Myrtle with Freddie (aka Pop). Artist: Dudley Fisher.

RIGHT AROUND HOME (MYRTLE)

Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1937
Creator: Dudley Fisher
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Cartoonist Dudley Fisher had what looked like a perfectly up-to-date comic when he created Right Around Home in 1937. Tho rendered in a unique, easily identified style, its bold, clean lines were more precursors of cartooning …

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… of coming decades, than like what had come before. But in one very important way, the Sunday page was more reminiscent of the very earliest newspaper cartoons. Instead of being rendered as individual panels, telling a little story in the ordered sequence, it was one huge panel centered on a single scene, where many individual but related actions were taking place, which had seldom been done since The Yellow Kid. This usually required him to draw it from an elevated point of view, reminiscent of Fontaine Fox's Toonerville Folks.

Fisher, who wasn't related to Bud Fisher (Mutt & Jeff) or Ham Fisher (Joe Palooka), launched his page because he was tired of coming up with rhymes for his earlier feature, Jolly Jingles, which ran in The Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch. The paper's Sunday comics were printed by World Color Press, which also printed those of many other papers; and through the printer, Jolly Jingles (like Slim Jim, Mike & Ike and some of its other features) achieved widespread circulation. By the way, World Color Press also printed most American comic books from the 1930s to the '80s, at its plant in Sparta, Illinois.

According to later publicity materials, Fisher was racking his brains for a rhyme, rested his head on the drawing board for a few minutes, and dreamed of what Christmas would be like on his grandmother's farm, if he had a grandmother and she lived on a farm. Instead of the usual, that week he submitted the dream, which had metamorphosed into the first Right About Home page. The Dispatch editors were a bit surprised, but ran it anyway. Readers liked it. So did King Features Syndicate, which quickly signed Fisher up to produce his new feature for national distribution.

Right Around Home didn't turn out to be about Grandma's farm, but a suburban neighborhood. Most pages showed the ensemble cast gathered together for a barbecue, a session of ice skating, or some other event where a lot of little things were going on all at once. But when, a few years later, the syndicate suggested Fisher start a daily version, he decided the smaller format called for a narrower focus. Myrtle, which starred one of the neighborhood kids, began in 1942.

Myrtle was a high-spirited girl, not as bratty as Little Iodine or as nice as Little Dot — about on the order of Little Lulu. Her mom and dad, Freddie and Susie in the larger version, were also central players, as were their dog Bingo and her pal Sampson. Other neighbors, including pets, made regular appearances. Even Archie and Alice, a pair of birds that nested in the area and sometimes commented from afar on the Sunday doings, turned up occasionally. Carl Ed (Harold Teen) also got at least partial credit from 1943-51.

After World War II, when whole pages for single Sunday features became unfeasible, the two merged, first as Myrtle — Right Around Home, later as Right Around Home with Myrtle, and sometimes as just plain Myrtle. Dudley Fisher died in 1951, after which the operation was taken over by his assistant, Bob Vittur. It ended in 1964.

— DDM

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Text ©2007 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.