Harold Teen on the cover of his only Big Little Book.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: Chicago Tribune Syndicate
First Appeared: 1919
Creator: Carl Ed
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The cartoonist who created Harold Teen, Carl Ed (pronounced with a long E), was asked in the late 1930s why he'd started the long-running, highly …

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… successful strip. "Twenty years ago," he replied, "there was no comic strip on adolescence. I thought every well-balanced comic sheet should have one."

Can this be? Was there ever a time when comics about teens didn't exist? Sure. When Ed was scrutinizing the funnies, shortly after World War I, the idea of a prolonged adolescence, whereby a person would hover between childhood and adulthood for years instead of just going to work by age 14, hadn't yet completely penetrated mainstream consciousness. Besides, the comics themselves were only a couple of decades old, and still had a few niches to fill — it was only two years since R.M. Brinkerhoff had started the first strip with a little girl for a star, Little Mary Mixup.

Ed, whose earlier creations include Big Ben and Luke McGuke, turned his informal market research into a new strip. It was bought by Captain Joe Patterson, one of that period's most influential comics editors, who began running it in his Chicago Tribune on May 14, 1919. A few months later, when demand for The Gumps led Patterson to start distributing his paper's comics nationally, The Love Life of Harold Teen (later shortened to simply Harold Teen) became a charter member of The Chicago Tribune Syndicate's lineup.

Harold Teen was just like most of his generation. He used teenage slang — in fact, Harold originated quite a few then-popular expressions, such as "Yowsah", "Fan mah brow" and "pitch a li'l woo", as well as the occasional more enduring term, like "pantywaist". He also helped popularize quite a few fashion statements of the time, such as bell-bottom pants and yellow raincoats (which became identified with Dick Tracy, another Tribune star, a generation later). He had a girlfriend, Lillums Lovewell; a pal called Shadow (no relation); and what we now call a "communication gap" with his parents. He hung out at a soda fountain called The Sugar Bowl, run by Pop Jenks, whose "Gedunk Sundaes" drew so much interest, Ed eventually had to make up a recipe for them. Long before Archie was ever heard of, Harold Teen was known to one and all as America's Typical Teenager.

Toys, figurines and other products based on Harold Teen characters proliferated through the 1920s. In 1928, a movie about him was released, with Arthur Lake as the title character — the first starring role for the man who made a career of playing Dagwood to Penny Singleton's Blondie. Six years later there was another, starring Hal LeRoy and Rochelle Hudson — this one a musical, introducing such songs as "How Do I Know It's Sunday?", "Collegiate Wedding" and "Two Little Flies on a Lump of Sugar". Other media tie-ins include a Big Little Book from Whitman and a couple of comic books from Dell (which also ran his adventures in the back pages of Popular Comics, whose more frequent cover features included Moon Mullins and Smilin' Jack).

Eventually, Harold was supplanted by more up-to-date typical teenagers — a nigh-inevitable consequence of his creator growing older, however hard he tried to keep up. The strip continued for many years, however, a comfortable and familiar part of the U.S. comics scene even if it was no longer au courant. But when Ed died, in 1959, the Harold Teen strip was put to rest with him.

A few years later, a new teenage comics star named Tippy Teen was launched. No word on whether or not they're related.


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Text ©2001-09 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Tribune Media Services.