The Art of the Funnies: An Aesthetic History

By Robert C. Harvey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 3
Establishing the Daily Comic Strip The Thematic Choruses of Bud Fisher and George McManus

Mutt and Jeff attest to the visual power of the comic strip. The duo long ago ascended to the pantheon of American mythology: in common parlance, the names (seemingly forever yoked) always denote a visually mismatched pair, a tall person and a short one. Several generations of newspaper readers delighted in a daily dose of hilarity administered by the antics of the lanky Mutt and the runty Jeff, the former almost always exasperated to the point of desperation by the imperturbable ignorance (or was it beatific innocence?) of the latter. Mutt pursued every conceivable occupation and avocation in quest of a bigger bankroll; and in every endeavor, he was frustrated by Jeff's inability to concentrate on the main chance. But as a comic strip rather than a cultural and lexical phenomenon, Mutt and Jeff enjoys another distinction: it established the appearance of the medium, its daily format. Moreover, in the process of consolidating the art form, Mutt and Jeff employed many devices--such as continuous day-to-day narrative and political satire--that we normally associate with periods much later in the history of the newspaper comic strip. The author of this prototypical enterprise, Harry Conway "Bud" Fisher, was likewise something of an exemplar: in the conduct of his professional life, he set precedents that would affect the lives of other cartoonists for decades.

Figure 19 . Fisher drew himself and his star players for the American Magazinein about 1916.

-35-

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