing houses in that field. He was impressively versatile and turned out everything from costumed super heroes to funny animals and was both the first cartoonist to draw the avenging Hangman for MLJ and the first to do Bugs Bunny for Dell Publishing.
In the early 1940’s he accepted the contract to take over the duties for an adventure strip The Adventures Of Patsy and also created Buzzy, a teenage comic book character which was in direct competition with Archie, for DC Publishing.
Despite all of this, Storm remains little- known and facts about him and his work are difficult to come by. With the exception of a section in The Adventurous Decade and Bill Blackbeard’s material in the World Encyclopedia Of Comics and a Hyperion Press Collection of Bobby Thatcher, you won’t find so much as a mention of him in any histories of comics published in the past several decades.
Storm was born in a small town in Arkansas in 1893 and grew up in a small town in Oklahoma.
By the time George was in his teens he was working for an Oklahoma weekly newspaper and was a copy boy…no cartooning was yet a part of his artistic accumen.
For a short time he was employed as a file clerk for the SF & St. L. Railway. “On the face of the official reports concerning the annihilation of cows, there began to appear my sketches of Bossy hurtling over the telegraph wires with irate farmers and claim agents in the background.”
Storm later confessed . “The result was inevitable: art and commerce clashed.” Out of a job, young storm migrated to Chicago. “After a few months of art instruction, I began to make the rounds of the Chicago papers applying for a job.
I was one of 500 with that ambition. John T. McCutcheon continued to hold his job against the field.
Then followed two years of more or less precarious freelancing among trade publications, with intervals of employment in other fields.”
Eventually, Storm got a job as a reporter, at a salary of $8 per week, on the Chicago Herald. When the Herald folded, Storm found work with other papers in the area. By 1919 he headed West.
He found employment working as a reporter for both the Los Angeles Examiner and the San Francisco Chronicle.
“But the ambition to be a cartoonist remained with me and I aspired to become an editor and run my own cartoons on page one…The editor of the San Francisco Daily News recognized the strategy and me a job as a cartoonist in self-defense.”
After five years of drawing cartoons with a local flavor for the news, the restless Storm journeyed East to work for the New York Mirror.
This tabloid was Hearst’s answer to the incredibly successful New York News.
Storm had done a variety of cartoon work for many newspapers by this time and one of his specialties was panel cartoons of bird’s eye views crowded with dozens of characters (A Busy Day At Recreation Park, When A Snowstorm Hit Market St. etc.) For the Mirror, again imitating a format often used by his idol McCutcheon, he did a series of such panels under the title Little Old New York In Pictures.
In 1925 Storm met newspaperman and author Jay Jerome Williams. The result was a newspaper strip for the Bell Syndicate – Phil Hardy. This was not actually the very first adventure strip., since Roy Crane had staked a claim with Wash Tubbs the year before., but it was most certainly a pioneer in a category that would grow enormously into the following decade.
Straighter in approach and more melodramatic than Crane’s Opus, Phil Hardy commenced in November of 1925.
It was a mixture of pluck-and-luck success stories favored by Horatio Alger and his dime novel imitators (no doubt the reason why Williams used the pen name Edwin Alger on the strip) and the more contemporary thrills and perils offered in action movies and serials.
“This is the story of Phil Hardy’s climb to fame and fortune.” announced the first strip. Also pointing out that Phil, “a bright boy of 15”, was the sole support of his widowed mother.
The story gets off to a smalltown start, but before a month has passed Phil has been shanghaiied and finds himself bound for Cape Town, South Africa, aboard the steamer Black Castle. From then on, the strip was full of action, including murder on the high seas and intrigue ashore.
Before Styorm quit the strip, in the fall of 1926, it had changed it’s name to Bound To Win. After Storm’s departure a new young hero named Ben Webster took over.
After leaving the Williams stable and before setting up business with an adventure cartoon of his own, George Storm did some short run strips for the McClure Syndicate.
Cartoonist George Storm also illustrated Swiss Family Robinson
The most notable was a 22 week adaptation of Swiss Family Robinson. Adaptations of the classics were common on the comics pages of the 1920’s, but most were don in a stodgy, reverent way and looked like book illustrations that were strung together.
Storm’s handsomely illustrated version of the Johann Wyss novel, however, was a true comic strip and had action, blood and thunder, and cliffhangers.
The strip ended in 1927, with a shot of the rescued family sailing away across a moonlit sea, and was replaced by Storm’s brand new Bobby Thatcher. “Bobby Thatcher, a bright lad of 14, lives on a farm near the village of Lake View.
He is the ward of Jed Flint and lives with Flint and his housekeeper,” Storm tells us by way of introduction. “Since the death of Mrs. Flint, who was kind to him, Bobby no longer attends school and his life is one of increasing hardship.”
Bobby’s chief hardship is old Flint, as hard as his name implies. Flint overworks the boy and scorns Bobby’s ambitions and appropriates and money that Bobby earns and in general behaves in the accepted fictional stepfather – guardian fashion of that era.
Bobby, of course, runs away before the comic strip is even two weeks into it’s run which allows creator George Storm to add more contemporary touches to his concept.
Bobby Thatcher sets out hitch hiking and gets a ride from a stranger in a powerful touring car.
The helpful stranger it turns out, is a wanted criminal and there is a search by state troopers and the sheriff’s department for this person. A chase ensues and there is a race to beat a screaming locomotive to a railroad crossing.
What George Storm is doing is mixing in movie excitement with the Alger story line. Storm continued to do this throughout the comic strip’s run, altering babies left in wicker baskets on people’s doorsteps to surly rumrunners with tommyguns firing away.
Bobby Thatcher‘s character depicted picaresque wanderings throughout the 1920’2 and 1930’s exposing him to almost every kind of adventure format ranging from aviation excitement to detective work, to being a cowboy to seafaring and much more.
The cartoon ended in the midst of a sequence in late 1937 with a notice to the effect that Storm “has announced he is abandoning Bobby Thatcher to take up other work.”
Actually the last few weeks of Bobby Thatcher had been ghosted by young Sheldon Mayer, who was working at the syndicate as an all-around editorial assistant.
“I think by that time it had become drudgery to him.” Mayer recalls.The strip, tame in comparison with the new adventures strips that had launched during the 30’s was now earning Storm only about $100 a week.
Not a bad salary for that time, but a long way from the $1000 and more per month Bobby had generated during it’s heyday when the strip was appearing in nearly 60 newspapers (subscribers included: the New York World, the Washington Post, the Philadelphia Ledger, the St. Louis Post – Dispatch and many others.).
There had been some consideration given by syndicate directors to have Mayer continue to create Bobby Thatcher based on it’s popularity and following but nothing came from this.
Mayer recalls being told by the syndicate that Bobby Thatcher will indeed be cancelled and it was agreed there will still be two weeks of pencilled dailies to ink in.
After selling his Long Island home, George Storm decided he’ll return to Enid, Oklahoma where he and his wife decided to take up farming.
Storm returned to his boyhood hometown, a place he couldn’t seem to stay away from and was absent from cartooning for roughly two years!
Comic books had come along in the middle of the 1930’s and by the time that decade ended, that genre of comic related material was booming.
It was then that this new comic book industry saw George Storm return to his best creative form.
His first work appeared in early 1939. It was a modest debut, with All-American Comics #1 which devoted only three pages of reprints from his defunct Bobby Thatcher strip. All-American was the new line that M.C. Gaines, formerly editor of the McClure Syndicate, had started.
It mixed original material (Hop Harrigan, Scribbly) with syndicated reprints (Mutt & Jeff, Reg’lar Fellars).
The editor was none other than Sheldon Mayer and he was responsible for the reprinting of the strip. Bobby’s adventures held on for only seven issues.When halfway superhero Gary Concord the Ultra-Man came along, Storm’s plucky lad was dropped.
But it was also Mayer who had hired Storm to create his first original works for comic books. The first new Gaines title was Flash Comics, which hit the stands nine months after All – American and Movie Comics.
In the short interval between the launchings, Superman and then Batman, had convinced alot of publishers that costumed superheroes were indeed a saleable commodity.
Flash Comics boasted three of them, super and otherwise.They were The Flash, Hawkman and The Whip. Storm drew The Whip, with John Wentworth providing the script.
Mayer sat in on creation of the character and admits he may have been thinking of Zorro at the time.
The hero of the feature, polo-playing playboy Rod Gaynor, assumed the role of the masked caballero El Castigo, initially to save a Mexican laborer from a lynch mob in a corrupt border town. Plots of this sort were, by the way, fairly common in adventure comic books of 40 and more years earlier, even though editors and readers didn’t yet speak much of social relevance.
Storm had a style entirely his own and it was next to impossible for editors to find a predecessor or for that matter, latter – day disciples.
His drawings were quirky and full of energy and he often suggested more than he showed in his cartoons and the way they were displayed.
Even when handling a fairly serious feature like The Whip, storm is clearly a cartoonist and not an illustrator.His anatomy may be a bit off, but the people and the animals all move and have life.
He only did two episodes of the feature before moving on. The cover of Flash #4 is by Storm, but that artwork is actually a slightly doctored blow up as a panel from the initial Whip story.
The ubiquitous Storm next showed up in Crash Comics in the spring of 1940. This magazine, with it’s failure – prone title lasted but five issues.
Storm was in all five of them, along with such newcomers as Jack Kirby and Irwin Hasen. He drew two adventure features, Buck Burke, concerning a pith – helmeted explorer who “gets ’em alive,” and The Flying Trio, about three “happy-go-lucky flying fools.”
For the even shorter lived Whirlwind Comics, which survived only three issues, Storm created a newsman feature titled Scoop Hanlon.
It was also in 1940 that Storm did his first artwork for the MLJ company. In the fourth issue of Blue Ribbon Comics (June 1940) he drew Ty-Gor, a strip about a lad raised in the jungle by a maternal tiger.
Storm dropped that strip after two issues, but returned to it again after the following year. He worked briefly in newspaper comics in the fall of 1940, when he ghosted a few weeks of Joe Jinks for United Features after the death of Harry Hoffman.
Back with MLJ in 1941, he drew two boxing related comic strips, Kayo Ward and the St. Louis Kid, and also co-created The Hangman. Scripted by one Cliff Campbell, this was an exceptionally violent feature.
The Hangman sets up shop after his brother, The Comet, is killed by gangsters. A vindictive fellow, Hangman avenges his brother’s death and warns us all in the final panel, “The Comet has died, but his spirit lives on . . .in the Hangman! Beware, criminals, you cannot outrun your own conscience…nor escape the gallows!”
Subsequent episodes dealt with impaling, strangling, and to be sure, hanging. George Storm had stuck with this one for just four episodes.
Fresh from Hangman, Storm then went to work for Dell and drew Bug Bunny cartoons in the newly launched Looney Toons & Merrie Melodies.
In conjunction with the exploits of the Warner rabbit,he also did Pat, Patsy & Pete. This was a fantasy, one that Storm obviously had fun working on, one about a pair of blonde kids with a penguin that talked. He illustrated that one for a total of six issues, where he created undersea sequences rich with mermaids, monsters, buried treasure, and leering ghost pirates.
One of the following artists that drew this strip was none other than Walt Kelly. Storm was one of a handful of cartoonists who drew in both “big foot” cartooning style and straight stuff.
Jack Cole was yet another, but most cartoon artists stuck to one style of drawing. You weren’t likely to find Walt Kelly whipping up an episode of the Human Torch and Jack Kirby never drew Little LuLu. For the remainder of his comic book career, George Storm stayed with the funny stuff.
He produced many one page fillers, most of them unsigned for DC and Fawcett. And for Fawcett he also did a minor classic, Colonel Poerterhouse. The colonel was a plump bald fellow of the Major Hoople variety, who loved to tell tall tales.
What made the five yarns he spun in Whiz Comics in 1942 especially entertaining is that they were parodies of the magazine’s more sobersided heroes.
Storm kidded Spy Smasher, the Golden Arrow, Ibis The Invincible, Lance O’Casey, and Captain Marvel in his six page scenarios.
Porterhouse with his potbelly and tomato nose made an especially fetching Captain Marvel.
Late in 1943 Storm came up with Buzzy for DC’s All Funny.
This comic book, initially a quarterly, also gave enjoyment to such other veterans as Jack Farr, Paul Fung, Ray McGill, and Jimmy Thompson.
Buzzy didn’t seem like any teenager his young readers might have known.
He wore a suit and tie, for one thing, and drove around in an ancient automobile with wisecracks lettered on it’s side.
Buzzy, a peabrained fellow who played jive trumpet, was closer in many ways to the Harold Teen of a decade or so before than he was to contemporary youths, but it didn’t seem to matter. Lids liked him. In the fall of 1944 a Buzzy magazine appeared.
Storm did the covers and most of the contents for the first few issues, then just the covers for the next few.
The title itself continued on to 1958 with different artists. The last comic strip George Storm worked on was The Adventures Of Patsy, which he took over in December of 1942 and stayed with until April 1944.
Syndicated by the Associated Press, the feature had started in 1935 and Storm was the third (or technically fourth) to depict the escapades of the darkhaired, adventure – prone moppet; Mel Graff had created Patsy and when he graduated to King Features and Secret Agent X-9, Charles Raab succeeded him.
Raab was a friend and former assistant of Milton Caniff and a friend of Noel Sickles as well.
During his two year tenure on Patsy, Raab was able to persuade Sickles to lend a handand even ghost on occasion.
Initially, the strip had a fairy tale flavor, but Graaf, realizing newspaper editors and readers weren’t enthusiastic, changed it to a contemporary action – and – suspense strip. In the late 30’s he transported Patsy to Hollywood, where she soon became a movie star of the Shirley Temple sort.
Raab didn’t tamper with the format. Storm, making no attempt to imitate his predecessors, drewPatsy in his own style.
He kept the kid in Hollywood, but soon introduced a long fantasy sequence involving witches, warlocks and talking animals; all these elements were supposed to be of the moovie the little actress was making.
After that, Patsy – like many a fullgrown actress–is told she’s been working too hard and must take a restful vacation.
This device allowed Storm to get Patsy in the rural milieu he was so fond of returning to in his work . . . and in his life.
AP was apparently enthusiastic about his move and sent out material promoting the new story line. “EDITORS: Here you are! Samples of the comic strip that is running away with America’s readers.
George Storm’s ‘real’ girl comic, PATSY. The sequence . . . illustrates Patsy‘s lively appeal for all the family.” Restless as usual, Storm left the strip after less than a year and a half.
By the middle ’40’s he was also through with Buzzy. He went home again to Enid, Oklahoma and remained there for the rest of his life. He tried advertising, gag cartooning, and illustration.
Storm also attempted at least one more newspaper strip, about a teenager (NEXT DOOR with Charley Harley was the title), but it would not sell.
His last nationally seen work appeared in the early 1950’s in a less than prestigious humor digest called Charley Jones’ Laugh Book. It was 1977, a year after Storm’s death that Hyperion Press released a book that reprinted samples of Phil Hardy and Bobby Thatcher.
Although that didn’t start a boom of interest in his work, it did get it before the public again.
And eventually George Storm may receive the attention he deserves. As he once said back in the 1940’s, when Buzzy brought him again into the public eye, “They say if you stick around long enough, hoopskirts and derbies come back into style.”
Storm’s efforts spoke for themselves in so many ways, and what his work generated in the way of earnings, is a testament to his hard work and commitment to the comic strip work he did.
Prices paid by newspapers for comic strips are difficult to encounter but on occasion through research such as that done with Storm’s article, it is interesting to see.
At last check by using an inflation calculator, $1833.00 in 1929 had the same purchasing power as $25,063.25 in 2014. This amount was just earnings for one month for one feature, Bobby Thatcher.
As you will note, Storm was involved in alot of creative endeavors involving other cartoon projects and syndicated work.
Even though his name doesn’t immediately come to mind in terms of comic strips or cartooning in general, he was a busy, hard working individual whose efforts spoke for for themselves and it’s hoped through this article that his work gets some deserved notice and credit for what he contributed to the world of cartoons and comics. You did fantastic George!