DONDIOriginal Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1955
Creators: Gus Edson (writer) and Irwin Hasen (artist)
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there's no real reason they should. And then there's Dondi, who never did grow any older, tho given his real-world historical pinnings, he really should have.
Gus Edson, who had been writing and drawing The Gumps since the death of its creator; and Irwin Hasen, who had drawn Wildcat, Green Lantern and other features for DC Comics, were Dondi's creators. It was in the early 1950s, while on a tour of Germany with other members of The National Cartoonists' Society, that they had the idea for a strip about a World War II orphan. With Edson supplying scripts and Hasen illustrating them, they sold their feature to The Chicago Tribune Syndicate. It debuted on September 25, 1955.
Dondi wandered onto the scene in Italy, during the closing days of the war. He simply turned up in a deserted farmhouse where U.S. soldiers were staying, carrying no clues about where he'd come from. Unable to find his parents, Corporal Ted Wills assumed responsibility for him — and when "Uncle Ted" resumed civilian life, Dondi took up residence with him in Midville, USA. The early focus of the strip was Dondi's discovery of America.
Even at the beginning, however, it strained credibility for a child so young to remember World War II, and the passage of time didn't make it easier to believe. Instead of allowing Dondi to age, Edson and Hasen chose to de-emphasize his origin. Uncle Ted adopted Dondi legally, and became "Dad". Dondi became just another small town kid, having adventures with his gang, The Explorers Club, which consisted of himself, Eddy (the dumb one), Baldy (the scrappy one), Webster (the bookish one with glasses) and Connie (the girl). There was a brief allusion to his beginnings in 1962, when a former serviceman named Jim Dante showed up, claiming to be his father, but after that it was scarcely even mentioned that he was adopted.
The strip's circulation was in the 100-200 paper range during those years. Hasbro based a board game on it in 1960, and a year later (March 26, 1961, to be exact) a movie version came out (albeit, from an off-brand studio), with 6-year-old David Kory in the title role. The National Cartoonists' Society awarded it plaques in 1961 and '62, for "Best Story Strip".
Edson continued to write Dondi until his death in 1966. Hasen then wrote it for a brief time, but soon hired Bob Oksner (whose extensive DC Comics credits include Leave It to Binky and Angel & the Ape) to supply plots. Hasen and Oksner stayed with the strip until it ended, on June 8, 1986, when only 35 papers were still carrying it.
By that time, Dondi's back-story hadn't been alluded to in years, and with good reason. It was getting hard to find kids that age who remembered the Iran hostage crisis, much less World War II.