Bung in motion. Artist: Leslie Rogers.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Published in: The Chicago Weekly Defender
First Appeared: 1920
Creator: Leslie Rogers
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Bungleton Green was a needle-nosed caricature of a man who had a lot of funny stuff happen to and around him, much like A. Mutt, Andy Gump, George Bungle and any number …

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… of other comics characters — even quasi-real ones like R. Crumb's depictions of himself. The main difference was, both he and Leslie Rogers, the cartoonist who created him, were black. Which wouldn't be very remarkable today, but in 1920, when he first appeared, it relegated both to a ghetto-like corner of the American publishing industry, the newspapers that served a local urban black community.

In this, Bung (as his fellow characters usually called him, and no relation to the drunken sot in The Wizard of Id) resembled Edd Ashe's Guy Fortune, Jackie Ormes's Torchy Brown and a lot of other black comics protagonists of the early 20th century. But in other important ways, he was more like Billy DeBeck's Barney Google. Like Barney, he roamed the world as his fortunes ranged from near-poverty to dizzying heights of wealth and influence — even, like Wash Tubbs, to the point of ruling the occasional kingdom. He started (on November 20, 1920, in The Chicago Weekly Defender) with no visible means of support, dodging bill collectors and landlords in a way that would do Ally Sloper proud, but as early as 1921 became an actual judge — albeit one who didn't mind indulging a personal agenda now and then.

In subsequent years, he was seen in roles ranging from common laborer to tycoon. He was even married for a little while. His wife, Louise, later left him to raise their son, born September 6, 1930, alone. The kid's name, embarrassingly to some later commentators, was Cabbage — it was chosen, like that of Bucky Bug, in a readers' contest. Cabbage was a lot like another DeBeck character, Bunky, a prodigy who spoke flawless English right from the start and was perfectly capable of taking care of himself, even foiling his own kidnappers when the police proved incompetent to rescue him.

Things settled down somewhat when the strip was taken over by cartoonist Henry Brown in 1931. He did, however, run for public office on the Freedom Ticket, since the more mainstream political parties didn't seem very interested in the concerns of black voters (his race's relations with the community at large had always been a theme of his comic to a greater or lesser extent). The Henry Brown era ended abruptly in 1934, in the middle of a story, with a switch to reprints followed by the return, for several months, of Leslie Rogers. On Oct. 20 of that year, Jay Jackson (Speed Jaxon) took over the strip.

Jackson started out in Rogers's style (which was clearly influenced by that of George Herriman, by the way), but later took Bung in entirely new directions. During the '40s, Jackson shortened the character's nose and had friends start calling him "Bun", which he seems to have considered at least marginally more dignified than the word for the hole in a cask of wine. Cabbage disappeared and was replaced by a niece. Most significantly, Bun started having adventures with an outfit called The Mystic Commandos, often with science fiction themes. The group eventually traveled a century into the future, where Bun acquired super powers. The theme of racial justice was strong under Jackson.

When Bun returned to his own time, the other Mystic Commandos, finding the discrimination-free future to their liking, decided to stay, thus partially restoring the status quo — except, the lead character was now a tall, handsome superhero (albeit, a plainclothes one like Sparky Watts or Dick Cole). But adventure was gradually de-emphasized in favor of a return to his gag-a-day (the Defender became a daily in 1956) roots.

Bungleton Green eventually fell into the hands of Defender staff artist Chester Commodore. He continued it as a gag vehicle until 1964, when it ended. By then, after 44 years, it had become the all-time longest-tenured comic strip in a black newspaper.


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