Dean Young and Denis LeBrun, Creators of Blondie

9 January 2004

   The Bumsteads have been entertaining readers of the funny pages for over 73 years - and have kept their endearing delightful qualities throughout. Though they have evolved, they are still the same familiar and beloved characters as when the Blondie comic strip began. Blondie’s hairdo and figure are as attractive as ever and Dagwood’s amusing view of life always brings a chuckle. They haven’t aged much at all since their kids Alexander and Cookie were born, grew into adventurous children and passed through those troublesome but comical teen years. The younger characters are now almost grown themselves.

    As a successful cartoonist, originator Murat “Chic” Young already had ten years of cartooning experience before he brought Blondie into design. King Features danced Blondie into syndication on September 8, 1930. The comic strip featured young Blondie Boopadoop and her life as a pretty but not-so-brainy flapper girl in the 30s. Chic’s theme for the strip changed when he added the wealthy Dagwood Bumstead as one of Blondie’s many boyfriends and she decided to marry him. The grand comics wedding event took place on February 17, 1933.

    Unfortunately, Dagwood’s family did not appreciate his beautiful new bride from the lower classes of society and he was stripped of his inheritance. Thus began the suburban workaday life for the Bumstead family.

young

    Chic Young was born in Chicago, 1901. He married Athel, a concert harpist and they had a daughter and a son, Dean. Dean was born in Flushing, New York and raised in California and Florida. He graduated in 1960 with a BA in Business Administration from La Grange College in Georgia and entered the working world with hopes of having his own advertising agency. He was employed as an account executive and sales promotion executive at two companies.

    In 1963, Dean's father called on him to assist with the creation of Blondie. It was just what the young man needed. Dean said in his blondie.com bio that when his father “suggested that I come back home and work on the comic strip with him, I couldn’t get packed quickly enough.” *(1)

    The gifted father taught the fresh cartoonist the business of laughter, including both the drawing and the writing of Blondie. Along with their artistic assistants, the father-son team worked together for a decade, until Chic’s death in 1973. Shortly after Chic’s death, hundreds of newspapers suddenly dropped the feature. Somewhat overwhelmed, Dean gathered up his strength and writing humour to carry on with the comic strip. The newspapers picked up the strip again and many more signed up as Blondie blossomed under Dean’s care. He has collaborated with several artists, beginning with his father's long-time assistant, Jim Raymond. Upon Jim’s death in 1989, Stan Drake took over as artist of Blondie while continuing his own cartooning work on “Juliet Jones.” Stan died in 1997, leaving the job of head artist open for his graphic assistant, Denis LeBrun.

    Denis LeBrun is a skilled cartoonist with a body of editorial cartooning to his credit. Acquainted with Dean since 1977, he began his work on the strip in 1981, producing the lettering and background art under the direction of Stan Drake. In drawing the Bumstead family and the full cast of Blondie characters, Denis keeps to the exacting standards set by his predecessors. His freedom comes with the walk-on extras. “Some of the most fun I have is drawing the incidental characters,” said Denis on comics.com in 1998. “I get a chance to draw some pretty whacky characters that show up at the Bumstead’s front door or as employees at Dagwood’s office.”

    The schedule for the seven-days-a-week Blondie strip takes up an exhausting 50 to 60 hours a week for Denis, and more if there are urgent merchandising deadlines looming. He uses Pelican Drawing Ink with a Hunt 103 or Gillott 1290 nib, and a filed-down Speedball A-5 for the lettering. The artist and his assistant, Jeff Parker (also an editorial cartoonist in his own right) use the slender .05mm technical drawing pencil on Strathmore 2-Ply Plate Finish paper. “Chic Young and Jim Raymond used to whittle and shape a normal pencil using a knife and sandpaper to get a nice fine point,” Denis noted. *(2)

    The Blondie creators make use of their computers with Photoshop and Illustrator to colour and enhance the comic strip. Dean and Denis enjoy the speed of sending their ideas back and forth to each other by internet and the ease of forwarding their final strips to the King Features Syndicate.

    Keeping Blondie up to date is an ongoing mission for Dean. In 1990, Blondie began a new career by opening a busy catering business with her friend Tootsie. The change caused an uproar with Dagwood in the comic and in the news media, with items appearing on front pages of magazines and newspapers, plus segments on television. Dagwood also has been updated, to position of Webmaster of the J.C. Dithers Construction Company.

    At the same time, the expected and comfortable daily life of Blondie is kept intact – Blondie caring for her family and friends, Dagwood napping on the couch and at his desk on the job, making his huge Dagwood sandwiches and smacking face-first into the mailman as he runs out the door, late for work.

    Dean Young and his wife Charlotte enjoy spending time in Florida in activities such as sponsoring powerboat teams, spearfishing and golf. Dean has been a ten-time Florida Spearfishing Champion; Denis LeBrun and his wife Michelle live in Florida. They have two grown children, Courtney and Devin and a younger daughter, Mariah, about age 10.

    Blondie holds the revered position as one of the most popular comic strips in the world. The cartoon appears in more than 2,300 newspapers in 55 countries. It is translated into 33 languages for the enjoyment of more than a quarter-billion fans. The National Cartoonists Society awarded the Reuben to originator Chic Young in 1949 for Cartoonist of the Year. Blondie has been made into TV specials, comic books, comics anthologies, postage stamps and into a huge number of merchandise items. One of the more recent claims to fame is the Blondie’s Deli at Toon Lagoon, part of Universal Studio’s Islands of Adventure Park in Orlando, Florida. On September 8, 2003, the 70th anniversary of Blondie was marked in New York at the Super Boat Grand Prix, where the Blondie boat raced to 1st Place.

    While Blondie is the star of the comic strip with her youthful charm, beauty and business skills, Dagwood Bumstead himself has earned distinction. His famous, eclectic "Dagwood" sandwiches are even listed in the dictionary!

See the Blondie home site for information, games and a contest to create a Blondie strip.
*(1) http://www.blondie.com/

Catch the Blondie daily comic at King Features:
http://www.kingfeatures.com/features/comics/blondie/about.htm

Photos of the Blondie boat in 2000 New York Super Boat Grand Prix:
http://www.kingfeatures.com/pressrm/gallery_blondie.htm

© Susanna McLeod 2004
TheCartoonists.ca  
     
(Originally published in The Cartoonists on suite101.com.)