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Moment of Indiana History

Jes’ Plain Folks…Chic Jackson’s “The Bean Family”

In the early 20th century, Muncie-born cartoonist Chic Jackson represented everyday Hoosiers—and the way they spoke--in the popular press.

Along with Mark Twain, Indiana writers James Whitcomb Riley and Edward Eggleston are credited with bringing regional vernacular to the printed page. Eggleston, for example, wrote his 1871 novel The Hoosier Schoolmaster, “in the dialect spoken in my childhood by rustics on the north side of the Ohio River.”

In the early twentieth century, Muncie-born cartoonist Chic Jackson continued the work of representing regular folks—and the way they spoke–in the popular press.

Charles Bacon “Chic” Jackson’s comic strip The Bean Family ran in the Indianapolis Star from 1913 to 1934. The strip charted the daily goings-on of the self-important Roger Bean and his family—wife Sylvia, children Cynthia and Woody, a dog, several relatives, and two servants.

Story lines follow the curmudgeonly Mr. Bean’s frustrations at not being served breakfast, the clucking criticisms of the next-door neighbor, and the subversive machinations of Jose, the African-American laundry maid.

The strip introduced the convention of continuity to the medium and showed the characters aging, an innovation sometimes attributed to Frank King, creator of Gasoline Alley. An infant at the strip’s inception, son Woody, for example, is bound for college in Jackson’s last strips.

Jackson’s reproduction of the way servants Golduh and Jose spoke was one of the strip’s curiosities. Modern audiences will note Jackson’s liberal use of jargon long since retired from general circulation—from “booby hatch” to “celluloid opera.”

Though Jackson had attended the Art Institute of Chicago for a year, his drawing often matched the characters’ speech in its homespun quality. Lacking the slickness of commercial draftmanship, Jackson’s figures display what has been called a “tortured anatomy”.

Born in Muncie in 1876, Chic Jackson dropped out of high school to pursue employment in a shoe factory, grocery store and iron works, before landing an illustrator’s job on the Muncie News (later the Muncie Star). In 1907, he was hired as a feature illustrator at the Indianapolis Star, where he developed The Bean Family.

After its debut in 1913, the strip was syndicated regionally, eventually appearing in the Chicago Daily News. Jackson received plenty of fan mail, along with notes pointing out the occasional discrepancy.

Even James Whitcomb Riley could be counted among Jackson’s fans. The cartoonist recalled a visit the poet paid him in 1915, only two years after the debut of The Bean Family. Riley shared his appreciation for “the pleasure the good wholesome humor had afforded him.” Jackson later memorialized Riley in a strip captioned “But His Songs Go On Forever”.

On the occasion of his own passing, Chic Jackson was artfully memorialized in turn. The June 5, 1934 edition of the Indianapolis Star featured a drawing by William Heitman of the Bean family members, gathered around an empty chair and drawing-board.

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