Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mr. Bungleton, All-Star! Part 1

As most folks know, Harvey Comics borrowed some of its earliest and biggest stars from Famous Studios (Casper, Baby Huey, Herman and Katnip, and of course Little Audrey). These were augmented by such new stars as Richie Rich, Hot Stuff, Wendy, and Little Lotta, but also by often vast ensemble supporting casts for each star. Harvey fans are such that many second or even third tier characters have strong followings: Audrey's pal/rival Melvin, Hot Stuff's giant friend Stumbo, and the Onion (Richie Rich's nemesis).

Sadly ignored, however, is one whimsical man who surfaced occasionally in Little Audrey's exploits: her neighbor, Mr. Bungleton, the man who inspired this blog's URL and who basks in his glory in the top image. Who or what is Mr. Bungleton? Well, he's no relation to 1920s comic strip character Bungleton Green, for starters. His history is cloaked in shadows, not least because no known Harvey history article to date has even dared mention his name, lest all other character's pale beside his brilliance. Well, perhaps not, but constructing a Bungleton chronology from a handful of scattered issues, from 1967 throughj 1970, is a tricky task. The gaps, however, leave open tantalzing possibilities of Bungleton brilliance which has yet to be discovered. So settle back and discover the true nature of the Bungleton.

Despite the amusing name, Mr. Bungleton's early appearances are as a fairly standard foil to Audrey or others, a plot device background neighbor much like those who surrounded Donna Reed. He wasn't always a cheerful pixie-like man either. The earliest known example (to this Bungletonian, anyway) comes from Playful Little Audrey #72 (October 1967). This one-page gag features Mr. Bungleton as a fairly non-descript neighbor/victim of Audrey's playfullness (and frankly absurd circumstances).

So in this early appearance, what can we say of Mr. Bungleton? He's elderly, has a slight paunch, and cheerfully addresses Audrey as "Little Neighbor." He's married, and his wife share's a common comic book ailment (with Donald Duck, for one), a willingness to believe that what appears to be a giant insect or bird or animal is so and must be exterminated. It probably reflects deep-seated insecurities or a traumatic encounter with an exterminator or something in her past. As for the mister himself, like most adults in the Audreyverse, he's easily sucked into a frankly absurd happening. His most interesting traits at this stage are his willingness to help (which in itself isn't especially notable at this point) and a penchant for orange sweaters and porkpie hats. Not the most fascinating addition to the pantheon at this point, but then again, his fellows include Echo and Tiny. Even Audrey's parents (last name: Smith) are pretty dull, especially in comparison to Little Lulu's pop in the best John Stanley stories. But fate and the Harvey editors had not tired of Mr. Bungleton yet.

We next catch up with our hero almost two years later, in March 1969. He appears in Playful Little Audrey #87 in the five page story "Space Happy."

So Mr. Bungleton has gained a little weight and temporarily abandoned the orange shirt. And he finds himself tied to a tree, perhaps suggesting how his own comics career was so far hindered, bound to limited roles and bland actions which did not justify his whimsical name. He hasn't even bungled to date, he's just been victimized.

And the victimizer is his own grandson, Bucky, a typical Harvey male brat. So the family picture is somewhat enlarged. The rest of the story has Bucky physically abusing his grandfather as much as possible, claiming it's preparing him for the rigors of space travel. Audrey's dander is up: "I hate to see that kid take advantage of Mr. Bungleton's soft-heartedness!" Audrey almost inexplicably solves the problem by talking to Bucky about space and how the planets move (and not suggesting that abusing a grandparent could cost him some Christmas gifts in the future). This leads to the following utterance:

My friend Harry McCracken has always maintained that the Famous Studios theme songs lie. If one applies the Audrey theme song to this comic, we have irrevocable proof, because frankly, there *isn't* a lot of sense to what Little Audrey had to say.

Ah, but what of Mr. Bungleton, you may well ask? We shall continue his career trajectory in our next installment.

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