LITTLE JIMMYMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1904
Creator: Jimmy Swinnerton
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He created what is probably the first ongoing character in American newspaper cartoons. He explored new venues for comics, with a long-running feature in Good Housekeeping magazine. He was
responsible for many early newspaper comics features, and was in fact a seminal influence on the development of the modern comics form itself. But the thing Jimmy Swinnerton is best remembered for is a typical strip about an adorable kid who's always getting into trouble, just like Buster Brown, Dennis the Menace and an endless array of others.
Little Jimmy (simply called Jimmy in its early years) debuted as a Sunday page in The New York Journal on Feb. 14, 1904. Like many early comics, it was published sporadically at first, but within a year it was appearing every Sunday. A daily strip was added in 1920, but the daily lasted only until the late 1930s.
Jimmy was a wide-eyed innocent, but easy prey to the foibles of little boys. He'd constantly forget what task he was about and wander off to do boyish things, to the great consternation of the adults in his life. He also had a considerable propensity for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which often triggered outlandishly action-packed consequences. His constant companions were his even smaller friend, Pinkey, and his dog, Beans. A supporting character added a few years later was Li'l Ol' Bear, strongly reminiscent of the cartoonist's first feature, The Little Bears.
Swinnerton drew his strip in a clear, open style, unlike most cartoonists of his time. In this, he anticipated dominant styles of the 20th century, less crowded and more easily read — quite appropriate for newsprint production, where the printing isn't always as clear as it should be.
The Journal was a Hearst paper, so Little Jimmy was available to Hearst papers outside New York, as well. Like the other Hearst features, it was distributed by King Features Syndicate once that outfit got going, in the mid-19-teens. Swinnerton did the strip continuously until 1941, then picked it up again after a hiatus of a couple of years (during which he wrote and drew a straightforward western, Rocky Mason, Government Marshal) — his longest tenure on a single newspaper feature.
Jimmy also had two brushes with animation — a brief silent series in the late teens, and a 1936 cartoon in which he co-starred with Betty Boop. The latter was one of several in which La Boop shared the spotlight with various King Features characters, such as The Little King and Henry. The only one that actually did become an animation star that way was Popeye.
Early on, Swinnerton moved to Arizona for his health, and the focus of his work eventually moved there too. This was seen most strongly in Canyon Kiddies, the feature he did for Good Housekeeping; but from the late 1920s on, Little Jimmy, too, was set there. He acquired several Navajo supporting characters, including Somoli, whom comics historian Coulton Waugh (also known for his work on Dickie Dare) compared to Barnaby's Mr. O'Malley.
In 1958, Swinnerton injured his hand and was unable to continue Little Jimmy. The feature ended and the cartoonist retired. He was 82 years old.
Little Jimmy may or may not have been Swinnerton's best work. It certainly wasn't his most important, from the standpoint of comic strip history. But it was Swinnerton's personal favorite, and it did continue to entertain the public for a long time.