Gene Ahern


The Squirrel Cage:

Gene Ahern's First Squirrel Cages and The Birth of the Little Hitch-Hiker (1936)

Comic Strips Are Frozen Words (Jan 17, 1937 full page with Room and Board)

July 4, 1943 Paul Bunyan episode found in Screwball Sunday Supplement Vol. 17 No. 148

The Secret History of Screwball: A Squirrel's Progress (April 8, 1945)

A Visit to the Foozland Zoo: Squirrel Cage by Gene Ahern (May 13, 1945)

Gene Ahern's Gimmick in The Squirrel Cage (Oct 14, 1945)

Stuck on the Enchanted Flypaper - Snapshots of Foozland

1946: Feb.3, April 21 and 28, Oct.6 - Lost in Goonia strips (Screwball Sunday Supplement Vol. 3 No. 33)

The Squirrel Cage: Inspired by Herriman, Goldberg, and Segar (Sept 15, 1946)

November 27, 1949 (found in Screwball Sunday Supplement Vol. 1 No. 4)

Foozland 1952: 1000 Zinkas to Goofonia (March 2, 1952)

Nov Shmoz Ka Pop? Gene Ahern's Mysterious Foozland in The Squirrel Cage

The Nut Brothers:

From Little Aherns Grow Mighty Jokes - The Nut Brothers

Room and Board:

Gene Ahern's Ichtyological Screwballism (Room and Board)

Comic Strips Are Frozen Words (Jan 17, 1937 full page with Room and Board)

Our Boarding House:

Major Hoople's Guide to the Island of Jujuwok (1931)

Gene Ahern Does Rube Goldberg (Our Boarding House 1933)



Gene Ahern (1895-March 6, 1960) created a number of screwball comics and is one of the prime masters of this genre. His screwball comics include: Squirrel Food (circa 1915-22), The Nut Brothers (1921-36), and The Squirrel Cage (1936- circa 1952). His most popular and well-known comic, Our Boarding House (1922-36), is a toned-down version of his screwball approach, offering a winning character study of a puffed-up old eccentric windbag, Major Hoople and his many eccentric associates.  Ahern had a popular hit with Hoople, scoring a 14-year run at the Newspaper Enterprise Association syndicate (NEA).  The rival King Features syndicate hired him away in 1936 at a considerable salary increase. Ahern then created Room and Board, an even funnier version of Our Boarding House featuring Judge Puffle. He wrote and drew this comic until his death, in 1960.

Our Boarding House and Room and Board have  screwball elements but are not exclusively screwball comics. However, there are numerous notable single examples of these comics which offer excellent screwball comedy, some of which will be shared on this blog for the first time in over 70 years.

For the topper of Room and Board, Ahern created one of the greatest screwball comics of all time, The Squirrel Cage. This comic was a prime influence on Robert Crumb, who modeled his 1960's character, Mr. Natural, on the little hitch-hiker who often appears in The Squirrel Cage. Known primarily to collectors today, The Squirrel Cage and the rest of Ahern's work remains relevant and funny to readers today.



1914 - circa 1920
Dream Dope
Fathead Fritz
Side and His Pals
Taking Her to the Ball Game
Ain't Nature Wonderful
Auto Otto
Balmy Benny
Squirrel Food
Crazy Quilt

1921 - 1936
The Nut Brothers

1922- 1936
Our Boarding House (dailies and Sundays)

June 19, 1936 - 1953*
The Squirrel Cage 
*Note: it is currently unknown when this comic ended. Maurice Horn writes that Ahern drew the strip until his death in 1960. The latest verifiable date is June, 1949.

June 19, 1936 - April, 1960*
Room and Board (sometimes labeled Board and Room)
*Note: it is currently unknown when this comic ended. Maurice Horn writes that Ahern drew the strip until his death in 1960. The latest verifiable date is August, 1952.

Room and Board often had screwball material



The Squirrel Cage (Carl Linich's blog)

Otto Auto - article and reprints by comics historian Allan Holtz



The Squirrel Cage  - a fan-based color reprint of 26 Sunday halves from 1937 
Our Boarding House - fan-based reprint of Jan-March, 1928 dailies 
Board and Room, 1940 - fan-based reprint of most of the 1940 dailies 
Room and Board, 1943 - fan-based reprint of most of the 1943 dailies 
All of the above are available from Ken Pierce

Our Boarding House with Major Hoople 1927
(Algrove Press, 2005) A complete run of daily panels from 1927. Well-crafted book, great reproduction, and terrific, funny comics. As of this date (April, 2012), the book is on sale for a mere $6.95. A bargain any comics fan should snap up. Order from Algrove Press here. (Algrove also offers several books of J.R. Williams' Out Our Way strips - not screwball, but still great cartoons and otherwise unavailable anywhere). Highly recommended.

"Boarding House Days and Arabian Nights: The Life and Imaginary Times of Major Hoople" by Donald Phelps (Nemo The Classic Comics Library #13)

"Squirrel Food" by Mark Johnson (Nemo The Classic Comics Library #25) - A look at Gene Ahern's early screwball comics.

"The Nut Brothers" (Nemo The Classic Comics Library - Annual #1: Screwball Comics) - Brief text by Nemo editor Rick Marschall, with b&w selection of Nut Brothers and The Squirrel Cage. For many screwball fans (myself included) this was the first -- and for many years -- the only look at Ahern's screwball greatness available anywhere.


A Gallery of Gene Ahern Comics

Ahern played with the idea of a screwball magical land long before
1945's Foozland, as shown in this Squirrel Food comic circa 1919
(courtesy Carl Linich)

Ahern delivers a crazy invention gallery a la his mentor, Rube Goldberg
(courtesy Carl Linich)

Otto Auto - August 12, 1919
Ahern sent Otto on a months-long car ride and invited readers
to send in suggestions for mishaps. 
Our Boarding House - December 23, 1924

Room and Board - July 16, 1946

The Squirrel Cage - April 30. 1939

1 comment:

  1. Ahern had several Goldberg-style invention cartoons in 1915, some under his Squirrel Food title, some not. Take a look at the Tacoma Times March 17, 22, and 31, 1915 (and February 1, 1916), as well as the Seattle Star April 1 and 7, 1915. I stumbled across those while doing other research. It's possible there were many others between April and the following February. I haven't looked.

    In my opinion, every bit as good as Goldberg's invention strips in the same period, or even better.

    Both the Times and the Star are available free at the Chronicling America website. You might also find these in the Chicago Day Book at the same site.