The Bumsteads Are Us! The Story of Chic Young’s ‘Blondie’ Comic Strip
On the 9th of January 1901, the American cartoonist Murat Bernard Young, better known as Chic Young, was born in Chicago, Illinois. His first comic strip The Affairs of Jane, about a low-budget film actress who dreams of becoming a real movie star, earned young Chic $22 a week. Unsurprisingly, upon receiving a phone call from King Features Syndicate’s J. Gortatowski, offering him an annual salary of $10,000, the cartoonist took it as a prank by his work colleagues and refused the offer. Luckily for him, when he later applied to Gortatowski, the offer was still on. In 1924, Young came up with an idea for a new strip entitled Dumb Dora. This time, the comic was about a brunette lady who, as it turned out, was not dumb at all. But it was his 1930 comic strip Blondie that brought Young worldwide recognition and major financial success.
The title character of the strip, Blondie Boopadoop, is a stylish fun-loving and man-chasing young flapper. “Yet her creator, Chic Young, recognized something more than a newsprint-ready blonde joke. She wasn’t a dizzy blonde as much as she was a dizziness-inducing blonde, embodying the whirlwind lifestyle that the “It” girls of the era seemed to suggest.” (Dean Young, Blondie: The Bumstead Family History). When she meets her boyfriend, son of a millionaire father, Dagwood Bumstead, his parents are not impressed with the “dizziness-inducing” girl. They suspect that she is with Dagwood mostly for the money. So, once the young couple decide to tie the knot Dagwood becomes disinherited and this is where the story really begins.
Blondie is the saga of a middle-class American family, initially intended to accommodate the stereotypical American Dream narrative; Chic Young once said: “I prefer to call Blondie a streamlined gag strip whose happenings are true and have occurred in almost every home. You see, I am catering to the average American family.” (Moira Davison Reynolds, Comic Strip Artists in American Newspapers, 1945-1980). Modelled on the everyday problems of the statistical Mr and Mrs Smith, the adventures of the Bumsteads soon became a popular phenomenon. The key to its success was the fact that the Bumsteads were easy to identify with; plus, their daily struggles and quarrels were brought to the public in a fun, life-goes-easy manner – even as the storyline often referred to serious matters, such as job loss or workplace bullying. When in 1941 the Bumsteads were blessed with their second child, “a total of 431,276 readers had participated in the contest to name her.” (Reynolds). The girl was eventually named Cookie. The Bumsteads also had a son, Alexander, originally known as Baby Dumpling. A further addition to the family was Daisy, the dog, and her numerous puppies.
The popularity of the comic has kept it alive up to the present day. But in order to make it relevant to the changing times, the Bumsteads have been undergoing a continuous evolution. First of all, in the 1950s, Chic Young realised that the children, who by the mid 1950s reached their teenagehood, would probably need to stay this way for good. From then on, parallely, the family started adapting to the social and cultural changes of the subsequent decades. So, at some point, the Bumsteads had to ‘vacate’ a household typical for the 1930s or 40s and start living in more modern looking surroundings. They had to change their clothes, domestic equipment and furnishings.
But most of all, Blondie is not a housewife anymore, since she has set up a catering business with Tootsie Woodley in 1991. Dagwood still works in a construction company, but instead of being threatened with an old manual typewriter by his boss, he has now a laptop frequently smashed into his head. In the late 1990s and at the beginning of 2000s, Cookie and Alexander started working after school – Cookie as a babysitter and Alexander at the order counter of a fast food restaurant. They wear modern clothes and use cellphones. There are also references to current television shows and social networking sites. Daisy, on the other hand, seems to be the only dog in the house, making the reader wonder of what happened to the puppies.
Even though the Bumsteads may seem as a mere imitation of our daily life, there is one sure thing we can learn from them – to treat life less seriously. As Dean Young, the son of the comic strip creator once said: “I think of the comics as a refuge, where you can see something that’s pleasurable and funny, and not mean-spirited and insulting. That’s my formula, and it seems to be working.” (Dean Young, Blondie: The Bumstead Family History). After Chic’s death in 1973, Dean Young replaced his father and still works on the Bumstead family adventures.