I have a method to reading the morning paper. Instead of ruining the day by railing at the political and world news until the cream sours in my morning coffee, I try to grab the funny papers from Dr. Advice and get a clearer perspective on the important things in life.
Comic strips take me back to a kinder and gentler time when I could climb onto my Grandpa or Great-Uncle’s knee while they patiently read the Sunday comics in the Los Angeles Times newspaper. Together we laughed at the antics of Blondie and Dagwood, Lil Abner, Katzenjammer Kids, and my favorite, Little Orphan Annie. Uncle Phil could pop his false teeth out at will, and Grandpa was able to wiggle his ears, which never failed to delight.
Starting in the late 1920’s, comic strips expanded to include adventure stories and then soap opera type serials. Prince Valiant was a serial strip drawn by Hal Foster and taking place in the time of King Arthur, when dragons were running rampant, and the handsome prince in his page boy bob, was the designated dragon slayer. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan was put into serial cartoon form by Foster as well. Tarzan showed us how easy it was to shinny up tall trees and make friends with monkeys, but the message brought forth in both of these strips was that good triumphed over evil, and all it took was a pure heart and a lot of muscle. I had a pure heart and though I lacked the muscle, I climbed, and promptly fell out of a neighbor’s cherry tree and drove a rusty nail through my leg. On another occasion, after dreaming I could fly, I jumped out of a second story bedroom window, and though I landed more or less upright, my ten year old teeth bit through my tongue. It was my only attempt at flying. Popeye the Sailor Man gave a boost to the canned spinach industry by showing Popeye scarfing down large cans of spinach and mothers tried to induce obstinate children to eat the terrible slimy green slop, so they could be like Popeye. Loyal Olive Oyl, his fair lady, was part of the love triangle between Popeye and Bluto. and later Swee’Pea appeared as either Popeye’s ward or son.
Story telling using a series of pictures has been around for centuries. Cartoons have been found in Egyptian tombs, as well as in ancient graffiti all over the world. One medieval European example in textile is the lovely Bayeux Tapestry. The entire tapestry, which is 230 ft. long, has fifty different scenes depicting the Norman invasion. Germany and England presented us with some of the first satirical or humorous sequential narrative drawings.
In America, the great popularity of comics was due to the newspaper business. Various newspapers ran different strips, encouraging readers to follow their favorite comics which often ran in serial form, ensuring regular readership. Newspaper comic strips come in two different types; daily strips and Sunday strips. Most are syndicated, and distributed to many newspapers for a fee. In the United States, a daily strip appears on Monday through Friday and is printed in black and white. Sunday strips are usually in color, and follow their own story pattern. The two conventional formats for newspaper comics are strips and single gag panels. Bizarro, Dennis The Menace, and The Family Circus are two examples of gag panels; Charles Schultz’s Peanuts is a strip. Strips usually consist of three or four squares carrying the narrative along. Who would want to miss seeing Lucy kick the football away from Charlie Brown, or watch Snoopy attach the Red Baron? For Better Or Worse, the creation of Lynn Johston, is a running strip about the daily life of a family. Cartoons frequently are somewhat autobiographical, similar to a blog, but with pictures illustrating the story line.
The funnies are not always funny; the decade of the 1960’s saw the rise of underground newspapers. Political strips such as Doonsbury and Mallard Fillmore, frequently began in college newspapers under different titles, and continue the daily commentary of current affairs. Dilbert is a parody of today’s tech industry, pointy heads and all.
As long as newspapers keep running the comic section, I will look forward to keeping the daily news in perspective by chuckling along with the antics of Hagar, the irascible Dane, and watching the evolving love affair of LuAnn and her handsome Aussie beau Quill. Cartoons tell a simple little story in a simple way.