Old Doc Yak, with Yutch at his side, tries to sell his car.


Original medium: Newspaper comics
Published in: The Chicago Tribune
First Appeared: 1912
Creator: Sidney Smith
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As creator of The Gumps, Sidney Smith was one of America's richest and most famous cartoonists. But his early years were as full of flux and uncertainty as those of …

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… most creative people, with staff jobs, freelance gigs etc. coming and going. There was even a period in which he made his living going from place to place and doing "chalk talks", a cross between cartooning and stand-up comedy that is still occasionally practiced.

So it isn't absolutely certain where and when he started using his goat-shaped funny animal as a protagonist. The character was definitely in use by 1908, when Smith started working on staff at The Chicago Evening Journal. There, the goat was named Buck Nix. and he wooed a lovely she-goat called Nanny. Smith stayed there three years, and toward the end of that time, Buck was holding down a daily comic strip.

When, in 1911, Smith went to work for the larger and more prestigious Tribune, he took his goat with him. The precedent had already been set (when Buster Brown moved to the Hearst papers) that a cartoonist could take his creations to a new publisher, as long as the old one retained use of the name. At the Tribune, the goat's name was Old Doc Yak. Doc was first seen on Monday, February 5, 1912. The Sunday page began on the 10th of the following month.

Doc wasn't precisely the same character as Buck. Aside from being a goat, Doc was noticeably more mature than Buck. Also, he was a family man, responsible for a son named Yutch (tho Yutch's mom was nowhere to be seen). Consequently, Doc's problems tended to be more of the domestic variety.

Doc was one of the earliest comics stars to move out into animation. Smith himself produced and directed a series, starting with one simply titled Old Doc Yak, which was released July 11, 1913 — the same year Mutt & Jeff reached the silent screen, and years before Happy Hooligan, Krazy Kat or Maud the Mule. About a dozen and a half were released from 1913-15, by the distributor Selig-Polyscope (which, by the way, had released a live-action comedy short about The Katzenjammer Kids in 1912).

But Captain Joe Patterson, the colorful Tribune editor whose early influence on American comics is still felt in such strips as Gasoline Alley, Annie and Dick Tracy, apparently saw a good future for Sidney Smith, tho not much of one for Old Doc Yak. Smith was the cartoonist Patterson tapped for a new feature he had in mind — The Gumps, the one that brought Smith fame and fortune, and to make room in his schedule, Doc had to go.

On Tuesday, February 6, 1917, Doc's landlord banged on the door to demand the rent by Saturday, or get out. (The warning was worded so it could apply to space in the newspaper rather than the house.) Doc spent the intervening days trying and failing to raise the money. On Saturday the 10th, the landlord found him gone, but that was okay because he had a new family moving in Monday. That family, which debuted Monday the 12th, was, of course, The Gumps. Two years later, Doc lost his Sunday page to Andy and Min, as well.

That was almost the end of him, but years later he was revived as topper to The Gumps' Sunday page. In that capacity, he began Dec. 17, 1930, and ran until 1934. Nowadays, he's scarcely remembered — but there was something in that old, forgotten series that alerted Captain Patterson to its creator's potential.


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