Tuthill and the Bungles

By | Tuesday, April 23, 2024 Leave a Comment
Last week, someone mentioned the old Bungles comic strip by Harry J. Tuthill. I had heard of the Bungles, but knew little about them and nothing about Tuthill himself. So I started with a quick Wikipedia search. Tuthill was something of an unlikely cartoonist, seemingly not doing anything related to drawing or illustration until his 30s. But he launched Home Sweet Home in 1918, which he retitled The Bungle Family in 1924. He finally retired in 1945, and passed away in 1957.

Here's the passage from his Wikipedia entry that stands out to me, though...
Tuthill continued to draw The Bungle Family for McNaught until he had a dispute with the syndicate in 1939, which no longer carried the strip in 1942. After a hiatus, the strip returned — syndicated by Tuthill himself — on May 16, 1943, with newspapers running a promotional banner, "The Bungles Are Back!" It ran for two more years until 1945 when Tuthill retired.
However, the explicit nature of this "dispute" isn't mentioned and there's no citation about it. The only other place I'm aware of that mentions it at all is 100 Years of American Newspaper Comics. The notion of ownership would be an obvious consideration, although given that Tuthill later returned to the strip without McNaught suggests that he was able to hold on to the copyright, so maybe that was never in contention. Indeed, Allan Holtz's Stripper's Guide explicitly states, "Tuthill owned The Bungle Family strip and ended it on August 1, 1942." So was there really a dispute here at all, or was Tuthill indeed just "bored" and "tired" as Time and Newsweek noted at the time?

But here's the other thing that strikes me: Tuthill syndicated the strip himself in the 1940s. That wasn't unheard of, I suppose, but syndicates had been the primary distributors of newspaper comics for at least a couple decades by then. Tuthill certainly would have been aware of, if not made many contacts in the newspaper world by 1943, so that would have helped him. Creators often don't syndicate their own work because it requires a lot of business and social skills that right-brain creators don't often possess in abundance, if at all. I suspect it's much easier now, with so much being run digitally, but back in the mid-1940s, everything would have had to have been done manually. However, the original strip was successful enough, Tuthill may have had enough money to simply hire someone to deal with all that for him.

As to Tuthill retiring the strip once and for all, D.D. Degg has noted that The Bungle Family ended in 1945 three months after the Battle of Iwo Jima in which Tuthill's son George was killed, and that the timing of the two probably is not a coincidence.

The handful of shorter pieces I've read on Tuthill and the Bungles are absolutely fascinating. Someone really ought to write a comprehensive biography of the man!
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