Kudzu and the Rev. Artist: Doug Marlette.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1981
Creator: Doug Marlette
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ShoeMother Goose & Grimm … Kudzu … all three are daily and Sunday newspaper comic strips launched by The Chicago Tribune Syndicate, and all were created by Pulitzer-winning editorial …

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cartoonists. Doug Marlette, the man behind Kudzu, didn't fall into that category when the strip began, in May of 1981, but that gap in his stellar career was remedied just seven years later.

The nominal star of Kudzu is Kudzu Dubose, a 16-year-old resident of Bypass, NC. He was named after the so-called "plant that ate the South" — the Japanese vine introduced to America in 1876 as a forage crop, promoted as defense against soil erosion as recently as 1950, and finally declared the pestiferous weed that it is in 1953. The boy Kudzu is bright, ambitious, no-doubt destined for success, and, since its very early days, no longer the star of the strip that bears his name.

The real star is Rev. Will B. Dunn, a minister who in some ways conforms to the stereotype of the Southern preacher — loud, always ready to speak his mind, and somewhat more materialistic in the eyes of others than in his own self-image. But in other ways, such as his ready sarcasm and a rather eccentric way of looking at the world, he's unique. Apparently, readers take to him more enthusiastically than they would to a more conventional fire'n'brimstone type, because the first entry in the successful series of Kudzu reprints in paperback appeared the year the strip began.

Other regulars include Kudzu's mom (pushy and possessive, but loving), Uncle Dub (Kudzu's main male role model), Veranda Tadsworth (Kudzu's lust object, considerably less interested in him than he is in her), and Maurice Jackson (Kudzu's pal). The town of Bypass is a small Southern hamlet, with all the favorable and annoying traits that implies, affectionately rendered by Marlette, himself a native of North Carolina.

Kudzu has never been adapted into the usual stuff, such as animation, comic books and feature-length movies. But a live-action sitcom version was attempted, the unsold pilot of which aired on CBS on August 13, 1983. And it was produced on stage in 1993 — as a musical comedy, no less.

On July 10, 2007, Doug Marlette was killed in a traffic accident. Instead of continuing Kudzu under an assistant, the syndicate opted to discontinue it. The last daily episode appeared on August 4 of that year and the last Sunday on August 26.


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Text ©2006-07 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tribune Media Services.