Longest running comic wasn’t always funny

By Don McAlavy

The first thing I read every Sunday morning are the color comics. I bypass the bad news on the front page and go to my favorite comic strip, Blondie and Dagwood. I want a laugh.

Long ago, they said the funnies were responsible for selling a lot of newspapers. But in these days, it’s killings, tragedies, wars, child molestations and celebrities that have gone to pot that sell papers. My opinion.

Blondie and Dagwood is the oldest continuous cartoon strip, an American tradition, having been created in 1930. But you wouldn’t believe how it started.

According to King Syndicate, which handles this strip, Blondie was introduced to readers as a kind of flighty gold-digger type and Dagwood was just one of her many suitors. Dagwood’s father, who was known for the massive fortune he’d made running Bumstead Locomotive Works, forbade his son from marrying Blondie. And that was that, if Dagwood wanted to keep his inheritance.

In possibly the first strip, Dec. 21, 1930, Dagwood and Blondie are talking on a downtown street. Dagwood says “It’s unbearable around our house, the way they’re hounding me … and the things they say about you. I can’t stand it much longer.”

Blondie says “Dagwood, I don’t want you to get in trouble on my account. Maybe your folks are right. It would be best to forget me.” (Does this sound like a funny comic strip?)
Dagwood is seen walking away. He says “Forget Blondie? Never! And what’s more, my folks aren’t going to force a loveless marriage on me for social reasons. I’ll put my foot down. I’m no ninny.”

The next scene shows Dagwood in his folks’ living room and laying on the couch crying is Irma. The mother says “Dagwood, it’s a shame the way you’ve been treating Irma.

She feels terrible.” And the father says: “Young man, you might as well forget Blondie. We insist you marry Irma.”
“And what if I tell you I refuse?” says Dagwood.

In the last scene the father is ranting and raving: “I’ll stop your allowance, disinherit you and kick you out in the cold … J. Bolling Bumstead will not be crossed.”

Dagwood chose love over money. (Good for him!) Apparently, Dagwood endured a 28-day hunger strike. (Is that the reason for Dagwood raiding the fridge all the time?) He defied his parents, and married Blondie on Feb. 17, 1933.

Chic Young (1901-1973), the creator of Blondie and Dagwood, was born Murat Bernard Young in Chicago. He grew up in St. Louis with a dream of becoming a cartoonist. He began by drawing “The Affairs of Jane” in 1923. Later he drew “Beautiful Bab and Dumb Dora,” before he started drawing “Blondie.” He drew more than 15,000 Blondie strips. He drew the strip seven days a week from Sept. 8, 1930, to his death in 1973.

His greatest desire was “to be funny” in drawing Blondie and Dagwood, but it didn’t start that way. His daughter, Jeanne, says he fulfilled his dream every day. He told her “I’ve succeeded if I bring a smile to someone somewhere.”
Blondie and Dagwood appear around the world in more than 2,300 newspapers and the strip is read by an estimated 280 million people every day.

Today this strip is carried on by Young’s son, Dean, and his collaborator, Denis Lebrun.

So, when you read this strip you are reading history.

Most of the other strips aren’t as funny any more. My opinion.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at:
dmcalavy@telescopelab.com