Monday, April 15, 2024


Toppers: Snookums Has a Growth Spurt

George McManus' juggernaut comic strip Bringing Up Father featured the topper strip Rosie's Beau for many years. But in 1944 after a run of nearly twenty years sitting above Jiggs and Maggie, I guess McManus decided it was time to try something fresh. 

The new strip, Snookums, might have been new as a topper, but it was anything but actually fresh. Snookums the spoiled baby had come onto the comic strip landscape nearly forty years earlier in 1906. 

One of McManus' earliest successes was a strip called The Newlyweds, which was about a pair of lovebirds who are so heady with romance that nothing else matters to them. After a few years of playing with that subject, McManus decided it was time for Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed to take their next step in life. He dropped the strip for a little over nine months, and then brought it back in late 1906 as The Newlyweds and their Baby

What had been a popular strip all of a sudden became a hit on the level of the biggest titles of the day. The Newlywed's new baby, Snookums, despite being butt-ugly, was of course the apple of his parents' eyes. Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed took adoration of their baby to off-the-chart levels, producing hilarious strips that made the baby into a pop culture phenomenon. 

This strip ran until 1916 and had the rare honour of running with two syndicates at the same time from 1912 to 1916. McManus had created the strip for the Pulitzer organization, but when he jumped ship for Hearst in 1912 the strip was considered too valuable to lose. Albert Carmichael continued the original version for Pulitzer, while McManus renamed it Their Only Child for the Hearst version. 

In 1944 you would have had to be about forty years old or more to remember the original series, and I have no doubt that the newly minted Snookums topper was a great hit of nostalgia for middle-aged and better newspaper readers. The new topper strip featured a modernized Mr. and Mrs. Newlywed and baby, but otherwise the gags pretty much followed the same pattern. 

Okay, so I told you all that so I could tell you this. In 1951 either McManus, his superb assistant Zeke Zekley (who probably did 90% of the work on the topper), or the syndicate decided that the strip needed a shake-up. It was decided that baby Snookums, who was about 45 years old in reality years, needed to grow up a bit. But how do you do that? You can't very well just have Snookums as a baby one week, and then next week advance his age until he's in elementary school, now can you? Well, I suppose you could, but McManus and Zekley took a sneakier approach. Here is the Snookums topper for May 6 1951 featuring the familiar baby version:

And here is the next Sunday, May 13, and all of a sudden baby Snoiokums is a toddler, looking pretty comfortable in the upright position:

Another week passes, and on May 20 the toddler has advanced to growing a mop of hair:

Things now slow down a bit, letting Snookums settle in a bit at what I guess would be the terrible twos. But he continues to age and by September 16 (below) he's now reading, placing him I guess at the age of six at the least?

By October 21 Snookums miraculous growth spurt finally ends, placing him in elementary school, where he will stay for the rest of the strip's life:

So now that we've had this fun little jaunt through the remaking of a comic strip character, we end with a mystery. According to King Features' internal records, the Snookums topper was dropped at the end of 1956. But that's wrong, because I have found samples as late as 1961. My wild guess based on no evidence is that the King Features date might reflect the end of Snookums being distributed as a topper to Bringing Up Father, and after that perhaps the strip was sold on its own merits as a standalone feature?

But no matter how the marketing went on, the important question is this: When did this important strip end? Can anyone help?


A great post, with great art.
It seems that Snookums's parents have changed their attitudes since "The Newlyweds And Their Baby." In the earlier strip, they believed that their brat could do no wrong, and even applauded his misbehavior--if he wanted to smash dishes, they convinced themselves that this was somehow a sign of genius. Those parents would have praised him for drawing on the wall or throwing his fathers' books into wet cement. I wonder if the syndicate mandated the change? "You have to make it clear that what he did was naughty!"
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