Room and Board by Gene Ahern

Gene Ahern, Room and Board, June 19, 1938

Gene Ahern (1895-1960) was a prolific cartoonist who worked in two different genres of comics with equal success. On one hand, he was very skilled at the surreal, gag-and-pun-filled genre known as "screwball"--his strips The Nut Brothers and The Squirrel Cage exemplify this style. (A bizarre background character in The Squirrel Cage, a hitch-hiker with a long white beard who would always utter the enigmatic phrase "Nov Shmoz Ka Pop?," was reportedly the model for Robert Crumb's Mr. Natural character.)

The other genre Ahern excelled in was the domestic comedy, which he perfected in Our Boarding House first and then in Room and Board. The two strips are virtually identical--Ahern was tempted away from one syndicate to another by an offer of higher pay. He didn't own the copyright to Our Boarding House, so he simply created a new version of it. The main character of Our Boarding House was Major Hoople; in Room and Board, he became Judge Puffle. In both cases, the title was at best honorary--in both versions, he was a pompous braggart and schemer. For example, we see him here pretending to have influence over a traffic court judge.

Like The Bungle Family, Room and Board was set in lower-middle-class America, specifically in the once common milieu of boarding houses. Because boarders ate together, there was more opportunity for social interaction (and therefore comedy in the case of Room and Board) than in our modern, atomized, car-centric culture. Room and Board reflects a materially poorer but perhaps socially richer America.