Ernie and girlfriend Doris, with Uncle Sid. Artist: Bud Grace.

ERNIE (THE PIRANHA CLUB)

Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1988
Creator: Bud Grace
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In 1979, Bud Grace, who at that time made his living as a nuclear physicist, decided he wanted to draw cartoons. A few years later, after already achieving success freelancing to magazines, he had …

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… his own syndicated newspaper strip. Ernie debuted from King Features Syndicate on February 1, 1988.

Grace's strip is about a typical nice but not-too-smart guy, Ernie Floyd, an unemployed fast food franchise manager, and his various friends, relatives and acquaintances — with particular attention paid to Ernie's sociopathic Uncle Sid Fernwilter. Sid, who utterly lacks both social graces and a conscience, maintains two girlfriends, makes his living as a scam artist, and is a member in good standing of The Piranha Club. So prominent has Sid's role in the strip (and that of his pet piranha, Earl) become, in 1998 King Features changed the official name of the strip to The Piranha Club (although most papers still carry it as Ernie).

Whatever its name, the strip has been well received — not just by the public (it currently appears in over 200 newspapers), but by Grace's fellow members of The National Cartoonists' Society (who voted it "Best Humor Strip" in 1993). And its following is not limited to America — in 1990, when it had only been around for two years, Grace received the Adamson Statuette from the Swedish Academy of Comic Art, which, since 1965, has been given each year to one of the world's outstanding cartoonists.

Ernie started appearing in book form in 1990, and several collections have been published since then. In 1999, a very special one came out. Ernie — Out of Control contains strips that never appeared in the newspaper. "Occasionally," says the cartoonist, "I'll draw up a good gag and send it in just to shock my editor." Considering how tasteless some of Sid's antics are, even the ones that do appear in the papers, the ones that don't must be shocking indeed.

— DDM

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Text ©2000-04 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features Syndicate.