The View from On High: Dudley Fisher’s “Right Around Home”
In Right Around Home, readers enjoyed a bird’s-eye view of a fictional all-American neighborhood, an innovative narrative point of view that distinguished the Sunday strip and introduced another character into the dailies. Jonathan Barli profiles Dudley Fisher and his strip readers happily looked down on.
(Originally published in Hogan’s Alley #18)
One can well imagine that angels sprouted their wings in the minds of men to view earthly affairs from a height that even those in a bell-tower could not attain. Centuries later, Dudley Fisher, serving as aerial photographer in World War I and afforded the technological equivalent of wings, was able to witness the world below from the newly crafted perch of a rapidly changing century.
Born in Columbus, Ohio in 1890, Dudley T. Fisher did not intend to stray far from his family’s turf when he entered Ohio State University in 1910 to pursue a career as an architect. Inspired by the mechanical, electrical and civil engineers, professors and school teachers of his formative years, Fisher’s personal blueprints were altered by the complications and discouragements of going to school during the day while holding down a job in a pool hall at night. Visiting friends at the offices of The Columbus Dispatch during his sophomore year, he took a job there when he learned of an opening; although he had done artwork for school publications and loved to draw, Fisher, who had no formal art education, jumped at the chance to become a layout artist. He intended to return to school after the midyear break, but he quickly warmed to his work in the newspaper art department and remained on staff after school resumed.
Likewise, after the war, Fisher returned to the Dispatch art department in 1919 and began a feature, Jolly Jingles, whose style owed far more to the influence of his mentor at the Dispatch, the legendary editorial cartoonist Billy Ireland, than it did the elevated views of his service in the air force. The weekly Jolly Jingles, as its name implies, incorporated rhyming verse; an aspect that eventually grew tiresome for Fisher. For a little more than a year, starting on May 29, 1927, he employed a bird’s-eye view perspective in a regular but short-lived Sunday feature, aptly named Skylarks. Although it occasionally strayed away from home, literally, Skylarks was primarily a locally focused feature to which the cartoonist returned intermittently through the years. On a December day in 1937, after composing Jolly Jingles for more than a decade, Fisher, tired of creating new rhymes (and, perhaps, recalling his aerial days), “rested his rhyme-weary head on his drawing board and dreamed of what Christmas would be like on his grandmother’s farm if he had a grandmother and she had lived on a farm,” as subsequent syndicate promotion told it. “That week, he omitted the jingle and drew the dream.” The new page took the editors by surprise but was popular with readers, and Right Around Home was born.
The large, single-panel feature, which debuted on January 16, 1938, was likely, for the 47-year-old Fisher, a mixture of imagination and a remembrance of things past. Right Around Home was never overtly nostalgic, but invariably had—and still has—that rare ability to evoke feelings of nostalgia from readers not of the time or setting. The era that it depicts, however, is distinct, especially compared with our own self-centered times. In contrast to the me, my and mine culture of today—with its grasping delineations of what is mine and what is yours—the most common possessive pronoun used in Right Around Home is our.
For example, when Fisher drew newly married local sweethearts, they are referred to as “Our Bride and Groom.” The neighborhood is one large family to which the reader feels they belong. And it is worth pointing out that the Home of Fisher’s title refers not to any single residence but instead to a neighborhood; a community. Dudley Fisher’s new creation was not an anomaly of its time; its inclusiveness and sense of mutual destiny shared the same Midwestern sensibility that infused J.R. Williams’ similarly themed (though more nostalgic) Out Our Way and characterized the cartoons of other luminaries like John T. McCutcheon, Frank King, Clare Briggs and Gaar Williams.
The drawing style of Right Around Home evolved from a variation of Ireland’s into one that would influence future generations of cartoonists. The compositions of the strip were concerned with surveying the ground, not with breaking ground. Large, single-panel cartoons went back to the early days of newspaper comics: the Yellow Kid, Jimmy Swinnerton’s Mount Ararat and crowded genre scenes by Walt McDougall, to name a few. In magazine cartoons, Johnny Gruelle’s Yapp’s Crossing, futurist crowd scenes by Harry Grant Dart, the occasional outdoor celebration depicted by Zim and innumerable cartoons by Harrison Cady regularly positioned the reader in a lofty observer’s perch. Dudley Fisher’s command of perspective was preceded by Little Nemo, and Frank King had already used bird’s-eye views in his Gasoline Alley Sunday pages. But whereas King created quiet maps of time by installing “windows” over a single scene, Fisher’s single panel was a loud thunderclap of fervid activity and overlapping conversations.