An artist, Unger grew up dodging Nazi bombs in his native London, enduring “enough near-misses to take life less seriously than most people.” After art school, he moved to Canada, where he became art director for the Mississauga Times. He also drew editorial cartoons, and came to the attention of the Universal Press Syndicate, who “told me I should be doing comics, since my work for the Times was so comical,” he said later. His panel cartoon featured a frumpy everyman — so much so that he didn’t want to name him. The syndicate did, though: “Herman”.
“Everybody knows themselves when they see Herman,” Unger said. “We all think we’re so different and we’re not.” The panel was a ground-breaker, according to industry pundits. Unger “had a real idiosyncratic style and just an off-kilter way of looking at the world,” said Andrew Farago, curator of San Francisco’s Cartoon Art Museum. “I can’t imagine ‘The Far Side’ from Gary Larson catching on the way it did without Jim Unger blazing the trail.” The panel was in more than 500 newspapers when Unger retired to the Bahamas in 1992; the panel was revived in 1997, mixing “classics” (read: reruns) with new material. Unger died May 29 at home in Saanich, British Columbia, Canada. He was 75.