LeRoy and Loretta, looking typically pleased with each other.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1968
Creator: Bill Hoest
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From Toots & Casper to The Bungle Family to Blondie to FoxTrot and points beyond — domestic comedy has been a staple of the comics page since its very early days. Readers have always …

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… been attracted to the love, the camaraderie, the bickering … especially the bickering, which is always funnier than people getting along. In The Lockhorns, cartoonist Bill Hoest (formerly an assistant to Harry Haenigsen on Penny and later responsible for Bumper Snickers, Howard Huge, Agatha Crumm and others) cut to the chase. None of that boring lovey-dovey stuff. With Leroy and Loretta Lockhorn it's all bickering, all the time.

King Features Syndicate (Baby Blues, Moose & Molly) launched The Lockhorns as a single-panel daily on September 9, 1968. A sunday strip was added on April 9, 1972. It focused just on the couple themselves — no children, no next-door neighbors, no boss, etc., except to the extent others were occasionally needed as props. The entire raison d'etre of the series is to show Leroy and Loretta trading caustic one-liners. They fight about his roving eye, her cooking, his earning power, her excessive shopping, and the fact that both are middle-aged and dumpy-looking. Also, anything else that happens to occur to them.

There are a few other recurring characters, such as Loretta's mother (so they can argue about her visits), their marriage counselor (so they can argue in front of him) and Leroy's favorite bartender (so they can argue about his drinking). But the entire focus is on Leroy and Loretta themselves.

The syndicate's publicity tries to make them sound more like the average comics family, claiming (of Leroy, after describing some of his faults) "you can't help but love him nonetheless"; and (of the couple, after describing their relationship) "they realize they're together 'till death do us part' and they wouldn't have it any other way" — but don't you believe it. If either of them has a lovable quality, readers never see it. And if they wouldn't want to part it can only be because their greatest pleasure comes from keeping each other on edge.

Either despite the lack of variety in their lives, or because of it, readers took to the couple strongly. Before long, it was being syndicated to more than 500 papers in 23 different countries, and translated into eight languages. It's been collected into book form a couple of dozen times.

In real life, Hoest seems to have been a good deal more sympatico with his wife, Bunny. When he died, on November 7, 1988, She took over the operation without missing a beat — and most readers didn't even notice. Today, the feature is written by Bunny Hoest and drawn by John Reiner, formerly Bill Hoest's assistant. And King Features still distributes it to hundreds of newspapers, all over the world.


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Text ©2005-10 Donald D. Markstein. Art © Bunny Hoest.