By SARA W. DUKE
Everyone knows Blondie. More than 2,000 newspapers publish the comic strip in 55 countries and 35 languages. The "Dagwood sandwich" has made its way into Webster's New World Dictionary. The antics of the Bumsteads have been featured in movies, novels and comic books. Blondie graces a U.S. postage stamp issued to commemorate the 1995 centennial of the American newspaper comic strip.
First appearing at the outset of the Great Depression, Blondie celebrates its 70th anniversary this year. Now written by Dean Young, the son of originator Chic Young, and syndicated worldwide by King Features Syndicate, it retains its status as one of the most widely read comic strips in the history of the genre.
The Library exhibition "Blondie Gets Married!" presents 27 drawings, classic examples of Chic Young's much-loved creative wit, selected from 150 original works given to the Library by Jeanne Young O'Neil, the artist's daughter.
"I know my father would be as proud as I am," said Ms. O'Neil, "to have his work housed and preserved in the Library of Congress as part of one of the finest, most extensive and distinguished collections of American cartoon art in the world. I believe my father's comic strip, Blondie, exemplifies middle-class family life in America (and many times in the world), and I know the greatest opportunity for his work to live on into generations to come is in the Library." The Library, now in its Bicentennial year, recognizes this major acquisition as a "Gift to the Nation," preserving the legacy of one of America's most talented cartoon creators.
Blondie Boopadoop entered the world nearly 70 years ago, on Sept. 8, 1930, the featured character of a new comic strip by Murat Bernard "Chic" Young (1901-1973). A flighty flapper, at first she dated playboy Dagwood Bumstead, son of the millionaire J. Bolling Bumstead, a railroad magnate, along with several other boyfriends. The comic strip floundered, however, until Young decided to have the couple fall deeply in love. Desperate to wed Blondie, in spite of his father's objections to her lowly social status, Dagwood went on a hunger strike until the elder Bumstead grudgingly acknowledged their relationship. He did, however, refuse to continue to support his son. The couple married on Friday, Feb. 17, 1933, and Dagwood, now disinherited, stripped of his wealth and family connections, was nonetheless blissfully happy with his sparkling, vivacious, yet unfailingly practical new bride. Americans, caught up in the woes of the Great Depression, immediately took to Chic Young's humorous daily reminders that love, not money, conquers all.
As a family strip, Blondie was such a big success because it dealt with universal themes: love, marriage, parenthood, work, relaxation, eating and sleeping. Like many American families, the Bumsteads lived in a rented house, Dagwood caught a bus to work, and they rarely went out for entertainment. Chic Young shied away from mentioning seasons or making consumer goods specific in order to reach an audience that might not own a car, the latest stove or refrigerator, or eat out regularly in restaurants. Fans all over the world identified with the Bumsteads. In fact, international readers were often surprised when they found out that the comic strip did not originate in their own country.
While the Bumsteads could have been anyone living anywhere, Blondie has been different from other comic strips from the start. Once she had married, Blondie ceased to be flighty; she had barely left the altar before asking Dagwood to help out with the housework, using flattery and gentle trickery to bend him to her will. Since 1933 he has done dishes, helped care for the children, cleaned the attic and cooked an occasional meal. Shortly after their marriage, in fact, Blondie organized local housewives and lobbied for an eight-hour workday. She led Dagwood to the sink full of dirty dishes with a wink to newspaper readers, many of whom might have felt overburdened by long days of managing a household. Blondie is the center of the Bumstead family household, capable of stopping Dagwood's tirades with a single look.
Yet it is Dagwood's zany antics and constantly foiled pursuit of personal pleasure that people remember: the huge sandwich made of apparently incompatible foods, the nearly missed bus, running into the mailman, Mr. Beasley and the interrupted baths and naps. Dagwood is the perfect foil to Blondie's steady ways.
Chic Young made sure that family life in Blondie reflected real life. Blondie and Dagwood have slept in the same bed from the day they were married, something it took television couples decades to achieve. Baby Dumpling (Alexander) arrived on April 15, 1934, followed by Cookie on April 11, 1941. Both children grew up, a rarity for gag-a-day comic strips, until the 1960s, when Chic Young realized that to retain the character of a family strip they would need to remain teenagers.
Born in Chicago, Murat Bernard Young grew up in St. Louis with a dream of becoming a cartoonist. His 1919 William McKinley High School yearbook documents his early ambition and talent with several humorous drawings, citing his nickname as "Chicken," from which he certainly derived his unusual pen name. Over the course of his celebrated career, he achieved his dream in spectacular fashion, producing Blondie seven days a week from 1930 until his death in 1973, with the exception of a year's hiatus following the death of his first son in 1937, when he found drawing Baby Dumpling too painful to contemplate. He produced more than 15,000 Blondie strips during his lifetime, creating a legacy of inventiveness, humor and creativity that stands the test of time and keeps us coming back for more.
The exhibition and checklist were prepared with funds provided by the Caroline and Erwin Swann Memorial Fund for Caricature and Cartoon. The Swann Fund supports an ongoing program at the Library of Congress of preservation, publication, exhibition, acquisition and scholarly research in the related fields of cartoon, caricature and illustration.
The Library of Congress wishes to acknowledge the valuable contributions of Jeanne Young O'Neil in the preparation and planning of this exhibition. All images reprinted with special permission from King Features Syndicate and the heirs of Chic Young.
"Blondie Gets Married!" is on view in the Swann Gallery of Caricature and Cartoon, Thomas Jefferson Building, Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m - 5 p.m., from June 22 through Sept. 16. View the exhibition online.
Ms. Duke is curatorial project assistant for cartoon and caricature in the Prints and Photographs Division.