Dirty Duck, from the cover of his 1971 comic book. Artist: Bobbie London.


Original Medium: Comic books
Published by: The Air Pirates
First Appeared: 1971
Creator: Bobby London
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Cartoonist Bobby London didn't set out to be an "underground" cartoonist of the type epitomized in the public mind by R. Crumb. But underground comix were where …

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… a lot of young cartoonists were breaking into the field at the time, and others associated with his earliest publishing ventures, such as Dan O'Neill (Odd Bodkins) and Ted Richards (The 40-Year-Old Hippie) were firmly a part of that movement. In fact, London's best known character, Dirty Duck, first appeared in one of the most notorious undergrounds of all, Air Pirates Funnies.

London contributed 12 of the 36 pages of Air Pirates #1 (July, 1971), and the bulk of his contribution consisted of Dirty Duck. This has led to a popular but erroneous belief that Dirty was included in the famous lawsuit by which Disney sank the Air Pirates. But Dirty Duck wasn't in any way analogous to Donald, or to any other Disney character. Besides, the guys the suit was about, Mickey Mouse, Bucky Bug et al., appeared in Air Pirates under their own names (which was among the less defensible bones of contention).

London later said Dirty's character was distilled from several actual human beings he was familiar with. There was a certain amount of Groucho Marx in him, but he mostly came from non-famous people whom London had encountered over the years, including an old derelict who used to sell pencils on a street corner in San Francisco. He also got some of his inspiration as a child, watching real ducks at play and thinking how little they resembled anything he saw in cartoons. Dirty was done in a style resembling that of George Herriman, creator of Krazy Kat, and actually resembled Herriman's Gooseberry Sprigg far more closely than he did any contemporary character. Herriman and Elzie Segar, creator of Popeye, were among the more obvious influences on London's art. (In fact, from 1986-92, London handled the Popeye comic strip for King Features Syndicate.)

Dirty Duck was about as commercial a character as ever came out of the Air Pirates studio, at least if you exclude characters that already belonged to others. Within a few months, he had his own title, the single issue of which kept the studio afloat during a lean period. By 1972, London was producing Dirty Duck pages for National Lampoon magazine, and in '77 he took the feature to Playboy, which still runs it.

In 1977, New World Pictures released an animated Dirty Duck movie, calling the character "madder than Daffy, dumber than Donald, more existential than Howard". But this was an unauthorized use of the name, and slapped together just to trade on the success of Fritz the Cat. Critics were not kind to it.

In comics, tho, Bobby London has won numerous awards for Dirty Duck (one named after The Yellow Kid). But these came mostly from overseas. Mainstream American comics fans haven't paid much attention to him.


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Text ©2004-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Bobby London.