Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Comic Stripping: I'll Be Seein' Ya in the Funny Pages

Hiya, and welcome to the first in a series where I will take a look at some comic strips (and maybe some comic books too), from throughout history. I have always been a fan of the so-called funny pages, and some of my fondest childhood memories are lying on the living room floor, newspapers spread out all around me, reading the latest exploits of Beetle Bailey and Broom Hilda and Hagar the Horrible and Marmaduke and Blondie and Dagwood and Redeye and Funky Winkerbean and Prince Valiant and The Wizard of Id and Charlie Brown and the gang, and all those others who to name here would make this list go on forever. Now here we are forty some years later, and I find myself still obsessed over those aforementioned funny pages, adding such stalwarts as Zippy the Pinhead, Calvin and Hobbes, and those wacky denizens of Bloom County and Pearls Before Swine to my roster of comic strip BFFs. Even delving back to before my time, and to such classics as Krazy Kat, Terry and the Pirates, and Lil' Abner. This series is simple. Just some random thoughts on some random comics, with no real rhyme and/or reason behind any of it. Just a look at whatever comic strips (and the occasional comic book) that seem to be making me happy (or angry) at the moment. Simple as that. Now sit right back, and you'll hear a tale. A tale of some comic stripping.

Fist off, let's take a gander at that oh so beloved classic of the funny pages, Charles Schulz's Peanuts. Good a place as any to start, eh? And if we're starting with Peanuts, and good ol' Charlie Brown, and this is acting as an introductory edition to my Comic Stripping series, then we should probably start with the very first Peanuts strip, from waaay back on October 2, 1950. Granted, there has always been a lot of hidden (and sometimes not-so-hidden) existential angst in the pages of Charles Schulz's classic strip, but this first strip really hits hard on that angst...and some sort of pent-up anger as well. That being the case, I really like it, and consider it one of Schultz's subversive masterpieces. Check it out below.


Good ol' Charlie Brown...yes, sir! Didjya know that Charlie Brown was actually created in 1948, in Schulz's comic, L'il Folks? This strip, often just one or two panels, but sometimes as many as three, ran in Schulz's hometown newspaper, the St. Paul Pioneer Press, from 1947 to 1950, and can play out as if the embryonic state of Peanuts. There was even an unnamed puppy that looked a whole hell of a lot like a certain beagle we would come to know a few years later. Seventeen of these strips, mostly the one panel ones, appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Here is one of these early, oh so obvious Peanuts-esque strips, showing am oh so obvious Snoopy-esque dog.



After two years of trying to get this strip syndicated, the cartoonist took his best panels and sold them to the United Feature Syndicate, and a classic was born. The only problem was the name. Being too close to the Al Capp's L'il Abner and a strip called Little Folks, the syndicate came up with the name Peanuts, based on the Peanut Gallery. To his dying day, Schulz hated this title. A huge influence on so many cartoonists (Bill Watterson based the look of Calvin and Hobbes on Schulz's strip) Charlie Brown and his gang were always one step ahead of all other strips, in their take on politics, social events, racism, sexism, and good ol' existential angst, and this first strip, showing Shermy hating on good ol' Charlie Brown, started it all. But enough of all this Charlie Brown angst. Let's move on to some other kind of angst. Some good ol' Woody Allen angst.


That's right kids, from 1976 to 1984, playwright, cartoonist, and children's book author, Stuart Hample drew a strip all about Woody Allen. Written by a series of different authors, Inside Woody Allen took a look at the writer/director's most noted onscreen personality, the nebbishy, neurotic, angst-ridden intellectual. I sort of remember this from my younger days, but only barely. There is an animated segment in Allen's 1977 film, Annie Hall, which uses Hample's artwork. Never mind about what Mia Farrow, Susan Sarandon, and other naysayers say about the guy. I like the guy and I like this strip. So there! And since we're on the theme of angst here, let's give a shout out to that angsty, chubby little girl we all know and love. Nancy first appeared in the strip, Fritzi Ritz, waaay back in 1933. Eventually, Fritzi Ritz, the strip about a floozy flapper, changed its name to Nancy, and poor Fritzi became Aunt Fritzi, and was relegated to supporting player in the life and times of Nancy and her BFF, Sluggo.


As you can see from the above strip, cartoonist Ernie Bushmiller worked with more than just mere storytelling and gag writing in his strip. He would constantly break the fourth wall, and use meta humour in his work. A strip, much like the contemporary Krazy Kat, well ahead of its day. Bushmiller had a quite absurdest slant to his cartooning. Eventually Nancy would grow up, abandon her life with Aunt Fritzi and Sluggo, and move into the Village, becoming a whole new person. This new life can be seen in the below panel. Granted, this may not be an official Nancy comic strip (in fact, I'm going to go out on a limb and say it most definitely is not), but it does show the often overlooked secret life of the beloved funny pages eight year old. We'll get to the strip on the right in just a bit.


Yeah, so just like the Nancy above may not be a real Ernie Bushmiller, the Family Circus next to it may not be a Bil Keane original either. Any self-respecting comic book reader and/or red-blooded Marvel kid, will surely find this unofficial Family Circus/Uncanny X-Men hybrid quite heee-larious. And speaking of Bil Keane and his Family Circus, I spent many years despising this seemingly insipid, one panel strip, until one day I looked up and saw that one of my favourite cartoonists, Bill 'Griffy" Griffith, creator of Zippy the Pinhead, was actually a fan. And more than that, he actually drew up some Family Circus-inspired Zippy strips, as well as collaborated with Keane on Family Circus. Here is one of these, complete with a nod to Nancy & Sluggo. See how everything comes full circle 'round here?


So, there ya go. If Griffy and Zippy like Billy and Jeffy, then who am I to argue. Zippy's never been wrong before. Then again, he is kind of an idiot. An intriguing idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. But, I digress. Since we are suddenly on a nonsensical bent (aka, a Zippy bent) and therefore have no real reason to make the next strip follow logically from the above strip (though, please do notice how well I kept that going through the first bunch of strips), I suggest we move on to something less acerbic, something a bit less esoteric. Something a bit more...um, punk, shall we say!? Yeah, something a bit more punk!! Let's take a look at something a bit more punk, baby!


So there ya have it! A bit more punk, indeed. One of the greatest rock bands of all-time, the Ramones found themselves the subject of a fresh new comic book, called Weird Tales of the Ramones, an over-sized comic book that accompanied the 2005 DVD box set of the same name. The comic book had a bunch of different artists among its pages. One of these artists was Bill Griffith, creator of Zipp...hey, wouldjya look at that? I suppose everything ties in after all. Ain't life grand? Anyway, let's move on from the Ramones and from Zippy & Griffy and from Nancy and good ol' Charlie Brown (How I hate him!) and from Bil Keane's rounded off Family Circus as well. Let's go back to the early days, the Golden Age if you will, of television. That's right kids, it's time to take a look at I Love Lucy - the comic strip!


Lucy's show was so popular (it still holds the record for highest average rating over it's seven seasons on CBS) that she began hitting other media outlets as well. Dell put out a 35 issue I Love Lucy comic book series, and King Features syndicated a comic strip even. The strip ran from 1952 to 1955. And speaking of I Love Lucy...the weekly network series ended in 1957, with another three years of hour-long specials. When the show finally went off the air in 1960, it immediately went into rerun syndication (the first show to do so) and to this very day, there has never been a time that I Love Lucy was not airing somewhere on TV in the US. Including the show's initial run, that is 63 years and counting. Not too shabby. But enough TV talk, this is supposed to be a post about comic strips. With that in mind, I offer up this next strip.


Yup. That is Dr. Strange, done to the tune of The Wizard of Id. As a fan of both the comic book, and especially Marvel Comics (I have always been a Marvel Kid), and the comic strip (duh, look at what this post is all about) I love when the two are mashed together. This particular strip is by Daniel Irizarri Oquendo (check out his other stuff here). And yes, it is comedy gold. Of course, if you don't read comic books, then maybe it's not so goldish after all. But what kind of sick, twisted bastard doesn't read comic books!!? But I digress. Since we got to check out the first appearance of good ol' Charlie Brown earlier in the post, why not take a look at the first appearance of another iconic comic strip character...but not as most people know him.


That's right, for the first six months of Beetle Bailey's existence, he wasn't the sad sack private from Camp Swampy that we have all come to know and love, but instead a college freshman at Rockview University. When Beetle debuted on September 4, 1950, Mort Walker, recalling his own university days, placed him smack dab in the middle of rip-roaring college life. Six months later, as the Korean War heated up abroad, Beetle caved into peer pressure, and enlisted in the US Army. The rest is, as they say, history. And since we're on the subject of Beetle Bailey's early, pre-military days, didjya happen to know that Beetle's sister was one Mrs. Lois Flagston, nee Bailey, who a few years later would get her own strip, also scripted by Walker (Hagar the Horrible's Dik Browne did the art), called Hi and Lois. Howzabout that!? But enough of this, without further ado, I give you the last strip of this inaugural edition of Comic Stripping.


Yup. This is my blog and my post, my house and my rules, so yeah, I'm closing with my very own strip. Granted, I have been more than woefully lacking in my cartooning duties as of late, having not done a new La-La & Lu-Lu in months (it used to come at a 2 or 3 a week clip) but it's still my strip, and my baby, so here it is. And, continuing with the first appearance thing we got goin' here, this was the very first La-La & Lu-Lu that I ever did, making it's debut, via Brain Tumor Comix, on July 17, 2013. A link to take you to the official La-La & Lu-Lu page can be found right here. And maybe we'll see a brand new La-La & Lu-Lu (or two or three) sometime soon. Keep your eyes peeled. But let's move on. So, that thing you just read, was the inaugural edition of my latest regular feature, Comic Stripping. What do ya think of that title? Oh who cares. I'll be back with another edition of Comic Stripping sometime in August. Keep your eyes peeled for that as well. To close, here's a panel of Mary Worth diving into a pool, wearing a nightgown. Why the hell not!? That's it gang. See ya 'round the web.


3 comments:

  1. Loved the X-Men/Family Circus take-off. I'd never seen that one before!

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  2. Love the Family Circus one. I have a Madd magazine take on Family Circus and it is brilliant. Sid and Nancy is also fun. I have The Wizard of ID books and B.C. Comic books and Herman (oh and of course, The Far Side)

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  3. I've just downloaded iStripper, so I can watch the hottest virtual strippers on my taskbar.

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