Jim Unger's "Herman," now in syndication, was launched in 1974....

Jim Unger's "Herman," now in syndication, was launched in 1974. His exaggeratedly dumpy characters made the cartoon distinct. Credit: AP

The lead character in Jim Unger's offbeat cartoon panel "Herman" is a rumpled, middle-aged everyman, with a bulging belly and a potato-sized nose, dealing with the frustrations and absurdities of everyday life.

In one panel, Unger's lumpy hero wears an apron and washes the dishes as his wife glowers over his shoulder. The caption says, "It's one small step for a man, one giant leap toward a divorce." The award-winning British-born cartoonist had a good idea why his widely syndicated cartoon was so popular. "Everybody knows themselves when they see Herman," he once said. "We all think we're so different and we're not."

Unger, 75, died May 29 at his home in Saanich, British Columbia, Canada, said a spokesman for Universal Uclick, the features syndicate that distributes the "Herman" cartoons. The cause of death was not disclosed.

Launched in 1974, "Herman" was running in more than 500 newspapers around the world by the time Unger retired in the Bahamas in 1992. The cartoon returned to syndication in 1997 with a mix of classic and new material and still appears in hundreds of newspapers worldwide.

"It was a very nontraditional approach to humor in its day," said Lee Salem, president of Universal Uclick, told the Times. "It really opened up the comics pages for a much wider variety of humor and in its way helped pave the path for a new generation, including 'The Far Side' and others that came later."

Andrew Farago, curator of the Cartoon Art Museum in San Francisco, said he "can't imagine 'The Far Side' from Gary Larson catching on the way it did without Jim Unger blazing the trail."

Unger "had a real idiosyncratic style and just an off-kilter way of looking at the world," Farago told the Times. "I don't think anyone on the comics page drew like him. He used nice, bold lines that really stood out on a comics page. When you saw an Unger cartoon, you knew it was unmistakably his work."

The cartoonist's quirky humor and exaggeratedly dumpy characters -- "Ugly people make me laugh," Unger once said -- twice earned him recognition from the National Cartoonists Society for best syndicated panel in the 1980s.

His "Herman" cartoons also were collected in more than a dozen books.

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