Funny Pages

Some Funny Pages Favorites

While watching an old or more accurately a vintage movie, one of the characters made reference to “the funny pages”. Instantly I had a flashback to the days when comic strips ruled the Sunday edition of a newspaper and we couldn't wait to get to the funny pages of The Utica Observer Dispatch. The funny pages consisted of an entire section of the paper and the comics were actually funny unlike many of today’s comic strips which are more like soap operas.

I remember “Betty Boop”, my first love. Betty Boop was the darling of the Depression days and was one hot babe with her short dresses, high heels, a garter belt and a cleavage which would not quit. She would put our modern day floozies to shame. She was about as X-rated as we were exposed to in those days. Most of all she was funny.

And then there was ‘Bringing up Father” which featured the comic adventures of Jiggs. This comic strip told the story of Irish-American Jiggs, a former bricklayer, and his wife Maggie, an ex-laundress, who achieved sudden wealth, supposedly by means of a lucky ticket in the Irish Sweepstakes. While the snobbish Maggie and beautiful daughter Nora would constantly try to "bring up" Father to his new social position (much like the TV show “Moving On Up” of later years), Jiggs could think of nothing finer than sitting down at Dinty Moore's restaurant to finish off several dishes of corned beef and cabbage, followed by a night out with the boys from the old neighborhood. The strip featured flying rolling-pins, smashed crockery, and broken vases, all aimed at Jiggs's skull. Ha, ha ha!

Rivaling Jiggs as a ne'er-do-well was Major Hoople of “Our Boarding House”. “Our Boarding House” was a long-running comic strip set in a boarding house run by the sensible Mrs. Hoople. It chronicled the humorous interactions of her grandiose, tall-tale-telling husband, Major Hoople, with the rooming-house denizens and his various friends and cronies. The Major featured what looked like a Turkish fez on his head but probably was what distinguished gents wore atop their heads while relaxing in the evening.

For pure he-haws, Lil Abner took the prize. Lil Abner and his Pappy and Mama were hillbillies who lived in Dogpatch. I guess if I carried the hillbilly stigma I wouldn’t have found the strip so funny. Speaking of strip, Daisy Mae as a sex-pot almost rivaled Betty Boop. Of all the characters in this comic strip, joe btfsplk was my favorite. There was a black cloud over his head wherever he went. If anything was going to happen it happened to joe. I imagine Barack Obama might have a special attachment for joe btfsplk.

Characters you could find in the neighborhood were very popular in the funny pages. Mutt and Jeff were comic-strip characters that the Laurel and Hardy series could very well have been based on. They were two working-class men -- drinking, gambling, and getting in hot water with their wives. Mutt was a tall, lanky man with a penchant for the ponies, while Jeff looked like the Monopoly man after a rough weekend.

As youngsters we could fantasize with “Freckles and His Friends” Freckles was a junior in high school. His exploits with the Shadyside High football team were followed closely. Much to my surprise I discovered that a Shadyside High School does exist in Ohio.

Of course there were other entertaining comic strips. Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers and Blondie all provided good entertainment for a Sunday morning.

The stripped down newspaper of today has little room for comic strips. Our local paper, The Plain Dealer, calls it comic pages DIVERSIONS. Probably because most of the strips are not funny. As I indicated earlier, it appears that more and more strips are devoted to personal and social issues. Blondie and Dagwood have survived and for that I’m grateful. Actually there are a lot of funny things in today’s paper. Not the comics, but the national news. Political news and maneuverings provide for a number of funny pages.

Reminiscing about funny pages also reminded of something else that was important to my upbringing. I got to enjoy the funny pages because no matter how austere the times were, my father made sure we had a newspaper in the house even though he didn‘t have a pot to piss in or a window to throw it out of. My parents were immigrants without the benefit of much formal education. Pop got to learn and read English through night school and a tour in the Army during World War I. My mother learned by reading the paper. How she managed this has always been a mystery to me. She learned to read a newspaper in the English language without the benefit of any schooling! Her favorite section? The obituaries.

Newspapers in our house served other need besides providing information. Wrapping garbage in newspapers was routine. The crummiest garbage was reserved for any stories about Republicans. Newspapers also followed me to school. They were excellent for wrapping my delicious pepper and egg sandwiches (much to the consternation of my sister). That’s right, sandwiches not sandwich.

In spite of computers, smart phones, tablets and whatever else in the Apple labs, I hope newspapers will continue to have an important place in our lives. They have certainly made my life better.

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