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Comic Strip / The Addams Family

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For many, many years, Charles Addams drew single-panel cartoons for The New Yorker. While these were stand-alone – and, typically, rather macabre – gag-a-week jokes, there were a few recurring characters: namely, a creepy family of loners who were dark opposites of the idealized American family.

The first members of the family depicted were the mother, the butler, and the "Thing", making their debut in this 1938 cartoon. They were joined in subsequent cartoons by a father, a son, a daughter, a hinted-at-but-never-shown baby, a grandmother, and a recurring bald man whose relationship with the family was ambiguous, but became known as an uncle. These characters proved to be so popular that a 1960s TV sitcom was based off of them, and their popularity only grew from there.

If this family seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to Ray Bradbury's eldritch Elliotts, that's not an accident. Eight years after Addams introduced his chararacters, the Elliotts debuted in a short story called "Homecoming", first published in Mademoiselle with an illustration by Addams. The two men even talked about getting together for a full-length collaboration, but it sadly never came about. (You can read about the Elliotts, and see Addams' original illustration, in Bradbury's 2001 anthology From the Dust Returned.)

Note: this page is for the New Yorker cartoons with the recurring family characters, not the TV show, the movies, or any of the other adaptations and their tropes. In these cartoons, the characters didn't even have names; they were just called "the Addams family" because Charles Addams had created them. For a general overview of all other works based off the cartoons, see here.

    Other Recurring Characters in the New Yorker Cartoons

  • A blonde girl with flowers in her hair appeared in a few cartoons and artwork, probably inspiring the character of Ophelia in the TV series.

  • "It", a short, hairy creature. Based on Cousin Itt from the TV show (see Canon Immigrant below), he only appeared in the one cartoon, but was subsequently depicted with the family in much of Addams's cover art.

  • The "Wall-Eyed Couple": A bald man with bulging eyes and a blank smile and a short woman with scraggly hair and a nervous smile. In the cartoon shown, they even have a baby, who looks exactly like both of them — in that it has two heads, which are exact copies of the parents'. They are shown visiting the family a lot.

  • A weird, cocoon-like... thing that has formed in a tree. It first appeared in this cartoon, unrelated to the family. But then, it started to appear in the background of many of the family's scenes, such as this one.

  • Disembodied hands reaching out from strange places had appeared in Addams's art before, but they were connected with the family when one cartoon showed two arms reaching out of a phonograph to change the records (see the page image). These were given the Thing's name and role in the TV show.

  • The Baby. In a couple of cartoons, the mother is said to be pregnant. According to the Knitting Pregnancy Announcement, it will have four legs, and if it's a boy it will be given "a Biblical name, like Cain or Ananias." It was never referenced again, which is understandable as the cartoons' continuity was loose, but it did inspire Pubert in Addams Family Values.

Tropes found in the cartoons: