He never had Charlie Brown's wryness, or Superman's suaveness. For dumpiness, Dagwood Bumstead had him dead to rights. For dopiness, he never came close to Beetle Bailey.

But Skippy was as popular as all of them combined. Maybe more. Arguably, he was one the most popular comic strip characters ever to come along.

Not arguably, his end was one of the saddest.

Skippy was a little pen-and-ink boy with a floppy hat, short pants, falling-down socks and a knack for getting into heart-warming kinds of trouble. For 20 years, through the Depression and World War II, Skippy was the featured character of his creator, Percy Crosby. Then, on Dec. 8, 1945, without warning, Skippy disappeared from American newspapers.

A lot of people wondered where he had gone, and why. Many pleaded for his return. Entrepreneurs tried briefly and unsuccessfully to resurrect Skippy.

But Percy Crosby had interred Skippy -- and was midway in the long process of interring himself.

Financially rocky, alcoholically overboard, furiously and publicly anti-Roosevelt from the time FDR moved to the White House, Percy Crosby "must have been a deeply unhappy man" in 19458 says his daughter, Joan Crosby Tribbetts. "I'm sure he thought he was a lousy failure, even though he was gifted, world-famous."

In 1948, Percy Crosby attempted suicide in his New York apartment by slashing his wrists. A short time later, he was confined to the mental ward of a veterans' hospital on Long Island. He spent 16 years there, until he died of stomach cancer in 1964, on his 73rd birthday.

Crosby had five children by the first two of his three marriages. But from the time he divorced his second wife, none of the children was allowed to known his whereabouts, o even to discuss him. In the late 1950s, according to Tibbetts, the children, by then all adults, were told he had died. None, as it turned out, ever saw their father again.

But Joan Tibbetts, now 46, remembers "asking questions. We just kept asking questions." At 15, she "resolved that, when I grow up, I'm going to write a book about my father." As a college student, she did my "damnedest to find him, or find out about him. I missed him very, very much.

"There is a chocolate and vanilla side of everybody," says Tibbetts, who lives in Reston. "I wanted to see my chocolate side."

It began to reveal itself a week after her father died. Tibbetts was then living in Pleasantiville, N.Y. Her husband called her from his New York office one morning to tell her that her long puzzlement was over. Her father's obituary was in that morning's New York Times.

The only Crosby child then living in the New York area, Tibbetts went to Kings Park, the hospital where her father had been confined. She retrieved his personal effects and much of his work, which included hundreds of paintings and thousands of cartoons.

In the 15 years since, Tibbetts has been "obsessed, yes, I guess you could say obsessed" with rehabilitating her father's reputation and resurrecting Skippy.

Doctors who treated Percy Crosby at Kings Park have assured her that "he was not insane," Tibbetts says. "He kept telling everyone he was famous, and they thought he was hallucinating. My father's sin was that he was vitriolic and vocal. The only way to shut him up was to put him away."

The volume and venom of Percy Crosby's voice was first displayed publicly in 1933, at the height of his career.

Crosby was deeply disturbed by Roosevelt's New Deal. He thought it signaled the encroachment of socialism into the democratic traditions. But the rather innocent, nonpolitical Skippy comic strip was not the place to protest. So Crosby bought full-page ads in major newspapers, most of which carried his cartoons, to denounce the president.

"Sure, he was naive," his daughter says. "If you like your bread and butter, you don't do that kind of thng."

Always a difficult man to live with because of his temper, Crosby flew into a rage at his second wife in 1939 and stalked off to Florida for two weeks. When he returned, Agnes Dale Crosby had filed for divorce.

The family was then living on the Ballantrae Estate in McLean, just down the road from where Ethel Kennedy and her family live today. The Crosbys also owned 1,400 acres in Loudoun County.

According to newpaper reports, a Fairfax County Circuit Court judge ordered all the land handed over to Agnes Dale Crosby and set alimony at the then-astronomical level of $14,500 a year. He also denied Percy Crosby visiting rights and ordered him not to interfere or communicate in any way with his former wife and their four children, Skippy, Barbara, Joan and Carol.

"The divorce crushed my father," Tibbetts said. As evidence, she has copies of dozens of letters he wrote during his years at Kings Park -- to his two sisters, to his friends, to former business associates. Almost every one mentions his sorrow at the end of the marriage and his wish to see his children.

But "mental patients aren't taken seriously," Tibbetts says. After a while, "I think my father felt he wasn't ever going to get out. I think he just gave up."

Joan Tibbetts has done anything but. She never wrote her book, although she made available her collection of her father's works and papers to another author, cartoonist Jerry Robinson, whose book, "Skippy and Percy Crosby," was published last year. And she has persevered in other ways. In recent years, her work has begun to pay off.

Recently, Skippy, Inc., the corporation her father founded and which she now owns, won a violation of trademark settlement against the peanut butter manufacturer of the same name.

In the last year, all of Percy Crosby's original Skippy copyrights have been renewed. And in 1979, Tibbetts hopes to sign contracts for a Skippy television show, Skippy dolls, Skippy soft drinks, Skippy whatevers.

Tibbetts' mother, Agnes Dale Crosby, and Tibbetts' two sisters and brother apparently have no objections to the projects, although they have not actively helped in the work. The family has not been able to locate Crosby's daughter by his first marriage.

"The family might as well make the money," Tibbetts argues. "If we don't protect our rights, someone else will just use the name for free."

But it is an emotional spur, not a capitalistic one, that Joan Tibbetts feels.

"'forget it, drop it,' they've been telling me all of it for years," she said."And they're right. I'd prefer to let it go. I'd love to say goodbye to working 60 hours a week on this, and just let it be a spiritual entity in my life.

"But not yet. I'm not there yet. I guess it's just the Skippy in me." CAPTION: Illustration, Skippy, in a cartoon drawn in the late 1920s. Skippy, Inc. Used by Permission Copyright (c) ; Picture, Joan Crosby Tibbetts and Skippy. By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post