Nuclear families have dominated newspaper comics since the dawn of the Nuclear Age, from the warm and fuzzy world of “The Family Circus” to the tree-lined suburban home of “Dennis the Menace.” But a new comic is breaking that mold, reflecting an America where roughly half of marriages end in divorce.
The title character in “Gil,” a syndicated strip that launched last week in the Chicago Tribune and other newspapers, has a hard-working single mom and an underachieving dad he sees only on alternate weekends.
Not only that: He’s a bit plump, he doesn’t have all the latest toys, and he’s exactly not at the top of the grading curve (assigned a school report on “Favorite Hero,” Gil’s best friend chooses abolitionist Sojurner Truth; Gil picks Batman). But somehow he always manages to look on the bright side.Story: ‘Family Circus’ creator Bil Keane dies at 89
Gil’s creator, Norm Feuti, told TODAY.com: “I was trying to do something different. So many strips are about smart kids: I wanted to do a kid that’s not all that bright, an underdog.
“Other strips have had children of divorce; the difference in my strip is that the dad is still around,” the Plainville, Mass.-based cartoonist added. “He’s not the most responsible guy, not a hero in any regard.”
Art reflecting life
“Gil” is not Feuti’s first strip: “Retail,” his six-year-old comic about the employees of a fictional department store called Grumbel’s, appears in some 70 newspapers and is filled with true anecdotes from Feuti’s 15 years of experience as a retail manager. And like “Retail,” “Gil” draws on the cartoonist’s real experiences.
“It’s not autobiographical, but it’s very strongly rooted in my own life,” Feuti said. “My mother worked in a factory, like Gil’s.
“My own father took off before I can remember; my mother never remarried,” the cartoonist added. Like Gil’s dad, “he was still part of my life, but not around very much.”Video: Snoopy, ‘Peanuts’ gang celebrate 60years of fun
So is Gil’s father a deadbeat dad? “In a lot of ways, yeah,” Feuti admitted. “There are plenty of divorced dads who are responsible; some are not. I certainly hint that he’s not financially responsible.” Still, he pointed out, “it’s obvious in the strip that he loves his son.”
Today Feuti is a dad himself, with a 10-year-old daughter and a 6-year-old son who help supply grist for “Gil” along with his own childhood experiences. “I don’t make any apologies for my own father, or deadbeat dads in general,” Feuti said. “I try to make real characters.”
Born in 1970, Feuti caught the cartooning bug early: When he was 12, a boyfriend of his mother’s gave him a collection of “Bloom County,” a comic whose characters included precocious kids in a small town. The 1980s were a fertile time for newspaper comics, the heyday of “Calvin and Hobbes” and “The Far Side.” “I taught myself to draw from the comics pages,” Feuti recalled. “Eventually you get sick of drawing other people’s characters and start drawing your own.”
More in books
The cartoonist finds it a bit surprising that it’s taken newspaper comics so many years to deal with divorce head-on. “It’s sort of an odd thing where we’re afraid to show real life,” he told TODAY.com. With roughly half of U.S. marriages ending in divorce, he asked, “how can you not know someone who’s divorced?”Story: Aack! End of ‘Cathy’ also marks the end of an era
Still, despite his own parents’ divorce, “I had a great childhood,” Feuti said. “We didn’t have everything, but we weren’t poor.”
And maybe that’s the way in which the cartoonist is the most like his own creation: They’re both optimists. “ ‘Gil’ is about the resiliency of childhood,” he said.
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