Peter Rabbit and family. Artist: Harrison Cady.


Original medium: Syndicated children's stories
Distributed by: New York Herald-Tribune
First Appeared: 1910
Creators: Thornton W. Burgess and Harrison Cady
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We all know the story of Peter Rabbit and his supporting characters, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cottontail and Farmer McGregor. But that was a different Peter Rabbit. This one …

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… grew out of stories by Thornton W. Burgess, author of a long and well-loved series read and enjoyed by generations of children, about Jimmy Skunk, Grandfather Frog and other denizens of a mythical animal community called The Green Meadows. But the version we're talking about here wasn't particularly similar to that Peter Rabbit, either.

Burgess's Peter Rabbit, along with Reddy Fox, Jerry Muskrat and his many other characters, first appeared in stories he wrote about Old Mother West Wind, starting in 1910. Most of these stories (in which West Wind herself soon became a minor character) were published as newspaper columns, syndicated to several papers around America. Many of them were illustrated by Walter Harrison Cady, who as early as the mid-1890s, in such venues as St. Nicholas magazine and Ladies' Home Journal, had been making a name for himself as a funny animal cartoonist.

When The New York Herald-Tribune(Caspar Milquetoast, Brutus) launched a Sunday page based loosely on Burgess's work, Cady (who had dropped his first name from his professional signature) was chosen to write and draw it. Most of the characters were dropped, new ones added, and the star himself considerably altered. Peter Rabbit, by Harrison Cady, began on August 15, 1920.

Burgess's Peter Rabbit had been something of a trickster, along the lines of his older relative Brer and his younger relative Bugs. Cady's was much gentler, and more often a victim than an instigator of mischievous pranks. Both versions were married, but Burgess's had become so only after a long bachelorhood, whereas Cady's achieved that state far enough in the past to have been rendered thoroughly domestic. Burgess's Peter lived in a briar patch, and Cady's in a house. But they at least looked pretty much the same.

In the comics, Peter's wife's name was Hepsy. Their two children, of indeterminate age, gender and nomenclature (usually referred to as the kiddies or the babies), addressed them as Popsy and Mumsy. Peter was well meaning but always doing the wrong thing, Hepsy a bit more practical but also no genius, and the babies mischievous but not really bad kids. There was plenty of familial love, but also plenty of conflict among the family members. In short, like the later Berenstain Bears, it was a typical domestic comedy along the lines of Toots & Casper, The Ryatts or FoxTrot, but in funny animal drag and aimed at very young readers.

Cady's version of Peter Rabbit continued to be syndicated by The Herald-Tribune for decades, making it one of the more successful of the early funny animal comics, even if it didn't appear in an overwhelming number of papers. Avon Comics (Taanda, Space Detective), a division of a publishing empire that also included paperbacks and pulp magazines, reprinted it in comic book form starting in 1947, but stopped paying royalties two years later and replaced the lead character with a Peter Rabbit of their own.

Cady retired in 1948 and passed the feature on to Vince Fago, formerly an animator at the Fleischer studio and an editor at Marvel Comics. Fago (not to be confused with his brother Al, creator of Atomic Mouse and Timmy the Timid Ghost) wrote and drew the strip until it folded, in 1957. A year later, he tried it out as a comic book again, at his own Fago Magazine Co., but this time it lasted only one issue.

There was a very minor revival of the strip in 1990, when Eternity Comics published a 3-D comic book version of Cady's work while its sister company, Malibu Graphics, reprinted 50 of the pages in black and white. Other than that, this version of Peter Rabbit has scarcely been glimpsed in the past few decades.

However, many of Thornton Burgess's stories about the character are still in print.


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Text ©2002-11 Donald D. Markstein. Art © New York Herald-Tribune.