The Cartoonists by Susanna McLeod      [email protected]

Merrill Blosser, Creator of "Freckles and His Friends"

February 13, 2011

What kind of person has the imagination, innovation, streak of humour and talented hand with the pen to keep a comic strip in print for 50 years? An inspired person like cartoonist Merrill Blosser, that's who. The creator of "Freckles and His Friends," Blosser entertained and delighted fans with good clean fun for over five decades.

Merrill Blosser was a cartoonist and writer at heart. Born on May 28, 1892 in Nappanee, Indiana, Blosser had two sisters and one brother. Their parents, Elias and Amanda Blosser, owned a shoe store, noted Lucie Field's Genealogy Web, and Elias not only sold the shoes, he made the shoes. At age 12, Merrill Blosser wrote an essay and won a magazine contest. He was taken to Washington, DC where he met President Teddy Roosevelt while visiting the White House. The avid boy made a sketch of the high-ranking American leader. Roosevelt "encouraged Blosser to continue drawing," said Toni Morehead in "The Nappanee Six: Hoosiers with national Exposure."

But the artistic youngster paid the price early for sharing his talents. The presidential boost to Blosser's talents did not carry over to the classroom. Drawing caricatures of his teachers in high school, he was expelled, said Morehead. He had sketched the principal as a devil. Blosser was not daunted, stating that being kicked out of school was the "best break I ever had."

Merrill Blosser's "Freckles and His Friends" Comic

The student did not drop all schooling, though. Blosser instead put art ahead of academics, taking correspondence courses with Landon School of Illustrating and Cartooning, and attending Academy of Fine Arts and Blue Ridge College. "When he sold a cartoon to the Baltimore American he quit school and embarked on his cartooning career," noted Morehouse.

Taking a job as staff artist on "Motorcycling," Blosser then moved on to artist with Penton Publishing Company. Not yet settled down, he became the political cartoonist for The Register in Wheeling, West Virginia for a year, and spent another year drawing sports cartoons with the Cleveland Plain Dealer. In 1915, Blosser found a permanent home with the Newspaper Enterprise Association (NEA), working on a variety of projects in the Art Department..

Cartoonist Merrill Blosser, date unknown

Drawing several strips for NEA, Blosser developed a "kid comic" about a boy approximately seven or eight years old. The editor must have been satisfied - "Freckles and His Friends" debuted in newspapers on September 20, 1915. The cartoonist himself was still only 23 years old.

"Freckles" became a full-time job for Blosser. The comic strip featuring "simply good humor," as Blosser said, held no political views, no statements on society, just good old fun. The comic strip soared to publication in over 700 newspapers in its peak years, and fans were protective. "...in 1929, when a newspaper dropped the 'Freckles' strip, it received thousands of letters, cards and phone calls," said Morehead. The comic was reinstated.

Photo of Cartoonist Merrill Blosser provided by the kind courtesy of Lucie Field's Genealogy Web, by Eugene and Lucie Field. Thank you.

"Freckles and His Friends" began as a punchline-a-day strip, without an ongoing storyline. As Blosser developed his style and sense of humour in the 1920s, "Freckles" evolved into a teenager with continuing stories. "Freckles" found a girlfriend, June, and the star character spent time and shared adventures with his friends Lard, Hilda and Oscar, and his little brother, "Tag," short for "Tagalong." (The "Archie Comics" characters have a lot in common with "Freckles and His Friends," but "Archie" didn't come along until 1941.)

Appearing as a daily in newspapers, "Freckles and His Friends" debuted in the Sunday comics section in the 1920s. The comic strip was reprinted into comic books by Standard Comics and Argo Comics in the 1940s and 1950s, said Don Markstein's Toonopedia, and "Freckles" was added to other comics collections such as Dell's "Crackajacks Funnies."

"Freckles and His Friends" circa 1924
Comic strip sample circa 1924 by cartoonist Merrill Blosser, provided by the kind courtesy of Lucie Field's Genealogy Web, Eugene and Lucie Field. Many thanks. "Freckles" was still a young boy here.

Merrill Blosser moved to California in 1926. He and his wife had no children. Giving up some of the day-to-day work, Blosser's assistant, Henry Formhals took on the challenge of creating the popular daily comic strip. Blosser did the Sundays; he retired from generating "Freckles" in 1965. (Henry Martin Formhals, born 1908, began as Blosser's assistant in 1935. His signature as the strip's cartoonist first appeared on a "Freckles and His Friends" panel on March 21, 1966.)

In 1965, the National Cartoonists Society awarded Blosser for "the oldest regular comic strip still piloted by its creator." Well deserved and hard-earned, the cartoonist was one of the few whose creation delighted readers and fans for over fifty years. "Freckles and His Friends" ended its long run on August 28, 1971. Merrill Blosser died Pasadena, California in 1983. He was 91 years of age.

More Sources:

The Encyclopedia of American Comics: From 1897 to the Present, edited by Ron Goulart, published by Promised Land Production, New York 1990.

Lucie's Genealogy Web by Gene and Lucie Field

 

© Susanna McLeod 2011
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