You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.
Cartoonist and silent-film animator Milt Gross, whose Yiddish-inflected comic strips captured America’s heart through syndication, died at 58 on this date in 1953. After serving in World War I, he had his first comic strip success with “Gross Exaggerations,” an illustrated column in the New York World that reworked popular tales in a Yingish dialect (e.g., “Nize Ferry-tail from Elledin witt de Wanderful Lemp”). The best of these were gathered in a 1926 book, Nize Baby, which became the name of his syndicated color strip in Sunday papers. Other classic works that Gross parodied in this style were “Hiawatha” and “The Night Before Christmas.” In 1930, Gross published He Done Her Wrong: The Great American Novel and Not a Word in It — No Music, Too, 300 pages of drawings without words, which was republished as recently as 2005. In 1931, he became a syndicated cartoonist with the Hearst newspapers (“Banana Oil,” “Pete the Pooch,” “Count Screwloose from Tooloose,” etc.); one of his strips, “That’s My Pop,” later became a radio show. To see his 1939 cartoon tour of New York for the World’s Fair, click here. To read Mitchell Abidor’s article about Milt Gross from 2010, click here. “Unlike Segar or Herriman, he didn’t create a single character or strip that can stick in the public’s mind, but rather a host of colorful minor characters... who taken together form a world. Also, Gross’ frantic, sputtering style of humor, the precursor to Kurtzman’s Mad, is currently unfashionable. These days people want their comedy to be cool and understated. Finally, with the assimilation of American Jews, the Yiddishkayt tenement world that Gross depicted so affectionately... is increasingly remote. Despite all these hurdles... readers only need to spend a few minutes overcoming their initial shock at the alienness of Gross’ art to start appreciating how potent it is. His people are animated by a doodling vibrancy that hurtles them hurly-burley through the page and makes them permanently alive in our imagination.” —Jeet Heer, “The Incomplete Milt Gross,” in The Comics Journal