Happy Groundhog Day

Above: Wilbur during his glory days as a Birmingham media star

Today being Groundhog Day and all, I thought I would share with you the comic book story below, which I drew 39 years ago when I was 28 and which has never before been published anywhere.

It stars Wilbur the Groundhog, who may be remembered by Birminghamians of a certain age for his daily appearances during the early-1970s on a locally produced television program called The Sgt. Jack Show.

At the time I was employed as the art director at WBMG-TV, the UHF television station in Birmingham, AL, from whose studios The Sgt. Jack Show originated. A broadcast personality otherwise known as Neal Miller assumed the role each weekday afternoon of Sgt. Jack, the world’s most affable and least intimidating sheriff’s deputy, who was never known to hand out a traffic ticket, who could transform balloons into animals at the snap of a finger, and who had an unquenchable urge to share Popeye cartoons with the endless parade of children who trundled up to Channel 42 on their birthdays.

Wilbur and his yellow monkey sidekick Oscar popped up for five minutes or so during each show and chatted with "Sarge" from a miniature puppet stage behind which I would crouch and improvise running fantasies for the benefit of the kids sitting on benches nearby. Wilbur was an incurable con man, and one of his schemes somehow backfired and left him with an overabundance of duck food, which he spent the rest of my run on the show trying to figure out how to get rid of; hence the centrality of this commodity to the plotline of my comic.

I was hoping to persuade Channel 42’s management to get one of our program’s fast-food advertisers to give away my Wilbur and Oscar 4-pager to their young burger-munching patrons as a cross-promotional gambit benefitting both their outlets and our show (and enhancing my visibility as a rising young Birmingham cartoonist in the process), but I could never quite make the sale. The story has been lying around in my flat files ever since.

But I glanced at the calendar this morning and thought, "Hey! It’s Groundhog Day! Why not?" There being nothing else to blog about today except for blizzards and scary Egyptian uprisings, I went with the impulse.

Below: "Sarge," as he was known around the station, poses for a portrait with his faithful rodent companion.

Postscript

It’s not just Groundhog Day;
it’s also Lulu’s birthday.

Hey, here’s stuff of mine that you can buy!
Click a cover below to learn about my latest books.
…and click here to visit my
Cruse Goodies merchandise shop
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About Howard

I'm a cartoonist and writer, best known for my graphic novel, Stuck Rubber Baby, and my comic strip from the 1980s, Wendel.
This entry was posted in Life & Art, Me, Me, Me!, Pure Toontime, Yesterday & Today. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Happy Groundhog Day

  1. We used to have a Groundhog’s Day party every year, until we started with the Hanukah thing and they were too close together. It’s a day worth celebrating.

  2. Charlie Metcalfe says:

    I mean Arnold Powell.

  3. Charlie Metcalfe says:

    It’s fun to be reminded of past pleasures.

    I have fond memories of much of your work… those great masks for the Arnold Power play in the basement, especially the mask that was masking another mask. I still play my “Caught Dead” record to anyone I can pin down.

    You might be interested to know that Benny Carl owns and operates two low-power TV stations in Florence Alabama.

    Happy b-day to LuLu, and my best to you and Eddy.

    Keep me on the list. I read everything you send.

    Charlie

  4. Howard says:

    There was a character actor in the films and TV shows of the1970s who reminded my first lover Don and me so much of Sgt. Jack that we referred to him only as “Sarge.” Don’t know his name, though, and he wasn’t “contemporary”—if by “contemporary” you mean contemporary NOW as opposed to contemporary in Sgt. Jack’s day.

  5. also –

    Sarge looks awfully like a contemporary soft-comedy TV actor who I cannot quite place at the moment.

    Any help here, fellow children-of-popular-culture?

  6. re WILBUR AND OSCAR:

    Got to say – the first thing at struck me about the comic was how very, very Howard Cruse it is.

    The goop on the bread is peyote paste? – Howard of the early 70’s; Wilbur and Oscar wandering through a world of change? – Howard of the late 70’s; Wilbur and Oscar are a couple? – Howard of the 80’s; Wilbur and Oscar in late adolescence/early manhood discovering their sexual/cultural/political identities in a world fraught with imminent and immediate danger? – Howard of the 90’s.

    And so on, etc., etc., yadda yadda yadda (but you see what I mean).

    One may mistake early Beethoven for late Papa Hayden, mid-range Leonard Bernstein for mid-range Prokofiev. But one does not mistake early El Greco, early Walt Kelly or early Carl Barks for anyone but themselves.

    So apparently it goes with early HC.

    Just a thought.

    JTG