KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESESMedium: Newspaper comics
Published in: The New York World
First Appeared: 1916
Creator: Arthur R. "Pop" Momand
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The Joneses are perhaps the only characters in the annals of newspaper comics whose name is part of the title of a strip, but who have never actually appeared in a newspaper. (A near-miss is George Herriman's The Family Upstairs, where Krazy Kat rose to fame — they were never seen either, but were merely referred to in the title, not named.) The stars of the Jones
strip were the McGinises (husband Aloysius, wife Clarice, daughter Julie, housemaid Belladonna). They were the ones trying to keep up.
The McGinis family's struggle was chronicled by cartoonist Arthur R. "Pop" Momand in Joseph Pulitzer's paper, The New York World. Most sources give 1916 as the year it began, but there are strips in collections dated as early as April 1, 1913 (a Tuesday, so that isn't the day it actually began). Its focus wasn't as narrow as the title implied. It was simply a domestic comedy, along the lines of Bringing Up Father (which its art style superficially resembled) or Toots & Casper. (The modern equivalent would be FoxTrot or Moose & Molly.) It's just that their neighbors, the Joneses, were referred to from time to time, usually as objects of envy, and even this became less prevalent in the strip's later days.
It wasn't long before Momand's strip was being syndicated nationwide by Associated Newspapers (a small outfit that also syndicated Gladys Parker's Mopsy and possibly as many as a half-dozen others). In a society increasingly concerned with material goods as an indicator of social standing, its name became a popular catch-phrase — which it remains today, tho the strip ended in 1940.
Despite the title's obvious resonance with the public, Keeping Up with the Joneses was not as heavily merchandised as many strips. Its only media spin-off was a series of silent animated cartoons from The Gaumont Company, directed by Harry S. Palmer, which came out in 1916 and '17. And other than a couple of reprint volumes from Cupples & Leon (1920 and '21), and a few reprinted Sunday pages in early issues of Famous Funnies, the comics version never got off the newspaper page. Except for its name, the strip is virtually forgotten today.
During the 1950s, Britain's Daily Mirror, where Jane and Andy Capp began, ran a new strip called Keeping Up with the Joneses. It took none of the characters, none of the style, nothing at all from the original, except its title — which obviously came from the popular expression, not Pop Momand's work. Even the theme of Jones envy was much more pronounced, a major motivating factor for the protagonists, rather than just a small foible alluded to now and again. It wasn't even a comedy, but a soap opera.
But why should the new one resemble the original? There's no reason to suppose the people involved even knew of it. The phrase was more popular than ever, but very few people by that time were aware of its origin in a comic strip.