50 years ago yesterday ...
If you missed yesterday's posting, you may want to scroll down for the cartoons from April 13, 1914 and 1939. Meanwhile, here's a selection from 1964.
You may recall that this whole nostalgia thing began with my poking around for Civil Rights Act coverage. As it happens, this John Milt Morris cartoon ran April 13, 1964. The scan isn't very good: That second step reads "The Job of Policing and Enforcing Civil Rights."
In today's Dick Tracy, Junior and Moon Maid move towards interspecies marriage (Rick Santorum was about a month shy of his sixth birthday. Maybe it traumatized him.).
It's a striking bit of synchronicity, because the strip has recently kinda brought Moon Maid back, an interesting move given that a lot of fans consider the whole Vitamin (Diet) Smith/magnetism/moon business to be where Chester Gould's classic strip went off the rails.
Because a strip featuring characters like Flat Top and Pruneface was so firmly on the rails to begin with.
Archie, meanwhile, has always been based neither in realism nor in fantasy but rather in a kind of bubble. As noted yesterday, the Archie gang was never as gritty as Freckles and his friends, and was a gag-a-day strip rather than working in continuity.
Also, I think Freckles actually was geared to teenagers, while Archie has always struck me as aiming for teenagers-to-be, or at least for the same sort of aspirational cool kids who went to beach movies but had never seen the ocean.
In 1964, Blondie was also in a bubble, still very much a housewife, doing housewifey things, though Blondie couldn't hold a candle in the ditzy wife department to ...
Trudy, who spent most of her time wrecking the car and overdrawing the checking account. And talking and talking and talking.
These agreeably shallow cartoon women sure made Lucy Van Pelt a breath of fresh air.
Peanuts, at this stage, was on the verge of a seismic shift. Snoopy had been walking upright for several years, but he didn't become a Flying Ace until 1965, at which point he began to increasingly dominate the strip. At this point, however, it was still strongly (human)-character-driven with Lucy/Linus conflict a frequent plot device.
Actually, Lucy/everybody-else conflict was a frequent plot device. One of the best.
The Phantom was still a single gentleman and would be for another 14 years. And then dozen years after that ... well, we'll get there in a little while. For the moment, it was strictly "Love me, love my wolf."
Also, 1964 was well before they installed metal detectors in airports, so don't argue with him about anything else he might be bringing onto the plane, either, much less expect him to become "Ghost Who Takes Off His Shoes."
Buz Sawyer was the work of Roy Crane, who had started one of the first adventure strips, Wash Tubbs, in 1924, but wanted to own his work and so walked away from that strip in 1943 to begin the story of a Navy flyer in the then-current war.
Crane had turned the writing of the strip over to Edwin Granberry early on, and had used assistants to finish the art. Sometime in the 60s, health problems meant turning over the remainder of the tasks, so it's hard to say how much he might have had to do with this particular day's strip.
Crane's move had paved the way for Milton Caniff to give up the syndicate-owned "Terry and the Pirates" and create his own WWII flyboy, Steve Canyon, who was also still in the funny pages in 1964. Unlike Buz, Canyon remained a warrior, albeit in the hot spots of the Cold War.
Buz Sawyer, with its simpler writing, smaller cast and less dense art, was the first continuity strip I followed, but I never quite figured out what was going on in Steve Canyon. A few years ago, Dan Thompson ran a series of Steve Canyon strips on his own website, updated daily, and I got into it then, so I think it was an age thing.
On the other hand, my dad had a collection of Caniff's Male Call strips, and, at 14, I didn't have much trouble figuring out that one. That is, I didn't get most of the military-based jokes, but I could understand the popularity of the strip.
Speaking of military types, this guy Bailey had dropped out of college to enlist for the Korean War and then never went back. We'll see him again.
Does Snuffy Smith still run a still? I think the corn cob pipe isn't the only negative social thing he has put aside in the past half century, but, in any case, he sure was a pipe-smokin', moonshinin', chicken-stealin' son of a gun back in those days.
I don't remember being corrupted by reading Snuffy Smith, but, then, obviously something did it, and I'm tired of people blaming Benjamin Spock.
I think it was ol' Snuffy.
25 years ago yesterday ...
By 1989, not all cartoons were neatly divided between adventure and yucks, and Doonesbury was breaking new ground with the death of Andy Lippincott from AIDS. Then, as now, a lot of readers just couldn't figure out this feature.
Whoops. Never mind Snuffy's jug. The Professor kept one in his desk drawer, too.
Shoe was still firmly in the hands of creator Jeff MacNelly then who, combining this with his Pulitzer-Prize-winning political cartoons, was a refutation of the idea that conservatives cannot be funny.
The strip was a dozen years old by 1989 and, while in its first years had spent a lot of time in the newspaper office, it was already moving from acerbic social observation to character-driven humor, but still retained an edge.
Incidentally, "Shoe" was named for Jim Shumacher, a legendary and beloved journalism prof and local editor at Chapel Hill, where MacNelly had learned his trade. At the Chapel Hill Weekly, Shumacher reported to legendary but not particularly beloved publisher Orville Campbell, immortalized by another UNC alum, Andy Griffith, under the name "Otis."
Which goes to show that there's more than one way to make a lasting impression on creative students and that you should choose wisely.
Mother Goose and Grimm also brought some edge to the comics page. The strip was five years old at this stage, and had shifted to mostly stories involving the title characters, but had begun with a lot of one-off gags based on fairy tales and nursery rhymes. Mike Peters freely explains that this level of variety in the strip was inspired by The Far Side.
Peters was the first cartoonist to exploit the fact that dogs are known to drink out of toilets, and, while it has become a cartoon cliche since, it was radical at the time.
Peters tells of a near-cancellation in Pittsburgh, sparked by a woman who, when the syndicate finally contacted her, explained why she objected so strenuously to the strip: "She said, 'You don't understand. If you have cartoons of a dog drinking out of the toilet and any real dogs see it ...'''
Beetle, meanwhile, had gone through some controversy since 1964, with the introduction of Lt. Flap, a black officer who dressed like a pimp in his off-hours, and Miss Buxley, who began as pure eye-candy and brought accusations of sexism. Both characters were toned down notably, but the fat-and-ugly jokes aimed at Sgt. Lugg in the late 80s also created some negative response, and she has also been mellowed since this strip ran.
Chester Gould had retired in 1977 and died in '85, and "Dick Tracy" was now, as the credit here indicates, being done by the team of Dick Locher and Max Collins, who had packed Moon Maid off to that great space coupe in the sky.
But while the strip was more down-to-earth in a literal sense, they were keeping up its tradition of incredible villains with improbable names.
Meanwhile, Ghost Who Walks had gotten married in 1978 and turned into Ghost Who Takes Out the Garbage and Does the Yardwork, and his domestic life began to dominate the strip, with adopted son Rex taking on whole adventures while Mr. and Mrs. Walker played with the twins and the gentle beasts on the golden sands of Eden.
And, speaking of gentle beasts, Snoopy had become Joe Cool in 1971 and by 1989, there were strips where the entire gag was Snoopy standing around in some fanciful personna.
Back in the 1950s and 60s, there had been people who thought Charlie Brown's name was "Peanuts." By the 70s and 80s, people thought the name of the strip was "Snoopy."
I remain frustrated by the fact that, at the time of his death in 2000, Schulz had apparently been in the process of returning the strip to a more character-driven base, particularly with the development of Rerun as a new Everyman, less insecure than Charlie Brown and less ethereal than his older brother, Linus. I would have liked to have seen where he went with it.
But in 1989, it was mostly about Snoopy, which certainly didn't harm its popularity with readers.
Peanuts is not the only strip to have simply slipped into reruns upon the death of the creator. Tiger, by Bud Blake, is still in circulation despite Blake's 2005 death and, as far as I know, is still recycling his work. If nothing else, the current strips bear his signature. Nor is Peanuts the first to go this route: Fred Bassett has been in reruns since creator Alex Graham died in 1991, a decade before Schulz passed on.
It being worth noting that, while I object mightily to tying up space in print newspapers with reruns, I not only enjoy them on line but I've been drawing heavily upon, and linking frequently to, Don Markstein's Toonopedia, which hasn't been updated since Don died two years ago.
(And this update: Lincoln Peirce did a little more research on yesterday's mystery political cartoonist and reports "The March 19, 1914 edition mentions him by name with a caption reading: 'An Afternoon At The Automobile Show With Cartoonist Warlow,' and the signature matches the one in your "Kilkenny Cats" cartoon. Beyond that, though, I'm afraid I didn't learn much about Warlow, not even his first name. But I'm in agreement with you that he has a real nice style.")
(Second update: See comment from DDDegg below. Sad, but explains why we didn't hear more from him. Life was fragile in those days.)