Blog: comic strip history

Comic Strip History - Skippy Peanut Butter

Skippy August 2nd

Up until now, when I've written about words or phrases that end up being popularized through comic strips, the stories behind them have been fairly simple. They generally haven't involved trademark infringement, FBI and IRS investigations, (alleged) staged suicide attempts, and (alleged) false imprisonment, but this one (allegedly) involves all of those, and more.

And all because of peanut butter.

Researching and writing about this has been an odd experience, partially because I've never really thought peanut butter could have such an effect on someone's life, but mostly because Percy Crosby's story is incredibly tragic. There are certain facts that are in dispute, but where he ended up and how it affected his family are not, and it's awful to think about. At times I found myself laughing due to the absurdity of all of this stemming from a peanut butter dispute, but I had to continually remind myself of the ultimate result, which is not at all funny.

I've written about Percy Crosby and the comic strip S…


Comic Strip History: Milquetoast

The Timid Soul, 1940

Milquetoast was a word that I first encountered in a comic strip, though not the one this blog post is focused on. In Berkeley Breathed's strip Bloom County, and its sequel strip Outland, there was a character named Milquetoast, who was apparently a cockroach, though he didn't look much like one. I remember being ignorant of how to pronounce his name, though I didn't really give it much thought as I figured it was just a weird name Breathed had come up with.

It was certainly a strange joke word created by a cartoonist, but not one coined by Breathed.

The word first appeared in 1924, in a comic strip called The Timid Soul by H.T. Webster. Webster had been doing single panel gag strips for the New York Tribune since 1912. His panels appeared under a number of different recurring titles, which would change depending on the subject matter of the gag, but none of them had any recurring characters. In 1924, he moved to the New York World, and while he did continue his other panels under their various other tit…


Comic Strip History - The Worry Wart

The Worry Wart, March 6, 1929

Most times I've done research for posts about words that originated in comic strips, I've been able to find fairly consistent information about where and when they first appeared. The information I was able to find may not have been very plentiful, but at least it told a consistent story. Not so with "worry wart." It seems pretty clear that the phrase originated in a comic strip, but no one seems to agree on when. I think I've found the correct answer, though.

What all the sources I found do agree on is that there was a character called "The Worry Wart" in the comic strip Out Our Way, created by J.R. Williams. Out Our Way was what you might call a nostalgia comic. It centered around people who appear to live in the late 19th century in rural surroundings. Most of the characters are unnamed, though many of them reappear from time to time. The jokes generally revolve around relatable situations that the reader would probably remember from their childhood, or possibly remember hearing about from their grandp…