Toots and Casper was a long-run family comic strip by Jimmy Murphy, distributed to newspapers for 37 years by King Features Syndicate, resulting in many merchandising tie-ins, including books, dolls, paper dolls, pins, bisque nodders and comic books.
Comics historian Coulton Waugh commented on the strip's portrait of a happy, idealized family life: "Like Blondie, Toots is the picture of contentment, and if all homes were like these, the American Dream would be nearly realized."
Characters and story
It began as a gag-a-day strip but soon settled into a successful pattern of serialized stories of romance and mystery involving newlyweds Toots and Casper Hawkins, their child Buttercup and dog Spare-Ribs (which entered a dog race with a $2500 prize in 1933).
The daily strip was picked up by King Features in 1919, and the Sunday strip began the following year (July 1920). The Sunday page carried a topper strip by Murphy, It's Papa Who Pays! Toots and Casper had a child, a boy named Buttercup, in November 1920. Buttercup remained a baby for over 20 years, eventually growing up as a six-year-old in the early 1940s, as noted by comics historian Don Markstein:
- Young, stylish, vivacious Toots was the star in the beginning, with short, bald, middle-aged Casper 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 1930s, 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.
Both the daily and the Sunday strips were popular favorites for decades. In 1934, Murphy began including collectible images (formatted like postage stamps) in his Sunday strips along with paper dolls, and these features proved so popular they were subsequently imitated by other cartoonists.
Licensing and merchandising
There was a wave of Toots and Casper licensing and merchandising, with items that ran the gamut from pins and dolls to comic books. The daily continued until 1951, and the Sunday strip lasted until 1956. Murphy's illness near the end of the run prompted the recycling of earlier strips and the hiring of ghost artists.
Thelma Hill and Bud Duncan starred in the 1927-29 series of Toots and Casper silent comedy film shorts with Cullen Johnson as Buttercup and George Gray as Casper's boss.
The strip gave rise to a much recited jump-rope rhyme:
- Toots and Casper went to town.
- Tootsie bought an evening gown,
- Casper bought a pair of shoes,
- Buttercup bought the Daily News.
- Goulart, Ron, editor. Encyclopedia of American Comics. New York: Facts on File, 1990.
- Strickler, Dave. Syndicated Comic Strips and Artists, 1924-1995: The Complete Index. Cambria, CA: Comics Access, 1995. ISBN 0-9700077-0-1.