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At 75, Blondie's more modern now, but still ageless

Readers who turn to the comic strip this Sunday will find a scene that includes Beetle Bailey, Dilbert, and President and Mrs. Bush.

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Still, sometimes a comic strip is just a comic strip. "Media depictions of family life cannot be taken as reflections of actual practices in American families," Professor Coltrane says. "But our preoccupation with them suggests that they carry profound public and private significance."

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Family-oriented strips like "Blondie" became popular in the comic pages after World War II, says Ralph LaRossa, a sociologist at Georgia State University in Atlanta. By the 1990s, he adds, "The proportion of comics with fatherhood, motherhood, or parenthood as a theme mushroomed to nearly 25 percent."

The Bumsteads reflect a comforting timelessness. "They still look the same," says Mike Lynch, a magazine cartoonist in New York. He compares them with strips such as "Gasoline Alley" and "For Better or Worse," where characters have aged and "sag a bit." Blondie and Dagwood are frozen in their late 30s, with two young teenage children.

Will they grow older? "Not in my lifetime," Young vows.

Even with their modernized plot lines, Blondie and Dagwood still strike some readers as quaint. "My father is the only one I know who still reads 'Blondie,' " says Kelly Fitzgerald of New York.

Her father, Bill Fitzgerald of Sanford, Fla., has been reading "Blondie" for 65 years. "I don't actually know anyone that inept or who eats that much without getting fat, but I can see similarities in my life and others I have known," he says. "It makes me feel good, as they are regular people. I want to go to their party."

In an age of social upheaval, rocked by divorce and dysfunction, Blondie and Dagwood offer stability. They're still together after all these years.

"Here's a family where they actually like each other," Young says. "The husband and wife are still in love with each other. He kisses her when he leaves, and kisses her when he comes home. It's fun to look in on a family that actually is going through life in a loving, affectionate way. It's kind of a confidence builder."

Bob Madison, a pop culture historian in New York, sees other appeal. "Blondie and Dagwood share the real workaday world with us. Like all of us, they take it one day at a time, with all the little funny things that happen to us noted along the way. 'Blondie' is a slow strip. Its sweet good nature and humanist point of view are what make people return."

America's longest-running comic strips

Even at 75, Blondie's not the oldest comic strip around. The five longest-running funnies in the United States, all honored with their own postage stamps in 1995, are all on their second cartoonist, at least.

1. Katzenjammer Kids (1897-present): It retells German children's tales through twins Hans and Fritz. Created by Rudolph Dirks, it is the oldest comic strip in syndication.

2. Gasoline Alley (1918-present): Unlike the perennially young Bumsteads of "Blondie," the characters in this strip are drawn progressively older as the years go by.

3. Barney Google and Snuffy Smith (1919-present): This comic with its hillbilly characters still runs in 21 countries and in 11 languages. The strip introduced such terms as "heebie-jeebies" and "sweet mama" into the American vernacular.

4. Thimble Theater/Popeye (1919-present): The strip was centered on Olive Oyl until Popeye arrived in 1929. Popeye was the first cartoon character ever made into a public sculpture, honored for boosting Americans' consumption of spinach.

5. Little Orphan Annie (1924-present): Harold Gray's Annie inspired a radio show, musical, and movie.

- Jennifer Moeller

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