Born in 1895 in the Bronx, Milt Gross began his first comic strip, "Phool Phan Phables", at the age of 20. It was for the New York Journal and featured a rabid sports fan named George Phan. Milt had been hanging around newspapers in search of cartooning gigs for a few years. He was actually working for Tad Dorgan, a major sports cartoonist of the day, when he landed his inaugural strip. It was to be the first of a series of non-memorable false starts. Animation, WWI and more short-lived strips served as his training ground for his first major success, "Gross Exaggerations".
"Gross Exaggerations" began as an illustrated column in the New York World. What made it unique, besides Gross' homespun drawing style, was the use of phonetic dialect in the dialogue. The dialect was based on that of Jewish immigrants who were struggling to make themselves understood in a new language.
"Hollo! Hoperator! Hollo! Who's dere by de shvitzbud? I vant Haudabon--hate--vun--ho--fife. Hate! HATE! Vun, two, tree, fur, fife, seex, savan, HATE!"
The column featured the dialogues between stereotypical Jewish mothers conversing out the windows of their tenement. First Floor and Second Floor were the indications of who was speaking, with an occasional interjection from Third Floor. On the Fourth Floor, there's a baby. So not only were the columns about life in New York, they occasionally strayed into what could only be considered Fractured Fairy Tales told to entertain the "nize baby." One might be "Nize ferry-tail from Elledin witt de wanderful lemp", another "from Jack witt de binn stuck." With appropriate illustrations, of course - like the giant's talking harp (doing Henny Youngman jokes) at right.
Nize Baby was published in book form in 1926 to immediate success. Also in 1926, he published Hiawatta witt no odder poems. This was a riotous parody of Longfellow's Hiawatha and ran 40 pages, each with a barely decipherable stanza and a drawing which only sometimes helped.
Both these 1926 hits were followed by two more in 1927: De Night in De Front From Chreesmas and Dunt Esk. More dialect in both. Gross had found his niche. Cashing in on the popularity and name-recognition of his first book, "Nize Baby" was immediately transformed into a newspaper strip in early 1927. 1928 saw Famous Fimmales Witt Odder Ewents From Heestory. Finally, in 1930, his non-dialect (non-verbal, actually) parody of the many novels in woodcuts being published at the time was released. Titled He Done Her Wrong, and released in a black cloth binding that echoed the first few silent novels of Lynd Ward, this was just as much a loving tribute to the Perils of Pauline and silent films. Reprinted in paperback form in 1963, Gross boasts this to be "The Great American Novel - and not a word in it -- no music too." It was again reprinted in 1983 as Hearts of Gold. It's still funny today. Not much humor seems to have survived the ensuing years, but Gross hit a universal funny bone and managed to keep tickling it throughout the nearly 300 pages of this classic. Three consecutive pages are shown below.
During the Thirties, Gross seemed anxious to create new strips and was constantly ending one to start another. His popularity was such that Hearst hired him in 1931 and gave him free rein to do whatever he wanted. The list of strips from that era includes:
- Count Screwlooose of Tooloose
- Dave's Delicatessen
- Babbling Brooks
- Otto and Blotto
- That's My Pop!
1936 saw publication of two more books, Pasha The Persian and What's This?
By the 1940's Gross was a recognizable celebrity and was working on films scripts in Hollywood and a radio show based on That's My Pop!. His last book was I Shouda Ate the Eclair (a two-page spread is at left) in 1946, in which Mr. Figgits nearly starts World War III because he refuses the chocolate eclair at his local cafe.While still somewhat in dialect, the ensuing years since Nize Baby have improved everyone's speech immensely.
Also in 1946, Gross appears in a new comic book called Picture News. It only ran for ten issues, but Gross was in almost every issue. The page at right is from issue #1 and shows the wild cartooning style and the lengths to which he would go to make a pun. The inspiration for the page? Probably a newspaper article on clothing from synthetic material.
In 1950, two earlier books were combined and given new life as Hiawatta and De Night in De Front From Chreesmas, just in time to introduce a new generation to his special brand of humor.
Gross died in 1953 from a heart attack after semi-retiring in 1945 from a first attack. His last book was Dear Dollink in 1945.The vast majority of the personal information in this page was taken from The World Encyclopedia of Comics edited by Maurice Horn, from an entry written by Bill Blackbeard.
|The World Encyclopedia of Comics||Maurice Horn, 1976 Chelsea House|
|The Complete Milt Gross||Craig Yoe, 2009 IDW|
|The Vadeboncoeur Collection of Knowledge||Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr., 1998|
Illustrations copyright by their respective
owners and used here for educational purposes only.
This page written, designed & © 1998 by Jim Vadeboncoeur, Jr. Updated 2011.