1. 1. Definition According to Wikipedia encyclopaedia, “ a comic strip is a short strip or sequence of drawings, telling a story. Drawn by a cartoonist, they are published on a recurring basis (usually daily or weekly) in newspapers or on the Internet. They usually communicate to the reader via speech balloons. The term comic’ derives from the fact that most strips were funny in the beginning. For this reason they are often also referred to as funnies’. “. Comics, however, need not be humorous by necessity. While many comics remain focused on humour, others involve politics, human interest, murder and suspense, or adventure.
Another word for comic is sequential art’ , which I regard as the most appropriate term describing the genre, because it refers to comics as an art form on the one hand and gives you an idea of the nature and appearance of comics on the other. This takes me to the structure and appearance of newspaper comics. 1. 2. Structure and Appearance Most comics consist of more than one panel, which is a box or a frame that contains a given scene, but as the following strip shows, sequence can also be expressed in only one panel. Here, one can imagine what happened before this scene, by just seeing one panel.
Almost all comics also contain some text, which appears in balloons or headlines. While most daily newspaper comics are published six days a week in black and white, those on Sunday tend to be in colour. 1. 2. The Characters In fact, the characters are the most important ingredients of a successful feature, because everything else is exchangeable. There are often lots of artists who work on one strip and if any of them discontinues, there are others to replace him or her. Artists may even switch syndicates without anyone noticing, but Peanuts, for example, would not be the same without Charlie Brown or Snoopy.
The characters become your friends, because you identify with them. The typical loser who never manages to sit next to the little red-haired girl during the break might sympathize with Charlie Brown and the person being bullied at his or her workplace is very likely to feel affection for Dilbert. According to Julie Davies, “ comic strips can only be effective if readers see their own lives reflected in the daily funnies. ” The Funnies are also something steady, something you can rely on, because, once adapted, they are not likely to change.
Brian Walker, son of the legendary creator of “Beetle Bailey” explains the comics’ secret of success: The funnies have endured primarily because comic characters have a universal, timeless appeal. Their daily appearances make them familiar to millions. Their triumphs make them heroic. Their struggles make them seem human. Cartoonists create friends for their readers. Pogo, Charlie Brown, Calvin and Hobbes, and Dilbert are part of a great cultural legacy that is being enriched further every day. Recently a friend asked me whether there was a difference between caricatures and comics and if yes, what it was.
In fact, caricatures and comics look remarkably alike and have the same roots, but if you look closer, you will see that caricatures hardly ever feature a recurring cast of characters and comics almost always do. This is because caricatures, or editorial cartoons as they are formally called, are drawn for the moment and often convey strong political or social criticism that would seem ridiculous if it was only against one particular person or political party. 2. What Comics need 2. 1. The Cartoonists In my opinion cartoonists embody two very different qualities.
On the one hand, I see cartoonists as artists who complete the basic steps of work that have to be done for every single strip such as writing, editing, pencilling, inking, lettering and for most Sunday pages also colouring. However, as soon as the strip takes off, most cartoonists employ assistants, so-called ghost-artists, who perform one or more of these tasks. Charles Schulz who did all these things himself for over 50 years was an exception. On the other hand, cartoonists are messengers who discuss their values and beliefs, more or less openly, in front of a vast readership.
The following example shows that in history it has not always been easy for cartoonists to share their thoughts with the world. In the 1950s a column in the “Denver Post” set off a heated debate about the role of cartoonists. Should cartoonists follow the unwritten “no comment” law, that is to say should social and political criticism and commentary be banned from the Funnies, or should artists be able to freely comment on important issues like war and peace, unemployment or pollution of the environment. Al Capp was one of those strongly in favour of freedom of expression concerning comics: A cartoonist is a commentator. Every line he draws, every word he writes IS a comment on the world he knows. When newspaper editors ask a cartoonist to stop commenting, they ask him – in effect – to stop being a cartoonist. ” Editor James Pope thought differently: “They should think about human nature, about social foibles, about romance and adventure and laughter. I am hanged if I see why any of them want to bother with the contentious artificial area of political and economic ideas, or any controversial issues whatever. ”
I see a cartoonist as a messenger of his or her time, because, in fact, most comics do feature commentary relating to the zeitgeist of their era, even if it is only the space race or the lack of Christmas spirit. 2. 2. The Syndicates According to Brian Walker, “the birth of the comics was the result of three major developments in American newspaper publishing: Sunday editions, color printing and national syndication. ” In journalism, syndication is the contracting for the publication of the same piece of work in several newspapers.
Syndicates came into existence during the American Civil War, because at that time smaller newspapers did not have the money to employ their own journalists and artists. Moreover it was not easy to have access to national news. However, it was made possible by newspaper syndicates such as King Features, founded in 1914. Whereas major newspapers still had and featured only their own comic strip artists, syndication enabled small-town newspapers to run daily comic strips by purchasing them from the syndicates, who employed their own cartoonists.
Even today, most comics are owned and controlled by syndicates and not by their creators. The main advantages of syndication are that artists do not have to care at all about marketing and as long as the cartoon is not exactly skyrocketing, syndicates will pay the cartoonist a fixed salary. When there finally is enough income to be shared, the split is usually fifty-fifty after the production costs have been deducted. 2. 3. The Readership Most critics are only just beginning to realize the enormous influence comic strips have on the population, but in fact, it has been there for decades.
In 1977, a survey showed that 4 out of 5 Americans are dedicated devotees of the funnies. In their first days, publishers primarily used the funnies as a means to create an audience for their papers among immigrants with limited English skills, but nowadays members of all classes count themselves as enthusiastic readers. In being funny, comics can address very important and serious subjects, such as values and beliefs, and help us deal with our problems. 3. The History of the Funnies: An Overview
Before dealing with the main issue of this paper: newspaper comics after World War II and their social and political relevance, I would like to give a brief historical survey of this genre from its beginnings to the end of the 20th century, in order to provide the reader with the necessary background information for reference. The first popular colour cartoon in history was “The Yellow Kid” by Richard Felton Outcault. On February 17, 1895 a small black-and-white cartoon called “Hogan’s Alley” by Outcault, featuring a bald-headed street urchin dressed in what looked like a dirty nightshirt, appeared in the “New York World”.
The action was set in New York City’s backyards, which were filled with dogs, cats, and crooks. Outcault used the nightshirt of the main character as a place to make comments concerning the strip’s subject. The printers, however, did not care about the commentary and used the rag as a test area for a new colouring-process and a few months later (May, 1895), the character made its first appearance in colour, although its nightshirt was blue then, not yellow. It took another six months and on November 24, 1895, the Kid first wore its characteristic yellow nightshirt.
In 1896 William Randolph Hearst hired Outcault away from Joseph Pulitzer’s “New York World”, and Outcault began drawing “The Yellow Kid” for Hearst’s “New York Journal”. However, the “World” kept “Hogan’s Alley”, which was now drawn by another artist. The fight between the two newspapers for the publication rights to the Yellow Kid character provoked the term “yellow journalism” . When Outcault finally won the right to continue his strip, he gradually changed the style of the panels and introduced balloon narration (speech bubbles).
This paved the way for more complicated storylines and marked “The Yellow Kid” as the first true comic strip. Other early strips include Winsor McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland”, “The Kin-der-Kids”, and “Wee Willy Winkie’s World”, both by Lyonel Feininger. In 1907 “Mutt and Jeff” by Bud Fisher debuted. The strip was the first successful comic strip to run every day and established the art form as an important daily newspaper feature. “Krazy Kat” by George Herriman marked a new era in American comics because of its innovative artistic style and its use of shifting, abstract backgrounds, as you can see in the strip on the left.
The strip was built around three characters: Krazy Kat, Ignatz Mouse, and Officer Pupp (a bulldog). Krazy loved Ignatz, but the mouse did not love the cat and even threw bricks at it. That is why Officer Pupp, a police officer, was constantly putting Ignatz in jail. In the 1910s many comic strips reflected the social changes of the time. For example, in 1912, as the women’s suffrage movement grew stronger, Cliff Sterrett created “Polly and Her Pals,” a comic strip featuring an independent woman.
George McManus’s “Bringing Up Father” (1913), which chronicled the life of an Irish immigrant worker and his social-climbing wife, was mainly about immigrants and ethnic problems. In the 1920s, strips focusing on family life became popular: Frank King’s “Gasoline Alley” first appeared in 1919 and was very famous. It was also one of the few strips where the characters aged at a natural rate. The strip itself was rather conservative and concentrated on the lives of a group of friends.
Other famous strips were Billy De Beck’s “Barney Google” (1919), which followed the misadventures of a born loser, and Harold Gray’s “Little Orphan Annie” (1924), which is about a girl who is adopted by a millionaire. The 1930s were the decade of the adventure strip: “Terry and the Pirates” by Milton Caniff debuted with great success in 1934 and also Caniff’s later creation (1947) “Steve Canyon” became a huge hit. With their rich plots and characters Caniff’s two masterpieces revolutionized the adventure-strip-genre and earned him the reputation of being one of the greatest storytellers ever to work in the field of comics.
Adventure comics do not have a distinct ending each week, but instead feature a suspense situation, which forces readers to wait until the next appearance of the strip to discover how events turn out. Despite the dominance of action strips, also humorous comics made their first appearances in the late 1920s and 1930s. Elzie Segar’s “Popeye, the Sailor” debuted in 1929, as well as Chick Young’s creation “Blondie” which still exists today and features a typical American suburban family. Another successful humour strip debuted in 1934: “Li’l Abner” by Al Capp.
The strip evolves around Li’l Abner, his wife Daisy Mae and their friends and family. In the course of time, Al Capp introduced a range of masochistic characters, like Kiggmies, that wanted to be kicked all the time and Shmoos that supplied humankind with almost everything: they could lay eggs and bottled milk and if their owner merely looked at them hungrily, they would gladly die and turn into a sizzling steak. Once dead, all parts of the body could be used: the skin was leather-like, the eyes made perfect buttons and the whiskers could be used as toothpicks.
Moreover they multiplied at an enormous rate so that nobody could ever run out of Shmoos and thus were the perfect solution to any shortages caused by postwar economy. In the end, they proved too good for humankind, because people, with a limitless supply of self-sacrificing Shmoos, stopped working and society broke down. During World War II, many characters (Barney Google and Snuffy Smith from “Barney Google”, Skeezix from “Gasoline Alley” and Mickey Mouse to name just a few) enlisted in the army and fought for their country. However, not all characters that supported their country in the war served in the army.
Dick Tracy (by Chester Gould), for example, helped selling government bonds and Annie from “Little Orphan Annie” organized the Junior Commandos to collect scrap metal for the war effort. Al Capp thought that his strip “Li’l Abner” would do its part best by showing life in a free and happy world, in order to remind people what they were fighting for. After the Second World War, television started to have a great impact on the funnies and a new genre emerged in response to the growing popularity of TV-series: the Soap Operas, also called romance strips. “Mary Worth” (1940; begun as “Apple Mary” in 1934) was one of the earliest soap operas.
Later examples include “The Heart of Juliet Jones” by Stan Drake, and “On Stage” by Leonard Starr. The trend in comics also moved towards strips that dealt with more intellectually demanding questions. The first strip to move in this direction was “Pogo” (1942; nationally syndicated in 1949) by Walt Kelly. Its events take place in the Okefenokee Swamp, which is inhabited by Pogo Possum and his friends. Over the years “Pogo” dealt with some of the major social, political, and moral questions of its time. I will deal with this strip more extensively in chapter 4. 1.
Story strips are strips with storylines that go on for several weeks or even months. “The Heart of Juliet Jones” and “Pogo” were among the last features of this genre to debut and become successful, because newspaper readers no longer had the patience to follow plotlines that took weeks to develop when they could watch a complete episode of their favourite soap opera on TV in 30 minutes or an hour. This development concluded in the gradual replacement of story strips by gag-a-day comics (strips that do not have storylines that go on for more than a few days) in the 1950s and 1960s. Charles M.
Schulz’s creation “Peanuts” (1950) is one of the most popular gag-a-day-strips developed after the Second World War. It is about the trials of life and reflects on issues such as self-worth, learning to lose, unrequited love, and the pursuit of happiness in general. I will refer to “Peanuts” in Chapter 4. 2. Other notable strips of this time are Hank Ketcham’s “Dennis the Menace” and Mort Walker’s “Beetle Bailey. The 1960s showed that comics could successfully adapt to other media. The TV-show “A Charlie Brown Christmas” was originally broadcast in 1965, and instantly won both, an Emmy and a Peabody Award.
Generally speaking, no new features with lasting importance appeared in the 60’s, except maybe for “The Wizard of ID”, a strip that focuses on the life of an insecure king and “B. C. “, a strip about cavemen that is set in the Stone Age, both by Johnny Hart. The political uproar of the 1960s and early 1970s proved fertile ground for a young cartoonist named Garry Trudeau. His strip “Doonesbury” debuted in 1970 and focused on the major political and social events of its time. Often controversial, “Doonesbury” was the first comic strip to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize, capturing the 1975 award for editorial cartooning.
More about “Doonesbury” can be found in chapter 4. 3. Other popular strips developed in the 1970s include “Hagar the Horrible” by Dik Browne and “Garfield” by Jim Davis. “Cathy” by Cathy Guisewite chronicled the challenges that women face in modern society. New creations of the 1980s were characterized by a biting satirical humour that was mainly inspired by former creations such as “Doonesbury” and “Pogo”. “Bloom County” by Berke Breathed, for example took shots at liposuction, feminism, and home-shopping networks and criticized people like Madonna, Donald Trump, and Prince William.
The Far Side” by Gary Larson was equally popular and dealt with topics such as disaster and death, but nonetheless never ceased being funny. One of the most inspired creations of the 1980s was Bill Watterson’s “Calvin and Hobbes”. It featured a hyperactive six-year-old, called Calvin, and his stuffed Tiger Hobbes, who comes alive in the boy’s vivid imagination. The emergence of the internet as a global communications network in the 1990s had parallels to the rise of television in the 1950s, because again, the new medium presented both a challenge and an opportunity to the comics business.
Once more the industry defied the opponent, this time not by creating new genres, but by setting up websites and selling features directly to the clients, that is to say the former reader of the newspaper. Despite these additional incomes, most of the profits were, and are still, derived from selling the strips to newspapers. Starting in the 1980s, also the workplace was slowly beginning to adapt to new technologies such as the personal computer. A strip that reflects this change is “Dilbert” by Scott Adams. Dilbert” deals with the insults of corporate America and the sufferings of the modern employee. Chapter 4. 4. will be dedicated to “Dilbert”. Another successful new strip of the 1990s is “Zits” by Jerry Scott and Tim Borgman. It features a teenager called Jeremy Duncan and is mainly about the problems adolescents encounter when they grow up. Creations of recent years include “Over The Hedge”, a strip by Michael Fry and T. Lewis and Patrick McDonnell’s “Mutts”, an imitation of George Herriman’s famous “Krazy Kat”.