Guest Author - Ray Hanisco
As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I couldn’t wait for Fridays because that is when I got my allowance of ten cents. As soon as I got my money, I would hop on my bicycle and pedal down to the newsstand to buy the latest comic book. One of my favorites was Sad Sack. For those of you too young to remember, Sad Sack was a fictional American soldier who was Murphy’s Law on two legs experiencing the ludicrousness and humiliations of being in the Army. So, what was the story behind the Sad Sack comic book character? What roll did this fictional soldier really have in the U.S. military?
Sad Sack was a lowly private whose name was never disclosed throughout the comic’s successful run of well over 40 years. The term Sad Sack seems to have originated from an expressional phrase used all through, all branches of the military during World War II. That phrase was, “Sad Sack of S**t.” Over the years, the term Sad Sack has now evolved to mean “inept person” or “inept soldier.”
Sad Sack was created by Sergeant George Baker during World War II. Baker was born in Massachusetts, and grew into manhood in and around the Chicago, Illinois area. After he completed high school George Baker was employed as a commercial artist illustrating newspaper ads. In 1937, he moved to California in search of a baseball career. Instead of playing for a minor league team, he landed a job with Walt Disney. At Disney, he assisted in the production of full-length feature animations such as: Pinocchio, Fantasia, Dumbo, and Bambi.
George Baker was drafted into the U.S. Army in June of 1941. After basic training, he ended up drawing animations for Signal Corp training films. The “Defense Recreation Committee” conducted a cartoon contest and Baker won. The winning of the contest resulted in a couple of his cartoons being published in Look Magazine which resulted in acquiring employment with Yank, The Army Weekly. It was in the debut issue of Yank, The Army Weekly, a magazine first published by the U.S. military in June 1942, during World War II, where Sad Sack and his misadventures appeared. Drawn in the Pantomime style, the comic strip became the magazine’s most popular feature. Additionally, General George C. Marshal lauded Sad Sack as a morale booster for the troops, in an official document.
After the end of the war, Sad Sack was put into newspaper syndication and its focus was redirected towards a younger audience. Even though Sad Sack was in newspaper syndication, Baker retained all rights to his character which was unprecedented for that time. It was at this point, the Pantomime style of drawing was abandoned for a more conventional comic story format. The Sad Sack comic strip ran in newspaper syndication until 1957. As the comic strip ran in the newspaper, George Baker sold the rights of Sad Sack to Harvey Comics and the comic book version of Sad Sack was born, but remained under Baker’s mentoring.
Looking back, we fondly remember some of the supporting characters to Sad Sack. They are:
*Sarge – Sad Sack’s First Sergeant
*Slob Slobinski and Hi-Fi Tweeter – Sack’s Friends
*Brigadier General Rockjaw – The General is seen with dark glasses, an ascot tie, and cigarette holder
*Sadie Sack – Sack’s WAC redheaded cousin
*Sod Sack – Sad Sack’s Backwoods Uncle
*Muttsy – the Dog with a numbered dog tag of K-9
Harvey Comics published the Sad Sack Comic Book Series from September 1949 to October 1982. In all, they published a total of 287 issues, although some comic book connoisseurs say the true essences of Sad Sack died with George Baker.
George Baker died in Riverside, California in 1975 just days short of his 60th birthday. Lorne-Harvey Publications continues to issue the Sad Sack Comics.