Bringing Up Father

By | Monday, March 07, 2022 Leave a Comment
As a boy, I was unfamiliar with Bringing Up Father. None of the Cleveland-area papers at the time carried it, nor did either of the Cincinati papers when I moved down there for school. I can't seem to find circulation numbers from that time period but given that the strip was cancelled entirely just a few years later, I have no doubt that they'd dipped pretty low by that point. I suspect, then, that I'm not alone in being largely unfamiliar with the strip and/or its characters.

But the obscurity it seems to hold now is comparitively recent. The strip debuted in early 1913 and became popular fast enough that a Broadway stage adaptation was produced the very next year. The stage production was successful enough to warrant six (SIX!) sequels by the early 1920s. Collected editions of the newspaper strip were being published as early as 1919 and came out semi-annually through 1934. There were nine animated cartoons produced between 1916 and 1918. There were three live-action movie shorts in 1920 and 1921. Feature length films were made in 1928, 1939, 1946, 1948, 1949, and 1950. A radio show ran through 1941.

Let me add, too, that the strip became a popular export. The book collections were reprinted in England beginning in 1919, and I believe France as well. In 1923, Bringing Up Father became the first American comic to be translated and published in Japan. This helped open the door for a veritable flood of American comics overseas, with Happy Hooligan, Mutt and Jeff and other titles following in Bringing Up Father's footsteps.

Clearly, there was more than a little interest in the adventures of Jiggs and Maggie.

Now, unlike some older strips that I've complained haven't received any reprint treatment, there are still some Bringing Up Father reprint books being published. IDW has a done a couple volumes under their "Library of American Comics" imprint in the past several years, and NBM reprinted the first two years of the strip in 2009. Interest has not vanished entirely here.

But for as significant as the strip was, and that it's still being published as reprints, there's surprisingly little discussion -- casual or academic -- about either the strip or creator George McManus. We've still got people talking about Hogan's Alley and Little Nemo and Krazy Kat, but not so much about Bringing Up Father. There's some, certainly, but not as much as it seems it should warrant. Now it's totally possible that it's just flown past my radar since I don't have a long-standing familiarity with the strip (I've been known to completely whiff on stuff-outside-my-normal-purview before) but I wonder why McManus doesn't have quite the staying power despite his work remaining in active circulation for so much longer than other contemporaries.

Hmph. Or maybe I just need to read more.
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