Boob McNutt, from the cover of Nemo magazine.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Star Co. (Hearst)
First Appeared: 1915
Creator: Rube Goldberg
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Gilbert Seldes, in his 1923 essay "The Seven Lively Arts" (which is generally credited with putting Krazy Kat on the cultural map), didn't have many nice words for …

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… Boob McNutt. Comparing Boob ("without a brain in his head") to smart, clever, but less popular comic strip heroes such as Foxy Grandpa and Hawkshaw the Detective, Seldes called him "the least worthy of Rube Goldberg's astonishing creations".

And yet, of all Goldberg's many contributions to our cartoon heritage (Lala Palooza, Bobo Baxter, Foolish Questions and much, much more), only the classic Rube Goldberg Device itself spanned a greater portion of his remarkable career, or had a greater impact on American popular culture, than the Boob McNutt Sunday page.

Boob was, as the name implies, a boob, back when that word's only meaning had to do with stupidity and uselessness. But he was an amiable enough fellow, always glad to help out whoever asked. And it was truly amazing how many perfect strangers were willing to trust him with vitally important tasks, such as guarding a statue worth $300,000 or transporting a glass vial containing the Elixir of Immortality. As had been the case for years with Happy Hooligan, disaster always followed in the wake of Boob's good intentions.

Goldberg launched Boob McNutt in 1915, but it wasn't immediately picked up for syndication. On June 9, 1918, The Star Company (a Hearst subsidiary and therefore a corporate sibling to the nascent King Features Syndicate) began distributing it nationwide.

Boob McNutt started as a series of oneshot gags, which usually ended with Boob being tortured to death for his innocently destructive ways; but before long, week-to-week continuity was added. In 1922, he met the love of his life, Pearl, and the focus shifted to his quest to win her hand in marriage. The task was accomplished in 1926, but they were soon divorced. They went through a few more cycles of courtship, marriage and divorce. Mike & Ike, stars of an earlier Goldberg strip, became supporting characters (they turned out to be Boob's uncles) for a time in the late 1920s, as did Bertha the Siberian Cheesehound (who had started out in 1926 as star of the page's topper).

In the late 1920s and early '30s, the topper's star was a likeable but shiftless young man named Bill, while in the main part of the page, Boob and Pearl carried on a zany, over-the-top soap opera — but the feature seemed to be running out of steam. Or maybe Goldberg was tiring of it, which amounts to the same thing. Boob blundered into a fortune in 1932, but that didn't perk things up. At the beginning of 1934, Bill took on a co-star — Prof. Lucifer Gorgonzola Butts, inventor, thus adding the famous Goldberg devices to the the page's appeal. Even so, it folded in September of that year.

Goldberg went on to do political cartoons, comic sculpture, and even a non-humorous comic called Doc Wright. He never looked back to Boob McNutt, which remains a memorable part of his comics output whether Gilbert Seldes liked it or not.


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Text ©2004-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.