Dow Walling and the Comic World Of Skeets

The Whatcom Museum’s online virtual exhibitions feature a variety of historic photographs, artwork, and ephemera that visitors can view at their leisure. Recently, the Museum has uploaded new virtual galleries, which can be viewed HERE. Scroll down mid-way through the virtual galleries to learn more about one special exhibit featuring the comics of local talent, Dow Walling.     

Dow Walling and the Comic World Of Skeets

Dow Walling (1902-1987) was a self-taught comic creator and illustrator whose full-page color strip “Skeets” ran on Sundays in the New York Herald Tribune and in national syndication from 1932 until 1951. Walling was born and raised on a farm outside of Bellingham, Washington, and in a 1934 interview with the Literary Digest, describes his spunky young protagonist as “growing up in Bellingham – my home town….an average-size town in America [that] typifies the home town of the average boy.”

In the comic strip, Skeets rambles through fields and strolls down streets and alleys with his pal Button-Nose, cousin Eggy, and others while avoiding his nemesis Cue-ball Benson. Walling drew from events and places of his own childhood and featured locales such as Battersby Park and Whatcom Creek swimming holes in his illustrations.

Early Years

Walling was the youngest of four siblings who grew up in a farm outside of Bellingham. He describes his youth as always including “a desire to draw” and with the financial help of his sister, he completed the London School of Cartooning correspondence course at the age of thirteen. His first professional experience in illustration came when he was brought on as cub reporter by the Bellingham Herald where he also created and submitted cartoons and illustrations for the paper.

In 1919, Walling enrolled at the University of Washington and quickly became an accomplished student and athlete while also working as staff artist for the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Working on a degree in Economics, Walling also created comic strips for the UW comics magazine, the Sun Dodger, and acted as their art editor. His work was well-received and while still a student, Walling was invited to become a member of the Hammer and Coffin, a national comic publication fraternity.

Growth of a Career

Directly out of college, Walling moved to New York to pursue his dream of becoming a professional cartoonist in the footsteps of his childhood idols George Herriman (“Krazy Kats”), Bud Fisher (“Mutt and Jeff”) and Billy DeBeck (“Barney Google”). As a member of the UW crew team, he had been to New York for the annual Poughkeepsie boat races and was no stranger to the big city. Walling’s first break was when he landed a position with Johnson Features, a comics syndication company, and created an original series called “Campus Cowboys.” For this strip, Walling borrowed heavily from his experiences as a college graduate and athlete, and the strip was lauded for its youthful perspective. It was at this time that Walling acted as assistant to both Milt (“Gross Exaggerations”) Gross and H.T. (“The Timid Soul”) Webster.

After Johnson Features was sold, and left without any immediate gainful employment, Walling moved to Hollywood in 1928 to try his hand at script writing. One year later he was back in New York and started to sell cartoons to Life, Judge and College Humor. In 1931, Walling signed up with King Features Syndicate and worked on a variety of existing strips including “Nutty News” and “Room and Board.” Within the year, he was approached by the New York Herald Tribune about creating a new strip and “Skeets” was born.

In 1937, Walling married Helen Pickrell, a teacher at Bellingham High School, and she joined him in New York after a four-month road trip across the country. Though the couple never had children, Walling often referred to Skeets with paternalistic affection and credited his own childhood as providing a wealth of material to keep Skeets busy. “Skeets” enjoyed a 20-year run in weekly national syndication making it one of the most beloved comic strips of the 1930’s and 40’s.

In 1946, Walling received the Freedom Foundation Prize for the strip “Jimmy’s Jobs” which he created to help ease tensions in labor relations. Known for his affable personality, that same year Walling was offered his own variety television show on CBS called “Here’s Dow,” although the run was short-lived. Walling was a founding member of the National Cartoonist Society and was recognized by his peers through the years with many honors and awards. After retiring, Walling created drawings for publications of businesses including the Union Carbide Corporation and the International Business Machines Corporation. Walling passed away in Pelham, New York, in 1987.

Walling’s work is now held in numerous archives and museums including the San Francisco Academy of Comic Art Collection, Northwestern University Library Special Collections and the Ohio State University Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum. Whatcom Museum holds the original artwork for about 60 complete “Skeets” and “Room and Board” strips, a small number of character studies/sketches as well as some of Walling’s personal items.

Sources

http://www.reuben.org/members/in-memoriam/ (then select Dow Walling from directory)

https://www.lambiek.net/artists/w/walling_d.htm

http://www.nytimes.com/1987/01/28/obituaries/dow-o-walling.html

The Pelham Sun, Thursday, May 6, 1948, “Comic Strip Character Growing Up….”

1 reply
  1. Roman Stadtler
    Roman Stadtler says:

    Fascinating! In the ’80’s, Dan Jurgens created the time-traveling super hero Booster Gold for DC. Booster has a little flying robot helper/sidekick named “Skeets.” Must be named after Dow Walling’s character! Cool!

    Reply

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