The Air at the Top of the Bottle

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Tillie the Toiler

May 9th, 2016 · 3 Comments

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“Tillie the Toiler” was once a popular comic strip, and held forth on newspaper comics pages from 1921 to 1959. It inspired books, movies, and pinbacks (as you can see above).

It was drawn by Russ Westover, who, like many cartoonists, had worked his way up to a daily strip through the sports page. Tillie was one of several strips that featured working women (“Winnie Winkle” being the most popular).

“Tillie the Toiler” has been mostly ignored by comics historians, and has not been reprinted. The only reason I bring it up is because I recently found a stack of dailies in an antique store. It contains 281 strips, covering all of 1930 except for October (and Sundays). I don’t know why October isn’t included. One week in September is obviously ghosted, so maybe October was ghosted too, and the original collector only wanted to save Westover.

Although I’d read that Tillie’s appeal was that she was an independent, working woman, that was not the case in 1930. The main premise of the strip is that Tillie is vain, superficial, irresponsible, and lazy, but that men adore her anyway. In the course of the year, she ruins her own business by excessive spending on clothes, and by neglecting the business to party with any “good-looking man” she meets. Her supposed boyfriend, Mac, puts up with her callous treatment, which includes destroying his car and breaking dates with him at the last moment. She often asks him to drive her to dates with other men, or to take calls from her boyfriends when she’s out dancing with another of them. But she’s supposed to be pretty, so I guess nobody cares that she’s such an asshole.

At any rate, Westover’s art is breezy and appealing. Here’s a sample, showing Tillie, her new boyfriend Ken, Mac, fellow stenographer Bubbles, and her boss, Mr. Simpkins. Then, as now, the ukulele was controversial.

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(Posted by Doug Skinner)

Tags: Cartoons · Ukulele

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Mamie // May 23, 2016 at 1:17 am

    She’s not a very nice girlfriend.

  • 2 Doug // May 24, 2016 at 7:19 am

    Mac is too good for her.

  • 3 mamie // May 24, 2016 at 11:57 am

    I know a few single gals I could set up with him.

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