Casper enjoys Toots's cooking. Artist: Jimmy Murphy.


Medium: Newspaper comics
Distributed by: King Features Syndicate
First Appeared: 1918
Creator: Jimmy Murphy
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From tales told by primitive tribesmen around a campfire to the very latest in TV sitcoms, people have always enjoyed stories they can relate to on a …

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… personal level — and that's why domestic comedy has been a popular genre since the dawn of time. Today's newspaper comics pages are littered with the likes of FoxTrot and Baby Blues, some of which, including Hi & Lois and Ferd'nand, go back generations. Early examples in comics include The Bungle Family, Keeping Up with the Joneses and Toots & Casper.

The latter strip was the creation of former political cartoonist Jimmy Murphy, who had earlier done a short-lived daily called Doc Attaboy, which explored the perennial theme of a doctor more interested in money than healing. Toots & Casper (last name Hawkins), which became Murphy's life work, replaced Doc in mid-December, 1918. It ran in The New York American, a Hearst paper, which made it one of the early offerings of King Features Syndicate.

Young, stylish, vivacious Toots (no relation) was the star in the beginning, with short, bald, middle-aged Casper (no relation) a mere stereotype of the harried, put-upon husband. It's said Murphy based Toots (who, according to historian Coulton Waugh, was the first good-looking married woman in comics) on his own wife, but being a mere 26 years old at the time, probably didn't base Casper on himself. The strip only lasted a couple of months in this form, but was back for good in 1920. On its return, Casper was a little taller, a little hairier, a little younger, and a lot more important as a character; and there were two additions — a Sunday page beginning in July of that year, and a baby named Buttercup born in December. The immensely popular Buttercup beat Gasoline Alley's Skeezix into print by three months, but Skeezix beat Buttercup to adulthood by a much greater margin. In fact, while Skeezix was in the U.S. Army, fighting World War II, the Hawkins kid was finally getting into grammar school — which is about as old as he ever got.

Like the era's quintessential domestic strip, The Gumps, the Hawkins family (the three humans, plus a dog named Spare-Ribs) got into continuing stories as the 1920s rolled on. In the '30s, with Dick Tracy, Buck Rogers and the like serving up daily doses of high adventure, the plots got more melodramatic. But the central theme, the funny side of family life, remained.

There were no radio shows or Big Little Books about Toots & Casper. Their only foray into films was a very minor series of silent comedy shorts that came out between 1927 and '29, starring Bud Duncan (who later played Snuffy Smith) and Thelma Hill, which is now mostly forgotten. They starred in only one comic book, Dell's Large Feature Comic #5 (1942), tho they also made an appearance (along with Popeye, Henry and other King Features stars) in the 1949 educational comic Dagwood Splits the Atom.

Because of failing health, Murphy employed a succession of ghosts to keep the strip running, and sometimes resorted to using old artwork with new dialog. But the strip survived until 1958 before succumbing to terminal old-fashionedness, making it among the longer-lived of America's early post-World War I comics. Murphy died in 1965.


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Text ©2003-06 Donald D. Markstein. Art © King Features.