For a small town within the shadow of New York City, Hoboken has a remarkably profound legacy of being featured in nationally significant cartoons. Looney Tunes, The Penguins of Madagascar, and even the “father of the American cartoon,” Thomas Nast, have all referenced Hoboken within their body of work. Here are Hoboken’s six most significant mentions in Cartoon Pop Culture History.
Looney Tunes (1950)
One of America’s most beloved cartoons uses Hoboken as a good-natured punchline. In 8 Ball Bunny, Bugs Bunny attempts to reunite a cute, little penguin with his home — presumably at the North Pole. After a series of hijinks and misadventures, Bugs finally brings the penguin all the way to the North Pole only for the penguin to inform Bugs that he’s actually from Hoboken!
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The Penguins of Madagascar (2011)
Coincidentally, Looney Tunes was not the only comic penguin to plug Hoboken. DreamWorks and Nickelodeon’s The Penguins of Madagascar has an episode called “The Hoboken Surprise” which features the penguins going to a fictional zoo in Hoboken.
The episode has an entire jaunty song dedicated to Hoboken called “The Happy Little Land of Hoboken” (which really should become Hoboken’s anthem):
Hoboken is referenced many times throughout the series as characters are routinely transferred to and from the fictitious Hoboken Zoo. Perhaps the writers were influenced by the famed voice actor, John DiMaggio, who stars in the show and hails from North Plainfield, NJ. John most famously voices Bender from Futurama.
Thomas Nast (1856)
Thomas Nast is one of the most important and influential cartoonists in history and is often referred to as the “Father of the American Cartoon.” His political cartoons from the 1860s through the 1880s often depict animals to represent political figures and his use of an elephant to portray the Republican Party and a donkey to embody the Democratic Party still remain with us today. Furthermore, he created the first modern depiction of Santa Claus which we recognize — a rotund fellow in a red suit sporting a fluffy, white beard.
Interestingly, Thomas’ very first published cartoon featured a scene in Hoboken. Thomas depicted the “Great rush of visitors on Sundays” from the Elysian Fields to the Hoboken Ferry.
The Hoboken Nightingale (1924)
Before film included sound, Hoboken found its way onto the big screen when it was featured in Earl Hurd’s comic short, The Hoboken Nightingale. Earl was a pioneering animator and film director who codeveloped the process of “cel animation” in 1914, which allowed animators to reuse still images while only drawing the moving images, thereby saving money, time, and labor.
In The Hoboken Nightingale, a cast of animals and humans put on a vaudeville performance, much to the chagrin of a disgruntled theater manager.
A Contract with God (1978)
A Contract with God: and Other Tenement Stories is a graphic novel by Will Eisner. Will also created The Spirit and remains so influential to comic books that the Comic Book Hall of Fame is officially called the “Will Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame.” Beginning his comic book career in 1936, Will sought to elevate comic books to a form of high art. He hoped to have his work sold in bookstores, rather than comic book shops, and Will’s 1978 publication of A Contract with God markets the comic as a “Graphic Novel” — which helped popularize the term “Graphic Novel.”
A Contract with God is considered one of the first comics to deal with real-life issues. Having lost his daughter, Will’s depression and existential angst are palpable. In the book’s melancholy tone, Hoboken receives a mention while grounding the novel in the harsh realities of life when a character dies in Hoboken.
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We would be remiss if we did not mention New Jersey’s strong connection to the fictional metropolis of Gotham City, from the Batman comic books published by DC Comics. Gotham City’s traditional and canonical location is firmly established in New Jersey.
While Gotham’s location is typically in South Jersey, in Detective Comics #503 (June 1983) Robin and Batgirl drive from a “secret New Jersey airfield” to Gotham City and then drive on the “Hudson County Highway,” referencing our beloved Hudson County, and including it in Batman lore forever after.
According to Batman, “Hudson County’s got the closest corn fields to Gotham!”