MOON MULLINSMedium: Newspaper Comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1923
Creator: Frank Willard
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In the early 1920s, Frank Willard was writing and drawing a comic strip called The Outta Luck Club for King Features Syndicate. Upset because he thought some of his
gag ideas were being rejected so they could be passed on to George McManus for use in Bringing Up Father, he physically assaulted the more successful cartoonist, knocking him to the floor.
Naturally, Willard was fired. But Captain Joe Patterson, who had been thinking of adding a strip about a tough guy to his Chicago Tribune Syndicate lineup, heard about the incident, and decided Willard was the man he'd been looking for. Willard's Moon Mullins debuted from Patterson's syndicate on June 19, 1923.
"Moon" was short for "Moonshine", which in the Prohibition Era meant Mr. Mullins was a drinking man. His actual first name was never given, unless Moonshine was it. He was a would-be prizefighter, not what you'd call high-tone, but with an appetite for high living. His strip was originally intended as a rival for King's Barney Google, also about a lovable lowlife at home in the sporting world. But Barney became a world traveler whose fortunes changed as often as Moon changed his underwear, while Moon got himself a room in Emmy Schmaltz's boarding house in 1924 and stayed there for the rest of his days.
Others who resided in or hung around Emmy's establishment formed Moon's supporting cast. Aside from withered old Emmy herself, long-running regulars included Mamie (the cook), Mamie's incredibly lazy husband Willie, Moon's kid brother Kayo, and Lord Plushbottom, whom Willard introduced because Patterson thought tossing a well-bred Englishman into that shabby crowd had great possibilities. Emmy married Plushie (as Moon dubbed him) on October 6, 1933, and became Lady Plushbottom.
The strip was only a couple of months old when Ferd Johnson (Texas Slim) became Willard's assistant. Starting with the lettering, then the background, Johnson gradually progressed to the point where he was handling the entire operation. But it was only in 1958, when Willard died, that he began signing it. Johnson stayed with the strip until it folded, in 1991. His 68-year stint on Moon Mullins probably stands as the longest tenure of a creator on a single feature in the entire history of American comics.
Moon Mullins didn't become a movie serial, but it did get onto the radio. It also had its share of other licensed spin-offs, such as a game from Milton Bradley, which came out in 1927. There were a few reprints of the strips from Cupples & Leon in the late 1920s and early '30s, and a couple of big little books later in the '30s. Starting in 1936 Dell Comics reprinted many of the Willard/Johnson strips, first in the anthology titles Popular Comics and Super Comics (which specialized in Tribune strips, such as Terry & the Pirates, Harold Teen and Winnie Winkle, and by the way, no relation) and later as a headliner in Four Color Comics. The American Comics Group brought out a brief series of Moon Mullins comic books in 1947-48.
Moon's final fling as a licensed property (and his only foray into animation) occurred in 1971, when he became one of several rotating back-segment characters on a Saturday morning TV show starring Archie. The series was called Archie's TV Funnies, and other characters in the rotation included Broom-Hilda, Dick Tracy and Smokey Stover. It was re-aired in 1978, without Archie, under the title The Fabulous Funnies.
In its heyday, Moon Mullins was carried by about 250 newspapers — not a mega-hit, but a very respectable level. It was so popular that men named Mullins, born from about the 19-teens through the '60s, were as likely as not to be nicknamed "Moon". Eventually, tho, the strip came to look rather old-fashioned, and lost papers steadily during its last few decades.
It's gone now, but will not be forgotten soon — after all, there are an awful lot of men called "Moon Mullins", still kicking around.