I was recently thinking back to Sunday dinners when I was a kid, when we would go over to my grandparents’ home in Schenectady for a meal of boiled ham, boiled vegetables, boiled dinner rolls and a salty assortment of trimmings. The best part about it was that I got to see the Sunday comics. The Schenectady Gazette didn’t have a Sunday edition then, and very few people took the Albany paper (the departure of the Union Star for Albany, where it disappeared into the folds of the Knickerbocker News, didn’t change that). So on Sundays my grandfather would wander up Van Vranken Avenue and pick up the Sunday Daily News, New York’s Picture Newspaper, featuring the “Coloroto” magazine and an extravagant selection of color Sunday comics. Most of the comics didn’t appear in our daily paper, so it was like a view into another world: Flubs & Fluffs, Jimmy Hatlo’s “They’ll Do It Every Time,” Terry & the Pirates (later to become an all-time fave), Little Orphan Annie and my then-favorite, Dick Tracy, which was then a long way from its dark, hard-boiled beginnings and deep into Moon Maid and spaceships and the other bizarre stuff from the ’60s that screwed up perfectly good comic strips. But it still had the Crimestopper’s Textbook, which I dutifully cut out and saved in the same box as my Bazooka Joe comics.
But there was one strip that, week after week, baffled me: “Dondi.” Dondi was a war orphan, which was a little baffling right from the start, because by the time I was reading it the war had been over for more than 20 years. I didn’t get its purpose, I didn’t get its premise, I didn’t get its point. My parents had been kids during the war, and they were all grown up, but Dondi was still a child. And he wasn’t really an orphan anymore, he had adoptive parents (and his adoptive mother’s name, Katje, was inexplicable and unpronounceable, at least for an 8-year-old), and he had a rich benefactor, Mrs. McGowan, whose Park Avenue mansion Dondi would periodically mess up with cookie crumbs. Week after week, I would read this thing, trying to figure out what it was supposed to be about, and week after week, I couldn’t find a clue. Now I find out, to my astonishment, that Dondi ran until 1986 (apparently the war he was orphaned by changed over the years). And now that I have had a chance to peruse what there is on the web about Dondi, I still have to ask: WTF?