Earliest Presidential Appearance

By | Tuesday, April 18, 2023 4 comments
Here's an odd question: who was the first American President to appear in a regularly syndicated comic strip? Not a political comic, but an ongoing, regular comic strip and it just happened to feature the American President. Doonesbury has probably featured Presidents (and other political figures) most regularly, although "appearances" can be arguable since Garry Trudeau frequently resorted to just showing dialogue emanating from the exterior of the White House or used icons as a sort of visual metaphor for the President. Regardless, though, Doonesbury didn't start until 1970; surely, someone had the President appear in a comic strip before then, right?

Now, there were some short-lived comics about Presidential candidates. But these tended to run only a few weeks or months, and were specifically biographic pieces intended to inform/persuade potential voters.

My first thought is perhaps Little Orphan Annie. Creator Harold Gray was fairly open about his politics, and some of his stories sprang directly out of what he saw happening in Washington. In fact, he even killed off Daddy Warbucks at one point because he simply could not fathom a character like Warbucks existing in a country run by Franklin D. Roosevelt! But did any of the Presidents actually appear in the strip? As far as I can tell, no. I'm certainly no Annie expert, but it seems as if Gray only ever even referred to the President obliquely.

My next thought is maybe Li'l Abner. Again, creator Al Capp was pretty outspoken about his politics, and I'm aware of at least a few instances here where he drew real people into his strip as characters. I did pretty quickly find a 1940 strip in which Mammy Yokum receives a letter from the "assistant secretary to the President's secretary". A few years later, the President ostensibly shows up during the Lena the Hyena storyline, but it the figure Capp draws looks nothing like then-President Harry S. Truman. Curiously, Capp draws the judges -- Salvador Dali, Frank Sinatra, and Boris Karloff -- relatively accurately. (Although Karloff is shown in his Frankenstein makeup.)
(Image obviously borrowed from the Billy Ireland Library & Museum.)
Roy Crane seems like another good candidate. Buz Sawyer was overtly political by virtue of its debut during World War II, so it would stand to reason to depict the President there. But, again, I'm not finding anything.

I was beginning to think maybe Trudeau was the first, but then I happened across this Ernie Bushmiller Nancy where she accidentally phones up John F. Kennedy.
I can't seem to pinpoint the specific date this ran, but the copyright here is 1962, almost a decade before Doonesbury started. But that still strikes me as pretty late. Surely, some cartoonist drew in the President before Bushmiller, right?

I was told once that Herbert Hoover appeared in Mutt & Jeff on March 20th, 1929, but I have been unable to find an image of that strip to confirm. Was Hoover indeed shown? Or just mentioned? If he was shown, was it a decent likeness?

Anyone have any insights on this? Know of anything definitively earlier than 1962?
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Ted Dawson said...

I checked that date for Mutt and Jeff on Newspapers.com but it didn’t have the prez. I’ll do some investigating.

Ted Dawson said...

Here’s something… “[Bringing Up Father] began in the daily strip for September 4, 1939, and continued both daily and Sunday through July 7, 1940. McManus met the challenge of geographical inclusiveness mostly in the daily strips, which featured stops in fifty-odd cities and towns, from Akron and Amarillo to Tulsa and Lake Tahoe. The family visits Washington, D. C., twice in the dailies (in January and March 1940), and Jiggs meets FDR, Vice President Garner, and J. Edgar Hoover.”

Ted Dawson said...

There’s something here according to a Google search, but can’t get to it, as it’s a pay thing:https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/000271622914600129?journalCode=anna

Ooooh, that helps a lot! A Google image search on "Jiggs Washington DC" turns up this...

I can't read the copyright date on it, but there's a clear "1-19" notation in the corner. That must be the January 1940 reference you found! Brilliant!