BROTHER JUNIPERMedium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Publisher's Syndicate
First Appeared: 1942
Creator: Fr. Justin "Fred" McCarthy
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Brother Juniper was one of those comics characters based on a real person, either famous (like W.C. Fields, who inspired The Great Gusto) or not-so (like P. Martin Shoemaker, the man who was remade into Shoe). But Juniper wasn't based on the sort of guy the cartoonist (or any other living person) would ever have met or seen a performance of. The original Brother Juniper was a contemporary and friend of St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), founder of the Franciscan Order of Catholic priests and monks, to which both
Junipers belong. From all accounts, the 13th-century Juniper (also now a saint) had a healthy sense of humor a trait he shares with his modern namesake.
In 1942, young Franciscan priest Fr. Justin "Fred" McCarthy, who worked in the library at St. Bonaventure College, was making posters for campus use, and decorating them with funny cartoons about a Franciscan monk. An older priest remarked that the drawings reminded him of St. Juniper, "the clown prince of our order". This prompted McCarthy to read up on Juniper and see just how much like the real-life Juniper his drawings were. From then on, the monk who decorated McCarthy's work around the campus (his lifelong penchant for cartooning had made him popular as a poster maker) had a name: Brother Juniper.
After that, Brother Juniper's appearances included cartoons in the national Franciscan newsletter. Still, it was years before the world at large got to see him. But in 1958, a single-panel cartoon about him was picked up by Publishers Syndicate, not a media giant like United Feature Syndicate (Peanuts) or The Chicago Tribune Syndicate (Dick Tracy), but still quite big enough to field successes like Mary Worth and Apartment 3-G.
At first, there was some worry that such an explicitly Catholic feature wouldn't find favor with editors who don't share that religious point of view tho it doesn't seem to have hurt Abie the Agent to have such an overtly Jewish protagonist. The following year, The National Conference of Christians and Jews gave Brother Juniper its "Brotherhood of the Year" award, and that seems to have settled the matter. Before long, it was in more 100 papers internationally, and reaching over 15,000,000 readers.
There seems to be widespread acknowledgment that being a Franciscan monk is only one of many, many occupations that offer scope for humor. McCarthy, whose attitude is that we all have a sense of humor, as a gift from God, which we have an obligation to develop and fine-tune, was never interested in creating barriers between people.
For a time, paperback collections of Brother Juniper, of which there have been about a dozen, sold briskly. As time went on, sales fell off, and so did circulation of the Publishers Syndicate feature. It ended in 1989.
Since then, McCarthy has devoted himself to lecturing young people, mostly on the topic of humor and cartooning. He died October 26, 2009, at the age of 91.