Mallard Fillmore first hatched from the pen of Bruce Tinsley at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va. Today, the celebrated comic strip about Tinsley's conservative reporter-duck fills the bill in nearly 400 newspapers nationwide.
Distributed by King Features Syndicate since 1994, readers of newspapers across the country enjoy the duck's right-wing viewpoint.
Tinsley created Mallard for what he saw as the conservative underdog. The strip is for "the average person out there: the forgotten American taxpayer who's sick of the liberal media and cultural establishments that act like he or she doesn't exist," he says.
"Mallard" almost did not see the light of day. When asked to come up with a mascot for The Daily Progress entertainment section, artist Tinsley showed editors three ideas: a blue hippopotamus, a big nose in tuxedo and cane, and a duck.
Tinsley says the hippo went unused for fear of offending overweight people, and the nose was axed because it would "offend people of Jewish and Mediterranean descent, not to mention Arabs and anyone else with a big nose." Tinsley says he thought his editors were kidding, but they were not.
Once Mallard Fillmore was off and running, editors requested Tinsley tone down its conservative bias. When he refused, he was fired.
The strip caught the attention of The Washington Times, which used Tinsley's wise-quacking journalist in the commentary section before moving the strip to the comics pages. The rest, as they say, is history.
Bruce Tinsley, who was born in Louisville, Ky., has been a reporter, editorial writer and copy editor for newspapers in Kentucky, Virginia and Washington, DC.
Tinsley acknowledges that the main character, Mallard the conservative duck/reporter, in his comic strip is based wholly on himself.
In newspapers around the country, Tinsley's work generates loads of reader mail, much of it contentious. "Some like me," he says. "And some really hate me, but that just lets me know that I'm doing my job."
Tinsley was a Reader's Digest Fellow at Indiana University's graduate school of journalism. He hopes to teach someday.
A seasoned, rumpled ex-newspaper reporter, Mallard now works for WFDR-TV in Washington, D.C. The fact that he's a duck doesn't stand out at Channel 3 nearly as much as his political beliefs. He thinks we average, hardworking Americans need a break instead of a lecture. Mallard thinks taxes are too high, educational standards are too low, and that the "radicals" of the '60s and '70s now set the establishment's politically correct media agenda. Mallard's mission: He's gonna shake 'em up a little.
Mallard's boss at WFDR. A "child of the '60s," Mr. Noseworthy is still adjusting to being a grownup in the 21st century. He longs for the days spent listening to records that criticized his parents' materialism (on the $1,500 stereo that his parents bought him). However, his privileged background didn't dull his "social conscience"; he would gladly give someone the shirt off your back.
Co-anchor at WFDR, Chantel has a dilemma: she likes Mallard but hates his politics. Smart, aggressive and liberal, she once had all the makings of a first-class journalist. Instead, she became a TV reporter. Chantel and Mallard can't even have lunch together without fighting. He can tolerate her politics, but not the fact that her idea of a deli is someplace that serves sprouts on a croissant. And, if she says "self-esteem" one more time, he's gonna commit Chantelicide.
Mallard's best friend, whose life's savings are invested in Dave's Diner, the burger joint where Mallard has breakfast every afternoon. Dave is one of those rare Americans who still believes in the American work ethic and can quote our Founding Fathers. This may be because he is from Vietnam.
Dave's little boy. Lives to play basketball. Wants to forgo his fourth grade eligibility and go straight to the pros. His teacher, Ms. Carp (pronounced Mizzzzzz Carp), is also president of the local NEA chapter. She started disliking Rush immediately upon finding out that he was named after the talk-show host, not the band. Other kids want to know where babies come from; Rush wants to know why there are no Asian-American players in the NBA.
Mallard's allergic to cats and dogs. He wanted a pet that was good with kids, but had to settle for one that would be good with hush puppies. Eddie isn't crazy about his situation. As he surveys his shabby living-room furnished with a tacky castle, a windmill and a deep-sea diver blowing bubbles, he wonders why there is never an animal-rights activist around when you need one.
Last and clearly least, Chet is Chantel's co-anchor at WFDR. He knows all of Dan Rather's outfits by heart. Although he wasn't born when President Kennedy was assassinated, he can tell you exactly where he was when Barbara Walters launched The View. Chet believes in giving back to the community, so he's endowed a scholarship to give aspiring young anchorpersons the same opportunity he had - to get a chin transplant. Chet is forever looking for that special something that sets him apart from other TV anchors. Mallard suggests he try subject-verb agreement.
No chin, and a backbone to match. Congressman Veneer never met a tax hike he didn't like. All of his kids go to private school, but he opposes vouchers for the rest of us. (What if his daughter started dating one of the "Voucher Kids"?) While the congressman doesn't visit his district often, he remembers that it's in "one of those big, rectangular states." He keeps getting re-elected because he's from a "safe" district. Of course, when you live in Washington, D.C., almost anywhere else seems safe.