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Posted at 8:05 AM ET, 09/16/2009

Is It Time to Bottle 'Blondie'? Now's Your Chance to Defend That 'Toon

By Michael Cavna

Time, once again, to Defend...That...'Toon...


'BLONDIE' (KFS)Enlarge Image

Blondie walks among us so gracefully, always quipping and catering, that it's easy to forget one fact: She's a zombie. All the undead should be so well preserved.

"Zombie strips" -- those features created by cartoonists who have passed into The Final Panel -- are a frequent source of debate in these parts. These legacy strips -- which in The Post include "Frank & Ernest," "Hagar the Horrible" and "Dennis the Menace" -- tend to linger long after their creators have died, taking to the grave too often the very inspiration for the strip itself. Still, these lifeless features take up newspaper space by finding new host bodies (often, this earthly duty falls to a relative, a spawn who dutifully draws the flat-line, if you will). It's cartooning's version of Norman Bates, except you keep the inn open because it's a multimillion-dollar enterprise.

Many of these zombiefied strips rankle readers -- "Make room for new blood!" the villagers chant -- precisely because creatively, they are long dead. But somehow, "BLONDIE" the near-Octogenarian seems to have found an inky fountain of youth since creator Chic Young's death in 1973. Hot-dang, it just might be the most alive zombie of them all.

Why does "Blondie" sometimes get a pass, even among the Firebreathing Band of Raging Zombie Haters? What is about the House of Bumstead that oft pacifies the masses? Is it that "Blondie" subtly tries to stay contemporary, gradually incorporating era-appropriate furniture, vehicles and flatscreen computers? Is it that the gags remain forever quasi-fresh, or that the stock comic situations recycle endlessly like a backdrop projection from a Mack Sennett "talkie"?

Fair guesses, those, but I think it's something far more elemental -- we the reader might utterly relate to Dagwood Bumstead, an Everyman for Every Era, but it even goes a little deeper: Regardless of our gender, we envy the man.

We relate to Dagwood's healthy primal appetites -- the man masticates like a rhino, slumbers like a grizzly and even smooches his spouse will all the frantic passion of a red-butted baboon. Yet we also envy Dag: The man turned his back on inheriting an industrialist's wealth to shack up with a flapper -- and the gambit paid off divinely over eight decades. He might work for Julius Caesar Dithers, but his life mostly revolves around seeking the simplest forms of bliss. Simplify, simplify -- and then doze mightily.

Either that or I'm completely full of hooey and we all just marvel at how Blondie and Dagwood keep their Depression-era figures -- in this strip, the hourglass figure stands the test of time.

What do you think, Riffs readers? If you loathe "Blondie" as a symbol of calcified cartooning, feel free to Impugn That Toon. Otherwise, now's your chance to Defend. That. 'Toon.


A VINTAGE HISTORY OF "BLONDIE" ON SCREEN:


By Michael Cavna  | September 16, 2009; 8:05 AM ET
Categories:  Defend That 'Toon, The Riffs  
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Comments

I'll gladly defend that toon.

It is true that I am not an octogenarian myself, yet I'm a big fan of Blondie. Unlike the other zombies on the pages these days, it has a second-generation creator that has not merely preserved the strip. He continues to revitalize it. I think Dean Young has done a good job of keeping the characters' personalities mostly the same updating them into a mostly modern setting (for comic strip world, anyway).

Yeah, it's a "family" strip with some "old-school" values and sentimentalities, but I don't think that's wrong. On another note, I love the artwork. It's still among the best on the pages and is still very readable despite newspapers shrinking in width.

Posted by: goldpress | September 16, 2009 8:37 AM | Report abuse

I find I read Blondie everyday. Some are truly hilarious and some true comments on everyday stuff..communting, business(his and hers), children and friends. KEEP Blondie, it is a legacy that stays up with the times and I love it. Now, Peanuts can go.

Posted by: ZeldaJane | September 16, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

I don't remember the tv series, but the movies (Penny Singleton-Arthur Lake) were a lot of fun and brought the strip to life more faithfully than any other I can think of.

The Blondie adults have succeeded, and in a way that makes you think "if they can do it, so can I". Dagwood has time for naps, baths, tv. He can eat anything and never get fat. He's late for work, sleeps while he's there, and fouls up time and again but he brings home enough money to raise those teens, own a nice multi-story house, and keep Blondie in new dresses. Blondie gets to shop, run the household, and work because she wants to, not because she has to, AND runs her own business. The kids are well adjusted (although we don't see a lot of them).

If they can do it....

Posted by: filfeit | September 16, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

A modest proposal:

Take those zombies and move them to the Metro section. I'm thinking obituary page. Put new strips in the Style section.

Posted by: filfeit | September 16, 2009 8:44 AM | Report abuse

You can retire Blondie when it stops being funny. It's still one of the consistently good strips on the comics pages.

Posted by: willpender | September 16, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

As zombie strips go, Blondie is still amusing. Much more so than say Garfield. And the titular character *is* rather well-rounded. Let it stay.

Posted by: yellojkt | September 16, 2009 9:15 AM | Report abuse

Heh heh, he said 'titular'.....


Blondie is a very modest investment of time and doesn't require a whole lot of paying attention. While it's not a laff riot, it isn't on the kill list either.

Plus, the way Blondie is drawn....

Posted by: JkR- | September 16, 2009 9:36 AM | Report abuse

Even though it's certainly not the funniest cartoon on the page, Blondie is definitely better than most (or all) of the other legacy strips, and can defend its turf against a number of current creations as well.

However, I am intrigued by the vast number of film and TV adaptations to which the characters were subjected (NONE of which I was aware of before reading this post). It's not surprising that the serials were made, but I cannot EVER recall having seen ANY of these films or TV episodes repeated even ONCE. They must have been popular at the time, but apparently even profit-hungry TV executives shudder at the prospect of launching such an antiquated world view onto modern screens. It would be interesting to find out whether Ted Turner even bothered to colorized the stuff.

Posted by: kilby | September 16, 2009 10:11 AM | Report abuse

Oh, please, let's NOT put Blondie and Dagwood on the big screen; I shudder to think what Hollywood would do to them and the "hilarious" situations they would be placed.
The appeal of many of the strips, Blondie, BC, Mutts, to name a few, is that they restrict themselves to a limited set of circumstances and portray life within them. For Blondie, it's pretty much work, kids, and the neighbor, Herb. (I don't recall ever seeing Dagwood actually go golfing or bowling however often they refer to it). Dean has spun those topics endlessly and that's what makes it enjoyable. Breaking the mold can be death to the set-up (e.g. what if Charlie Brown actually kicked that football? He wouldn't be Charlie Brown anymore as he'd have actually experienced success at something).

Posted by: tws1372 | September 16, 2009 10:49 AM | Report abuse

kilby ~ I watched the movies on cable many years ago, in glorious b&w. I *think* they were on TBS, being shown once per week at the same time (Saturday morning comes to mind).

They aged more than the comic strip ever did. The baby in the clip above ("Baby Dumpling") grew up ~ I seem to remember one movie where they discussed not calling him "Baby" anymore. Again, it's been quite a few years but I seem to remember the plots following a Wodehouse-lite formula, where everyone would get into trouble and someone would pull a thread and everything would just fall into place, and Dagwood kept his job/secret/life/whatever was in jeopardy.

See if netflix has them, if you're ever bored with the print strip.

Posted by: filfeit | September 16, 2009 10:53 AM | Report abuse

I echo everything goldpress said in the first comment. there are so many zombie strips that are far less lively.

Posted by: tomtildrum | September 16, 2009 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Blondie was usually rather lame some years ago, but it's consistently more amusing now. Maybe Dean Young hired some better writers? Anyway, while it's still far from the top rung on the humor scale, it's at least a good deal higher up on the ladder than are most of the other zombie strips, so I have no real problem with the Post's choosing to retain it in these times of pruning away at the offerings. The fact that Blondie is drawn (especially by the current artist, John Marshall) as sort of the inverse "Cathy" doesn't hurt at all, either.

Posted by: seismic-2 | September 16, 2009 11:40 AM | Report abuse

Blondie's appeal is that she is a smokin' hottie. Other than that the strip has been dormant for decades. Time to let some of the new blood in.

To defend this cartoon with "it is not as bad as the other zombies" is to damn it with faint praise.

Posted by: kcghost | September 16, 2009 12:55 PM | Report abuse

Replace Watch your Head.

Posted by: oldgal49er | September 16, 2009 1:23 PM | Report abuse

Why keep picking on Blondie? Peanuts is the one I've hated since 1965 when my married couiple math and English junior high teachers found it so cutsey they just had to share something from it every damned day.

Posted by: JMClark2008 | September 16, 2009 4:26 PM | Report abuse

>> JMClark2008:

Here's our recent "Peanuts" discussion (in this, you may find some solace):
http://voices.washingtonpost.com/comic-riffs/2009/08/time_to_defend_that_toon.html

--M.C.

Posted by: cavnam | September 16, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

Blondie is and entertening comic it would be a sin to bottle it

Posted by: biglen1 | September 16, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse

P.S. I have no interest in digging up any of those mercenary, and presumably deathly dull rehashings of Blondie's comic material for film and TV. I'll bet the only highlight worth seeing is already contained in the clip that was posted here, namely that Jim Backus (a.k.a. Thurston Howell the 3rd on 'Gilligan's Island') was casted as Mr. Dithers in the ill-fated 1968 Blondie remake.

Posted by: kilby | September 17, 2009 2:43 AM | Report abuse

If you want to replace a true zombie, torch Mother Goose and Grimm, which may be the lamest strip in the history of comics. That sorry arsed thing makes The Family Circus and Dennis the Menace seem like Richard Pryor by comparison.

Posted by: andym108 | September 17, 2009 6:47 AM | Report abuse

I can do without Garfield - can't even remember if it runs in the Post as I read on-line- and Hargar, but don't lose Blondie, please. Blondie and Mark Trail are the two oldies I read almost everyday.

Posted by: mhasegawa | September 17, 2009 6:59 AM | Report abuse

Blondie's not like those other strips. Why? To echo other comments, Blondie's built like a stack of bricks! Hottest damn zombie I ever saw.

Posted by: drewdane | September 17, 2009 10:26 AM | Report abuse

Keep Blondie!

Lose Mary Worth and Mark Trail.

Posted by: oldchazz | September 17, 2009 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Blondie is a wonderful strip, always entertaining. Get rid of Garfield, Beetle Bailey and Dennis the Menace. These strips are not funny and seems like its the same old antics over and over. Reading these comics is equivalent to looking at women in flip flops. Ridiculous to look at.

Posted by: Amanda97 | September 17, 2009 8:40 PM | Report abuse

I am as old or older than Blondie and have read the strip along with the other 'zombies' you mentioned for as long as I can remember. While I do agree that sometimes they can be lame and repetitive, so are many of the 'newer and more so called 'relevant' cartoons. We read the comics for a chuckle or insight into today's changes in attitudes and morals. I vote to keep these. If the disenters want other types of comic, let them read them somewhere else. These 'zombie' cartoons do no harm and do many of us lots of good. Please keep them.

Posted by: quapaw12000 | September 20, 2009 8:36 AM | Report abuse

Blondie is ALWAYS the hottest babe on the strips.. and she's gotten smarter and busier over the years. I miss Mr. Dithers smashing his fist down Dagwood's throat, and Daisy the dog appears too rarely, but I like the carpool routine and the contemporary office politics (timeless yet new). The strange neighborly relationship with Herb is funny sometimes(and his wife is pretty hot too, but we don't see her too much). And tell Young to dish up more Dag sandwiches lest the world forget THAT great cultural contribution!!!!
Look it, octogenerian zombies should ALL look as good as Blondie and be as up to date as Dag. Keep it coming!

Posted by: gaha | September 20, 2009 6:42 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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