The Wizard of Id is a daily newspaper comic strip created by American cartoonists Brant Parker and Johnny Hart. Beginning in 1964, the strip follows the antics of a large cast of characters in a shabby medieval kingdom called "Id". From time to time, the king refers to his subjects as "Idiots". (The title is a play on The Wizard of Oz, combined with the Freudian psychological term Id, which represents the instinctive and primal part of the human psyche.)
In 1997 Brant Parker passed his duties on to his son, Jeff Parker, who had already been involved with creating Id for a decade. As of late 2002, the strip appears in some 1,000 newspapers all over the world, syndicated by Creators Syndicate.
In the early 1960s, Johnny Hart, having already created the successful B.C., began collaborating with his friend, then-unpublished cartoonist Brant Parker, on a new comic strip. (Parker would go on to create or co-create the strips Goosemyer, Crock and Out of Bounds.) Having already drawn cartoons about the Stone Age, Hart advanced through time to the Middle Ages, taking an idea from a deck of playing cards. The Wizard of Id was first syndicated on November 9, 1964, drawn by Parker and co-written by Parker and Hart.
The Wizard of Id deals with the goings-on of the rundown and oppressed mythical kingdom of Id. It follows people from all corners of the kingdom, but concentrates on the court of a tyrannical, dwarfish monarch known only as "the King". The strip's humor occasionally satirizes modern American culture, and deliberate anachronisms are rampant. Technology changes to suit whatever a gag requires; a battle with spears and arrows might be followed by a peasant using an ATM.
In some strips the king is curiously elected to his monarchial position (albeit through rigged ballots). The aspects that stay the same, however, are that Id is in the middle of nowhere, home to a large castle surrounded by a moat. The king and his subjects run an inept army perpetually at war with "the Huns", while the unhappy, overtaxed peasants (or Idiots) make little money as farmers and stablehands to keep modest lifestyles.
The Wizard of Id follows a gag-a-day format, plus a color Sunday page. There are running gags relating to the main cast, to a variety of secondary, continuing characters, and to the kingdom itself. Occasionally it will run an extended sequence on a given theme over a week or two. For instance, in 1967 there was a six-week story with the Wizard taking over the throne.
"The strip's humor style—quite contemporary, in contrast to its medieval setting—ranges from broad and low to pure black", according to Don Markstein's Toonopedia.
The drawing style of certain characters has changed from the early years of the strip to today. For example, the old style of the King's head was more rectangular, had a crown with identifiable card suits on it (club, diamond, heart), his mustache and beard always hid his mouth, and his beard frequently extended to a curved point when the King was shown in profile (see The Wondrous Wizard of Id, 1970, Fawcett Publications). In the new style, the King's head is more trapezoidal with a slightly smaller and undecorated crown, he has a huge nose (even bigger than Rodney's) which covers his mouth and chin, and when he opens his mouth it appears that his beard has been shaved off.
Cast of characters
A Wizard of Id strip featuring the King of Id.
- The King: A pint-sized despot; like most characters in the strip, the king is named simply after his role. "Sire" to his subjects, he is the greediest, most evil man in the kingdom, and yet he maintains a sense of humor. Jokes are often centered on his height. From his throne room he hands out terrible, Draconian punishments for crimes, (executions being quite common). He is only ever looking to win votes, power and money. He has a thin skin and a short temper (especially about his height), and main characters often find themselves chained to the wall or the rack if they thoughtlessly insult the king. He is hated by the peasants, who to his dismay often proclaim "The king is a fink!" However, he is occasionally shown to have a quirky softer side, and it is mentioned his only friends are the moat monsters. His "pets" are a dragon and a St. Bernard dog named Bonapart; he rides Bonapart in fox hunts. His father, who was king until his son overthrew him, is kept in a tower surrounded by "The King of Id" jack-in-the-box toys—the only gifts his son gives him. His mother works as a charwoman and routinely complains and scolds her son—the only person who ever does so.
- The Wizard: The king's royal wielder of magic, sometimes nicknamed "Wiz". He is smart but sarcastic, good-natured but cynical, and is constantly dominated by his wife, Blanche. He wears a traditional pointed wizards' cap festooned with stars and crescent moons, like Merlin. From his basement he works over a vat, where his spirit familiar lives. He is capable of powerful spells, but often his plans backfire on him. His incantations usually sound a little like, "Frammin' at the jim-jam, frippin' in the krotz." He is friendly to all the king's subjects, but like most of them, he secretly considers the king to be a creep (or a fink).
Sir Rodney: Cover of a 1980 Australian
collection of strips
- Sir Rodney the Chicken-Hearted: Usually just called "Rodney", he is the king's chief knight and head of the hapless royal army. He is a tall, lanky man of dopey intelligence who wears green chainmail and carries a spear. He is hopeless as a warrior, and his troops are just as incompetent. Rodney is at heart a coward; he is terrified of fighting and often pretends to be good at slaying dragons, while in fact he once bribed one, (known as "Dragy".) He has an enormous nose, the source of many jokes—and is always trying to win the King's attention. He occasionally works as a spy, wearing a tree costume with a large hole to accommodate his nose.
- Spook: A miserable, comically destitute prisoner who for many years has lived in the dungeons beneath the castle. He is covered from head to toe with hair, sometimes being likened to a giant rat. His crime was one of a few mentioned things (when a visiting earl expressed an interest in meeting the only person to beat the king at croquet, he is introduced to the Spook. Or when he called the King a "two bit, four flushing, dirty, lowdown, indiscriminate clod" in an early strip), but most of the time it is accepted that the king sentenced Spook to a lifetime in the dungeon for calling him a fink. He is treated poorly by the system, but his best friend is the warder Turnkey, posted outside his cell. He lives beneath the level of the moat, eating swill. For a hobby, he attempts to escape frequently. He normally tunnels under the walls, only to have his plans ironically cut short. His favorite book is "History's Great Escapes" (coincidentally his own autobiography) (strip of 6/28/1967, also published in "Remember The Golden Rule"). It is mentioned that his full name is Wellington J. Fransworth Spookingdorf the Third in the strip of 8/20/1970, featured in Volume #10 of the series.
- Turnkey: The guard who runs the dungeons but spends all his time sitting outside the Spook's cell. In a way their lives are similar—he is stuck in the same place all day and he doesn't have an important place in the world. He sometimes expresses frustration about this to the Spook.
- Blanche: The Wizard's wife. It has been said (citation: following Blanche's request, "tell me you married me for my bod and not for my money", the Wizard puts on a lightning conductor hat, grounds it thoroughly, and swears, "may lightning strike me dead...it was not for your money (strip of 4/30/1976, also published in "My Kingdom For A Horsie!", Coronet edition 1985) the Wizard married Blanche for her money, for she is considered extremely ugly by everyone in the kingdom. Occasionally though, she looks to him for romance, which he is hesitant to offer. She also heads the Women's Liberation front in Id.
Bung shown in a Dutch-language version of the cartoon.
- Bung: The court jester, a chronic alcoholic who spends little time entertaining and most of his time in saloons or the royal wine cellar. He wears traditional jester's garb with bells on the bonnet, but he is rarely seen to perform. Frequently drunk, he once declared, "I've learned the secret to avoiding hangovers: Don't sober up!" (A "bung" is a cork in a barrel or bottle of an alcoholic beverage.) In cartoon tradition, his intoxicated state is portrayed by a prominent red nose surrounded by tiny, fizzing bubbles.
- Gwen: A beautiful but frustrated fair maiden who, as her blonde stereotype suggests, is quite clueless. She is adored by all but is in love only with Rodney. They sometimes date, but in his non-macho way he is usually too dense to return the romantic feelings she has for him. She often spends time commiserating with Blanch, or conversing with frogs who claim to be enchanted princes.
- Larsen E. Pettifogger: Attorney-at-law in the kingdom of Id. An unscrupulous, incompetent shyster with a big pretentious nose and stovepipe hat, he lies and cheats to protect criminals. While inept as a lawyer, he is greedy and selfish, and doesn't mind imbibing alcohol at his clients' expense. Although it is generally accepted that he has never won a case, there have been a few occasions when his clients have been acquitted by chance. For example, once upon exiting the court, he remarked to the defendant, "That was a close one. Once or twice there I thought the judge was going to wake up." He has been the Spook's lawyer on several occasions. His appearance and manner are patterned directly after W.C. Fields, one of whose film and radio characters was named "Larson E. Whipsnade". (The word "pettifogger" means a less-than-scrupulous attorney, and "Larsen E." is a pun on larceny.)
- Evil Spirit: An apparition who lives in the Wizard's vat and takes form as a smoky puff of gas. He keeps the Wizard company while at work, but he is more childish and gullible than evil. It is sometimes mentioned he has a "sewer wisp" for a girlfriend.
- The Doc: The royal physician, the subject of many doctor jokes. He plays golf, for instance, charges outrageous fees, and is indifferent to the health and welfare of his patients. His name was only revealed once (in a strip reprinted in Strike The Sot!)—Dr. Puckerstein.
- The Duke: A vain, toadying nobleman who helps the King run the castle and shares in the duties of the government. He wears an Elizabethan ruff collar and a pageboy hairdo, is pompous and self-admiring, and he never likes to get his hands dirty. Like Rodney, he strives to impress the King at all times. He is often cited as the King's "P.R. man". His full title, according to a letter he once signed to a peasant requesting an autograph, is "The Duke of Marinello".
- Lackey: The king's personal servant. He never says much, but is loyal enough to stand by the throne and await the King's every order. He is therefore often overworked. However, Lackey has displayed occasional resentment about his position; in one strip, when he informs the king that a vendor has arrived selling slaves, the indignant King orders Lackey to tell the visitor that the King doesn't believe in slavery. After confirming that the king is serious about this proclamation ("You're darned right!"), Lackey leaves the room, remarking "Tell him yourself, shorty."
In addition to the main cast, several recurring jokes have run throughout the life of the comic strip for which certain characters come back from time to time.
- The Night Sentry: An unnamed tower guard who cries "Twelve o'clock and all's well", etc., but can't resist ad libbing sarcastic commentary—much to the annoyance of the King, who suffers from insomnia.
- The Stablehands: Two unnamed peasants, invariably holding pitchforks and shovels, and unhappy in their work. Hart and Parker would cut to them whenever they had a "dung" joke. The peasants and their work are also used as an analogy for low-level paper pushing bureaucrats.
- Robbing Hood: A forest-dweller who, unlike the Robin Hood character he parodies, "takes from the wretch and gives to the peer", (usually himself).
- The Lone Haranguer: A phantom heckler who frequently rides past the King's window to shout "The King is a fink!" The King has suffered anxiety over the stranger, but he and Rodney have never succeeded in capturing or identifying him, their plans constantly backfiring on themselves. The name is a play on The Lone Ranger.
- Troob: A local minstrel and poet, (a "troubadour") who travels the kingdom writing songs and commentary on Id's ways of life. He sometimes entertains the King on his lute, but his music is uninviting. He is one of the few people in Id to be streetwise enough to see the bigger picture of the state of the kingdom. His song describes the place well: "The land of Id, 'tis such delight, the land of milk and honey / No need to lock your doors at night, the King has all the money!"
- Yodey: A stable boy whom Rodney is training to become a knight. He is a gigantic oaf, very strong but stupid and gullible. He looks up to Rodney to teach him, even though he is already more capable than Rodney is.
- Abra Cadaver: A Frankenstein-like monster the Wizard built out of old body parts. He is deranged but obedient, and is twice the size of the Wizard. The name is a play on "abracadabra" and "cadaver".
- Bernie the Torch: An accident-prone peasant so unlucky that when he came out of hospital after being run over by a steamroller, a gargoyle fell on him. He was once hit by a meteorite during surgery, after getting run over by a horse.
- Magic Mirror: A talking mirror that lives to insult whomever happens to be addressing it, (usually either the King or Blanche).
- Lance: Sir Rodney's stunt double, appeared 13 October 2009.
There are many other generic incidental characters that Parker often included in The Wizard of Id. They are not individually identifiable, but they serve as the "straight men" and joke-tellers for each day's strip. In addition to assorted guards, peasants and executioners, they include the Huns, fortune tellers, dentists, bartenders, innkeepers, town criers, insurance salesmen, monks, rats, horses, dragons and frogs, to name a few.
In other media
In 1969, Jim Henson and Don Sahlin produced a test pilot for the Wizard of Id. By the time interest was expressed in the concept Henson was deeply involved in other projects and decided to not pursue it any further.
The Wizard of Id has enjoyed a successful life to date. It has been named best humor strip by the National Cartoonists Society in 1971, 1976, 1980, 1982 and 1983. In 1984, Parker received a Reuben Award for his work on the strip. Dozens of paperback collections have been published since 1965, and some titles are still in print as of 2010.
Collections and reprints
Fawcett Gold Medal
- The King Is a Fink! (1969)
- The Wondrous Wizard of Id (1970)
- The Peasants Are Revolting! (1971)
- Remember the Golden Rule! (1971)
- There's a Fly in My Swill! (1973)
- The Wizard's Back (1973)
- Yield (1974)
- Frammin' at the Jim-Jam, Frippin' in the Krotz! (1974)
- Long Live the King! (1975)
- We've Got to Stop Meeting Like This (1975)
- I'm Off to See the Wizard (1976)
- Every Man is Innocent Until Proven Broke (1976)
- Let There Be Reign (1977)
- Help Stamp Out Grapes (1978)
- Charge! (1978)
- Ala Ka-Zot! (1979)
- Well, This Is Another Fine How Do You Do (1982)
- The Lone Haranguer Rides Again! (1982)
- Abra Cadaver! (1983)
- My Kingdom for a Horsie! (1984)
- Suspended Sentence Indeed! (1984)
- The Fing Is a Kink! (1985)
- I Dig Freedom (1985)
- Pick a Card, Any Card (1986)
- The strip has been translated into Finnish as Velho, meaning "wizard". A version in the Kainuu dialect called Näläkämoan noeta – Veleho kaenuuks was published in 2001.
- In Denmark it is called Troldkarlen Kogle and has previously appeared in the comic magazine "Basserne"
- In Italy, The Wizard of Id is known as Mago Wiz (Wiz The Sorcerer) and has been published with great success in the comics magazines Il Mago and Linus, and in the science fiction magazine Urania, plus several hardcover editions also by Mondadori.
- The German version is called Magnus der Magier (Magnus the Magician).
- In Sweden it is called Trollkarlen från id.
- In the Netherlands it is called De Tovenaar van Fop. (The Wizard of Fool, 'fool' in the sense of 'to trick'.)
- The strip is known in many Spanish-speaking countries as El Mago Fedor. However, it is only published nowadays online on GoComics.com, under its English title, and hasn't been syndicated in South American newspapers since the mid-1990s (by that time practically all newspapers in the continent dropped them, as tastes began to change to more "autochthonous" fare).
- In India it is published in English in the comics section of the English daily newspaper Deccan Chronicle.
- Treatment of the comic strip varies in individual countries, especially in monarchies. In Saudi Arabia, references to the king are deleted and replaced with "the boss".