For six decades, pioneering cartoonist Fredrick Burr Opper’s characters were featured in magazine gag cartoons, covers, political cartoons and comic strips. Among his most popular creations was a comic strip about the misadventures of a well-meaning hobo. How much do you know about this comic?
Happy Hooligan debuted with a Sunday strip on March 11, 1900, in the William Randolph Hearst newspapers, and was one of the first popular comics with King Features Syndicate. This strip ran for three decades, ending on August 14, 1932, and became an influential early American comic strip. Partly due to his disheveled appearance and low position in society, Happy Hooligan encountered plenty of misfortune and bad luck. However, he never lost his smile over it. The strip also featured Hooligan’s equally poor but considerably less jovial brothers: the sour Gloomy Gus and the snobbish Montmorency. Although the latter was often outfitted in a top hat and monocle, he was just as ragged as his siblings.
Like many other comics by Opper, Happy Hooligan did not initially run on a regular schedule, skipping Sundays from time to time. After some time though, Happy Hooligan became a regular feature with both daily strips and Sunday pages. During this period, Opper was one of the most popular comic creators of his time. Happy Hooligan and his other popular strips were later collected in book form and developed into merchandise products. J. Stuart Blackton later directed a series six of live-action comedy shorts starring Hooligan with Edison Manufacturing. These shorts ran from 1900-1902 and is possibly the first adaptation of American comics into film. Some 15 years later, Happy Hooligan was adapted for more than 50 animated cartoons.
While the Happy Hooligan strip is not well known to the general public today, it influenced quite a few later cartoonists. This included Rube Goldberg's Boob McNutt, Charlie Chaplin’s character “The Little Tramp,” Al Capp's Li’l Abner and Carl Barks version of Donald Duck. Throughout the Gerald Ford administration, Jules Feiffer usually depicted Ford as Hooligan – tin can hat and all.