“An Analysis of Blondie and the Lives of the Bumstead Family,” Kasey Keegan (2016) — Inquiry 2

In 1930, Chic Young created the comic strip Blondie, originally a comic that focused on Blondie Doopadoop – a happy-go-lucky flapper girl and girlfriend to Dagwood Bumstead, the son of a rich industrialist.  Even today the comic has continued to be published in newspapers.  After 85 years, Blondie appears in 2,000 newspapers in 47 countries and has been translated into 35 languages.  Early published Blondie’s strips are categorized into the Golden Age of Comics, a time described from the late 1930s to the early 1950s.  During this time, Americans were suffering of the effects of the Great Depression and World War II.  The intention of this strip was to add comedic relief to American’s lives as they were in the grim of the Depression.  Chic Young staged the famous wedding of Blondie and Dagwood, changing the poor girl/rich boy relationship to become more real and sympathetic.  Dagwood would be disinherited from his family fortune due to his family not approving to his marriage to Blondie. The marriage of the Bumstead’s added a fresh air to the comic pages as their situations at home and with marriage were relatable to many.  Readers laughed at the unexpected punch line and the situation where they had felt just the way Blondie and Dagwood did.  The comic Blondie has been shaped by its successes and failures to provide relief and relatable to a post-war American society.

The first Blondie comic was published in September of 1930 in the midst of the Great Depression.  When the strip began, the heroine was a ditsy blonde gold digging flapper chasing the millionaire’s son, Dagwood Bumstead.  From flirtatious to responsible, Blondie’s character changed to be the responsible woman in the household, looking after her widowed mother in a “over-protective parent” manner in the strips published in the Sunday paper.  These two themes were the basis of Blondie for several years providing a “fascinating illustration of how a comic strip’s success can be the result of both intrinsic quality and some innovation to get the creating noticed in the first place” (Young and Marschall).  The Blondie strips began to struggle, in a time where many other pretty-girls strips were being developed, and because of the current state of American’s lives.  Author Chic Young, faced the challenge of trying to get readers to laugh away the effects of the Depression.  With many families facing disasters in their jobs and at home, a comic strip about a flirty blonde and her boyfriend of high family fortune wasn’t so funny to the public, especially when the idea of the American Dream seemed so far out of reach.  The strip continued to struggle and began to be dropped by newspapers.  Chic Young, determined to not let the darling Blondie Doopadoop disappear, needed a plot that would make it more real and relatable to readers who were suffering in the economic hardship.  The two characters falling in love would make readers care about them and “get rid of the “rich-boy” angle, [as] Dagwood would be disinherited from the family fortune” (Young and Marschall) due to his parents disapproval of their son’s intended bride.  Blondie was transforming into a new kind of strip.  Young began to develop the characters into people that readers wanted to hear more from.  The couple began to become more real starting “when Dagwood stood up to his parents and declared his love for Blondie, he took on a personality that you could care about” (Young and Marschall). As for Blondie, she was evolving into the loving and thoughtful American wife and no longer the flapper girl of the 1920s.  The marriage of Blondie and Dagwood became a mirror image of millions of the couples around the country struggling work, minor husband and wife conflicts, and the struggles of daily life.  Blondie was now not only a “gag-a-day” strip, but “now people not only laughed at an unexpected punch line, they laughed because they had laughed at the situation in their homes.   They knew the experience first hand, and they felt just the way Blondie and Dagwood felt” (Young and Marschall).  As the Bumstead family began to grow, readers were entertained with Chic Young’s reflection of humorously dealing with American life and everyday concerns.  

The Golden Age of Comics marks the time of the late 1930s to the early 1950s in which American comic books rose of popularity quickly. This post World War II era debuted many famous superheroes, including Captain America.  Created by Marvel comics, Captain America was designed as a patriotic hero who fought the Axis powers of World War II and represented hope for Americans.  As a fantasy comic, Captain America lacked the realistic lifestyle that Americans needed after the Great Depression and World War II.  Although the idea of a superhero saving America in a time of distress was favored among some, Blondie’s comic relief and realistic lifestyle also helped Americans heal.  In this difficult historical time, Chic Young created a family whom others could relate to and laugh about together.  The diversity of these comics are what allowed readers to have completely different experiences with what they were reading and led to the first published books to rapidly increasing in popularity. With comic books on the rise, characters as diverse as Dagwood Bumstead and Captain America were just what Americans needed in attempt to gloss over the detrimental effects that World War II and The Great Depression had on their lives.

After eighty-five years, the comic strip illustrating Blondie and Dagwood Bumstead’s life is still found in the daily and Sunday paper.  From the start, Blondie was a reflection of household America.  Chic Young’s style of writing never mocked social trends and fashions or critiqued family’s lives, he merely reflected life by humorously dealing with everyday concerns.  Throughout of the years many changes have been made, notably when original author Chic Young passed away and his son Dean Young picked up the strip.   Dean worked to keep Blondie up to date while still continue the traditions and themes that The Bumstead’s life was built on and which makes this comic so renown.  The strip continues to be created with the oldest traditions in mind, but in the newest look, “for every day is a new problem, a new gag, a fresh look, and a different twist” (Young).  Blondie continues to focus on the four basic elements of eating, sleeping, raising a family, and making money because people do these four things every day no matter where you live.    

A theme of modernization is seen throughout Blondie, as it adapts to cultural fads and norms.  Specific details in the dialogue and illustrations have been altered in order to keep up with changing times and to continue to relate to readers of Blondie.  For example, with large advances in technology over the past decade, characters have upgraded to today’s most recent trends. In a strip publish in September of 2007, when flat screen computers were newly developed, illustrators of Blondie make note of this technological advancement and began drawing flat screen computers in the strip.  Additionally, backgrounds scenery of the Bumstead’s home has changed to accommodate decoration of the current time.  In a recent strip published on Sunday, March 15th, 2015, Dagwood participates in the recent picture trend of “taking a selfie..” Through changing times, the Blondie comic series has slowly acquired a more modern look and feel through illustrations of the family’s home, attire, and technology advances.  Author Chic Young says, “I am constantly changing things,  The change are very subtle, and they happen over a period of years, so it’s hard to notice them.  People didn’t notice, probably, when Blondie’s’ hair style as changed or the days when there were different refrigerators or stoves in the kitchen, or when Dagwood didn’t wear garters on his socks any more.  It’s vital to our acceptance that we be contemporary” (Young and Marschall). While the details of the strip have modernized, the overall message of Blondie Doopadoop and Dagwood Bumstead lives together have ultimately stayed the same.  

Today, Blondie continues to be a strip that allows its’ audience to laugh at the punchline, but also laugh because they have experienced a similar situation in the lives at home and work, and can relate to how Blondie and Dagwood felt. Readers have seen where the strip began and how far it has come from eighty-five years ago.  Blondie has stayed true to themes built by Chic Young but has also developed into merchandise products around the country.  The famous “Dagwood sandwich,” a term even recognized by Merriam-Webster dictionary, has started an industry in the food sector of America.  Character Dagwood Bumstead is often illustrated making enormous sized sandwiches.  Readers and fans of Blondie can find restaurants today that sell the famous and unique food item.  From Blondie themed sandwich shops to Blondie themed merchandise, like Bumstead family collectibles, this comic strip has shaped America beyond the pages of the comic strip that began in 1930.  Not only has this all American family been shaped by the changes of society, but the Bumstead family has shaped society as well.  


Works Cited

“The first Blondie daily strip: September 8,1930.” Blondie and Dagwood’s America. Comp. Dean Young and Rick Marschall. New York: King Features Syndicate, Inc, 1981. 22. Print.

Kirby, Jack. “Captain America Comics (#1) 1941.” Marvel. Marvel, 10 Mar. 1941. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <https://marvel.com/digitalcomics/view.htm?iid=1652>.

Marshall, John. “September 24, 2007.” Comic Rocket. King Features Syndicate, Inc., 24 Sept. 2007. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://www.comic-rocket.com/read/blondie/2850>.

Young, Dean. “Dagwood Sandwich: April 17, 2007.” Wikipedia. Wikipedia Foundation, 17 Apr. 2007. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Dagwood_Sandwich_20070417.png>.

Young, Dean, and John Marshall. “Sunday, March 15, 2015.” Comics Kingdom. King Features Syndicate, 15 Mar. 2015. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. <http://comicskingdom.com/blondie/2015-03-15>.