THE NEWLYWEDS (aka THEIR ONLY CHILD) (aka SNOOKUMS)Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The New York World
First Appeared: 1904
Creator: George McManus
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Down through the years, comics readers have been entertained by The Bungle Family, Blondie, Moose & Molly and many other strips about family life. One of the earliest was also about the earliest parts
of family life itself — The Newlyweds, by cartoonist George McManus (whose most famous creation was Bringing Up Father), explored the comedic aspects of that period of time when couples are most deleriously in love, i.e., between tying the knot and the end of the honeymoon.
McManus was only 20 years old in 1904, when he went to work for Joseph Pulitzer's New York World, and started making comics there. Of his many creations for The Funny Side of the World (which is what Pulitzer called his Sunday comics section) — creations such as Cheerful Charlie (who could never be made to laugh), Nibsy the Newsboy in Funny Fairyland (similar to Little Nemo in Slumberland), Let George Do It (title tells all) and more — The Newlyweds, which began April 10, 1904, was by far the longest-lasting.
Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed (as a common noun, the word wasn't yet widely accepted, and this may be among its first uses) undoubtedly had given names. But readers had no evidence of the fact, because they called each other "Lovey", "Dearest Dumpling" and suchlike. When their baby was born, in 1907, it was the same story — the kid was called Snookums, Toodleums (no relation), etc., but never by his actual name.
(We can tell the baby was male because he took after his father, who looked grotesque compared with the boy's beautiful mother. McManus followed the contemporary practice of making the women gorgeous and the men semi-human. This was seen not just in comics but also in prose stories, for example the Tarzan series, where the stunningly alluring La of Opar was contrasted with the half-ape males who shared the city with her.)
Filling their generic roles, the family continued as long as McManus stayed with Pulitzer, and then some There was also a daily version, sporadically at least, for a few months during 1907. The cartoonist's successor at Pulitzer, Albert George Carmichael, continued the Sunday until 1916. It was while Carmichael was doing it that animation pioneer Emile Cohl made a series of ten cartoons about it in about six months, beginning with When He Wants a Dog He Wants a Dog (January 18, 1913) and ending with He Poses for His Portrait (July 27 of the same year).
The reason for McManus's 1912 departure from Pulitzer was, as in so many cases around that time, he was lured away by Pulitzer's arch-rival, William Randolph Hearst. By then, the legal precedent had long been set (first with The Yellow Kid and later confirmed with Buster Brown) that a cartoonist switching papers could take his characters with him but had to leave the title behind. Thus, McManus's first comic for Hearst, which began Sept. 1, 1912, was Their Only Child, a perfect clone of The Newlyweds. Under that title, it continued being distributed as a Sunday page by Hearst's King Features Syndicate until January 30, 1916. By that time, McManus was concentrating almost exclusively on Bringing Up Father.
In fact, it was in connection with Bringing Up Father that the family had its third and final incarnation. Snookums, another continuation of the very same scenario, became the topper to that page in 1941. Toppers mostly fell by the wayside after World War II, but this one held on until 1956, probably because McManus's beautiful art nouveau style encouraged a few papers, at least, to continue carrying it in the full-page format. After that, however, The Newlyweds, under whatever name, was history.