On February 10, 1915, the comic strip "Dok's Dippy Duck" debuts in The Seattle Times. Created by Times cartoonist John "Dok" Hager (1858-1932), the duck is based on the sidekick who accompanies Hager's main character, Umbrella Man, in the paper's daily weather forecast. The duck, nicknamed Kid, is a cigarette-smoking, mischief-making, ladies-loving, wise-to-the-world wonder. He will inspire stand-up routines and at least one geography contest in Seattle during the late 1910s and early 1920s, and bring many a laugh before fading away in 1923.
A Duck is Born
John Ross Hager was born in Terre Haute, Indiana, in 1858. He was a dentist in his first career, and continued his practice for several years after he moved to Seattle in 1899. However, he'd been interested in being a cartoonist for years, and it turned out that his talent matched his interest. In 1906 Hager joined The Seattle Times as a cartoonist, and soon gave up his dental practice entirely.
In November 1909 Hager's weather-comic character, Umbrella Man, debuted in the Times. The character was drawn directly from life: Hager's cartoons accurately depicted well-known Seattle eccentric Robert W. Patten (1832-1913), a Civil War veteran who invented, and frequently wore around town, an umbrella hat, capturing not only the hat but Patten's suit, cane, burly build, and long white beard and hair. The Umbrella Man (always wearing the umbrella hat, often with a flag on top that gave a one-word description or sketch of the day's predicted weather) provided a one-panel commentary on Seattle's weather and the topics of the day. He was soon joined by a duck nicknamed Kid. While it's fair to say the Umbrella Man was better-known than the Kid who eventually became Dok's Dippy Duck, the duck still took on a life on his own in World War I Seattle and the years immediately after.
A primitive, nameless version of the duck comic strip first appeared in the Times on May 31, 1912, showing a bored, cigarette-smoking duck, natty in a boater hat, picking a fight with a passing dog. In April 1913 the strip acquired a name: "The Duck. By Dok." Over the next two years, the comic gradually became funnier and more sophisticated, and by the time it debuted as "Dok's Dippy Duck" on February 10, 1915, the Kid was in his prime. The first strip shows him being held captive by a stereotyped character in a fez, but bribing his way out with the promise of a quart of gin and flying off to Holland. The very next day he's at the front in what was then called both the Great War and the World War -- even though America wouldn't enter World War I for another two years.
Worldly and Hilarious
In strips following the war's end, the Kid meets with French leader Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929) and U.S. President Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) at the 1919 Paris Peace Conference (which set the peace terms that officially ended the war), and takes time to share a drink with French boxing champion Georges Carpentier (1894-1975) -- despite Prohibition, the Kid wasn't above enjoying a shot or two. And the prejudices of 1910s and 1920s America frequently show in the strips: French and Irish are poked fun at, Germans are dealt with firmly, anyone Russian is immediately suspect.
The duck wouldn't have been complete without his eye for the ladies, except he seemed to have more of an eye for them than they did for him. Maybe it was because his eye wandered too much. For example, an April 1919 strip shows him approaching a young woman and striking up a conversation that comes to a screeching halt when he makes a smiling observation about "silk stockings" (Hager, April 30, 1919), a fairly risqué topic for casual conversation in 1919, especially coming from a stranger.
He became so popular that he entertained Seattleites watching election results being posted in front of the (Seattle) Times Building in downtown Seattle after elections in 1918 and 1920. In those days if you wanted current election results, this was one of the few ways to get them. The returns were hand-posted on a bulletin board set up on a stage as they were reported to the Times, but there were often long lags between updates. This was where the duck, or more precisely, a man dressed as a duck, came in, jumping on the stage, cigarette in beak, and peppering the crowd with a hilarious vaudeville routine poking fun at everyday and current events.
Dok's Dippy Duck was featured in a 1923 children's geography contest put on by The Seattle Times, in which he took another world jaunt in his comic strip. Over a period of 14 days, the duck visited 14 countries, providing clues where he was in each of the strips, but not identifying the specific country. Twelve-year-old Mary MacMillan of Seattle not only won the contest and the $25 prize ($350 in 2016 dollars), but was also the only entrant out of hundreds -- including several ineligible adults -- who had a perfect score.
A Sedate Descendant
In the 1920s Hager's vision began to fail, and it shows in the strip. By early 1923 the once four-panel strip was down to two panels, then one. The final strips came in November 1923 with a short-lived "have you ever" series directed at the reader; one shows the Kid walking out of a restaurant asking "Have you ever dined at a swell restaurant and forgotten to tip the waiter?" (Hager, November 14, 1923). The Umbrella Man lasted nearly two years longer, until August 1925, but by then Hager's vision had deteriorated to the point where he had to retire.
Hager died in 1932, but his duck had been reincarnated by then. Hager's son George (1885-1945), an equally talented cartoonist who worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, created a more sedate descendant of the Kid in his own cartoon, The Adventures of the Waddles, which first appeared in the Christian Science Monitor in 1926. This new incarnation was a family affair: George's sister Mary wrote the rhyming lines that went with each strip. The Adventures of Waddles ran until 1945.