Brutus does business with a Mr. Thomas. Artist: Johnny Gruelle.


Original Medium: Newspaper comics
Appearing in: The New York Herald-Tribune
First Appeared: 1929
Creator: Johnny Gruelle
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By 1929, cartoonist Johnny Gruelle was already famous as the creator of Raggedy Ann and her brother Andy, and was already making good money by manufacturing the dolls at home, and by producing a steady …

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… stream of stories about the Raggedys, to be read by an eager paying public. But newspaper cartooning had been part of his life since, at age 20, he'd gone to work at The People, a gossipy tabloid in Indianapolis. So at well over twice that age, he was glad to add to his regular routines by launching Brutus, a Sunday page, for The New York Herald-Tribune (Betty, Peter Rabbit), which syndicated it nationwide.

Brutus represented a change in direction for Gruelle, tho not an unprecedented one. He'd done political cartoons and other work for adults, but the bulk of his work, especially in recent years, had been in the area of children's fantasy — his earlier syndicated comic, Mr. Twee Deedle, had been in that genre. But Brutus was a domestic comedy aimed at a grown-up demographic, like The Bungle Family before it and Moose & Molly after.

Unlike a lot of domestic comedies (The Lockhorns comes to mind) the humor wasn't based on husband/wife conflict. Brutus Dudd (no relation to the Popeye bad guy) was truly devoted to his wife, Cleo, and often did things, sometimes very funny ones, just to please her. They were otherwise a typical sitcom-like couple — he was short, round and dumpy while she was petite, pretty and fashionable, and they did have an occasional tiff — but antagonism gags weren't part of their repertoire.

To go with his first name, Brutus and Cleo had a dog named Julius Caesar and a cat named Marc Antony.

The comic debuted November 17, 1929, just a couple of weeks after the stock market crash that was later associated with The Grest Depression. Brutus continued his suburban lifestyle, probably (like Gruelle himself at the time) in the area of Miami, Fla. But he and Cleo had financial problems just like everybody else (only theirs were funny). In 1934, they relocated out west and took up ranching. From then on, they ran The Hot Dog Ranch. Cleo was still around, but less in evidence.

The Herald-Tribune didn't distribute Brutus to a great number of papers even at first, and it lost steam as the 1930s wore on. Still, Gruelle persevered for the rest of his life. He died January 8, 1938, at age 57, and the feature was canceled.


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Text ©2009-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Johnny Gruelle estate.