Yes, it’s a stupid gag. When you’re 15 and dreaming of making it in the grand world of newspaper comic syndication, however, it’s comedy gold. The vision of the dog having to look down to confirm it is, in fact, “Rex’ who is being summoned = funny. Anticipation - or the idea that something funny is about to happen - makes for good comedy. I read “Herman” like Homer Simpson reads “Ziggy”: For an “after-a-day-in-the-life chuckle.” There’s no life lesson in Jim Unger’s prolific body of work - no Pulitzer. No gaggle of nerds re-drawing his work as Spiderman on the Internet.
But, honestly, who cares?
“Herman” is what so many comics should be and rarely are - a chuckle. A gag. Something to post on your refrigerator door to remind you, “Oh, yeah… Yesterday started out/ended with a laugh.”
I know that Jim Unger didn’t create an Opus for the world to opine, but I also know how hard it is to produce a daily, effective gag for so many days, over so many years. Not everyone is prolific, and for good reason. Jim Unger helped shape the cartoonist I am today. He was on a short list of cartoons I wanted to imitate in gags and also in art. His thick, conservative lines and use of subtle pattern influenced the style I still use today. And his simple gags still make me laugh.
He will be missed. At least on the 123rd block of Harlem.