05 July 2006

Presto = Alfredo = Moco

Posting about Boofhead reminded me of Presto, a daily comic that ran on the back page of the Melbourne Herald in the 50s and 60s.

Presto was a round-headed little man with a moustache who turned up from day to day in various roles: one day he could be a policeman, the next day a burglar or a ship-wrecked sailor. He often had his eye on a good-looking girl, but he had a formidable wife who was usually onto his case. The strip was all in pantomime, no dialogue.

I suspected it wasn't Australian, but it turns out to be from Denmark, where its title was Alfredo. WeirdSpace tells us, though, that it had appeared initially in the French newspaper Le Figaro in the late 40s, where it was entitled Presto, just as it was here. In the USA it was called Moco, derived from the names of Alfredo's creators, Jørgen Mogensen (1922-2004) and Cosper Cornelius (1911-2003).

Mogensen was a distinguished Danish cartoonist who created a number of comics. Defunct Danish site Rackham.dk had a cartoon at its Mogensen page that shows his characters meeting up with each other [archived version]. Alfredo/Presto/Moco is at the lower left, shaking hands with a later creation, Violin Virtuoso Alfredo.
Image from Maurice Horn (ed.), The World Encyclopedia of Comics (1976)

03 July 2006


You don't have to look far to find examples of boofhead in Australian English. It's time for Bozo and Boofhead to go, says a Melbourne Age headline about obnoxious footballers; an ABC radio site had Boofhead of the week, an inept home handyman. It appears in plenty of blogs, which may give you a flavour of its usage, and Google Image results for boofhead are also instructive.

I guess a boofhead is what Mark Twain would've called a puddenhead, maybe with some sense of what the Brits call a likely lad. A boofhead is a bit slow, maybe clumsy and unthinking, a likeable clot. It can be a friendly term (the inept handyman), but a boofhead can also be uncouth and boorish (the obnoxious footballers). You could say the behaviour of yer soccer hooligans is a bit boofy.

The image of Boofhead the character (above) is from R.B. Clark's daily comic strip. Boofhead ran in Sydney's Daily Mirror and in comic book reprints from 1941 until its creator's death in 1970.

It's one of those instantly recognisable Australian images, adopted by Mambo design and by the artist Martin Sharp for Regular Records. The Powerhouse Museum's website shows Boofhead on a 1966 Oz Magazine cover by Martin Sharp. There's even a statue of Boofhead in a park at Leura in the Blue Mountains.

You could say the strip itself has an endearing boofheadedness about it, with its daft situations and its two-dimensional artwork (as far as I know, Boofhead himself is always seen in profile, Egyptian-style).

John Ryan, the Australian comic strip historian, puts it this way:
Boofhead - drawn by Bob Clark and featuring a simplistically drawn, waistcoated young man with an elongated nose sheltered by a cantilever hairstyle - was amateurish and the humour mundane. It is difficult to fathom the reasons that this strip attracted readers but there can be no disputing its popularity. (In Panel by Panel: An illustrated history of Australian comics, 1979.)
The Australian Oxford and the Macquarie dictionary both say a boofhead is a fool, or - picturesquely - a person with a large head. They both suggest its source is the British word bufflehead, defined by the Oxford Second Edition as fool, blockhead, stupid fellow, which is certainly in boofhead territory, and its earliest citation is from 1659.

An Australian National Dictionary updates page has citations for boofhead from 1941 and 1942, but doesn't mention the comic strip. I'm assuming the word predates the comic, and the comic helped popularise it, as John Ryan suggests: Boofhead brought back into common usage the term 'boofhead' in describing a simpleton or fool.