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A New ‘Charley & Humphrey’ Comic Book Revisits the Bay Area’s Favorite Puppets

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Charley and Humphrey as seen in the new comic book series by John Hageman and Justin Sane. (Courtesy of John Hageman)

It’s a new comic book series about a naughty bulldog and his responsible horse pal. They’re the best of friends and they live in a San Francisco apartment together—even though they get on each other’s nerves sometimes. Even when they’re trying to be good, this goofy twosome just cannot stop getting into trouble.

If you grew up in the Bay Area in the ’60s, ’70s or early ’80s, you’ll instantly recognize these characters as Charley and Humphrey, the beloved puppets who once dominated local kids’ entertainment. Their long-running shows on KTVU and KGO-TV—the creations of TV host Pat McCormick—helped shape the minds and morals of generations of children in the region. And though they’ve been off the air for decades, Charley and Humphrey have not been forgotten. Which is why artist John Hageman and writer Justin Sane have teamed up to revive the duo in a new comic book series approved by McCormick himself.

Charley and Humphrey return! (Courtesy of John Hageman)

The first ten issues of the series have already been story-boarded, with the first one hitting shelves at the end of December. After that, new adventures will be released every two months. “The issues just get better and better,” Hageman tells KQED. “Justin has a brilliant mind for humor.”

Planned storylines so far include: Charley and Humphrey trying to save a community center, the duo getting into real-world scrapes via a virtual reality game, and Humphrey spending the night at a ska club. In the second issue, another beloved McCormick character is introduced—Pussyfoot the cat who, in the comic, owns a rowdy beatnik cafe next door to Charley and Humphrey’s apartment.

Illustration: Charley and Humphrey watch from their apartment window as a gathering of cool cats line up outside a venue. The sign marquee advertises "The Stray in the Beret."
Pussyfoot wrangles patrons outside his Hep Cat venue.

The idea for a Charley and Humphrey comic book started brewing all the way back in 2013. That’s when Hageman (from Fremont) and Sane (based in Napa) first met at a San Jose comic convention.

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“I had written and illustrated an undead Victorian romance graphic novel titled Heart of a Corpse,” Sane explains. “John had put together a collected print comic of his office-set webcomic, Social Vermyn, and we were both there to sell. By chance, we were seated next to each other, and I had noticed that John had some Charley and Humphrey illustration prints at his table, so we started talking about, and bonding over, our mutual love of the characters. That began us down the path towards this book.”

Charley Horse catches Humphrey Hambone eating an apple that wasn't his. Charley exclaims "Humphrey!' in all caps.
Humphrey is still the naughty one, Charley is still the sensible one. (Courtesy of John Hageman)

In 2015, a year after Sane and Hageman had collaborated on a graphic novel named The Woodland Welfare Manifesto, Hageman suggested they turn their efforts to Charley and Humphrey.

“When he asked me if I were interested in writing it,” Sane explains, “I leapt at the chance. We’d had so much fun and worked so well together on that previous book, that I knew it would be a blast crafting the world of Charley and Humphrey with him. These are two characters we’ve loved since we were kids.”

Because of Sane and Hageman’s reverence for Charley and Humphrey as characters and local icons, it was important that they get the blessing of the man who created them. But tracking down Pat McCormick proved to be a challenge. Hageman’s first port of call was KTVU, but the station had no contact details on file for their former employee. Eventually, after an exhaustive internet search, Hageman managed to track down McCormick.

“To show Pat what we wanted to do, Justin wrote a short, 8-page pitch story,” Hageman says, “and I did the illustration and some character sheets. We overnighted it to Pat. He got it on a Friday and called me the following Monday. I spoke with Mr. McCormick for 20 minutes on the phone and he gave his permission to use his characters. Pat gave some visual notes on my version of Humphrey. From there, Justin and I brainstormed story ideas.”

The top half of the illustration shows what the old Sutro Baths looked like in their heyday. The bottom half features a treasure map. In between Humphrey Hambone ponders his options.
Humphrey Hambone decides to go hunt treasure at the ruins of the Sutro Baths.

Much of what Hageman and Sane have so far put together for the comic book has a distinctly local flavor. The four small issues (or “ashcans”) that they released to drum up interest in the series had storylines that were loudly, quintessentially Bay Area.

One tale had Charley and Humphrey crashing a boat into Alcatraz. Another found Humphrey searching for treasure in the old Sutro Bath tunnels. Bob Wilkins—the creator and host of KTVU’s Creature Features throughout the 1970s—even made an appearance in a story titled “Creature Feature!”

Two comic book panels show Charley, a white horse sitting on a coach in front of the TV, waiting for his friend Humphrey the dog to join him.
Charley and Humphrey gear up for a Bob Wilkins Creature Feature.

Despite the steady stream of knowing winks contained in Sane and Hageman’s stories, one of the most appealing aspects of the Charley & Humphrey comic book series is that you don’t have to be familiar with the TV show to enjoy it.

“Our key demographic is, well, everyone,” Hageman laughs. “We get the Boomers who remember the Charley and Humphrey half-hour TV show and the Gen Xers that grew up with their PSAs on Channel 2. But we get younger kids too. Charley and Humphrey have always had a good, positive message with the kind of snark people of all ages can enjoy.”

The first issue of ‘Charley & Humphrey’ by John Hageman and Justin Sane is out on Wednesday, Dec. 29, via 10 Ton Press.

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