William Holman (1903-1987) The American cartoonist, Bill Holman, is best known for the classic comic strip, Smokey Stover, which has been described as ‘a tour de force of screwball comedy’ (Brian Walker, The Comics: Since 1945, New York: Harry N Abrams, 2006, page 61). He was considered ‘a legendary personality among cartoonists. His conversation was laced with wisecracks and his behavior with a compulsive zaniness, and his sense of humor extended to practical jokes’ (Robert C Harvey 2006). Bill Holman was born two miles from Crawfordsville, Indiana, on 22 March 1903, but soon moved north with his family to Nappanee, in the same state. His father died when he was young, and his mother looked after the family, running a millinery store. During his schooldays, he worked part time at a popcorn and candy stand next to the Blosser Shoe Store, which was the home of Merrill Blosser (1892-1983), who also grew up to be a strip cartoonist.
Both Holman and Blosser drew from an early age, and enrolled in the correspondence course offered by Charles N Landon’s School of Illustration and Cartooning. (With a current population of 6,500, Nappanee boasts more nationally known artist-cartoonists per capita than any other American town.) When Bill was about 15 years old, the Holmans moved to Goshen, Indiana, and then, soon after, to Chicago, in Illinois. Graduating from high school at the age of 16, he took a job at the Marshall Field wholesale house and, in the evenings, studied under the cartoonist, Carl Ed, at the Academy of Fine Arts. Within a year, he was working as a copy boy in the art department of the Chicago Tribune, undertaking layouts, among other tasks, and mixing with its top cartoonists, including Harold Gray and E C Segar. In 1921, Holman moved to Cleveland, Ohio, and joined the Newspaper Enterprise Association, which, in 1922, syndicated his first two daily comic strips, J Rabbit Esquire and Billville Birds. He also contributed to the Scripps-Howard group of newspapers, which was based in Cincinnati. After three years, Holman went to New York, and joined the newly formed Herald Tribune Syndicate, creating for it another daily comic strip, G Whiz Junior, which ran through the 1920s. He then turned to freelance cartooning, and contributed to a range of magazines that included The American Magazine,Ballyhoo, Collier’s, Judge, Liberty and The Saturday Evening Post. In late 1934, Holman responded to the search by the New York Daily Times for a Sunday comic strip that would display the paper’s support of such public servants as fire fighters, policemen and teachers. Having wanted to be a fireman at an early age, he made the daffy fireman, Smokey Stover, the hero of his sample strip, and this was chosen for publication. The strip debuted on 10 March 1935, and was eventually syndicated to 50 newspapers. While it was a Sunday feature for most of its run, it also appeared daily for a brief time, between 1938 and 1939. In addition, he began to draw a daily panel cartoon, under the series heading of Nuts and Bolts. During the Second World War, Holman joined other New York cartoonists to make regular visits to troops, both convalescing in area military hospitals and on active service abroad, in the South Pacific, Europe, Japan and Korea. These activities encouraged the foundation of the National Cartoonists Society in 1946, with Holman becoming an active member and serving as president between 1961 and 1963. Nuts and Bolts continued until 1970, and Smokey Stover until Holman retired in 1973. He died in New York City on 27 February 1987, and was survived by his wife, Dolores. They had no children.
Further reading: Robert C Harvey, ‘Holman, Bill’ (22 Mar 1903-27 Feb 1987)’, http://www.anb.org/articles/17/17-01693.html, American National Biography Online October 2006 Update