Dow Walling and the Comic World Of Skeets

The Whatcom Museum recently uploaded new virtual galleries, which can be viewed HERE. Visit the virtual galleries to learn more about an 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. His full-page color strip “Skeets” ran on Sundays in the New York Herald Tribune and in national syndication from 1932-1951. Walling was born and raised on a farm outside of Bellingham. In a 1934 interview with the Literary Digest, he describes his comic’s 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 with his pals while avoiding his nemesis Cue-ball Benson. Walling drew from events and places of his childhood and features locales such as Whatcom Creek swimming holes in his illustrations.

Early Years

Walling was the youngest of four siblings. He describes his youth as always including a desire to draw. With the financial help of his sister, he completed the London School of Cartooning correspondence course at age 13. His first professional experience in illustration came when he was brought on as cub reporter by the Bellingham Herald. While there, 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 created comic strips for the UW comics magazine, the Sun Dodger, and acted as their art editor. His work was well-received, and he was invited to become a member of national comic publication fraternity Hammer and Coffin.

Growth of a career

After 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”).

Walling’s first break was when he landed a position with Johnson Features, a comics syndication company. There, he created “Campus Cowboys,” an original series. For this strip, Walling borrowed heavily from his experiences as a college graduate and athlete. 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, Walling moved to Hollywood in 1928 to try his hand at script writing. One year later he was back in New York starting to sell cartoons to Life, Judge and College Humor. In 1931, Walling signed up with King Features Syndicate to work 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.

Skeets comic strip

In 1937, Walling married Helen Pickrell, a teacher at Bellingham High School, and she joined him in New York. Though the couple never had children, Walling often referred to Skeets with paternalistic affection.

“Skeets” enjoyed a 20-year run, becoming one of the most beloved comic strips of the 1930s and 40s.

In 1946, Walling received the Freedom Foundation Prize for the “Jimmy’s Jobs” strip. He created the strip to help ease tensions in labor relations. That same year, Walling was offered his own variety television show on CBS called Here’s Dow. The run was short lived.

After retiring, Walling created drawings for 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 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. The Museum holds the original artwork for about 60 complete “Skeets” and “Room and Board” strips, 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….”

3 replies
  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
  2. Rob Henry
    Rob Henry says:

    Excellent article! Dow Walling was my great uncle. The article touches on his athletic experience at UW, but I think it should be mentioned that Dow was one of the all-time greats of the Husky crew program, as chronicled in “Boys In The Boat,” the bestseller about the Husky crew team that won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Dow was the stroke oar in 1923 when the Huskies won the IRA regatta in Poughkeepsie to become the first team from the West to win the U.S. collegiate rowing championship. Dow had to be carried into the boat to row in the championship race because he had blood poisoning from a horrible boil on his knee caused by exposure to the filthy water of the Hudson River. Immediately after the Huskies won the race and the national title, he was carried out of the boat by his teammates and sent to the hospital. He was a tough guy as well as a great cartoonist.

    Reply

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