Review by Ian Keogh
Bringing Up Father is a newspaper strip slowly slipping into obscurity. Begun in 1918, it continued to delight readers until creator George McManus’ death in 1954, after which a succession of successors, allocated ever smaller slots, kept the strip limping on until 2000. IDW published two prime collections of late 1930s strips, but as the second was issued in 2013, interest wasn’t enough to sustain a series, and an NBM collection covers the first two years of the run. It’s a great shame, as while the knockabout comedy reflected in the strip is from another era, the art is still phenomenal. Herge may be renowned throughout Europe as inventor of the shadowless ligne claire style, but take a look at the sample page.
This collection, issued while the strip still existed in dying form and still trademarked, is named after the lead character. Jiggs is a caricatured Irish American blue collar worker of a type who’d have been instantly recognisable to readers across the USA at the strip’s height. Through never revealed means, he’s made a fortune, a new life embraced by his wife Maggie, but his preference is always to slink back to the construction sites and drinking dens where he feels truly at home. By today’s standards much of the strip’s humour will seem off colour, drunkenness and domestic conflict no longer appropriate subjects for comedy, but this collection largely avoids these in concentrating on the artistic triumphs of McManus’ Sunday colour pages. The samples spread the decades, although none are from McManus’ final ten years on the strip, and are arranged into three broad categories rather than run sequentially. We see Jiggs embracing the joys of poverty, a cross-country vacation, and a selection from a Bringing Up Father standby with Jiggs and Maggie reminiscing about the good old days.
McManus’ art is that of a master craftsman. He revels in colour and detail, resulting in art deco wonders of fashion and decoration, and a prodigious work ethic saw him pack the Sunday pages with people and action. One of his most famous strips opens with a quarter page view of Times Square on New Year’s Eve, Bill Blackbeard’s introduction revealing it took McManus two weeks to draw, no doubt requiring overtime from his uncredited assistant Zeke Zekely. The pages are busy, full of life, every bystander actually doing something or with a unique expression, and they’re funny. McManus had an unparalleled comedic instinct, and the bathos of Jiggs awkward in his top hat, diamond tie pin and spats mixing with workers in vests, overalls and patched trousers never fails to raise a smile. The insane inventive excess of the sample page is meticulously constructed, the still snapshot panels individual masterpieces, and such scenes are a feature of the Sunday pages.
The 24 pages selected from the vacation sequence, roughly half the content, are all found in IDW’s From Sea to Shining Sea, where 21st century reproduction techniques ensure they look sharper. However this publication also includes two tier topper gags missing from the IDW collections. In either form anyone who’s not come across McManus before will discover a genius at work.