THE BUNGLE FAMILYMedium: Newspaper comics
Published in: New York Evening Mail
First Appeared: 1918
Creator: Harry J. Tuthill
Please contribute to its necessary financial support.
Amazon.com or PayPal
Blondie and Hi & Lois, are perennial favorites, while others, like The Nebbs and Toots & Casper, came and went and are now mostly forgotten. And a few deserve to be better remembered than they actually are.
For example, no less a personage than Art Spiegelman, author of Maus, has cited The Bungle Family, by cartoonist Harry J. Tuthill, as one of the most under-rated comic strips in the history of American cartoonery. The Comics Journal, which is not known for endorsing mediocre comics, listed it as one of the top 100 comics of the 20th century. And yet, it's scarcely even been seen during the century's second half, and is now virtually unknown.
Tuthill's classic began in 1918, in The New York Evening Mail, where it appeared daily under the title Home, Sweet Home. It achieved national syndication five years later, when McNaught Syndicate (Joe Palooka, Jackson Twins, Toonerville Folks) picked it up. A Sunday page was added right about then. It was also about then that it was re-named after its protagonists, George and Josephine Bungle, and their daughter Peggy.
George was skinny, middle-aged, cucumber-nosed and mustachioed, sort of like A. Mutt, Andy Gump or the self-caricatures of R. Crumb. Josie was his equivalent, not a dowdy old frump, but about as comfortably domestic looking as Mutt's or Andy's wife, or to cite a more recent example, Mrs. Ferd'nand. They were typical lower middle class city people of the time, living in a walk-up apartment and having frequent run-ins with the landlord, bill collectors, neighbors, and most of all, each other.
George and Jo would fight over practically anything. Their disputes frequently went on for hours, provoked noise complaints to the police, dragged the neighbors in, or all three. They were not very likable, and certainly not high-minded. But they were funny. Through them, Tuthill displayed a sort of amused contempt for the more petty concerns of ordinary urban life. The Bungles weren't the sort of folks most people would want to live downstairs from, but they were very much capable of providing entertainment for those who didn't have to put up with them in person.
Toward the mid-1930s, Tuthill started throwing occasional exotic elements into the storyline — adventures in the tropical jungle, high-level political melodrama, extra-dimensional aliens, etc. But the stories always returned to domestic comedy, where the characters were most, as it were, at home.
That may have been a symptom of Tuthill growing tired of the genre, or of the characters, as he made a couple of attempts to retire in the late 1930s and early '40s. He kept returning to the drawing board, tho, until 1945, when the strip ended for good. He died in 1957.
There were no movies about the Bungles, nor any Big Little Books, animated cartoons or other media spin-offs. A few episodes were reprinted in early issues of Famous Funnies, the first modern-style comic book. It was also reprinted in Big Shot Comics, published by Columbia (The Face, Sparky Watts), and then in Feature Funnies, published by Quality Comics (Plastic Man, Blackhawk). In those two, George and Josie even made it onto a few covers. But that ended even before the strip itself did.
In 1977, Hyperion Press put out several volumes reprinting vintage comic strips, such as Harry Hershfield's Abie the Agent, Gus Mager's Sherlocko the Monk and George Herriman's The Family Upstairs (where Krazy Kat first appeared). One of them was a complete year (1928) of The Bungle Family. That book, now out of print, is practically the only place a modern reader has even a chance of seeing a substantial collection of one of comics' little-known classics.