As I’ve said before, the Boston Herald‘s comic section was remarkably consistent in favoring style over substance. Most of the features were very well drawn but so badly written that there was hardly a guffaw or a chortle to be found in a whole stack of comic sections.
A rare exception to the rule is today’s obscurity, a truly brilliant feature by Leighton Budd. Every Move a Picture, Yours Truly the Tumblebug Brothers is a graphical masterwork that succeeds as a work of humor as well. It isn’t laugh out loud funny, and isn’t really meant to be, but every strip is guaranteed to bring a smile to your face and warm your heart.
The ‘plot’ is simplicity itself. A set of contortionist triplets spies someone who is bored or unhappy, and they use their unique skills to lighten the mood. When not performing one of their acrobatic tricks the brothers stay strictly in lockstep, which contributes much to the unique graphic flavor of the strip. The art is remarkably clean and fluid, modernistic and streamlined, a real anomaly in newspaper comic sections of the day. Newspaper cartoonists of the time fell mostly into two camps — the Crudes, who dashed off their features with no thought to design, anatomy or much of anything, and the Fussies, who tried to replicate the mannered, formal styles from Puck, Judge and Life. Budd (himself a Puck alumnus) rejected both schools in this remarkable strip.
The feature ran in the Boston Herald from May 6 to September 16 1906, just about the right amount of time for a feature like this in my opinion. Although lovely to look at, the feature was certainly repetitive and eventually would have devolved into the sort of feature one only quickly glances at to see what formation the brothers create this week. As it is, the Tumblebug Brothers took their final bow while readers still enjoyed the novelty. Always leave ’em wanting more. Unfortunately, this was the one and only continuing feature that Leighton Budd produced for newspapers, so the public’s desire for more was left unfulfilled.
Information on Budd is hard to come by, but he was a mainstay at the satirical magazine Puck, and later went on to direct animated films in the mid-1910s. According to J.R. Bray, Budd by this time was a heavy drinker and, at least in his estimation, the resultant films were crude offerings. Perhaps fittingly, the latest work I can find for Leighton Budd are the illustrations in a 1931 book of cocktail recipes.
A triple tip of the hat to Cole Johnson for providing the three (natch) samples above.