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Dagwood Bumstead, Transsexual? – Blondie #38

July 1, 2014

blondie38

Above we see a nicely preserved copy of a Golden Age Blondie comic, one that survived wartime paper drives and passed through the ravages of time relatively unscathed. It stands before us as an almost pristine exemplar of the early days of the oft-imitated Model Homemaker, who was always overshadowed by her bumbling, giant-sandwich-eating husband. But it’s not the physical quality of this comic’s cover that gives it its eye-catcher status, nor is it the extremely familiar reprinted Dagwood shenanigans found on the inside. Instead it’s the cover’s content, for a couple of simultaneously obvious and subtle reasons.

Both items of interest have to do with poor Dagwood and his emasculation, him serving as a mannequin for Blondie as she alters a dress before a peanut gallery of their child, their pets and neighborhood scamps. It’s an indignity to his unreformed 1940s maledom, and you really can’t blame him for crossing his eyes and scowling so furiously that his eyebrows are veritable continuations of his trademark horn-like cowlicks. The first artifact of note is simple: Dagwood’s clearly defined five o’clock shadow. This isn’t that remarkable in and of itself, but we have to keep in mind that Mr. Bumstead isn’t one of the assortment of funny page/cartoon characters to have ever-present stubble. He’s not Homer Simpson. He’s not Fred Flintstone. He sure as hell isn’t Brutus/Bluto. He’s always clean-shaven — so why the stubble here? Since he was wearing a dress, did Chic Young or whatever ghost-artist who finished the cover want to reaffirm the male star’s manliness? Was it over-compensation? An artistic flourish to subliminally emphasize that this was all against his fictional will, that parents and youngsters shouldn’t worry, as he’s still all man and won’t corrupt the straight youth of America? Something like that, surely.

The second point to ponder is related, and plays into our shifting societal mores. The question becomes: Which is more odd-looking at the cover here on our 2014 perch — that a man is wearing a dress or that he’s smoking a pipe? Gay marriage is on the march and bearded drag queens are European celebrities, while municipalities continue to outlaw any hint of cigarettes and CVS is refusing to sell tobacco because of the health effects (though you can still buy every processed carcinogen-laden food known to man in their aisles). This seesaw has certainly lurched the other way in the intervening seven decades, no? Seriously — a pipe clenched in a jaw is now more remarkable than a man wearing his wife’s wardrobe.

Chic Young, whose famous strip has so enduringly parodied 20th century American domesticity, would hardly recognize the world of today. That’s probably a good thing in a broad sense, though the day the government comes for my old tobacco pipes is the day I have my own Ruby Ridge. Bearded bedressed Dagwood, whoever knew you’d become an unearthed weather vane for the winds of change?

blondie38chic

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 17, 2014 3:21 pm

    Somehow it’s comforting that through war, famine, despair, and plague, Dagwood’s hair remains unchanged.

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