The image on the cover to George McManus's Bringing Up Father (NBM) is a familiar one to readers of the long-running newspaper comic strip. In it, our title hero is being conked on the head by a rolling pin, an image that cartoonist used to cap many a gag in his forty years drawing the popular strip. Yet in the new hardcover collection covering the strip' first two years from 1913-14, the reader will look long and hard for any well-aimed kitchen utensils. Though hero Jiggs gets bruised and battered more than once, it's more from his predilection for getting into Popeye-styled fracases than any domestic disputes.
The story of an amiable working class mug and his ambitious wife—who suddenly find themselves catapulted into the moneyed class—"Bringing Up Father" captures an America in the throes of class and social assimilation. Hero Jiggs (sometimes spelled "Giggs" in these early strips) and his wife Maggie come from Irish-American stock, and while the latter wants to cast off all trace of that humble background, Jiggs continues to embrace it. While Maggie attempts to pull her reluctant husband up through the more rarefied upper crust, Jiggs defiantly sneaks out for a bucket of beer and a plate of corn beef and cabbage with his cronies, half of who appear to be named "Dinty."
This conflict, between honest proletarian living and bourgeois aspiration, is what fuels the strip, but no consideration of McManus's creation is complete without considering the sexual division in it, too. Though we're shown that Jiggs and Maggie have two adult children in the strip's entry, fact is that son Ethelbert (note the feminized name) rarely appears in the strip. Instead, it's Maggie and her incongruously lovely daughter Nora (called "Katy" in the early strip) who gang up on dad, pushing him to behave "appropriately." In this, they're doomed to fail, of course: Jiggs is too satisfied as himself to want to follow the fickle fashions of the nouveau riche. He yam what he yam.