A single-panel newspaper comic begun in 1993 by cartoonist Jeff MacNelly, best known for his long-running comic strip Shoe.
In Pluggers, a cast of Funny Animal characters illustrate reader-submitted one-liners about "Pluggers": working-class, mostly middle-aged, largely rural people who "unceremoniously keep plugging along, balancing work, play and family life." An example might be "You're a Plugger when the most expensive piece of clothing you own is an NFL jersey."
It's not commonly known, but the five main characters have names: Andy Bear, Sheila Roo, Carl Rhinowski, Earl Houndstooth and Henrietta Beak. There's no reward for guessing that they are, respectively, a bear, kangaroo, rhinoceros, dog and hen. According to an old version of the now defunct website, there were once more characters.
MacNelly originally wrote the gags himself, but made the shift to reader-submitted gags after receiving so many. He handed art duties to Gary Brookins in 1997, who also took over in the same capacity on Shoe after MacNelly died in 2000. Brookins has since retired, passing the baton to Rick McKee in 2020.
Pluggers can be read here.
- The Alleged Car: Apparently a fairly typical Plugger vehicle, if this strip is correct.
- All There in the Manual / Informed Attribute: The now-defunct website listed the names and backstories of the various characters. These traits almost never showed up in the actual strip (for instance, Sheila is supposed to be an aerobics instructor).
- Aside Glance: Sheila's default expression.
- Big Eater: Several strips make Pluggers out to be this. One example: A Plugger's appetite suppressant is having a Dagwood Sandwich before dinner.
- Blanket Tug O' War: "A plugger knows that one good turn gets most of the blanket."◊
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Most of the characters listed in the archived character sheet above have disappeared. A cat couple also showed up in the 2000s, but have disappeared as well.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Originally, MacNelly wrote and drew the strip by himself, but so many readers began submitting gags that he made them entirely user-submitted. He also handed over art duties to Gary Brookins in order to focus all of his efforts on Shoe.
- The Everyman: Andy Bear.
- Fat and Skinny: Andy and Sheila, respectively.
- Flyover Country: Where Pluggers chiefly reside.
- Furry Confusion: Since the characters are drawn as anthropomorphic animals, but the ideas used in the strip are submitted by readers (i.e. humans,) the overlap can range from confusing (the bear taking a normal dog for a walk) to disturbing (the hen storing her jewelry in an egg carton).
- To take the confusion to massive levels, one strip says 'When a Plugger's wife uses the words "Honey" "Sweetie" and "Sugar Pie" he knows she's talking to the dog' yet the husband is a Dog.
- Lampshaded in this comic here
- A painting of Elvis is featured in one strip...and he's a human. Makes you wonder about Plugger Jesus...
- Inexplicably Tailless: Everyone, but Sheila in particular stands out. At least one strip◊ from the MacNelly era averted it, though.
- Interspecies Romance: Andy Bear and Sheila Roo are married, as are Earl and Henrietta. Even more confusingly, Andy and Sheila have both kangaroo and bear offspring.
- Kangaroos Represent Australia: According to her bio on the old website, Sheila Roo is Australian, though like everything else there it's been long abandoned.
- Meaningful Name: "Sheila" is Aussie slang for a woman. And then there's Henrietta.
- Non-Mammal Mammaries: Yes, Henrietta has breasts. One could even argue that a marsupial character shouldn't have breasts, either...
- Nostalgia Filter: Distaste for any entertainment made since you attended high school seems to be a requirement for Pluggerhood; many punchlines are about how pluggers only watch old movies and classic reruns, and only listen to the oldies stations.
- Nutritional Nightmare: Pluggers pretty much live on junk food.
- Rouge Angles of Satin: Seriously, how do you do something like this?
- The Scrooge: Some strips try to praise Plugger frugality but end up portraying them as this; given the lengths Pluggers will go to save money, like using the same paper bag for lunch every day or using a disposable razor for months on end, the message is less "Pluggers are admirably frugal" and more "Pluggers will do absolutely anything to avoid spending money."
- In this strip, the newspaper clearly has a Shoe splash panel on it.
- This strip is a pretty sincere tribute to Paul Harvey.
- Tracy Byrd, anyone?
- When frequent contributor Reed Hoover died, the strip did a week of panels based on ideas submitted by him, followed by one which said, "Pluggers know the most widely published author in recent history isn't J.K. Rowling, but Reed Hoover."
- Small Taxonomy Pools with a touch of Lazy Artist: A perusal of the older strips will show that when MacNelly was drawing the strip, there was much more species variety; elephants, bison, walruses, alligators, hyenas...but under Brookins' pen, outside of the core five it's pretty much just dogs and bears, with a smattering of cats, pigs and birds.
- Technophobia: A common plugger trait is distrust and distaste towards advanced technology like...toilet paper roll holders and bread bag twist ties.
- This Loser Is You: A strange case, as the traits depicted are supplied by readers of the comic. Possibly Self-Deprecation in many cases.
- For reference, common recurring themes in the comics are "Pluggers are fat", "Pluggers are dumb", "Pluggers are afraid of modern technology", "Pluggers are couch potatoes", "Pluggers are slobs", "Pluggers are fat", "Pluggers have no sex drive", "Pluggers drive rattling junkheaps", "Pluggers have terrible diets", "Pluggers require constant medication to stay alive", "Pluggers are fat", "Pluggers are cheapskates", "Pluggers have to use the bathroom constantly", "Pluggers are old and out of touch", "Pluggers are always broke", and "Pluggers are fat".
- An alternative interpretation is that Pluggers are sincerely meant to be Working-Class Hero types, but end up being seen as losers and hicks by more "sophisticated" and/or snobbish readers.
- Why Do You Keep Changing Jobs?: The core five originally had stated jobs; Andy was a construction foreman, Sheila an aerobics instructor, Carl a construction worker and Earl and Henrietta retirees. Now any of them might be seen at any job at any time.