At the turn of the 20th century, long before the scientific and medical community had properly studied and affirmed the health and productivity benefits of a short nap, the notion of an adult ostensibly shirking work or other responsibilities to catch a few mid-day Zs was widely regarded as a subversive act. While society and employers may now seem finally ready for a more sane relationship with siestas, the PR campaign that brought us here was comically long, with some of its more covert battles waged in unexpected places.
Though arguably necessary for survival during the colonists’ earliest days in the New World, the masochistic Protestant work ethic that to this day has some boasting about their 90-hour work weeks was less justifiable by the time it was re-entering the zeitgeist during the first and second Industrial Revolutions.
Sociologists of the era like Max Weber came to the unsubstantiated conclusion that contemporary labor trends and sudden explosion of capitalism around the western world was merely an evolution of that earlier Calvinist “rise and grind” mindset that kept the fields tilled and, thus, starvation at bay. The bosses — and their purchased mouthpieces in government — were more than happy to signal boost that analysis and push the idea that, in fact, spending every waking hour quietly toiling away in a factory for pennies was good not just for the worker’s soul, but for the soul of the nation. As the proliferation of organized labor groups and the increasingly-violent reactions their demands for better wages and working conditions drew from police, Pinkertons, and even the U.S. Army might indicate, the average worker wasn’t quite sold on that messaging.
Organized or not, the ballooning factory workforce had the side effect of urbanizing America in the early 1900s. For the first time in U.S. history, more people were living in a city than not. With this migration and coalescence of humanity came an increased demand for newspapers. Thankfully, the Industrial Revolutions left printers better equipped than in the Gutenberg era to produce daily periodicals for regional populations numbering well into the millions. From this confluence of events, along with the nascent practice of syndication, the newspaper comic strip soon became a popular staple of city-dwellers’ monoculture: the dessert reward for finishing the dry vegetable reporting.
From the outset, these strips carried on the legacy of their political cartoon forebears, offering wry social commentary stealthily laundered through cute drawings and relatable protagonists. Occasionally, these beloved characters would be used for evil, as was the case for the unfathomably-beloved Hogan’s Alley street urchin, The Yellow Kid, who got wrapped up in newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst’s propagandistic mongering for war with Spain and became the namesake of “Yellow Journalism.” (Imagine if Spongebob was suddenly synonymous with waterboarding.) More often than not, newspaper cartoon characters served as the vox populi, the incorrigible rapscallions offering a communal outlet for the naughtier thoughts and deeds the readership wouldn’t dare indulge in their own lives.
Clocked by comic creators as one of the most universal fantasies of the overworked labor force, the humble nap featured regularly in early funnies. Despite a few substantial wins during the Great Depression and FDR eras, the average American worker has spent most of the past century relatively overworked and underpaid, and things only seem to have gotten worse over time. So, it should come as no surprise that naps are one of the few comic strip constants that have persisted over the years. Whether a grease-covered turn-of-the-century factory worker or modern day bleary-eyed cubicle jockey, every American worker can relate to the desire to sneak in 40 winks or, better still, do so while on the clock, right under the nose of a manager or authority figure?
Today, science comes down squarely in support of these languidly laboring forebearers. With a brief siesta now a proven boon to worker productivity, rather than a symptom of laziness, even the corporate world is embracing the #NapLife culture, oftentimes in ways far cringier than that hashtag. Never ones to pass up an opportunity to throw stones in our glass house, we decided to pay homage to the century-long relationship between comic strips and naps by producing a little cringe of our own—the mostly cute, wildly entertaining sort of cringe where we have a guest writer test drive the most iconic napping positions to ever grace the funny pages.