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Al Smith, 84, 'Mutt and Jeff' Artist, Dies

November 27, 1986|From Times Wire Services

RUTLAND, Vt. — Cartoonist Al Smith, who drew the "Mutt and Jeff" comic strip for half a century, twice as long as the artist who created it, has died at age 84.

He died Monday at a nursing home here.

Mutt and Jeff--the long and short characters of the cartoon set--populated the oldest continuous comic strip in the country, appearing from 1907 to 1981.

The strip was created by Bud Fisher and made its debut in the San Francisco Chronicle, where Augustus Mutt gave racing tips to horse-playing readers. Little Jeff joined Mutt in 1920.

In 1932, Fisher, then America's highest-paid cartoonist at $4,000 a week, hired Smith to draw the strip. It was the beginning of a fractious relationship.

"Ghosting for Bud Fisher was rough," Smith said in an interview with the Associated Press in 1978. "He fired me three or four times and I quit three or four times." Each time, Smith returned.

'There They Are'

Fisher died in 1954, and Smith assumed the full task of keeping Mutt and Jeff alive.

"I really love doing it," he said. "The years have passed so quickly, and Mutt and Jeff have become a part of me. I wake up in the morning and there they are, waiting for me to go to work."

At their peak, Mutt and Jeff appeared in 350 newspapers and were translated into 28 languages.

Smith served as president of the National Cartoonists Society and had his own syndicate, Al Smith Feature Service, which is still run by two of his daughters. He also drew "Rural Delivery" and "The Bumbles."

Smith retired in 1981, giving in to an urge he had fought for years.

"There were times when I felt like taking the whole thing and throwing it out the window," he said. "But it's like love, you know. Sometimes you just can't get rid of it."

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