Russell Myers, Creator of Broom-Hilda

24 August 2001

   "Sometimes it's the ones who are too stubborn to quit that go all the way," Russell Myers said in "How To Be a Successful Cartoonist" by Randy Glasbergen*. "You have to love what you do and be willing to work like a dog and be kicked in the head by failure sometimes." Sounds a little rough, doesn't it? But Russell Myers, creator of Broom-Hilda, endured the rigours of cartoon syndication and came out smiling.

    Russell Myers was born in 1938. As a child in Oklahoma, Myers loved to draw. He studied art in high school, but learned mainly learned cartooning on his own. He spent his spare time drawing, drawing, drawing. His hard-earned money from a paper route was spent on comic books and newspapers to help his drawing skills. The Jack Benny Radio Show inspired the young man, and he still enjoys listening to Benny's humourous tapes.

    Myers' first attempts at comic strip syndication failed. To earn a living, he took a job with Hallmark Greeting Cards in Kansas City, Missouri, illustrating and writing cards. During evenings after work, Russell produced comic strip after comic strip. The submissions were rejected one after another by the syndicates until a tough little green witch named Broom-Hilda magically emerged from his pen.

    The idea for Broom-Hilda was conceived by Elliot Caplin, a comic writer in New York. He described it to Russell, and he ran with the idea. Russell drew and wrote sample cartoons, and Caplin sold the strip to the syndicate. That sale started Myers and Caplin as business partners, and they continue as partners still.

broom hilda

    Broom-Hilda put her first spell on newspaper audiences on April 19, 1970. The comic strip debuted under the Chicago Tribune Syndicate to immediate acclaim. (The Syndicate is now known as the Tribune Media Service.) There are more than a dozen paperback collections of Broom-Hilda cartoons, mainly published in the 1970s and ‘80s. A range of merchandise, including Broom-Hilda bubble bath, was produced at that time also.

    The comic strip was animated for a short time in 1970. It was shown as a rotating segment of the Archie cartoon show, along with a few other newspaper favourites including "Nancy" and "Dick Tracey". The Broom-Hilda segments resurfaced in 1978 as part of "The Fabulous Funnies" on NBC TV, but haven't been seen since.

    A huge cast of characters was not required for Broom-Hilda's success. The comic strip based in the Enchanted Forest has just three main characters amongst anonymous walk-ons:

    Broom-Hilda is the star of the strip. She is the "ornery, cantankerous, love-starved witch" who thrills in causing trouble, but ends up in hot water quite often herself. She is over 1500 years old and as spunky as ever in her green glory. She has changed in the past few years, though - she no longer chews on a cigar stub and her wine glass has disappeared, too. Perhaps even witches bow to the changing times?

    Irwin Troll is a loveable fur ball with happy eyes and a great sense of humour. He is gentle and unaffected with an innocent, child-like manner and wonder of the world.

    Gaylord Buzzard is a snooty but kindhearted old bird, who thinks he is much smarter than anyone else. He is quite eager to give advice but doesn't want to lift a wing to help.

    The backgrounds of the comic strip occasionally shift places from one panel to the next, indoors one panel, outside the next. The wacky themes keep fans coming back for more. What else would we expect from the Enchanted Forest?

    Myers gets his inspiration for Broom-Hilda by reading the comics pages and finds the hardest part isn't writing a joke but finding a subject to write about.

    This cartoonist is a busy man. Along with creating the daily and Sunday Broom-Hilda strip, Russell is a hardware dealer in a small town. He even does the books himself. In his private life, he has a strict policy of no drinking and no smoking, and does regular exercise. He lives in Oregon with his wife Marina on a bluff, high above the Rogue River. They have two children, a son and a daughter.

    Russell Myers is proof that cartoon success can be more than a distant dream, even if it takes working like a dog and surviving all the kicks to the head. Maybe the wave of Broom-Hilda's magic wand helped.

*How To Be a Cartoonist by Randy Glasbergen, North Light Books, 1996.  Page 51.

http://broomhilda.comicspage.com/
http://www.toonopedia.com/broomhil.htm
© Susanna McLeod 2001
TheCartoonists.ca  
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)