7 Bizarre Early Versions of Famous Cartoon Characters
We've all tried to reinvent ourselves. Whether it's growing an awesome mustache right before you head off to college, shaving off your lame mustache right after graduating from college or re-growing that mustache during your mid-life crisis -- change is a natural part of life. Fictional characters are no different: Dissatisfied and bored with themselves, they're constantly revising and reworking their images in a vain attempt at happiness. Some of the best-loved characters of today are practically unrecognizable from their original forms:
Scrooge McDuck Was a Genocidal Maniac
In the 64 years since he was first introduced in Donald Duck comics, Uncle Scrooge has become one of Disney's most popular and beloved characters -- taking his three rosy-cheeked nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie on adventures through space, time, space-time and occasionally puberty.
But in the Beginning:
Scrooge was a genocidal madman.
Most ducks can't pull off the whole "pantsless mass murderer" look. Scrooge McDuck is not most ducks.
Scrooge's first appearance was in the Donald Duck story "Christmas on Bear Mountain," where he's shown as a miserable old man spending Christmas alone and marinating in hatred in a giant, empty mansion.
It's almost like his name is some sort of reference to something ...
A few issues later, in the story "Voodoo Hoodoo," Scrooge is visited by two disenfranchised characters from his past, seeking revenge: the ridiculously named Foola Zoola, an African witch doctor, sorcerer and chief of the Voodoo tribe who tries to put a curse on the old Scottish duck, and Bombie the Zombie, his outlandishly racist undead pal.
Have you ever wondered how Scrooge got so rich? Wise investments? Novel inventions? Shrewd business practices? Nope: He made all of his money by "hiring a mob of thugs" to destroy Zoola's African village. Then he convinced Zoola to sell the land to him in order to establish a brutal colonial rubber plantation.
Nothing impresses small children like destroying entire cultures.
Yep -- lovable old Scrooge McDuck was essentially a Robert Mugabe analogue. It wasn't until the 1950s that Scrooge was toned down from a psychotic villain to the fowl version of Indiana Jones' dad. He spends the bulk of his modern comic time on swashbuckling adventures, treasure hunting, saving the day and teaching his boys valuable lessons -- but only when he's not busy literally wallowing in money soaked in the blood of indigenous peoples.
They tried editing out the racism in later printings, but the Internet never forgets.
Alfred from Batman Was a Shitty Detective
Batman's stodgy English butler/adoptive father, Alfred Pennyworth has stood by Bruce Wayne's side since childhood, protecting his secret identity and providing the occasional dry quip nestled within sage advice. Alfred is a dignified kind of badass: Batman's father figure, his conscience and his only confidante.
Some men want to burn the world. Others just want to tidy up afterward.
But in the Beginning:
For starters, Alfred didn't raise Bruce Wayne from childhood after his parents were murdered. In fact, he didn't make his first appearance in the comics until Batman No. 16. Things seemed to be going pretty well for the Dark Knight at this point -- he's dealt with his grief via fancy pajamas and ultra-violence, nurtured a questionable relationship with a young boy and sank most of his family fortune into animal-themed vehicles. So why hire an advice-giving butler? Because he was so damn funny, of course!
Alfred was originally introduced as the dimwitted comic relief: He was a tubby, bumbling, would-be detective that Batman and Robin were constantly saving from his own incompetence while giggling behind his back.
The notion of death means little to the boy who fights crime in green panties.
It was Alfred's father Jarvis who served the Waynes his whole life and, on his deathbed, asked his son to carry on this tradition. Apparently Gotham City was working on the caste system back then, because sure enough, Alfred inherited his father's shitty job cleaning up after flamboyant mental patients. Alfred was given a special feature in every issue (up until Batman No. 36), where he would make his own bungling, foolish attempt to solve a mystery like Batman. At the end of every story, he would solve the case by accident, everybody would have a good laugh and the feeling of accomplishment would keep the gun out of Alfred's mouth for another week or so.
"Our fun's over. Go get the shovels, old chum."
Dino from The Flintstones Could Talk
Dino was the Stone Age equivalent of a dog. He made children believe that owning a dinosaur in real life would be just like owning a puppy, and not a prehistoric monster that would probably eat all your neighbors' pets and then die because his immune system couldn't handle contemporary bacteria.
You'd be surprised how much antibacterial soap these guys can go through.
But in the Beginning:
In his first appearance on The Flintstones, Dino could talk ... even though everyone watching probably wished he couldn't. In the episode "The Snorkasaurus Story," Fred and Barney go hunting and encountered a wild, talking Snorkasaurus (Dino), who easily outwitted them -- much like Bugs Bunny, except in a way that's far less charming or amusing.
"What the? He's right there, guys! Look up! Ha ha! This is a good time, isn't it?" -- Nobody
Since this is a Hanna-Barbera cartoon, Dino's voice had to be a bad impression of a 1950s celebrity. Huckleberry Hound sounds like Andy Griffith, Snagglepuss is Bert Lahr and Dino, for obvious reasons, is Phil Silvers.
This man's face screams "prehistoric monster."
After Fred and Barney failed to beat the dinosaur to death with their clubs, Dino accidentally encountered Betty and Wilma, who took pity on the horrid amalgamation of lizard and man, and rescued him.
The episode ends with Dino apparently becoming their butler; ironing clothes, answering phones and singing joyfully.
The lighter side of unpaid domestic slavery!
Since Dino never spoke again, a lot of Flintstone purists (yes, there is such a thing. A sad, sad thing) claim that this dinosaur wasn't Dino at all, citing such credible sources as The Flintstone Kids, which features Fred and Dino as children. But in the final minutes of the episode, Wilma proves all of these theories wrong, when she and Betty clearly call the Snorkasaurus "Dino." Every other episode afterward featured the dinosaur acting like a dog, and not an effete manservant.
To us, the answer is clear: The Flintstones obviously lobotomized all of their servants in order to keep them docile and to prevent uprisings.
Kermit the Frog Killed Dudes
Everybody's favorite mild mannered Muppet, Kermit the Frog, has been the centerpiece of the Muppets cast since their inception. His timid nature makes him a natural straight man to the zany antics of characters like Miss Piggy, Fozzie Bear and Gonzo. Over the course of multiple TV series and cameo-stuffed feature films, Kermit was the boring paste that held the explosive Muppets together.
It really is rather difficult being green.
But in the Beginning:
Proto-Kermit was a coffee-loving sadist.
Jim Henson has been fiddling around with puppets for much longer than most people realize. It's easy to associate the Muppets with the 1970s because they were constantly on TV and in movies, and also because everybody was so drugged up that you could re-cast the whole decade with talking puppets and nobody would bat an eyelash. But the Muppets have actually been around since the 1950s, when Henson was doing early, abbreviated work with a five-minute TV series called Sam & Friends and a series of 10-second commercials for Wilkins Instant Coffee. The latter starred an early incarnation of Kermit the Frog named "Wilkins." He didn't look exactly like Kermit, yet -- but he was green, vaguely frog-shaped and his speaking voice sounded like somebody strangling a Minnesotan that just ate an entire pot of melted cheese.
Here's Kermit, murdering a young athlete.
The first ad has Wilkins (proto-Kermit) asking a dumpy-looking Muppet named Wotkins if he likes Wilkins Coffee. The other Muppet answers, "No," so Kermit shoots him with a cannon. He then turns to the camera and asks the audience, now unwitting accomplices to Muppet murder, if they like Wilkins Coffee. The implication being that Kermit the Frog will murder you as well if you don't shell out the cash. That's right: The first Muppet was a murderous extortionist.
Kermit: Pro-torture, as long as they're confirmed "bad guys."
Over the course of the rest of the ads, Kermit tortures his unsuspecting friend by pushing him out of a tree, shoving him out of a hot air balloon, smashing him with hammers, stabbing him, throwing knives at him, trampling him with horses, drowning him, running him over with a steamroller and finally giving up all pretense of wacky comedy shenanigans and just straight-up shooting him with a pistol.
Like any other organic life-form, the Muppets needed to evolve to stay competitive. As Jim Henson and company kept experimenting with their characters, Kermit changed from a generic green sock to a lizard and finally to a frog. Now he plays the straight man to the rest of the Muppet cast, suffering their slings and arrows with good-natured humor ... until one day, they'll push him too far, and he'll show them, oh yes. He'll show them all what it's truly like to be victimized.
Kermit the goddamn lizard, everybody. You can pick your jaws up at the door.
Blondie Was Almost Sex in the City
Blondie is like a 50s TV Sitcom that somebody forgot to cancel. Despite being the title character, Blondie plays the background role of a diminutive housewife while Dagwood, the main character, eats "hilariously" large sandwiches and naps on the couch. It's hackish and irrelevant today, but at least they stuck to their guns -- such as it is, such it always shall be.
Above: The only universal constant.
But in the Beginning:
Blondie was originally the strip's focal point, they just never bothered to change the title. She wasn't married to Dagwood at all; it was just a strip about a single girl living it up in the city. The series began in the early 30s, and Blondie was a "flapper chick" with the dignified last name of Boopadoop.
She was always better than Dagwood deserved.
The story revolved around her over-the-top hedonistic adventures and glamorous social life. So why the change?
Because the stock market crashed the year before the series debuted.
It was a devastating time for comics. And also people, probably.
Newspaper readers weren't exactly interested in the misadventures of a fun-loving single girl in the glitzy city, who liked having rich gentlemen callers. They bought the paper to read the news, look for jobs and maybe boil it later to add much-needed texture to their shoe-leather burritos. So the series was reformatted, and Blondie's beau at the time of the change, Dagwood Bumstead, asked her to marry him so they could settle down. But there was a problem: Even Dagwood was originally a wealthy socialite and they first had to bankrupt the pair. The ensuing storyline had Dagwood's parents disowning the couple because they considered Blondie a skank, well below their social standing.
Now that Dagwood was on his own financially, he got a mid-level job working for Mr. Dithers, he and Blondie got hitched, and his wacky, eating-disorder hijinks became the series' main focus. It says a lot about the priorities of the time: People were so despondent that, even in fantasy, they couldn't set their sights higher than a steady, crappy job, a comfortable couch and a giant sandwich.
Wow! That's a story I can relate to! Tell us about the bread again, mister ...
Popeye Was a Minor Side Character to Olive Oyl
Popeye is the ultimate underdog and the champion of everyone's least-favorite canned vegetable. We all know the basic premise of a Popeye the Sailor Man short: Popeye tries to woo the rail-thin Olive Oyl, Bluto (professional bully at large) beats Popeye up and kidnaps Olive Oyl, Popeye eats some spinach and beats Bluto nearly to death.
Remember kids, hurting people will make women love you.
But in the Beginning:
The comic strip that originated Popeye actually had nothing to do with him. The strip in question was called Thimble Theater and didn't feature the titular sailor at all. It did, however, feature Olive Oyl, her brother Castor and her boyfriend Harold Hamgravy (later shortened to just Ham Gravy). Seriously, this is just getting sad -- people were really hungry back then.
Even the villains just wanted a modest meal.
Ten years into Thimble Theater's run, Ham and Castor set out on a trip to an island casino. They needed a boat that needed a sailor, and that's where they first encountered Popeye. Popeye played a minor role in the story: He got the pair to the casino and then was shot by gangsters in the process, presumably never to be seen again.
Get this man his own strip!
Popeye was only intended to be a one-off character -- a means to get Ham and Castor to the island and nurture some cheap drama. But reader reaction to the burly curmudgeon was so positive that he was brought back and given an expanded role. Thimble Theater's popularity sky rocketed, Castor was given the axe, Olive was relegated to the background and Ham Gravy changed his name and went on to become President of these United States.
Beetle Bailey Wasn't in the Army
Beetle Bailey is a sad sack of a soldier who is perpetually stuck in basic training, and often physically abused by Drill Sergeant Snorkel. Somehow that's supposed to be funny, and not the first half of Full Metal Jacket.
But in the Beginning:
It had nothing to do with the Army. Though Bailey was always the title character, his original moniker was "Spider," and the strip was about the wacky shenanigans of a kid going to college.
The standards for "wacky shenanigans" were a lot lower back then.
So what happened? Well, early on in the series, Beetle "accidentally" joined the Army. This was meant to be a one-off storyline poking fun at military life. But with America just entering into the Korean War at the time, Beetle's military antics proved especially popular -- so it was decided he would not return to school after all. He was stuck in the Army, against his will.
With a depressing use of reverse psychology
Since enduring the horrors of war isn't exactly "wacky," Beetle is a member of the only infantry unit to never leave basic training. It's not exactly exploring new ground by trying to find humor amidst violence and tragedy -- it's just a constant rehashing of old gags with Army life as little more than a novel backdrop. Though credit should be given: Beetle Bailey is, to this day, the only comic strip based on the complete and permanent destruction of a child's dreams for a better life.
Aside from Family Circus, of course.
And pick up our book because it'll show you how to reinvent yourself as a smart person.
For more insane origin stories, check out 5 Classic Board Games With Disturbing Origin Stories and 7 Shockingly Dark Origins of Lovable Children's Characters.
And stop by Linkstorm to see what Swaim looked like before he was repackaged as a hip funny man.
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