Napoleon and Uncle Elby
Napoleon and Uncle Elby was a popular syndicated newspaper comic strip created by Clifford McBride. Over a span of 29 years it was distributed by three different syndicates to both American and foreign newspapers. By the mid-1940s, the strip was carried by 80 newspapers.
While drawing such features as McBride's Cartoon (1927) and Clifford McBride's Pantomime Comic (1932), McBride introduced Elby, a character based on his uncle, Wisconsin lumberman Henry Elba Eastman. He soon began to add situations involving Elby's dog, Napoleon.
For a minor syndicate, LaFave Newspaper Features, McBride began Napoleon as a daily strip on June 6, 1932, reaching a wider audience once he connected with the McNaught Syndicate. His Sunday strip was added in 1933, and the following year, the title was changed to Napoleon and Uncle Elby.
Characters and story
Comics historian Don Markstein described the characters:
- Napoleon was a big, clumsy, ungainly dog, most likely an approximation of an Irish wolfhound. As dogs go, he had a remarkably broad facial range, able to convey surprise, dismay, haughty disdain, grudging satisfaction and much more, as recognizable to readers as the expressions of any human character, and yet completely dog-like in every panel. Napoleon's alleged "master", Uncle Elby, was no more able to impose his will on the dog than was Si Keeler on Maud the Mule. The difference was that Maud acted out of pure orneriness, whereas Napoleon was just playful, headstrong, and not overly concerned about any damage he might cause. Uncle Elby wasn't quite what you'd call elderly, but getting pretty close. He was overweight and kind of fussy, just the sort of guy who would be most disconcerted by the antics of a dog like Napoleon — whom he clearly loved, no matter how hard it was to deal with the beast, or how upset he became as a result of those antics. Other than Napoleon, Uncle Elby lived alone, but his young nephew, Willie, was also part of the cast.
Licensing and merchandising
Napoleon became a spokesdog during the 1940s for Red Heart Dog Food. Merchandising included a stuffed toy of Napoleon. Although Napoleon was an Irish Wolfhound, McBride's own dog was Ace, a 190-pound St. Bernard, who sometimes was used for promotional purposes with McBride, including two short films, Unusual Occupations (1941) and Artist's Antics (1946).
McBride's assistant on the strip was former Disney artist Roger Armstrong (1917–2007). After McBride's 1951 death in Altadena, California, his second wife, Margot Fischer McBride, wrote the strip, and she hired Armstrong as the illustrator. In 1952, the team switched to the Mirror Enterprises Syndicate in Los Angeles, keeping the strip going for the next eight years.
Joseph Messerli drew the strip from 1953 to 1956. Another artist who worked on Napoleon was Ed Nofziger. The strip ended in 1961.
- Clifford McBride’s Immortal Napoleon and Uncle Elby. 1932.
- Napoleon and Uncle Elby Clifford McBride. 1945.
- Napoleon: A Complete Compilation, 1932-1933. Clifford McBride. Introduction by Jack Herbert. Westport, Connecticut: Hyperion Press, 1977.