Blogspot/Bryan Scott Dugan
Blogspot/Bryan Scott Dugan

4 Comic Strips that Totally Reinvented Themselves

Blogspot/Bryan Scott Dugan
Blogspot/Bryan Scott Dugan

Reading the comics page each day, that little grid of squares can look like an unchanging edifice. Charles Schulz has been dead for more than a decade, but Snoopy still flies his Sopwith Camel. Dagwood still inhales gigantic sandwiches, and the Family Circus still is read only by your grandparents.

But back in the day, comic strips changed often. Characters came and went. Plot lines and themes fluctuated as the nation grappled with the Great Depression and World War II. And some strips—not all, but more than you might expect—changed their course completely. Here are four that you might not have recognized in their original form.

1. Blondie

Cartoonist Chic Young had created a string of strips about airheaded young women (The Affairs of Jane, Beautiful Bab, and Dumb Dora) before landing on, simply, Blondie. The strip, which debuted in 1930, depicted the adventures of a vivacious flapper named Blondie Boopadoop.

One of her boyfriends was, you guessed it, Dagwood Bumstead. What you might not expect was that Dagwood was the son of railroad tycoon and billionaire J. Bolling Bumstead. Blondie and Dagwood just dated casually until something went terribly wrong—newspapers began canceling the strip. Aspirational visions of huge wealth didn’t go over so well during the Depression. 

So Young had Blondie and Dagwood fall desperately in love and, in 1933, marry. J. Bolling Bumstead conveniently disinherited his son for marrying below his station. That meant that Blondie and Dagwood were free to move into the suburbs and enjoy a more relatable middle-class existence.

2. Mary Worth

Wikimedia Commons

Before the modern-day Mary Worth, a gray-haired meddler lovingly mocked online, there was Apple Mary. The Depression-era comic was begun by Martha Orr in 1934 and starred a little old lady who sold apples on the street. Frank Capra had directed a movie the year before, Lady for a Day, that featured just such an old lady, so the type was fresh in the public’s imagination.

Orr left the strip in 1939 to raise her family, passing on writing chores to Ohio columnist Allen Saunders (who also wrote a strip called—really—Big Chief Wahoo). He immediately saw the possibilities in taking a new approach to the strip. “Laboring over the continuity, I chanced upon a happy idea one day,” he wrote many years later. “Instead of treacly melodrama, why not do stories of the sort that were used in popular magazines for women? No current story strip dealt with romance and psychological drama instead of action.”

The new approach caught the syndicate’s attention, and the strip’s title was soon changed to Mary Worth’s Family and, eventually, Mary Worth. The titular character left the apple cart behind, had an artistic makeover that shed some pounds, and never looked back. 

3. Beetle Bailey

Courtesy of ComicVine

For a strip that’s practically synonymous with the word “Army,” it’s amazing to learn that Beetle Bailey didn’t start his run in the comic pages serving Uncle Sam. Instead, for the first six months of the comic strip, Beetle was a college student (the comic debuted in 1950, the same year as Peanuts). 

But like Blondie in her early days, Beetle had problems of a business-related nature. Only 25 papers had bought the strip after those first six months, and King Features Syndicate was not pleased. So cartoonist Mort Walker (still kicking today at age 89) signed him up for the Army and shipped him off to Korea. Some 100 papers promptly added the comic.

After the war, Walker further revised the strip into the one we know and (sometimes) love today. In 1954, the Tokyo edition of the military Stars & Stripes paper dropped “Beetle,” citing negative effects on troop morale. The press back home lampooned the move, and another 100 papers bought the strip.

4. Snuffy Smith

Courtesy of Blogspot

Although not the most popular strip today, the hillbilly-themed Snuffy Smith has endured for 94 years. But it didn’t feature rural stereotypes at first, and it wasn’t even about Snuffy Smith. The ancestor of the present-day strip started in the Chicago Herald and Examiner, under the title Take Barney Google, F'rinstance. Drawn by Billy DeBeck, the strip starred Barney Google, a sports fan and gambler. The strip became hugely popular. (Barney Google’s horse, named Spark Plug, provided the nickname for a young Charles M. Schulz.)

In 1934, Barney Google met hillbilly Snuffy Smith in the redneck village of Hootin' Holler. The new character gained popularity, and by the time the decade ended, the strip had been rechristened Barney Google and Snuffy Smith. By 1954, Google left Hootin’ Holler, but the strip kept its focus on the town and its colorful residents.

The strip hasn’t totally forgotten its original namesake, though. Barney Google returns annually for a few strips, long enough for readers to wonder: “Who on earth is that?”

Smart Shopping
19 Unusual Socks for Snazzy Feet

Kick it in one of these pairs of cool socks.

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1. ART; $15.99

Make your feet a canvas with these artsy socks. This set of eight pairs features classics including van Gogh's Starry Night and Botticelli's Birth of Venus.

Find it: Amazon

2. BOB ROSS; $12

Look at all those happy little trees! It's impossible not to smile while wearing these Bob Ross socks.

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3. ALIEN VISITOR; $11.50

I want to believe—in fancy footwear. These alien socks are perfect for Ufologists and other conspiracy theorists who always have an eye on the sky.

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shark socks

These fun socks make it look like sharks are eating your feet.

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5. TAPATIO; $10

These socks are hot! Just like the hot sauce they show.

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6. LIBRARY CARD; $10.25

Out of Print makes a variety of book-themed products for bibliophiles—and, even better, they donate one book for each pair of socks purchased. This particular pair looks like the library cards you might have found in libraries back in the day.

Find it: Amazon


Here's another excellent selection from Out of Print. This pair of socks is dedicated to Where the Wild Things Are. The bottoms say "Let the Wild / Rumpus Start."

Find it: Out of Print

8. STUDIO GHIBLI; $12.50

Lovers of the films by Studio Ghibli will get a kick out of these striped socks. Each pair features a scene from a different movie: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki's Delivery Service, and Howl's Moving Castle.

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These adorable socks have polka dots and giant dog faces on the front. Each pair comes with floppy ears that peek over the edge of the socks. The breeds include what looks like a Pomeranian, a Boston terrier, and a French bulldog.

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10. EINSTEIN; $12

These are the perfect socks to wear while filling up a blackboard with equations. The pair comes with a picture of Einstein sporting some cool shades.

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These fun socks feature a few constellations, including Ursa Minor and Orion.

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12. DOCTOR WHO; $14.95

Doctor Who Tardis Women's Knee High Socks

Doctor Who fans are going to want to get their hands on these knee high TARDIS socks.

Find it: Jet

13. POKEMON; $2.42

Pokemon Ankle Socks

Show off your love of Pokemon with Pikachu, Charmander, Psyduck, and Squirtle socks.

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14. SAILOR MOON; $9.99

Defend the world against evil in the name of the Moon, with these Sailor socks. The pack of six comes with Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars, Sailor Mercury, Sailor Venus, Sailor Jupiter, and Chibiusa.

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According to the pilot in Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's classic book The Little Prince, the titular character probably hitches a ride off of his planet (B-612) and across the universe on a flock of birds. These Out of Print socks depict the pilot's drawing of the Little Prince taking to the skies.

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16. PENCILS; $10

Pencils are key for crosswords, drawings, and jotting down important notes. Celebrate the beloved writing utensil with these incredible socks.

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Stormtrooper socks

These cool socks look just like Storm Troopers from the Star Wars franchise. They fit shoe sizes 9–12.

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18. SUSHI; $19.99

Sushi socks

At first, this looks like a plush platter of sushi. When you unravel the "food," you'll discover it's actually two pairs of socks rolled to look like salmon and cucumber sushi.

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19. LEGO; $12

LEGO socks
Lord & Taylor

Stepping on LEGO bricks hurts, so protect yourself! We recommend this pair of LEGO-themed socks, plus a pair of slippers for good measure.

Find it: Lord & Taylor

Open Einstein
You Can Now Print 3D Replicas of Einstein's Childhood Toys
Open Einstein
Open Einstein

For children, playtime is an essential part of cognitive development. Now, you can give them toys that befit their genius: 3D replicas of the ones that Albert Einstein himself played with.

The LEGO Foundation, Unilever, and IKEA have launched Open Einstein, a site where you can download a 3D printing kit that allows you to make exact replicas of the wooden blocks the Nobel Prize-winning physicist played with during his childhood in Germany. "Play empowers children to create and learn for the rest of their lives," the site declares. "It is a fundamental right for all children."

The 3D printing kit provides designs for 36 toy blocks of various sizes and shapes. Einstein's wooden boxes of blocks, made by the German company Anker-Steinbaukasten, are currently held by a collector named Seth Kaller. (According to his website, you can buy them if you have $160,000 on hand.)

A dark image labeled 'Open Einstein' with wooden blocks in the background
Open Einstein

The 3D printing kit contains model instructions for only a fraction of the 160 blocks in the original set, which Einstein reportedly used throughout his childhood to erect complex structures at home. He wasn't the only famous fan of the toys: Frank Lloyd Wright, Buckminster Fuller, and other notable creatives played with the same blocks.

If you're looking for a particularly erudite toy to nurture your child's mind, blocks—whether Einstein-related or not—are a pretty good choice. The National Association for the Education of Young Children says that playing with blocks can enhance problem-solving skills, fine-tune motor skills, and boost creativity.

Your child may never come up with world-changing scientific theories, but if nothing else, hopefully the set will impart some of the genius's sense of creativity. Or at least his delightful playfulness.


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