Tuesday, February 23, 2010

George McManus - Poet of the Successful Irish-American Immigrant

Born this day in 1884, George McManus would have been 126 years old today.

McManus is one of the premiere first string of great American Cartoonists who worked in the newspaper comic strip field...in fact his strip "Bringing Up Father" is credited as being the prototype for all family strips to come. Every comic strip from "Hi and Lois" to "For Better or For Worse" to "Blondie" came from the mold cast by McManus, and likewise I think you can find the roots of every television sitcom that's been based around family life to the work he did.

His wasn't just run of the mill humdrum family stuff we might think of though. His work was long before America and the world became homogenized in the 1950's. His tale of an Irish immigrant and his family that finally make good and move up in society, only to find that they are what they are, was a really artful commentary on what was happening dynamically in the real world to hundreds of thousands. Not just Irish-American immigrants, but plenty of other European settlers that came through Ellis Island in it's heyday.

Here's a very early sample of McManus' work on his first strip, "The Newlyweds":

And a couple of examples of his beautiful draftsmanship in his heralded "Bringing Up Father":

Jiggs (the father in question and husband in the strip) was the one really having trouble moving up to high society from his working class roots. His wife Maggie was constantly trying to get Jiggs to become more gentile and accept his new position in the world, but as much as Maggie cared about social climbing, Jiggs cared for sneaking out to "Dinty Moore's Saloon" (that's right, this is where the famous brand of canned beef stew gets it's name) for some corned beef and cabbage and to jaw with the boys from the construction site.

It's a great time to discover McManus' work on Maggie and Jiggs, as evidenced here in this post by Allen Holz on his great blog "The Strippers Guide". Check it out and see where to catch some pristine reprints of McManus' work!

Here's a cool little item I found this morning worth your time seeing as well. It's a little piece explaining the process of engraving and printing, and today's birthday boy takes center stage as the masterpiece being printed!

George McManus' clean pen lines and spot-on depiction of the Irish-American sense of humor were a feast for the eyes and minds. They probably did a lot to welcome his fellow Irishers to this country, as well as preserve an adjustment a lot of them had to face for all history.

And more importantly, he made us laugh.

Thanks George! For making us laugh...especially at ourselves!

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