Oh, What a Knight Errant: R. B. Fuller’s Oaky Doaks

Posted by on January 4th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Panel from September 7, 1946 Oaky Doaks [©1946 AP Newsfeatures]

A long — but hardly long enough — -running, comic parody/pastiche of Knighthood’s flowering, R. B. Fuller’s Oaky Doaks transmuted its oft-parodied material with a tone of Sancho Panza pragmatism: tightrope-walking between earnest, Howard Hawksish, masculine adventure and the cheerful, cheeky mockery, plus the elegant grace, of a Fred Astaire. Oaky, the titular hero, was a Gary Cooper type: dirt-simple and modest; attired, Quixote-style, in armor that appeared hammered together from boilerplate; a plaintive, gentle mouth, above a long chin (capable, apparently, of taking many things). Yes: he was a farm boy, borne aloft by his faithful plough horse, Nelly.  Each episode opened, on the Sunday page, with the motto: “A Good Deed Every Day”: in Pig Latin. Fuller’s modest beauties of line and composition accorded with his discreetly reined caricature. King Cornelius (Corny), father of the princess Pamona, Oaky’s sweetheart, was a scruffy-mustached, baldheaded little man, of harassed disposition. Oaky’s Sancho Panza, one Cedric, was a true blue Holy Belly: rotund, bald, horn-rimmed spectacled. He suggested an amalgam of Jack Oakie and Jack E. Leonard. Cedric could always temper a heroic text with a pragmatic footnote. As they close in on a villain’s hideaway, Oaky whispers; “We could surround this house.” “I’d rather surround a fried egg,” submits Cedric.

The beauty of R. B. Fuller’s graphic narration was its cleanliness of line and composition and the compact fidelity of his scenes: often outdoors. The loving solicitude of his action depictions (often carefully segmented pantomime) recall the luminous aptness of Mack Sennett or Ernst Lubitsch.

The orchestrated discipline of tongue-in-cheek pastiche, at its finest, can be observed (can be? Ah, but where, at this point?) in R. B. Fuller’s masterpiece of graphic farce.  To revive it in some durable form: that would be a Good Deed for the ages.

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