Thus far, we've seen Paul Bunyan harassed by a witch. Now comes the bit of continuity that I have only in fragments... but as far as I know, Paul Bunyan ends up transformed into a little gnome and finds himself roaming through the magical world of Foozland, "... where wide-awake dreams happen." The Sundays Gene Ahern turns out over the next several years are pure flights of surreal fancy. Some of them really make as much sense as dreams. For me, this is the greatest appeal; for something to be wonderful and nonsensical in every sense of the word. We think of "nonsense" as being something silly or ridiculous, but we should also think of things that we simply can't understand or explain. So much of life is like this! We search for meaning, and what do we find? A sponge. But, oh! What a sponge! It's the delightfulness of Ahern's nonsensical Foozland that leaves me hungry for more - and also keeps me returning to strips I've read again and again. This is far richer for me than any gag humor because, even though I know there's really no "getting" Ahern's joke in the traditional sense, my mind remains locked on the ingredients of the humor. I hope you'll agree! Now strap in and enjoy the ride... next stop: Foozland!
This is from Dec. 26, 1943. We still have our original Paul Bunyan, but we see shades of Foozlandish things happening! I've mentioned the influence of Winsor McCay, but I think Ahern must also have been paying some attention to Otto Messmer's Felix the Cat, which was often wonderfully surreal.
July 22, 1945. Paul Bunyan is now the gnome. The Little Hitchhiker has returned, evidently feeling quite at home in Foozland.
September 9, 1945. I love the dialogue in the last panel.
October 14, 1945
November 4, 1945
December 9, 1945. The recurring theme of places where no one wants you.
February 23, 1947
March 2, 1947
March 23, 1947
April 27, 1947
May 25, 1947
June 5, 1949
I have the fewest examples of The Squirrel Cage from this late period - it probably wasn't running in many newspapers by this time. What has happened to the Paul Bunyan-gnome? A few observations, based on all the strips I've seen: First, after his transformation, he is never called Paul Bunyan again - or any other name, as far as I've seen. Second, although he seems always to be searching for the way out of Foozland, I don't know that he ever leaves. It seems clear that the latest strips I've seen (from 1952) still take place in Foozland. Third, it seems that in the late 1940s Ahern shifts the focus once again to the theme of everyone wanting to get rid of The Little Hitchhiker. I'm very curious to see what the final Squirrel Cage Sunday strip could be... somehow, I'm hoping it will end with our bearded icon finally getting the ride he's been thumbing for for so many years.
And with that, I will close for now, but once again I will say that I'm searching for more strips, information on Gene Ahern, letters, photos, family contacts... anything that might be useful in researching this forgotten gem. If you have anything that may be of use, even if it's just a suggestion for places to inquire or search, please contact me! You will have my utmost gratitude! Thanks & more to come!