- The Gumps was the first comic strip to tell a running story. Like a serial the strip continued on a daily basis from 1917 through 1957. The story was particularly compelling; readers grew addicted to it, like a soap opera. In 1923, the Board of Trade in Minneapolis suspended operations so that the brokers could get the afternoon paper to find out whether the Gumps’ billionaire Uncle Bim had been trapped in marriage. When Mary Gold died in 1929, it was the first time a cartoon character died in a strip, and the Chicago Tribune was swamped with mail and phone calls with people threatening to cancel their subscriptions to the paper if she wasn’t brought back.
An Editor of the Chicago Tribune, Joseph Patterson, came up with the idea of having a strip that reflected the stories of “real” people. He didn’t want a daily gag with this strip and hired Sidney Smith to develop such a strip. Patterson came up with the title, “The Gumps” and brought some story ideas to Smith to develop.
It was the first strip to make its creator, Sidney Smith, a millionaire. It was that popular, and they promoted the contract. He drew the strip until his death in 1935. Smith had just signed a new three year contract and went out to celebrate. He died in a car crash.
The strip went on to a couple of assistants who worked with Smith, Stanley Link and Blair Walliser. However, for reasons hard to understand now, it was Gus Edson, a staff artist for the New York News, who continued the strip into the 50′s. (Edson was later one of the creators of the strip, Dondi, also created with an appealing, continuous story.)
The story being everything, I thought I’d introduce the strip here with a number of panels to give you a taste, and then I’ll follow with more chunks of the story. Believe me it’s a compelling story, well told, and even the drawing style becomes pleasant as you get into it. So here are the first strips.
Comic strips were more of an art form back then, when The Gumps was enormously popular. First off, they were large enough to be able to read them. Because there was no television and newspapers were vitally important to people’s lives, comic strips took on another role that has been eliminated today.
Comics had a large enough popularity that they were able to grab a regular and large readership. This allowed them to be daring enough to try to grab a larger audience through whatever means necessary.
The Gumps was clever in many ways and provided the goods with an exceptional story line that had a very large audience.