When last we checked in with Bud Fisher he had created the first successful daily newspaper comic strip* Mr. A. Mutt, which debuted on November 15, 1907 in the San Francisco Chronicle.
The daily was an instant San Francisco treat and proved to be a great circulation booster for M. H. de Young‘s newspaper, which really got rival newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst‘s goat.
Anyway, Hearst did what he always did in circumstances like this – he threw money at the problem. In this case offering cartoonist Fisher more than enough to lure him away from The Chronicle and to the Hearst San Francisco Examiner. At this time Bud Fisher executed two brilliant moves. First he accepted Hearst’s offer; second, he copyrighted the strip under his own name.
The last A. Mutt strip by Fisher for The Chronicle (above) and the first two A. Mutt strips for The Examiner (below) proclaimed H. C. Fisher as the owner.
This move ensured Fisher would become a millionaire as the strip’s eventual success nationwide materialized, and be a bonanza for his heirs.
As seen the Examiner strip, as it did in The Chronicle, would run at the top of the page across all seven columns and run seven days a week.
Bud Fisher and A. Mutt’s December 11, 1907 debut in The Examiner would put an end to the paper’s competing “strip” Find the Hidden Horses, by O. C. Chopin which would not see the end of the month. A. Mutt would replace “Hidden Horses” at the top of the racing page and the contest would be relegated to a lower status until it ended.
Fisher’s portrayal of the vulgar side of life was part of the allure. Mutt’s wife would divorce him and he would be marrying another woman within a week. And if life became too discouraging a visit to the local opium den was not out of order.
Five months before his death in The Chronicle Mutt died in The Examiner (it didn’t take).
And so it went. Mutt gets a tip and bets on a sure thing every day – sometimes winning, sometimes losing. It was that losing part that would lead Mutt (and Fisher) into a life changing situation. On a prolonged losing streak Mutt turns to life of crime to get the dough to make his daily wager. One day he steals from a pay phone and gets caught, which leads to a long and fateful sequence.
As a fugitive and, when caught, as a defendant, Mutt would find a way to place a bet every day, sometimes by way of his son Cicero.The trial, by the way, was a satire of the scandals running rampant through San Francisco’s city government at the time.
Eventually it would be decided that to “nick the assets of the telephone company” is not a crime, but Mutt must spend some time in an insane asylum.
So Mutt is transported to the institution…
and on March 27, 1908 history is made.
Jeffries (first called “Jeff” on April 1, 1908) would become a regular, though not daily, character. Jeff would at first be the victim of various vicious and violent conspiracies played upon him, and then be mostly relegated to saying “Poor Boob” to another of the cast.
But this would be the beginning of the world famous team of Mutt and Jeff.
Leaving aside all the topical references in the first year, Fisher wasn’t just coming up with something funny every day. He was also inventing the idea of a comic strip itself, what it can do, what he can get away with.
Next: Disaster Strikes – *After a Chicago sidebar