Chic Jackson was an early 20th-century U.S. newspaper cartoonist, most famous for his signature series 'Roger Bean' (1913-1934). It was one of the earliest comics to revolve around a family. Jackson furthermore had all episodes follow a continuity, including having the characters age. In this sense it was the first soap opera in the comics world. At the time 'Roger Bean' was nationally syndicated and quite beloved among readers. However, Jackson's early death not only terminated his hit series, but also had the unfortunate effect of making it fade away in obscurity.

Early life and career
Charles Jackson was born in 1876 in Muncie, Indiana. At age two his mother died. After dropping out of high school he took jobs in a steel mill, a shoe factory, a grocery store, a printing office, a bolt factory and malleable iron foundry. Around 1902 he worked as an illustrator and cartoonist for the Muncie News, when the paper merged with The Muncie Star. This motivated him to take up studying again and in 1906 he went to the Chicago Art Institute, albeit only for a year. In 1907 he became a lay-out artist and illustrator for The Indianapolis Star. In 1918 he was drafted in the U.S. Army to serve his country during the First World War. 

Roger Bean
At the request of his editors, Jackson created a newspaper comic, 'Roger Bean', of which the first episode was published on 22 April 1913. The series started off as a typical newspaper comic about a married couple. Roger Bean and his wife Smith were the main characters. In the fall of 1913 the couple hired a housemaid, Golduh Stubbins, who would became the series' breakout character. The redheaded Golduh "from Bucyrus, Ohio" had a tendency to make vigorous wisecracks. Readers loved her sarcastic and often blunt remarks, except for people who actually lived in Bucyrus. Jackson would only visit the city in 1931 and just picked it out at random. He never had any intent to mock the local people. 

Some episodes later, Mr. and Mrs. Probe made their debut, followed by Uncle Castor in 1914. On 25 December 1914 the Beans found a baby at their doorstep, whom they adopted as their own son. At the time comics characters weren't allowed to have children of their own, because this would imply sexual intercourse. Many early 20th-century comics therefore made child characters adopted orphans or nephews of the protagonist. The Beans named their boy Woodrow, often shortened to "Woody", named after the then current U.S. President Woodrow Wilson. One reader actually cancelled his subscription because he was outraged over the fact that a comics character was named after the President. Later the Beans adopted a girl too, Cynthia. As the series continued several other side characters made their debut, such as police officer Clarence Eltinge, Jose the African-American laundry maid, Buck, Joey, Uncle Wash, Mr. Burleson... 

Roger Bean by Chic Jackson

Success and historical importance
While 'Roger Bean' wasn't the first family comic in history, it was the first to actually catch on nationwide and run for many decades with the same success as nowadays a TV sitcom or a soap. It also marked the start of an evolution in newspaper comics. Before, most 19th-century and early-20th century comics relied heavily on formulaic slapstick, with people getting fooled or hurt as the main punchline. 'Roger Bean' didn't shy away from such jokes either, but nevertheless focused more on verbal comedy, much like a vaudeville theater sketch. 'Roger Bean' was one of the earliest newspaper comics to evolve to more sophisticated comedy. The series had its own set of running gags, again much like a present-day sitcom. Roger Bean would complain about not being served breakfast, his next-door neighbour would criticize him, Golduh Stubbins would say something outrageous,... Jackson saw humor in common, every-day events. His own family and neighbourhood gave him a neverending supply of ideas. For instance: the Beans lived at 3029 Denver Road in Indianapolis, which happened to be his own house number on Broadway. As the decades passed by other humorous newspaper comics would follow his example. 

The series' gentle, charming humour appealed to many readers who enjoyed its recognizability. They followed the daily events in the Beans' life like modern-day people follow a TV series. In fact, 'Roger Bean' was the first comic strip opera, long before the genre became a staple of radio and television. Jackson was even the first comics artist to let his characters age. Woody and Cynthia actually grew into young adults, with Woody attending college by the time 'Baron Bean' celebrated its 20th anniversary. Most cartoonists prefer to have their characters remain at the same age. The only other US newspaper comic strips who let their characters age have been Winsor McCay's 'The Story of Hungry Henrietta' (1905), the still-running 'Gasoline Alley' (1918) by Frank King and 'Prince Valiant' (1929) by Hal Foster, Milton Caniff's 'Terry and the Pirates' (1934-1946), Garry Trudeau's 'Doonesbury' (1968), Tom Batiuk's 'Funky Winterbean' (1972), Lynn Johnston's 'For Better or For Worse' (1979), Robb Armstrong's 'Jump Start' (1989) and Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott's 'Baby Blues' (1990).

Jackson went far to maintain this recognizability. For instance: he originally intended the Bean's daughter Cynthia to be a Canadian orphan and actually travelled to the country for inspiration. However, when he found out that an orphan of that age could never be passed over to the international line, he had her originate from the U.S. North instead. His readers criticized him too whenever he made a mistake. Jackson took this criticism as a compliment, as it proved how much his fans were moved by his comic strip. Whenever Golduh Stubbins made another brickbats remark, the artist received literal bricks in his mail, lovingly dedicated to the character. Other readers sent striped stockings like Golduh's and chew tobacco, in reference to Uncle Wash, the character who regularly chews "My Lady's Slipper" tobacco in the series. 

Readers of the Indianapolis Star loved the feature and after a while 'Roger Bean' was syndicated in the U.S. Midwest through the Laura Leonard Newspaper Service. By 1925 George Matthew Adams Service syndicated it further to larger national newspapers. One of its celebrity fans was poet James Whitcomb Riley (whose 'Little Orphant Annie' would later inspire Harold Gray's comic strip 'Little Orphan Annie'). Between 1915 and 1923 a 'Roger Bean' coffee brand came about. Band leader Charlie Davis composed a 1929 song titled 'Golduh'. In 1931 'Baron Bean' was adapted into an audio play, broadcast on WFBM, Indianapolis Power and Light Company radio station. Two years later a jigsaw puzzle was made around the characters. 

Death, legacy and influence
On 3 June 1934 Jackson suddenly had a heart attack a few feet away from his office door and died on the spot. Since he still had a few episodes prepared beforehand, the final episode only appeared in print on 23 June 1934. But after that date 'Roger Bean' was discontinued forever, because Jackson had always worked without assistants. With the passing of time, 'Roger Bean' has faded away in obscurity, while other series which were clearly inspired by it, such as 'The Gumps' by Sidney Smith and especially Frank King's 'Gasoline Alley', have largely taken it out of the spotlight. 

Roger Bean by Chic Jackson

Roger Bean blog on Stripper's Guide

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