"When a pun gets stuck in one's head, there's nothing left to do but exorcise it by devoting the next 50 years or so to its nurturing and development." - Fred Herring
The accompanying cartoon is not the founding pun, which instead is Tom Duck and Harry, the title of the comic strip. This is a punny corruption of the once pervasive idiom "Tom, Dick, and Harry", as in "Every Tom, Dick, and Harry can [whatever, whatever]." Apparently, the origin of that idiom is unknown, or at least not known to the internet, that fount of all knowledge (as opposed to a complete collection of comprehensive typography websites, which could be considered to display "a knowledge of all fonts").
At any rate, sometime in the last half of the 1960s, our cartoonist started contemplating the creation of a comic strip and, without further ado, settled on the title Tom Duck and Harry. Of course this required that the main character be Tom Duck and his sidekick be Harry.
Tom obviously had to be a duck (with condolences to real people named Tom Duck, at least one of whom the cartoonist has unsuccessfully tried to apologize to). But Harry? Without an associated last name, Harry could be anyone or anything.
One of the problems with Tom's character was that our cartoonist couldn't draw ducks, of which the archetype comic duck is Donald of Disney fame. Certainly he would not model his character around Donald Duck. Besides, he was weaned on Carl Barks' Walt Disney's Comics and Stories and Uncle Scrooge comic book adventures of Donald, his fabulously wealthy Uncle Scrooge, and his three clever nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie, and didn't want to detract from that legacy. So for years he labored for a suitable duck, going back and forth between a quasi-realistic visage with thin neck and horizontal body and something more abstract or cartoonish. He finally settled on or surrendered to the unsettling blob-like character that began to evolve in the strip almost forty years later.
So, back to Harry. Just as he couldn't draw ducks, our cartoonist of course chose another animal he couldn't draw, namely, a pig, to be Tom's buddy Harry. Why not? So, for the next forty years, Harry's visage bounced back and forth between a more realistic horizontal porcine figure with four hooves firmly planted on the ground and a bipedal upright character with the ability to grasp objects, if not complex scientific or philosophical concepts, with his two fore hooves.
The personae of the two characters devolved more quickly, with Tom the gentle, well meaning, somewhat pedantic know-it-all and Harry the wise-cracking grasp-life-by-both-lapels clown. Despite or perhaps because of their philosophical and physical differences, their brotherly bond is unbreakable, their relation with others kindly, and their combined humor... well, we'll leave that for you to judge.
The first and only commercial appearance of Tom Duck and Harry was in the University of Maryland's daily newspaper, The Diamondback, December 5, 1969. Somehow our cartoonist convinced the paper's student editor, or more likely one of his lackeys, to publish a strip for the paltry (even in those days) sum of two dollars, which the cartoonist never received, but who's counting? That particular strip - the title of which, "Tom Duck and Harry and the Politburo", was mysteriously converted by someone to "Tom Duck and Harry and the Politico" - pictured two battling characters, one liberal, one conservative, who finally agree to ask Tom for an opinion on whatever divisive issue is separating them. To their chagrin, they find Tom to be no help as he is, as usual, literally straddling the fence. That fence was part of the founding ethos of the strip, which often involved Tom atop one of the squared posts and Harry leaning against a milled upper rail, discussing the world passing by. (Tom and Harry also appeared a couple times in 1970 in a newsletter of the campus chapter of Zero Population Growth - for the initiated, high irony there.)
Just to show that for the most part nothing changes, we've posted the 1969 university strip and a parallel political strip from 2006:
The above strip is the first public appearance of Tom Duck and Harry, in the University of Maryland's student newspaper, The Diamondback, December 5, 1969. They still owe the cartoonist $2.
Just to show that for the most part nothing changes, the above strip appeared 37 years later.
Click here to see seven pages of early storyboards (circa 2001) for the local Ohio history behind Tom Duck and Harry, most of which was not used but which illustrates some of the prototype animal drawings and contributes another unwelcome cache of bad puns.
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