Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Forty Years With Mister Oswald

Last week, in Tom Spurgeon's FIVE FOR FRIDAY poll, I chose FORTY YEARS WITH MISTER OSWALD as a great comic strip collection.
It seems like every few years, comic strip fans discover MISTER OSWALD. Created by Russ Johnson in 1927, he amazingly continued to write and draw the strip until the 1990’s, finally passing it on to other hands but living until age 101! Here’s the catch: This classic strip has only appeared in Hardware Retailer, a hardware store trade publication. In fact, Johnson, in the only book collection of the strip, 1968’s FORTY YEARS WITH MISTER OSWALD, claimed, "I’m not a cartoonist. I’m a hardwareman who has always liked to draw pictures." False modesty aside, Russ Johnson was one hell of a cartoonist! Done in the classic jazz age "bigfoot" style of cartooning, his work changes little over the years and his humor, judging by the collection, is always very small town, LUM ‘N’ABNER kind of stuff but the Hardware store setting doesn’t limit the audience. It’s retail and we’ve all experienced retail from one side or the other.
Mister Oswald, himself, is the proprietor of the store and over the years we see many supporting characters but the most original is Herman. Herman, whose short stature, muscles and oddly shaped head make him look like nothing so much as a misplaced DICK TRACY villain.
The strips in the book are not dated and since there’s little variation in style, it’s often hard to tell what era they come from but much of the humor is timeless. Long out of print, your best bet at discovering FORTY YEARS WITH MISTER OSWALD is to check Ebay or your local used book store (that’s where I found mine about twenty years back). Maybe it’s time for THE COMPLETE MISTER OSWALD?
Here’s a link to Russ Johnson’s final interview:Hogan's Interviews Russell Johnson Apparently, by age 101, he was finally admitting that he was, in fact, a cartoonist!


  1. Hi Steve,

    It's always good to see Russ get a little more ink. I still treasure that interview that I did with him and always enjoy looking at his originals. He remains one of the best cartoonists who flies low under the radar! For anyone interested, check out this gallery page for his originals:

  2. Anonymous9:48 AM

    My parents started a hardware store in the same town, Gibson City, as Mister Johnson's store in 1945. His hardware store and his shoe store were just a couple of doors down. Years later in the 70's, long after his store closed and my father passed away I joined with my mother to keep our store going. Mr. Johnson use to come in with his camera to take pictures. Our store still had that 50's look and apparently was good reference material when drawing his cartoons. I really got a enjoyed talking with him and always waited for the next issue of Hardware Retailer to come in so I could read his cartoons and possible recognized a counter or display.

  3. Does anyone have information about the original panels? I would be very interested in seeing a complete collection of Johnson's strip be published.

    Is there any hope?

  4. My family is original from Gibson City. Back in the late eightys Mr. Johnson was very close friend to my great grandmother Bessie Vaughn. Mr Johnson gave me a copy of this book and autographed it also. I also have a personal Birthday card Drawn to me From Mr. Johnson and pictures of him and my great grandmother in some of his last few yrs taken by my mother. My mother also used to care for Mr Johnson is some of his last few yrs in his home! He was one of the friendliest men i have ever met. Left a nonreplaceable imprint in my life. I would never part with these items but would like to know if i need to put them somewhere safe if they are worth anything?

  5. I am in possession of an autographed copy of the 40 yrs. It was given to my mother witch used to care for mr. johnson in some of his last yrs. I also have a personal birthday card Russ sent me (drawn)for my birthday as a child. I also have photos of Russ with my great grandmother Bessie Vaughn As they were close before she died! I would never part with any of these items but just would like to know if i need to put them in a safe place if they are of any value (to anyone else).

    If anyone knows anything please respond

  6. Russ Johnson was my grandfather. I'd love for my grandchildren to have their own copy of his book if anyone wants to part with theirs!

    1. Bobbie, email me at I think I found you a copy.

  7. Bobbie, email me at I think I found you a copy.