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RIP Little Max

Joe Palooka began in the Spring of 1930, eight years later, in the Spring of 1938,
the very popular comic strip introduced a, let’s say, eight year old child.

The next Sunday Max and Alice returned and then reappeared twice more.



Don’t know how far ahead Ham Fisher and Mo Leff (art assistant/ghost)
worked but Little Max was a hit and he returned in the Fall of 1938.



And so Little Max became a part of the growing cast of the Joe Palooka comic strip.
Little Max was popular enough to star in his own comic book from 1949 to 1961.
Yes, Little Max was a shoe shine boy – earning enough to buy trinkets for Alice.


The Little Max comic book series lasted eight months
longer than the Joe Palooka comic book series!

This all comes up because Max Bartikowsky has passed away at age 92.

From the obituary:

Max was born in 1930 in Wilkes-Barre to the late Bernard and Camilla (Tintner) Bartikowsky. Raised on Franklin Street in Wilkes-Barre, Max became something of a local celebrity as a kid; he was the inspiration for cartoonist Ham Fisher’s “Little Max” in the Joe Palooka comic strip, which ran in up to 900 newspapers nationwide for over 50 years.


More from the Spring 2000 issue of Pennsylvania Heritage
(the earliest source I find linking Bartikowsky to Little Max):

Regardless of his success, Fisher never forgot Wilkes-Barre. Not only did he return to visit family and friends, but he based characters on local personalities.

Knobby Walsh, Palooka’s fast-talking fight manager, was inspired by local boxing promoter Tom Quigley. “Little Max,” the shoeshine boy, was based on Max Bar­tikowsky, one of the children who lived in Fisher’s old neighborhood. Today a respected Wilkes­-Barre businessman, Bartikowsky is modest when discussing his earlier fame. “I would often dress up in my mother’s floppy hats and my father’s big shoes and run up and down the street,” he recalled. “I guess I left an impression with Ham Fisher, who had been one of our neighbors. To be honest with you, though, I never shined shoes as a kid. But there were so many shoeshine boys on Public Square trying to make a few cents that Fisher probably made me the composite character for all those boys.”

Rarely did Little Max speak in the comic strip. Instead, when Fisher wanted his readers to know what was on the child’s mind, he would pen a thought in a bubble above the charac­ter’s head. “At that age, I really didn’t have too much to say,” says Bartikowsky. “In fact, I was so quiet that my parents often worried about me. But I guess that made me an even more attractive cartoon character for Fisher.”

Rest in Peace Max.



Community Comments

#1 Jason Chatfield
@ 4:18 pm

Golly, li’l Max sure looks like a certain red-headed Aussie kid who predates him by 17 years ?

Seriously though, R.I.P. Max.

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