At first, the feature was not really so different from Ahern's old topper "The Nut Bros." which was featured with "Our Boarding House." However, "The Squirrel Cage" was designed as a longer feature, and so Ahern found he could develop a story. "The Nut Bros." was never longer than a couple of panels, and so it was never more than a vignette of vaudeville-type screwball jokes and puns. Here are a two examples of "The Nut Bros." published shortly before Ahern moved to King Features and started "The Squirrel Cage."
The Nut Bros. themselves seem indistinguishable from the unnamed players in "The Squirrel Cage," and the surreal visual elements in the strip would manifest, as well.
As for the hitchhiker, we'll now look at all of the precursors, leading up to (and including) the first utterance of the immortal phrase, "Nov Shmoz Ka Pop?" We start with August 9, 1936, where we see our Nuttish friend with his thumb out in the last panel.
The next hitchhiker we see is an actual precursor, rather than a suggestion. This strip dates from November 1, 1936:
And a close-up look at the traveler:
The next instance is two weeks later, on Nov. 15, 1936:
And again, a close-up:
The following week, November 22, 1936:
And a close-up reveals some important changes:
The mysterious fur hat gives him less the appearance of a typical American hobo, as he had seemed thus far, and more that of someone displaced from somewhere in Eastern Europe. Two weeks later, however, we're back to the hobo. This is from December 6, 1936:
And a close-up:
On December 20, 1936, We're back to the foreigner:
And a close-up:
And finally, on December 27, 1936, The Little Hitchhiker is born!
And his first utterance will remain his most memorable.