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A COMPLETE YEAR OF COMICS reproduced one per page, allowing us to have an experience similar to what newspaper buyers had many decades ago—reading the comics one day at a time.

LOAC ESSENTIALS is an important series that reprints, in yearly volumes, the rare daily newspaper strips that are essential to comics history, seminal strips that are unique creations in their own right, while also significantly contributing to the advancement of the medium.

“THE BUNGLE FAMILY evolved from a witty domestic gag comic strip into a brooding, complex satirical vision of middle class life in 1920s and 1930s America. It is a genuinely funny work of integrity about people who lack it.” —from the Introduction by Paul Tumey

USA $24.99/Different in Canada

THE BUNGLE FAMILY

P

1930

P

H. J. Tuthill


T H E L I B R A RY O F AMERICAN COMICS

ESSENTIALS


1930

THE BUNGLE FAMILY BY

Harry J. Tuthill THE LIBRARY OF AMERICAN COMICS

ESSENTIALS

IDW PUBLISHING

San Diego


1930

VOLUME 5

THE BUNGLE FAMILY BY

Harry J. Tuthill

T H E L I B R A RY O F AMERICAN COMICS

ESSENTIALS

EDITED AND DESIGNED BY Dean Mullaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR Bruce Canwell ART DIRECTOR Lorraine Turner INTRODUCTION Paul Tumey CONTRIBUTING EDITOR Jared Gardner MARKETING DIRECTOR Beau

Smith

Special thanks to Jackson Glassey, Art Spiegelman, John Province, Justin Eisinger, and Alonzo Simon.

IDW Publishing a Division of Idea and Design Works, LLC 5080 Santa Fe Street, San Diego, CA 92109 www.idwpublishing.com Ted Adams, Chief Executive Officer/Publisher Greg Goldstein, Chief Operating Officer/President Robbie Robbins, EVP/Sr. Graphic Artist Chris Ryall, Chief Creative Officer/Editor-in-Chief Matthew Ruzicka, CPA, Chief Financial Officer Alan Payne, VP of Sales • Dirk Wood, VP of Marketing Lorelei Bunjes, VP of Digital Services

ISBN: 978-1-61377-958-3 First Printing, May 2014 Distributed by Diamond Book Distributors 1-410-560-7100 Compilation © 2014 The Library of American Comics LLC. All rights reserved. The IDW logo is registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. All rights reserved. The Library of American Comics is a trademark of The Library of American Comics, LLC. All rights reserved. Introduction © 2014 Paul Tumey. With the exception of artwork used for review purposes, none of the comic strips in this publication may be reprinted without the permission of The Library of American Comics LLC. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information and retrieval system, without permission in writing from The Library of American Comics LLC. Printed in Korea.


SUCH C R U S T !

The Outsider Harry J. Tuthill and The Bungle Family by PAUL TUMEY

For the modern reader steeped in the standard conventions of humor cartoons, savoring the operatic pettiness and quirky rhythms of George and Josephine Bungle’s adventures in 1930 may at first feel as effort-laden as climbing the stairs to a fourth floor walk-up. The Bungle Family offers no daily punch-line or slapstick pratfall typical of a humorous American comic strip from the 1920s and 1930s—just a slow, steady boil. The strip is populated with decidedly non-heroic characters who are greedy, gossipy, and grouchy—the sort of people one might cross the street to avoid. George and Josephine Bungle are perpetually involved in a seemingly endless succession of small-minded squabbles, punctuated with shameless scrambles for the riches and status that would allow them to claw their way up from their

lower middle class purgatory. George Bungle apparently never met a neighbor with whom he couldn’t start a feud, a wealthy relative who didn’t captivate him, or a new business idea he wasn’t convinced would let him “put one over on Wall Street.” Even the strip’s artwork may at first seem appallingly grungy. Ron Goulart observed that “Tuthill drew in a raw, scratchy style that was admirably suited to the content of his strip.” Then there’s the daunting proliferation of overinflated speech balloons to read, what Bill Blackbeard called “cloudbanks of jam-packed dialogue.” Taken together, these qualities can at the outset produce a disquieting sense of claustrophobia, as if one were watching stand-up comedy in a dimly lit elevator. If George Bungle had to read his own comic strip, he might rail, “Such crust! Expecting us readers to put up with this! My word! That cartoonist deserves a good trimming!” 5


However, once one’s eyes adjust to the dimness of George and Josephine Bungle’s world, the faded beauty of the tawdry patterns on the shabby upholstered furniture in the shadows comes into focus, as do the comically repetitive patterns of incognizant human behavior rippling out from home to neighborhood to community to country to world. As Art Spiegelman wrote in a 1998 American Heritage article in which he cited Tuthill’s misanthropic masterpiece as one of the most underrated comic strips of the 20th Century, “The Bungle Family grows on the reader like a fungus until, like all great art, it becomes a central reference point in one’s way of understanding the world.” The tall, mild-eyed, and sharp-tongued father of the Bungles was born Joseph Harold Tuthill on May 10, 1885 and raised as part of a family of six in Chicago. Young Joseph H. skimped on his education to sell newspapers and work odd jobs to help his family survive. These formative years living in humble city walk-up flats would later figure prominently as the setting for his great life work. Tuthill set out on his own around age fifteen selling enlarged pictures, soap, calendars, and eventually joining a travelling carnival. He recalled this experience in a 1927 interview: “…versatile creature that I was, I joined up with a street carnival and wandered hither and LEFT: Tuthill’s photo in the 1916 edition of Green Book.

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RIGHT: Editorial cartoon from the St. Louis Star, July 1919.


yon through the middle west. I was a barker for one of the carnival attractions. I was a most unusual barker because I used to sing when I barked. My ability as a vocalist brought me the rich opportunity to join up with a medicine show. I played the dual role of tenor soloist and distributor of the magic cure-all.” There’s something of the medicine show, that iconic American con game, in The Bungle Family. It always seems that something great is just around the corner for the Bungles, but it never quite comes into view. The Bungles live in the same, equally funny, middle class hell of dashed dreams that W.C. Fields depicted in his 1934 film It’s A Gift. Around 1903 the itinerant eighteen-year-old settled in St. Louis, Missouri to be near a young lady who had caught his interest. The affair fizzled, but not long after he married Ethel M. Wilson, born in 1886 in Boston, Massachusetts. Finding steady employment at a dairy, where he worked for about seven years, Tuthill began a new life as a husband and family man. His first son, Harold Joseph Tuthill, was born in 1907. Not content to wash milk cans for a living, Tuthill took a correspondence course in steam engineering and acquired a license in the trade. The ambitious young Tuthill also attended night school at Washington University to study art. Sample drawings in hand, he made the rounds of the St. Louis newspapers without much success. He eventually sold a cartoon to the World Color Printing syndicate, a St. Louis-based purveyor of a preprinted, nationally-circulated Sunday color comics supplement that published early work by George Herriman and Rube Goldberg. Tuthill stuck with it and began to sell political cartoons to the local

papers. He quickly won a staff position at the St. Louis Star and then a better deal at a rival paper, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. In a twist worthy of a Bungle Family plot, Tuthill was then lured back to the Star in late 1913. A three-column ad in the Star bragged, “Tuthill began his cartooning with The Star one year ago this Fall and made his work the talk of the town in the political campaigns of November and April. He will make you think and talk. This is because Tuthill has ‘vision’ and an appreciation of the important things of life.” Sometime around 1915 Tuthill introduced Lafe, a daily humor strip about a bungling handyman, to augment his political cartoons in the St. Louis Star. The March 1916 issue of Cartoons magazine took note of Lafe (a common first name of the era, pronounced “layf”): “Lafe is a character afflicted with more than his share of laziness. The same can hardly be said of Tuthill.” Just as it seemed that Tuthill was finally gaining some traction his life took a tragic turn in 1915 when his wife Ethel died at age twenty-eight as a result of complications from the birth of their second son. The boy—George Harold Tuthill—shared the first name of his uncle, George Morrison, the husband of Ethel’s sister Irine. When Irine’s son was born eight years later, he shared monikers with his uncle Harry (who by this time had reversed his birth names in his comic strip byline, becoming “Harry J. Tuthill.”) For the next few years Tuthill steadily fired off political cartoons about the war raging in Europe. It’s interesting to note that Tuthill’s St. Louis Star editorial cartoons often framed world events as domestic conflicts. In one cartoon, entitled “Mr. Henpeck,” a meek husband labeled “Austria” is 7


confronted by a hulking wife labeled “Germany” who holds behind her back a document labeled “Alsace-Lorraine Letter to France.” The First World War may have been ending, but the Battle of the Bungles was just about to begin. In 1918 Tuthill was singled out as one of nine political cartoonists recruited by a Washington, D.C. group to devote their efforts to help end the war. His clever, caustic political cartoons were also regularly reprinted in nationally circulated magazines such as The Literary Digest and Cartoons. As his star rose Tuthill got the call that all enterprising newspaper cartoonists of the day hoped to get: a job offer from a New York syndicate. In this case it was the Evening Mail Syndicate, which was originally formed to keep the New York Evening Mail’s star cartoonist, Rube Goldberg, on their staff. In 1919 Tuthill left his two boys in the care of his in-laws and relocated to New York, where he created Home, Sweet Home, a daily humor strip that perfectly slotted in with the sarcastic Goldberg-influenced

Evening Mail offerings. The strip’s lead character, George Bungle, shared a first name with Tuthill’s younger son. Home, Sweet Home, which eventually became The Bungle Family, started as a daily gag strip in which a married couple has an edgy, quarrelsome conversation. In an early recurring shtick only one side of the conversation was shown, leaving the rest to the reader’s imagination. Quite unlike its later incarnation, the strip was drawn in a clean, minimalist style similar to Mr. and Mrs., Claire Briggs’s popular couple-at-war comic strip that also debuted in 1919. Although there were perhaps a dozen comic strips of the day devoted to henpecked husbands and nattering wives, Tuthill’s strip distinguished itself with superb writing. In the December 15, 1919 episode, for example, George’s complaint about his skirmishes with Josie makes poetry out of the domestic trope: “I’ll say I’m a veteran of some battles at that. Certainly I ain’t no Napoleon of the fireside. That guy won a battle once in awhile,

LEFT: Front page interview with Tuthill in the Harrisburg (Pennsylvania) Telegraph, August 2, 1923. OPPOSITE: Announcing the strip’s start in Sandusky, Ohio, November 10, 1919.


didn’ [sic] he?” The strip ends with George swearing when he discovers he has sewn a vest button on the wrong side, an example of how the early episodes strove to deliver punch-lines, sometimes with forced humor. Gradually, Tuthill moved a few pieces of modest second-hand furniture onto his spare set, while shedding the need to gratify the reader with a gag in the last panel. By 1922 George and Josie were shown together in a dingy walk-up flat, haranguing each other with speech balloons that grew ever larger, seemingly in proportion to the strip’s popularity. George’s appearance became less henpecked and more comically harried, while Josie’s nose grew into a sharp triangle, becoming a symbol of her tendency to poke it into the affairs of others. Most tellingly, there was a steadily mounting accumulation of fine, slanted lines in the background that gradually adjusted the strip to the perpetual twilight atmosphere of its best years. That buffeting torrent of scratches surrounding the straight verticals of the characters’ bodies defined the feel of the strip—at once ridiculously overdramatic and poignantly vulnerable.

In 1922 the Evening Mail Syndicate dissolved and manager Virgil McNitt co-created with Charles McAdam a new, bigger syndicate called McNaught. Tuthill’s strip was carried over to the new syndicate. A full-page color Sunday was added, called in some papers The Bungle Family for the first time (the daily strip appeared in many papers as Home, Sweet Home until as late as 1926). In April 1923 a teenaged daughter, Peggy, was introduced. Soon after, a two-faced suitor of Peggy’s, J. Hartford Oakdale, appeared. Following in the footsteps of wildly popular story strips like Sydney Smith’s Gumps (see the Library of American Comics Essential’s The Gumps 1929), Tuthill inaugurated a new approach: satirical, melodramatic story cycles that lasted for months, counterbalanced by shorter comical sequences in which George and Josie argued for days over trivial matters, such as the pronunciation of a word. Tuthill dramatically expanded the Bungle universe—and the strip’s richness—by regularly shifting the focus from George and Josie to their family members and neighbors, fractals of the Bungles with their own rumors and gripes.


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ABOVE AND OPPOSITE: Two examples of Tuthill’s early format for the strip in which the reader sees and hears only one side of the conversation but is easily able to fill in the rest, November 11 and 15, 1919.


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ABOVE: Oakdale’s introduction, May 15, 1923. In order to ingratiate himself to the Bungles, he offers to testify on George’s behalf about a car

accident he falsely claims to have witnessed. Four months later, hiding from the police, he jilts Peggy and leaves her at the altar.

LOAC Essentials 5: The Bungle Family 1930  

Art Spiegelman called The Bungle Family “the most underrated comic strip in our history.” Bill Blackbeard wrote, “There has been nothing lik...

LOAC Essentials 5: The Bungle Family 1930  

Art Spiegelman called The Bungle Family “the most underrated comic strip in our history.” Bill Blackbeard wrote, “There has been nothing lik...