Here we have one of the best-known creations of a true giant of the comics field's genesis. F. Opper was already a famous cartoonist by the time he entered the newspaper game in 1899, as a cartoonist and illustrator for many 19th century humor magazines, including an eighteen-year stint at the seminal Puck.
Then, just before the turn of the century, he was hired by Hearst to work for the New York Journal, and he remained an employee of Hearst for the next thirty years. In this time, Opper created many strips, as well as editorial cartoons by the score. But it was one of his first creations for Hearst that proved to be his most enduring.
Happy Hooligan is a tramp, a disheveled idiot with a tin-can chapeau, who manages to get into scrape after scrape, often ending with his removal by the constabulary. Despite his mile-long rap sheet, Hooligan is almost always completely blameless in his actions, harassed more for his lack of means than for any real meanness, and in fact is often only trying to offer his help to those in need. A true everyman and underdog, it's easy to see why he was so beloved of newspaper readers for so long.
Along with Alphonse & Gaston, these strips provide a wonderful insight into Opper's progressive world view, where manners and respectability are shown to be shallow and neuter, while the poorest in society are noble and put-upon. Of course, these observations would be rendered superfluous if the strips themselves weren't so well rendered and so amusing. In reading these strips, you're taking a journey back to the very heart of American newspaper comics, to see for yourself the wellspring from which so many later artists have drunk to such wonderful effect.
By F. Opper