Suspended Animation

Michael Vance - Mark Allen
Michael Vance Books

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Review Index 2002 - 2001 - 2000 - 1999 - 1998
The Gumps

     Andy Gump never took it on the chin. That is because through forty years of domestic, middle-class angst, the henpecked husband had no chin.

     Joseph Patterson, publisher of the Chicago Tribune, created the idea for a comic strip about an average family and  named it The Gumps. Patterson hired Sidney Smith (1877-1935), who had been drawing two comic strips, Buck Nix and Old Doc Yak, to write and draw this new 'baby'. The Gumps daily strips premiered in 1917, Sundays in 1919.

     Smith breathed life to Andy Gump, his wife Min, son Chester, Uncle Bim, and Tilda, the household maid. The Gumps focused on family life, and and 'matured' into a soap opera.

     Andy's nondescript face descended into a mustache and neck. Smith forgot a mouth and chin, but not the artistic techniques needed to create a simple, clean line and minimalistic style that caricatured rather than mimicked reality, and won a huge audience for his Gumps.

     In turn, Smith's characterizations, dialog and situations captured his readers through an exaggerated, almost vaudevillian, approach to the human condition.

     The comic strip was immediately successful, winning national distribution and merchandising including sheet music (1919, 1923), a board game (1924), and toys. Andy's Dancing Lesson (1920) was the first of dozens of animated cartoons. The year 1929 marked the death of a major character, a first in the artform, and The Gumps became the first strip adapted for radio in 1931.

     Cartoonist Gus Edson inherited the comic strip in 1935, but his version was not as successful and circulation declined steadily. The strip died in 1959.

     Smith's comic book appearances included: The Gumps (1918-'31, Landfield-Kuper/Cupples & Leon #2); Merry Christmas from Sears Toyland (1939); Popular Comics (1936-'48, Dell), and The Gumps (1945-'47, Dell).

     The work of Sidney Smith is highly recommended.

     Some older comics are expensive or difficult to locate. Price guides or comics dealers help. Comics shops, conventions, mail order companies and trade journals are good sources. Prices vary; shop around.

     Review by Michael Vance


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