Monday, November 20, 2023


Firsts and Lasts: Dumb Dora's Not So Dumb ... But Cancelled Anyway


Dumb Dora was on its third artist, or more like a hundred and third if you count ghosts and assistants, when her strip was retired in January 1936. Bil Dwyer was the final credited artist on the strip, taking over in late 1932 from Paul Fung, who in turn had taken over from Chic Young. 

Dwyer reportedly brought on a small army of helpers to get the Sunday and daily strip out on time, including Milton Caniff, who R.C. Harvey reports did much of the pencilling for the initial eighteen months of Dwyer's tenure, plus inking some of the girl characters. By the time Dumb Dora ended Caniff was long gone, but we can still easily see vestiges of his style on the dailies above, the last two of the series. 

Dumb Dora had begun as a me-too flapper strip in 1924, but had the additional hook that Dora acts dumb but usually turns out to have a bean firing on all cylinders by the end of each gag. The concept is fine, but awfully repetitive. By the time Dwyer took over the conceit was well and truly played out, and flappers were long gone, so the strip had turned into a more generic "teen boys chasing the pretty girl" feature, which left it drowning in a sea of its betters -- Tillie the Toiler, Harold Teen, Winnie Winkle, Etta Kett, etc. 

Mark Johnson supplied a scan of the last two rather rare dailies seen above, which offer no farewell or conclusion to the strip. So I went looking online to see if the Sunday, which ended the next day (January 5 1936), offered us some closure. Nope!


By the end of 1935, Dora had exhausted itself, very few papers were still hanging on to it. I can't think of any clients offhand. The two final dailies are from the bottom third of a proof sheet.
My guess is that the feature lasted as long as it did because Dora had been such famous character that her very name became part of the popular American idiom, everybody said it, there were "Dumb Dora Clubs" organised by college girls; a "Dumb Dora" was a shorthand description of a He said-she said joke or cartoon gag.
Thing is, though still well known, it became stale. It was corny. The name was associated with the 1920s.
It was like calling your strip "Oh You Kid" or "Sheik n' Sheba". And all those change of artists didn't help. There's nothing interesting story-wise, either.
Yung was the only one who really understood the character and material to suit her, perhaps Fung did as well to some extent, but by the time it was dumped on Dwyer's drawing board, the feature had lost its soul.
Errata: Meant Chic YOUNG, not Yung.
The phrase "Dumb Dora" hung on at least until the mid-1970s, when they used it regularly on the game show "Match Game:"

Gene Rayburn: Dumb Dora is SO dumb . . .

Audience: HOW-DUMB-IS-SHE?

Rayburn: She thinks "Night School" is where you learn how to be a ______.

I never knew it was a comic strip reference. I wonder how many people did.
If anybody cares to read a little more about Dora, take a peek at my now-defunct web page's entry on it:
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