FROM “THE YELLOW KID” TO “CHARLIE BROWN”, BALD CHARACTERS HAVE BEEN TURNING UP IN COMICS SINCE 1895.
“Good Grief! I’m Bald!”
It’s comfortingly familiar: Charlie Brown is delivering a monologue to himself on the baseball field about how lonely it can be on the pitcher’s mound and about all his responsibility. He wraps it up in the next-to-last panel by talking about how he’s not really alone, how he has the undying support of his intensely loyal teammates.
At which point, of course, Lucy impatiently screams “C’mon, you blockhead! Try to get one over the plate!”
“Peanuts” holds the record as the most popular comic strip that the world has seen, and it’s that blockheaded, round headed, BALD headed Charlie Brown that is its heart and soul.
Some may argue that Charlie Brown is not actually bald, citing the little squiggle of locks on his forehead and the single bent sprig of hair on the back of his head. Indeed, his creator, the late Charles M. Schulz, used to say that Charlie Brown wasn’t bald, that he had a very fine layer of hair that was so light that it couldn’t really be seen. But let’s face it, for all intents and purposes, Charlie Brown belongs to the world of the hairless.
He’s not the only child with hair loss that has appeared in the comic strip in its century-plus existence. As a matter of fact, a case could be made that his stripmate, Linus, belongs in that category, with his extreme hair thinning that reveals a good amount of scalp.
The earliest example of a bald comic strip child is the Yellow Kid. Though virtually unknown outside of comic aficionados and historians, the Yellow Kid (star of Richard F. Outcault’s “Hogan’s Alley”) holds an important place in comic strip history as the very first popular comics character. He showed up in 1895 and became an immediate sensation.
The Kid’s real name was Mickey Dugan, and he was a denizen of the lower-class immigrant neighborhood that gave the strip its name. Practically toothless and jug-eared, the Kid allowed Outcault to bring humor to topical social and political concerns of the day. His name came about because of the yellowness of his outfit, an over sized nightshirt. Unlike contemporary comic strips, there were no word balloons in “Hogan’s Alley;” instead, whatever dialogue the Kid had was printed directly on his nightshirt, changing from panel to panel – an unusual way of communicating, but effective.
By the way, it’s generally assumed that the Yellow Kid’s baldness was a result of having his head shaved to look for lice, a common practice among poorer urban children at the time.
Bald cartoon characters: Children without hair
Another landmark strip, Bud Fisher’s “Mutt and Jeff” launched in 1907 and was the first successful daily comic strip; it too included a hairless child, although as strictly a minor character. This was Cicero, son of the titular Augustus Mutt. Cicero started out as a baby with one lone little curl on the top of his head. Although he aged into a young boy of seven or eight, that little curl up on top of his head never did get any company. Cicero appeared in quite a number of strips over “Mutt and Jeff’s” amazing 75-year original run, but he never really carried much weight. He primarily set up gags involving one or both of the stars, and in that capacity he served his function quite well.
Our next balding hero appeared in the once-popular but now largely-forgotten “Smitty,” which for more than 50 years detailed the amusing adventures of an office boy named Smitty who started out as a 13-year old and eventually grew to marrying age. Smitty had a younger brother, Herby, who more or less stayed 6 years old and who provided a great deal of comic relief. Little Herby was essentially hairless and was prone to making trouble for his brother. He also starred in his own “topper” – that is, a small strip that ran across the top of the Sunday strip – for more than 20 years.
1932 saw the arrival of hairless “Henry,” whose eponymous strip began in 1932 and continued in new episodes until 2005; it’s still running in reprints in the Sunday editions of some 75 newspapers. In addition to being bald, Henry was mute and although his height suggested he was a boy of perhaps 8 or 9 years, he actually came across as more of an overgrown baby. He had no hair, he didn’t talk, his belly had that baby-like roundness, and though he walked, there seemed to be something not quite fully developed about his limbs. This gave his strip a somewhat strange feeling to it; the jokes were strictly work-a-day and conventional, but there was an undefined feeling about the character, as if he had wandered in from a somewhat different world.
Speaking of babies, a number of actual comic strip babies remained bereft of hair for decades, such as Popeye’s infant Swee’pea or Tater, the little child in “Barney Google and Snuffy Smith” who is clearly fated to look exactly like the little bulbous-nosed hillbilly that is his father.
Then there’s Sluggo, the compatriot of “Nancy in the minimalist Ernie Bushmiller strip that bore her name, and Iggy, one of “Little Lulu’s” friends, who weren’t exactly bald, but the miniscule stubble that they carried on their heads is hardly a luxurious flowing mane.
Happily, none of the children discussed in this article were ever bothered by their lack of hair. True, that’s easier to accomplish when you’re a comic strip character. On the other hand, maybe they were just more secure about themselves and their appearance – a quality that adults might like to emulate.