While Broom-Hilda herself is 1500, the comic strip is just now turning 50.
Fifty years ago Russell Myers took an Elliot Caplin idea and formed Broom-Hilda.
Elliot Caplin worked in the comic industry just like his brother, Li’l Abner creator Al Capp. Caplin came up with the idea for a strip about a witch whose name was Broom Hilda. Harvey Kurtzman, a legendary EC Comics and Mad magazine artist, illustrated some Broom Hilda samples, but the strip didn’t sell.
Caplin met Barsotti at a party and asked if he knew another artist who might be interested in taking a strip for a test drive. Barsotti suggested Myers, who recalled getting a phone call from Caplin on a Friday: “He said ‘I’ve got this idea for a witch named Broom Hilda and that’s really all I have. Can you send me samples of your greeting cards?’”
Myers said he was caught off base by the request.
“So I sat down over the weekend and, just off the top of my head, did the first six Broom Hilda strips and sent them,” he said.
“(Caplin) called me back and said, ‘Oh my god, I love them.’ And he ran down the street and sold them. You know the old story of being an overnight success after trying all your life? That’s what it was.”
Myers and Caplin struck up a business partnership that lasted 30 years. Myers handled the creative aspects of Broom Hilda and Caplin, who died in 2000, took care of negotiations and the business side of the strip.
Officially the Broom-Hilda comic strip debuted on Monday, April 20, 1970:
above: the first Broom-Hilda daily strip from The New York Daily News
update – So on April 20, 2020 Russell celebrated the Golden Anniversary:
But the history books put the beginning of Broom-Hilda on April 19, 1970 because that is when The Chicago Tribune ran a promo piece in their Sunday Funnies of that day, proclaiming the start of the comic the following day. (I don’t know how many other papers ran the promotion.)
above: the promotion that ran in The Chicago Tribune comics section on April 19, 1970
The next day the Broom-Hilda comic strip debuted on the front page of The Chicago Tribune.
Any way you count it, the rough-and-tumble witch became an instant hit.
Broom Hilda beat the odds just to see print. The fact that she and strip-mates like Gaylord Buzzard and Irwin Troll have remained in circulation for a half century is witchcraft-level magic.
A few years ago Russell took another look at the first week of strips for the National Cartoonists Society’s magazine The National Cartoon!st; he remained happy with the gags and the art. Russell even mentioned that he wasn’t sure if the years of refinement, as all strips go through, was a good thing.
Back in the day one measure of a strip’s popularity was how many ComicBacks® were issued.
Broom-Hilda, in the 1970s and 1980s, had its share – and I, as a fan of the strip, bought most of them.
Along with the funny characters and gags, there is the surrealistic Haunted Forest landscapes and Russell’s designs to enjoy.
Today, if your local newspaper doesn’t carry the strip, Broom-Hilda can be read
at the Tribune Content Agency site and at GoComics.
While you are waiting to get those paperbacks shown above, Sunday Comics Debt
has a few entries from the past highlighting Broom-Hilda, Gaylord, Irwin, and even Grelber.
Mike Lynch features one particularly bizarre sequence where Broom-Hilda and Gaylord are confronted with the problem of disposing the body of a dead cartoonist.
After 50 years, what next? From that career-spanning Tulsa World article:
He’s 81 and he has no plans to retire from the strip.
“There are days I am tired of it, sure,” he said. “But it has just become such a routine part of my existence. It’s just what I do. … I have longevity on both sides of family and good health, so I’m just going to keep grinding away.”
Even if Myers had a change of heart and retired tomorrow, Broom Hilda could continue for at least another year and a half because he works ahead and has an inventory of unused strips…
“Yeah. You tend to take things for granted. I live here and I look out my window. I look out on a river. People come by and say ‘oh, that’s beautiful.’
“Well, it is beautiful, but after you sit here for a week or two, you just don’t see it sometimes. It is just there. You take it for granted. But if I sit back and evaluate, I’m thinking, yeah, I’m sitting here in my house in my bedroom slippers and I can work the hours I want and I guess it is about the best job in the world for me.”
4 thoughts on “Broom-Hilda at 50 – Aging Gracelessly”
Thanks for 50 years of pleasure! May there be at least 20 more!
Do you still live in Grant’s pass. We whine living there enjoy the cartoon strip. My son Richard Booth came back there. He is the C.E.O. of the large clinic in Grant’s Pass. Him and your son went to South middle school together. How is you son doing .
Truly one of my all-time favorite strips and one of the first strips I bought those books for as a little kid. I _do_ miss Grelber and the beer and cigars! 🙂
The drawing and level of gag writing on the strip has always been top-notch. The characters are endearing and enduring. Always loved it.
Congrats on running this cartooning marathon so well and sticking with it!
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