By George Studdy, with an introduction by Mary Cadogan (Hawk Books)
The history of popular culture is studded with anthropomorphic animals that have achieved legendary, almost talismanic status. Mickey Mouse, Tiger Tim, Garfield, Smokey (the) Bear, Bonzo…
If that latter causes a puzzled frown that’s a shame because for a while this playful, charming dog-of-dubious-pedigree was a British animorph that rivalled Disney’s mouse and duck combined. Only the artistic integrity and creative drive of his creator George Earnest Studdy prevented the mutt from attaining the global domination (and subsequent tawdry commercialisation) of the Disney duo.
Studdy was born in 1878 in Devon of a military family, but a childhood injury prevented him from following that path, and his prodigious artistic talent moved him to an unsatisfactory position as an engineer before he eventually found his niche as an illustrator and animator.
His first artistic success was a series of Boer War pictures of the Royal Artillery, followed by cartoons and illustrations for such comics as Big Budget, Funny Pips, Jester and Wonder and others, plus papers and magazines including The Graphic, The Humorist, Little Folks, London Magazine, Punch, Windsor Magazine, The Tatler, The Bystander, Illustrated London News, The Field and especially The Sketch. A superb general stylist he was most widely known for his animals although he was an early proponent of science fiction themes as well. He worked extensively in the budding field of advertising.
Deemed unfit to fight in the Great War, he pioneered animation propaganda films that are still acclaimed for their quality and effectiveness. He first began producing pictures of a homely, engaging dog for The Sketch in the early 1920s, which were immensely popular. Eventually “the Studdy dog” became a permanent fixture and was christened Bonzo in the November 8th issue of 1922. The luxuriously painted or drawn single panels became a full gag-strip with the talking dog and his long-suffering lady-friend Chee-Kee captivating young and old alike with their playful yet slyly mature antics.
Bonzo was a merchandising miracle of his time, featuring in games, puzzles, toys of all types, figurines, china and dinnerware, cups, cruets and host of other household objects and all manner of advertising campaigns. He even had his own neon sign in Piccadilly Circus.
Although Studdy voluntarily moved on from his creation to create many other pictorial marvels and to serve his country again in WWII as a draughtsman for the Royal Navy, the dog continued under other hands in strips syndicated worldwide by King Features and in a series of wonderful books and annuals. These began in 1935 and continued until 1952, with translations into many foreign editions. For a spectacular view of these you should see the superb websites at http://www.studdying-with-bonzo.co.uk/books.htm and http://www.bonzo.me.uk/ as well as this magical and far too short commemorative edition produced by Mike Higgs under his much-missed Hawk Books imprint.
Funny, charming, brilliantly illustrated, overwhelmingly successful and still as entertaining today as it always were, Bonzo is long overdue for an extensive repackaging job. Until such a happy event this little gem should act as a tantalising taster.
© 1990 the Estate of George Studdy. All Rights Reserved.