Jun 23, 2014

Henry: A Surreal Comic Strip about Oral Fixation

When I was growing up, my parents didn't approve of reading anything but the Bible  -- you remember what happened to My Book of Cute Boys .

But they still had a stash: Collier's Encyclopedia, the Junior Classics, some cookbooks, and some very, very old children's books that must have come from their own childhoods.

Like a book of comic strips featuring this creature, Henry.  Ostensibly a boy, but oddly pear-shaped, with a bald, bulbous head and no teeth -- usually no mouth.  He didn't speak.

I was fascinated.  Why was this being masquerading as a boy?  Why did he never speak?  What was this ghostly, Freudian world that he moved through?  Why was he so obsessed with oral gratification, with the mouth, faces, and bodies of other boys?

In a little while, Henry and his African-American stereotyped friend will be kissing.

Henry's quest for oral gratification often got him into the mouths of  muscular boys. Here he as stolen a lollipop.

Years later I discovered that Henry was a newspaper comic strip that first appeared in 1932, the creation of 67-year old cartoonist Carl Anderson (who stylized his name AnderSon).  Growing up in the era after the Civil War, Anderson naturally placed Henry in an archaic world of ice trucks and confectioner's shops that seemed surreal even in the 1930s.

In 1942, John Linley took over the strip. Several other artists have contributed.  It is still running in 75 newspapers.

Henry didn't cross over well into other media.  There are no Big Little Books, movies, or cartoon series, although he is interviewed by Betty Boop in a 1935 one-shot.  There is one children's book, Henry Goes to a Party (1955).

Dell published a comic book from 1946 to 1961.  There Henry speaks and the people in his world get names (the nude boy is his best friend, Julius). And he's conventionally heterosexual, with a girlfriend, or rather a female counterpart named Henrietta.

See also:  Little Brown Koko.

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