It’s unfortunately not infrequent that a new feature gets syndicated before the creator has really found his or her creative footing. Bumgardner is a good example of that. When it first came on the scene in 1984, the strip’s gags were clunky and the characters were defined a little too quirkily. By the time Jim Smith had ironed out the character kinks and gotten his gag-writing on track the strip was on the chopping block. These days syndicates have really begun to address that. No more do you get a syndicate contract as an unknown based on a couple weeks worth of sample strips — new creators are usually signed to long-term development contracts, where they produce their features on a daily schedule for the purpose of seeing where the feature goes, what works and doesn’t work, and to fine tune as necessary. Too bad this only came into vogue about eighty years later than it should have.
Most of the samples above are from the final year of the strip, when Smith was really hitting on all cylinders. I included so many because practically every one I looked at seemed to make the cut as chuckle-worthy.
The strip has a very simple premise — Wallace, Laverne, Leonard and dog Spike are a houseful of rather dopey suburbanites who deal with everyday life. Their familial relationships are prone to be obscure — sometimes Leonard is a grandson, sometimes a son. No matter; once Smith had hit his stride we didn’t need to know the background of their relationship to get the gags.
The strip is by Jim Smith, of whom I know nothing. There is a Spumco animator of the same name, but I can find no indication that they are the same guy. In fact I can find not a word of information or comment anywhere about either Smith or his creation. All I know is that it was syndicated by the LA Times and ran at least from June 3 1984 to June 23 1986. Some papers ran it as Baumgardner, apparently a little modest about that first syllable.