OUR BOARDING HOUSEMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Newspaper Enterprise Association
First Appeared: 1921
Creator: Gene Ahern
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Gasoline Alley, find fodder for entertainment closer to home. Our Boarding House was perhaps the most geographically restricted of all — practically every episode took place within the walls of Martha Hoople's rooming establishment.
This daily panel was syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association, which also distributed The Outbursts of Everett True and Freckles & His Friends, and would later handle Alley Oop and Captain Easy. There was also a Sunday page, which in the late 1920s sported Boots & Her Buddies as a topper. The creator was Gene Ahern, a screwball comedian of a cartoonist, who had started out imitating Milt Gross and Rube Goldberg, but quickly developed a style of his own. Ahern, a former sports cartoonist and art school instructor, created several comics, such as Fathead Fritz, Squirrel Food and Otto Auto, before launching Our Boarding House on September 26, 1921. But this is the one he's remembered for.
That may be because it had a richer blend of characters than the earlier ones — Martha scowled a lot, and ran her household the way a Sherman tank might run a stop sign; yet, her boarders, including Buster, Clyde, Mack and others who came and went, managed to hold their own in her presence. But it more likely owes its fame to one character in particular — Martha's husband, Major Amos B. Hoople, perhaps the greatest windbag, stuffed shirt and blowhard ever to "hrumph" his way across the funnies page. It was four months before the Major appeared on the scene (returning from a ten-year absence from Martha's life), but he quickly took over to the point where many people today think his name was the feature's title.
Major Hoople had a huge, bulbous nose and an even huger gut. He sported a scraggly moustache and smoked rank cigars. He was seldom seen without a battered fez. In addition to near-archaic expressions like "egad" and "drat", he was often heard mouthing such non-words as "fap", "awp" and "kaff". His favorite mode of expression was long-winded discourses about his prestigious and astonishing experiences, which nobody took seriously and only his occasionally-seen nephew, Alvin, even pretended to pay attention to.
And the Major wasn't the only one given to lengthy speeches. The panel often held three or four balloons, each of which contained more words than an entire three-panel Redeye or Sam & Silo strip does today. This doesn't seem to have held it back. A Sunday page was added within a couple of years, with The Nut Bros. (Ches and Wal, introduced in one of Ahern's earlier features) as its topper. Knock-offs, such as Associated Press's Mister Gilfeather (which, by the way, was handled at various times by both Al Capp and Milton Caniff, before they hit it big with Li'l Abner and Terry & the Pirates, respectively), began to proliferate.
In fact, it was a knock-off that took Ahern away from his creation. King Features launched one called Room & Board, starring the very Hoople-like Judge Puffle, in 1936, and hired Ahern himself to write and draw it. This was a reprise of a move King had made nine years earlier, hiring George Swanson (Elza Poppin) to produce a duplicate of his own NEA strip, Salesman Sam, and it had a similar result — success, but not to the extent of the original. When, in 1953, Ahern retired, Room & Board ended. Today, its memory is overshadowed by its own topper, The Squirrel Cage, where the enigmatically familiar phrase, "Nov shmoz ka pop?" was introduced.
Meanwhile, Our Boarding House continued under a succession of hands. Bela Zaboly, William Brogher and Bill Freyse are only a few whose bylines appeared on it over the years, and unnamed assistants were more numerous yet. It spawned a few media spin-offs, such as a short-lived radio show, beginning June 23, 1942, with Arthur Q. Bryan (Elmer Fudd) in the title role, Patsy Moran as Martha and Conrad Binyon as Alvin; a Big Little Book called Major Hoople & His Horse; a rock band called "Major Hoople's Boarding House, which started in 1967; and even a bed & breakfast called "Major Hoople's Guest Home" (the name of which has since been changed). There was never a film version, and only one comic book, a 1943 oneshot from Standard/Better/Nedor Comics (Black Terror, Supermouse), which Major Hoople shared with Mary Worth.
Tho others have made more of a multi-media splash, this one lasted nearly six decades (ending on March 29, 1981) — not quite up there with comics' most long-lived successes, but a very, very respectable run.