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Some Very Comical Beginnings

July 16, 2019

The serious origins of your favorite characters from the funny pages.

BLONDIE

At its outset in 1930, Blondie was just one of many comics about flappers, those ladies of the Jazz Age who danced all night in bold, calf-exposing dresses. Chic Young’s strip centered on Blondie Boopadoop (cribbing heavily from the catchphrase of fellow fictional flapper Betty Boop) and her exploits, which included dating a playboy bachelor named Dagwood Bumstead, son of a railroad tycoon. By 1933, the Great Depression had ravaged America, and suddenly things like flappers and railroad tycoons were out of fashion. The only flapper strip that survived was Blondie, because Young adapted it, having Blondie marry Dagwood, and making him take a regular job (his father cut him off). Ever since, it’s been a domestic strip about the Bumsteads and their two teenaged kids, Alexander and Cookie.

CALVIN AND HOBBES

Bill Waterson worked in advertising and hated it so much he set out to make a strip that would sell, and allow him to quit his job. While he didn’t base rambunctious Calvin on himself, he thought it represented a part of him, namely his undying immaturity and curiosity about the world. Stuffed tiger Hobbes is based on Watterson’s old cat, a grey tabby named Sprite. He got the names from real people: 16th century French theologian John Calvin, who believed in predestination and the glory of mankind, and 17th century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes who had a cynical attitude about man’s aims — much like how an animal might distrust people.

GARFIELD

Cartoonist Jim Davis struck out in the mid-1970s with a comic strip about an insect called Gnorm Gnat. A newspaper editor said it was because readers had a hard time relating to an insect. So, Davis set out to base a strip on a relatable character…and also one that could sell. He noticed that there were lots of dog-based strips — Peanuts (with Snoopy) and Marmaduke — that moved a lot of merchandise…but no cat strips. So, Davis created a strip about America’s other most popular pet, and his was a very real cat: Garfield is grumpy, gluttonous, and self-centered. (However, he took the name and a lot of personality traits from his curmudgeonly grandfather, James Garfield.)

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