Thursday, September 08, 2005

Survival of the Funniest

[[C O M I C S]] * Happy Birthday, Blondie. And Dagwood. And Mr. Dithers, for that matter. Hard as it may be for some folks to believe (especially those of us who are more than a few years behind in our comics consumption), it’s been three quarters of a century since Murat “Chic” Young introduced the cartoon Blondie to U.S. newspaper readers. Although the St. Louis-reared Young died in 1973, at the age of 72, the strip continues to be written seven days a week by his son, Dean Young (now 65), with artwork by Denis Lebrun. Blondie, which once spawned a succession of 24 movies (beginning with 1938’s Blondie, starring Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton), and later two short-lived TV series, is currently published in more than 2,300 newspapers in 55 countries. It’s translated into 35 languages and is said to rank among the top five most popular newspaper strips.

When the world was introduced to Blondie Boopadoop and Dagwood Bumstead, on September 8, 1930, she was a “flighty, pretty-girl flapper” with “a ton of boyfriends”; he was “the bumbling, playboy son of billionaire railroad tycoon J. Bolling Bumstead.” But as the Great Depression closed its fist tighter over America, this pleasant, lackadaisical pair (whose lives seemed increasingly distant from those of their readers) were transformed by ardor. As Dean Young explains on the official Blondie Web site, “Blondie and Dagwood fell in love. Really in love. More than any comic characters before them. They made plans to get married, at the time a bold departure in comics.” After a “tumultuous” engagement, these “unlikely misfits” finally tied the knot on February 17, 1933--after which Dagwood’s parents promptly disinherited him for taking such a déclassé wife. As a result, the new couple “had to go out into the world and hack it like the rest of us. Settling down to a modest lifestyle with children and a dog, they became concerned with real life ... making ends meet, raising a family, eating, and sleeping. And these four same topics are the primary ingredient of the strip to this very day ...” (To enjoy today’s installment, click here.)

Of course, some things have changed over the decades. The sandwich-loving Dagwood is now the Webmaster for J.C. Dithers Construction Company, and former housewife Blondie opened a catering business in 1991. However, the cartoon’s popularity seems in no immediate danger of flagging. It has been celebrating its 75th birthday in a storyline that features cameo appearances by figures out of other comics, including Dennis the Menace and Beetle Bailey, and characters from Blondie have crossed over into Hi and Lois, Mother Goose and Grim, and additional strips.

So let us raise a glass of champagne in honor of Blondie’s Prohibition-era roots and continuing longevity ... and then head off for a nap on the sofa, since that’s undoubtedly what Dagwood would prescribe for himself.

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