This historic comic is presented in its original form, unedited from the time period in which it was created. These images may contain harmful stereotypes, problematic and antiquated ideologies, or otherwise negative cultural depictions and themes indicative of the context in which it first appeared. We run these vintage comic strips to preserve a digital archive of the medium's early examples.
Francis X. Reardon, the creator of the world's first pantomime comic strip, was born in Richmond, Virginia on January 5, 1905, the youngest of three children of William Reardon, a glassblower, and Rose Meyer Reardon. He attended Sacred Heart Cathedral grammar school there. As early as age three, in 1908, he showed considerable drawing ability when he drew a presentable picture of a Richmond Light Infantry Blues (a military unit) parade. Artwork of his done in conjunction with schoolwork showed talent well beyond what would be expected from even a talented youth of age 11 or 12. Later he attended Bridgeton (NJ) High School for two years after his father became employed in that city as a glassblower. At age 16 he returned to Richmond and was hired as a sports cartoonist with The Richmond Times-Dispatch but after a short period of time was let go for budget reducing purposes.
Francis then sought a position in the New York-New Jersey area. A letter written in his behalf at the time by a Times-Dispatch editor, dated September 27, 1921, to a New York paper, read: "This will introduce F. X. Reardon, cartoonist and maker of comic strips, who is looking for an opening in New York. He will make good if given a chance as he has a nice artistic touch and a real sense of humor. I will appreciate it if you will give him a start. I was forced to cut him off the payroll by stern necessity. He is full of ideas and not afraid of work."
Francis did find work as a cartoonist for the Bridgeton (NJ) Evening News. But two years later, at age 18, he was back at the Times-Dispatch, working once again, this time as a staff cartoonist for that daily. Three years later the following appeared in the Bridgeton Evening News under the headline: "Bridgeton Boy Top Cartoonist in South":
"Many will remember F. X. Reardon, Bridgeton boy whose clever cartoons made a distinct hit several years ago in the Evening News.
"Reardon naturally found the field for his work here a bit limited and when the opportunity arose he went to Richmond, Va., and took a position on the Times-Dispatch. The young man was just 18 when he went south in 1923.
"Today he is editorial cartoonist and art director of that daily which incidentally has increased its circulation by leaps and bounds until it has 53,000 daily and 59,000 on Sunday. In the three years Reardon has forged ahead by the pay envelope route as well as to the top of the paper's art staff...
"In a letter to the Evening News, Reardon adds, ‘I want to thank you for the interest you took in me and the encouragement you gave me in the days when ambition exceeded ability.’”
In just five years as a working cartoonist, from 1921 to 1926, this young man, Francis X. Reardon, who never took an art lesson in his life, became the head cartoonist and art director, at age 21, on one of the South's leading newspapers. His sole source of education as an artist were two self-teaching books on cartooning and caricature.
During his twenty-two years as a cartoonist for the Times-Dispatch, Francis Reardon did thousands of cartoons of every kind, produced a weekly page of comics, drew a weekly page or half-page called "About Town," created the long-running feature "Old Dominion Oddities," which compared very favorably with Ripley's "Believe It Or Not," and created the comic strip, "Bozo," which was always his first love, while raising a family of eight children. In 1943, the Times-Dispatch called "Bozo" "the world's first pantomime comic strip," predating "Henry," "The Little King," and a host of wordless imitators that arrived in the 1930s.
Francis Reardon was also the Times-Dispatch's first editorial cartoonist, holding that position before Fred O. Seibel.
The character, "Bozo," was created after Francis was laid off at age 16 with the Times-Dispatch. He was searching for a name for this character when an acquaintance suggested, "Why don't you call him Bozo." When asked by Francis, "Where did you get that name?" the replay was, "I just thought of it." The comic strip appeared in the Times-Dispatch on a weekly basis from as early as 1925 until it was accepted for national, and international syndication, by the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate in 1945. Francis Reardon had sought syndication many times for the strip over the years. But that was during the Great Depression, which was followed by a paper shortage and then the War years. At the World War's end in 1945, those obstacles were removed.
A reader survey taken of 1,500 readers of the Times-Dispatch in 1935 found "Bozo" to be the second most popular comic, following the strip "Bringing Up Father". Upon syndication, a reader survey taken by the Chicago Sun-Times Syndicate found it to be the most popular comic carried by that syndicate. "Bozo" has the distinction of being the world's original pantomime comic strip, a fact never disputed, and was promoted as such by the syndicate.
It should also be noted that Foxo Reardon took a word, "bozo," that was practically unknown in the 1920s and popularized it through his weekly newspaper strip, decades before the appearance of Bozo the Clown.
During his early years as a cartoonist, Francis X. Reardon developed the habit of placing small circles in place of periods after his initials, F.X. A mailman, noticing such on an envelope, spoke out as he picked up the envelope, "Foxo ... Foxo Reardon." From that moment on, Francis Reardon was called Foxo and forever afterwards signed his name as such.
Over the years of his career, Foxo Reardon became known as one of the great pen artists in the country. Most cartoonists use a brush to ink in their pencil drawings rather than take on the more difficult pen, which takes a great deal of talent and time to master, but which offered possibilities in art rendering greater than that of the brush. His ten years as a member of the National Cartoonist Society was a source of contentment for him, and his meetings with President Truman in 1949 and with President Eisenhower at a breakfast in 1954 were highlights for him as a member of that group of syndicated cartoonists. Sadly, his syndicated years were plagued by a good deal of sickness. A substitute cartoonist would have to intervene and do the strip from time to time. Perhaps 10% of his syndicated strips were done by another cartoonist. But because no artist could sufficiently duplicate his style, that would unfortunately cause the loss of newspapers carrying the strip. A year before his passing, he lost an eye. He had earlier been diagnosed with cancer. He nevertheless continued to work daily with fortitude and without complaint until within a few weeks of his succumbing to cancer on November 30, 1955, proving that he was considerably more than just a great artist.
To quote Ham Fisher, creator of the comic strip “Joe Palooka”: “I have met very few like him in a long life time.”