George McManus’s Bringing Up Father

This is the first of NBM’s “Forever Nuts” line, collecting classic screwball comic strips, I’ve had the chance to check out. They’ve previously released Happy Hooligan and Mutt and Jeff. Samples of all three can be seen at the publisher’s website.

Bringing Up Father cover
Bringing Up Father
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This was probably the best choice for me of the three, since I would better appreciate the domestic humor of Maggie and Jiggs. I’d learned a little about the strip while reading The Comics Before 1945, but R.C. Harvey’s nine pages of introduction comprehensively covers the origin of the concept, the life of artist George McManus, and how the strip progressed after the early years presented here. (It’s a shame that all of the copy, back cover, flaps, and interior, looks like it was printed from a rough draft with no proofreading. The copy editor piece of my brain kept cringing at the errors and rough spots that should have been corrected.)

All of the dailies from the first two years, 1913-1914, are collected. It’s explained that, for various reasons, strips didn’t run every day in the early years, making it only 340 contained here. All are labeled with dates, and many have notes explaining references. I’m a little surprised that there’s no “volume one” on the book; I would have expected this to be first in a series.

The premise of the strip is simple and mostly unvarying: Jiggs has become rich relatively recently. He only wants to drink beer and play cards with his old pals, but his wife Maggie is socially ambitious and ashamed of his behavior. The conflicts between fitting in and standing out, between aiming for more and being happy with basic pleasures, are those many people found humor in back in the day.

Specific situations follow this pattern: Maggie tells Jiggs something that’s required to be proper, such as how to dress properly or warning him not to smoke his pipe or not to pal around with the help. Jiggs then embarrasses her more than she could have imagined, and she reacts. A lengthy part of this book also covers their trip through Europe.

The art is typical of its period — stylized figures, thin lines, lots of talking, flat in perspective. At two strips per page, they’re larger than the typical dailies seen today, although it’s still a tad difficult to read the text sometimes. The pacing is unusual, with some having multiple jokes or not really a punchline at all.

Strips like these don’t work today, because when we see two married people who fight as much as Maggie and Jiggs do, we wonder why they just don’t get a divorce and find people who’d make them happier. The idea of living with the annoyances because you made a commitment, for better or for worse (and both might come at once), marks this comic strip as being from another era just as much as the art does. These days, we’re also more likely to sympathize with Jiggs, the voice of individual pleasure, over the conforming hectoring of Maggie.

(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


3 Responses to “George McManus’s Bringing Up Father”

  1. Mark S. Says:

    Copy editing in general seems to be a lost art…

  2. Hsifeng Says:

    Johanna Says:

    “…All of the dailies from the first two years, 1913-1914, are collected. It’s explained that, for various reasons, strips didn’t run every day in the early years, making it only 340 contained here…”

    Interesting. Now I wonder what those various reasons were…

    Johanna Says:

    “…Strips like these don’t work today, because when we see two married people who fight as much as Maggie and Jiggs do, we wonder why they just don’t get a divorce and find people who’d make them happier…”

    Either that or wonder, “if you loved each other enough to get married, why don’t you treat each other better?”

    Johanna Says:

    “…The idea of living with the annoyances because you made a commitment, for better or for worse (and both might come at once), marks this comic strip as being from another era just as much as the art does…”

    Good points! The idea of still annoying one’s spouse so much despite having made a commitment also comes from another era, right?

  3. Johanna Says:

    Some of the reasons include different schedule expectations for publishing and working on more than one strip at a time. And yeah, another idea from the past (thankfully) is the concept that it’s ok to physically threaten your spouse when they annoy you. :)




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